Thursday, August 23, 2018

Troubling reading in 2018

Many of my my readings in late 2017 and now 2018 have left me deeply troubled.  The framework within which early settlers in America and the government cheated, lied to and annihilated indigenous persons has been deeply troubling to me.  Certainly, I’d read of it in the past - but the detailed descriptions in the books below left me astounded by the treachery of advancing white men - their lies and genocide.

Equally, I thought often on MLK’s “I have a Dream” Speech where he noted that it was “our labour that made cotton King” as I read yet more on the historical trauma and capitalistic gains - for some - on the backs of Blacks brought forcibly to America (and much of the rest of the world.)

These accounts are deeply, deeply troubling to me.

I feel the need to repent of them and seek restitution, even though I did nothing wrong, I am the recipient of the privilege that was created.  I am thankful for my deeply intentional and abiding intentional love for black persons in my life - our daughter and my intentional commitment to worship with the Black congregation of a former student and deeply loved friend in his Black Church . . . and yet, it is not enough - not even close to enough to make right the wrongs wrought on the backs of his forebears.  

Additionally, a few accounts of forced Christianization of persons, has left me disgruntled with past practices of forced cultural assimilation and supercessionism, given under the guise of Christian evangelical care.

Separately -in late 2017 and now 2018 I have read a few astounding books in and on the sciences.  One I’ll recount here makes me want to, quite literally, seek a degree in Quantum Physics.  Fascinating.

I’ll note here, too - I’m beginning to wonder if I should create a list of books I started - and intentionally stopped reading.  My blog record here is mainly to capture things so I have some recollection of names of books for when I want to share ideas with someone - or remember a few key issues for books I want to come back to read.  However, I’ve had many books in the past months that I have started - that were “worthless” and I made it just pages or chapters in before opting to stop reading.  Perhaps I should list these merely as “Throw-Aways” or something - simply as archival record, too


The Heathen School:  A story of hope and betrayal in the age of the early republic by John Demos.  Well worth reading and almost ranks as a book worthy of a 2nd read, but not quite.  The book calls the reader to learn about and then question any faithful (whether or not is was faithful) work of persons in the 1800s and 1900s to establish “education” and “mission” (forced evangelical education) on persons of many indigenous people groups around the world, by White American and British persons. Some intriguing history of the Sandwich Islands, Hawaii, in particular.

Life on the Edge: The Coming Age of Quantum Biology by Johnjoe McFadden.  Absolutely stunning in its clear descriptions and connections for what we know about - and can and can not understand - about the Quantam world and how it shapes everything.  Numerous analogies and ways of explaining complex features were made accessible for persons like me (and I consider myself well-versed in Science).  I am astounded, truly, about what I learned - about what we (Scientists) do and do not know and the mystery of the world in which we live. That live exists - that species/animals/DNA/photosynthesis/Quantam Plants works and with such intricacy - is truly, nothing short of amazing.  Amazing. Amazing.  A GREAT read.

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazi's in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead.  I did not like the way this book started, as Caroline spoke ill of one of the books in my, perhaps Top 20, for shaping my life.  She starts by downplaying the roles of Andre & Magda Trocme’, Eduard Theiss, and the people of Le Chambon Sur Lignon as not being “that important” (my words) and many others were involved in saving Jews in France during WWII.  That aside, this book was a wonderful addition to my awareness of innumerable events and persons that shaped the resistance and peace-love-care of Jews in France doing WWII and the Vichy Republic in ways that was illuminating.  I learned much and valued the book greatly.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist.  This book was deeply significant to me.  Very, very important.  Noting that, I wish it would have been condensed and contained fewer facts.  I wish there were an abbreviated version of the book both for me - and FOR OTHERS - who may not want (be able/willing) to read the depth of research engaged here by Baptist.  I learned so much - about persons, dates, history, times, names - and the experience of Black persons during their enslavements.  Historical accounts and quotes flavored the book  - actual data of the registers/account books and tracking of financial data in many ways, with many persons were listed.  One particular chapter that started with the use of f**king the mud and others was “awful” and yet, I will not forget for what is recounted.  This book has shaped me to be a different person - as I was deeply troubled by so many features of what I learned.  I must read it again, though I wish for some more accessible book - both for me and for others - as I will recommend this book, certainly will do so.  And yet, I wish I did not know that which I know from this book.  My sense of who I am and why America is troubled and why race issues are urgent and complex is deeply shaped in new ways after reading this book.

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States:  by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz.    I started this book late in 2017 - had to return it to the library and wait weeks to get it again - though I had to finish it. The last few chapters that moved on to other places of American colonization not in North America was “less interesting” to me and “felt a bit off topic” to the many other chapters, though I agree with the author that they were fitting to the overall scope of the books topic.  In the chapters, Dunbar-Ortiz narrates how early American settlers and then the American Government and various persons and numerous failed treaties and explicit exploitation and theft/deceit/lies laid siege to the lands of the indigenous persons of America/Mexico.  I am embarrassed and ashamed by what I learned about the history of political exploitation.  The Doctrine of Discovery astounds and upsets me in ways I can not quite fully articulate.  I am the recipient of its privilege, no doubt, and yet, I’m not entirely sure how to repent now of the - nor disjoint myself from - who I am and where I have been.  We annihilated indigenous persons - their culture, their ways of life, their history, their beauty.  It’s deeply, deeply troubling.  

Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel by Marie Benedict.  Enjoyable Historical Fiction.  Captivating *enough* to keep me invested . . . though I had to ponder the probability of many of the imagined scenes/plotlines.  It did cause me to think new about the emerging Victorian class of wealth in America - and - pause to consider new realities about the Carnegie family that I’d never considered (as the Carnegies were not that intriguing to me.)  I wished it were closer on par to Empty Mansions which I still find intriguing from reading 1-2 years ago.

Losing Our Way: An intimate portrait of troubled America by Bob Herbert.  Good. Not great.  Given that this book was in the same thought space as other recent books I’ve read  - especially (though this was different from) Fantasyland, this book was important to me.  Nothing profound.

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% happier How-To Book  by Dan Harris.  Another good “introductory book” for those wanting to think about and explore meditation/mindfulness.  A good “primer” with good stories and “invitational” in great ways.  Well done.  

Empire of the Summer Moon:  Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne.  This book was in harmony with others I’ve read in the past year or two - chronicling not just the life of Quanah, yet more, his “white” kidnapped in her childhood mother. So many tales and geographic issues from the region of Texas, portions of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado.  Palo Duro Canyon figured into the story several times - and I was audio reading the book as I drove to/from Oklahoma and Colorado.  I remain appalled at the depravity with which Whites dealt with the first Americans, though, this story narrated the equally appalling actions of the Indians.  Historical data about Buffalo hunting, ethnographic details about persons, families, winters, animal tanning, hunting and many features permeated the narrative.  A great book though one that makes me sad, too.

Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire by Andrea Stuart. The author combined her family story of many generations both slaves, owners, and mulatto from Barbados - tracking as well the history of the rise “and fall” of sugar cane. Horrible stories of control of slaves, and yet intriguing tales of the financial issues involved in the rise of sugar as a marketable product. The means by which Sugar Cane was harvested, itself, prove intriguing to me.  The means by which the author was able to tell uniquely *her* family history - and trace her genealogy - while also narrating the industry, trade, power and wealth engaged with sugar provided a compelling read.

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