125 Men Explain Things to Me

solnitby Rebecca Solnit, 2014

Ah, mansplaining. Who among us hasn’t suffered to listen to a man tell us what we already know? In my case, it’s most often come from those telling me how to run my business when they have no knowledge of said business and no idea why I’ve made some of the very valid decisions I’ve made (like, what you are insisting I do is, in fact, illegal in this state). Mansplaining is not new, but the term gained quite the life after the publication of the essay that bears the same name as this book. What starts as a humorous anecdote of Solnit being schooled on a book that she wrote turns into a much needed examination of women’s silencing. And before you’re quick to jump to the defense, Solnit readily admits that [hashtag] not all men are like this. I know not all men are like this too, but I’ll be damned if not all women have been affected by some of the behavior she discusses in this essay collection.

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121 The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution

dofiby Richard Beeman, ed., 2012

You may wonder why I’m reading this. How can you not know the D of I and the Constitution? you might ask. Sure, I took AP Government like any good high schooler and I’m bound to have studied these documents then, but that was nearly 20 years ago and I’ll be damned if I remember anything other than who my teacher was and who I used to pass notes to. As Richard Beeman notes in his introduction to this first book in the lovely Penguin Civics Classics series, “There is…[a] large body of evidence suggesting that Americans’ knowledge of their history and of the way in which their institutions have worked over the course of history is embarrassingly meager.” And, really, I’m just trying not to be one of those Americans. I had a conversation with a friend recently where I relayed an ignorant comment I’d heard in regards to The Underground Railroad.  The reviewer in question erroneously believed the literal railroad, as depicted in the book, to be true and I wondered how someone could lack that basic understanding of American history. “The question is,” my friend said, “how responsible are we, as people of color, to seek out and educate the ignorant?”

“Is it our responsibility to educate? Or is it their responsibility to seek education?” I countered. “After high school, is not the onus on the individual to educate themselves?”

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117 Nasty Women

nastywomenby Laura Jones & Heather McDaid, eds., 2017

Leave it to Book Riot to not only force me to read outside of my typical bounds, but also to lead me right to the perfect books at the perfect times. When I read their article extolling British indie publisher 404 Ink‘s Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays & Accounts on What It Is Like to Be a Woman in the 21st Century, I jumped at the chance to use it to fulfill the “read a book published by a micropress” challenge task. While the book went immediately out of print on the day of its release – International Women’s Day – I was pleased to receive notice the very next day that the ebook was available for immediate download. Download I did and not only am I glad to have crossed off this difficult task, I’m happy to have done it while also providing support to the authors speaking on these very necessary subjects.

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114 Washington: A Life

washingtonby Ron Chernow, 2010

I’ve never been much for reading biographies, so when I saw an acquaintance pledge to read a biography for each president last year I thought, that’s nice, but not for me. It wasn’t until I read this Book Riot piece, in the midst of our political upheaval, that I started to understand the reasoning behind the challenge. I, too, have felt woefully uneducated about our country’s history and, if the “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” aphorism has any truth to it – and I believe it does – then I need to learn me some history stat. That’s how I came to decide that I, too, would embark on the challenge to read a biography of each American president and hopefully offer a little less ignorance to the world.

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110 The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm Xby Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley, 1965

The great thing about books is that they help us understand not only others, but ourselves and our own place in history a little bit better. Growing up I knew little of Malcolm X. I was raised Catholic, owing to my mother, but my father (the black side of my family) was Methodist and the First Nation of Islam was so far off my radar as to be non-existent. It was something for other black people, the ones who changed their names and insisted they were African, not American. (Conversely, I know now that we were the “smug” and “intention-hungry Negroes” that Malcolm X detested.) I read maybe a few passages from The Autobiography in school, but Malcolm X was never studied in depth and overall I got the sense that, while he contributed to our history as black people, he was not to be admired. I could have gone my whole life thinking that had I not taken it upon myself to learn more.

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107 The Fire Next Time

firenexttimeby James Baldwin, 1963

“A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”

I read that sentence and it was as if I had been struck. Much of the book hit me in this way, coming at me as if its words were desperate to be seen. For although The Fire Next Time was written over 50 years ago, its message is, to put it indelicately, TIMELY AS FUCK. This should be history, I thought to myself. I should not be able to identify with this as closely as I do. We should have moved past this by now. Yet there I was, feeling the full weight of Baldwin’s call to action as if it had been published yesterday. It is disheartening and maddening to know how much we need Baldwin’s writings today, but how amazing it is that we have his voice to put out into the world what many of us struggle to put into words. We need writers to do this for us and, even after his death, James Baldwin does the job perfectly.

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106 In the Country We Love

guerreroby Diane Guerrero, 2016

When she was fourteen, Diane Guerrero returned home from school to find that her family had been deported back to Colombia. Now known for her roles in Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, this is a look back into the actress’s beginnings, an examination of what it’s like to live as an immigrant in the US, and how our broken system tears families apart, leaving children like Guerrero to fend for themselves. It is a story that is of utmost importance these days, one that I believe is helped by Guerrero’s celebrity. We see her on our TVs and we feel that know her, and in reading of the trials of her parents’ deportation we are forced to recognize what is happening to well-meaning people every day. We are not able to dismiss them as “other” or turn a blind eye when it is happening right in front of our faces.

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