189 Long Walk to Freedom

longwalktofreedomeby Nelson Mandela, 1994

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

“The bold man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

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185 When Breath Becomes Air

whenbreathby Paul Kalanithi, 2016

There has been an enormous amount of press surrounding neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi’s memoir of his terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of thirty-six. Making the press even more poignant is the knowledge that the book was published after Kalanithi’s death. This wasn’t a memoir from someone writing years later, who looked death in the face and vowed to beat it. This was from a person who looked death in the face and did the only thing they could: accepted it. It’s not by any means an easy topic to grapple with, but Kalanithi’s clear, direct writing renders this difficult journey one that should not be missed.

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141 The Souls of Black Folk

soulsofblackfolkby W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903

There is a certain sense of wonder – or is it chagrin? – when reading a hundred-year-old book that exemplifies the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Such is the case with W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays published at the turn of the 20th century that are, sadly, as poignant today as they were a mere 40 years post-Emancipation. Race relations have no doubt improved greatly since then, yet not so much as to prevent the reader from sitting slack-jawed and wondering if Du Bois were writing these words today. He and his ideas are far from obsolete.

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140 Caramelo

carameloby Sandra Cisneros, 2002

I know I’ve said it before, that sweeping, multi-generational narratives is an odd literary niche to love, but it’s one I can’t get enough of. From Roots to The House of the Spirits to Middlesex and now Caramelo, I’m a huge fan of novels that delve into the past to reveal both cultural and personal identities. Told by Celaya “Lala” Reyes, the youngest of the Reyes clan, Caramelo explores the meanings of family, motherhood, fatherhood, pride, and love, as well as what it means to be a Mexican, an American, and something in between. It is a beautifully written story that I loved reading.

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138 Uncle Tom’s Cabin

uncletomby Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852

And so continues my education of reading books that I should have read, but haven’t. I was particularly interested in reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin to learn exactly where the term “Uncle Tom” originated. For the unaware, an Uncle Tom is a black person who is exceedingly deferential to whites. That’s the polite way of putting it; for a more piquant definition, watch Django Unchained. Samuel L. Jackson’s character? He’s an Uncle Tom through and through. But where does the term come from? Surprisingly, not directly from this book.

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