Wednesday, July 26, 2017

March, Book Two - John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Book Two of this trilogy picks up where Book One left off - a framed narrative of Congressman John Lewis telling his story in the midst of the Inauguration of President Obama.  Congressman Lewis begins Book Two with the organization and lead-up to the March on Washington.  The sit-ins and bus boycotts that were discussed in Book One have begun to have an effect on the national conversation, and the Civil Rights Movement has progressed into a movement that has spread around the nation.

This book begins with the story of the Freedom Riders movement: a test of the law that was to force the integration of national bus systems, such as Greyhound.  It's crazy to think that the law would pass and people would refuse to abide by it, but that was the situation in the early 1960s, and thus the system was tested by riders who planned to ride from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans, Louisiana, forcing the integration by not only allowing black people to ride, but also not forcing them to sit at the back of the bus, developments that the law provided for.

As you might expect if you paid attention to anything in history, this didn't go exactly as you'd hope it would: riots, even bombings forced early stops for the buses, but the riders still persisted.

March, Book One - John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

It's been a while since I've reviewed a graphic novel, mainly because they're not typically my style.  I didn't really grow up reading comic books, and the writing style just doesn't appeal to me.  That is, with a couple of notable exceptions.  One of my favorite books I've ever read is the graphic novel Watchmen, which is stunningly fantastic.  The story fits the writing style so perfectly, as evidenced by all of the negative reviews when they tried to make it into a film and weren't very successful.  Watchmen is a classic.  Another notable graphic novel I enjoyed a few years ago was Page by Paige, an oddly metaphysical book (for middle grades lit) that portrays the theme of self-discovery in a really unique way.  All this is to say that I have found interesting cases, but give me a book of manga or something like that, and you're not going to see an excited expression on my face.

I suppose that's why I was initially resistant to the thought of these books.  March is a trilogy of graphic novels written by Congressman John Lewis, who is much more than just a Congressman, as these books reveal.  Mr. Lewis has played a long and critical role in the fight for civil rights for all Americans, and his story is quite captivating.  Would the genre of graphic novel be sufficient to tell his story?  Would it, as I suspected, do him a disservice?  I was encouraged that the books would be written by him, with the artwork being done by Nate Powell, who has many credits (and now awards) to his name.

In what proved to be a good decision, I acquired the trilogy.

Book One begins with Congressman Lewis in his Capitol Hill office on the morning of Barack Obama's Inauguration.

Refugee - Alan Gratz

Wow.

I read a good bit.  I probably read more than the average person, although average isn't a good goal, now is it?  Still though, sometimes authors slip through the cracks of my experience.  Such was the case with Alan Gratz.  Earlier this year, I found out he's coming to speak to my school this fall, and my first thought was, "Who?"  The truth is that there are so many good authors out there, it's a crowded field.  After doing some digging, I found out that Mr. Gratz's books have been some of my students' favorites in years past.  And one of those websites mentioned that Mr. Gratz was publishing a new novel this year.  I preordered it.

Refugee is the first book in a long time that actually moved me to tears.  It's a powerfully emotional book, the twisting stories of three generations of children forced to abandon their homes and all that is familiar: Josef in 1939's Germany, Isabel in 1994's Cuba, and Mahmoud in 2015's Syria.  While the circumstances that force them to leave are drastically different, one of the bold strokes in the picture Mr. Gratz paints for his readers is the unity of their stories.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Paddle Your Own Canoe - Nick Offerman

Two vehicles and more than two years ago, I used to get my oil changed closer to where I lived at the time, the bustling metropolis of Central, SC, a short drive from Clemson.  When I began working in Powdersville, I found a new place to have this service performed, but that establishment recently shuttered.  Thus, the past few times I've needed to new 5W30, I've headed back down 123 and Memory Lane to my old stomping grounds.  Today was the latest trip.  In times past, it has often looked like the establishment was in search of something to do, because I often arrived to see them staring into the setting sun, excited to finally have some business.  Today, I took the last available chair in their waiting room.  I even remarked, "Wow, a full house today!" to which none of the assembled guests felt the need to reply.

I was glad I had a book with me.  This book.

I'm going to insert a plug here for a practice I believe in, and that's to always carry a book with you.  There are unexpected times in life when having something to read will pay off immensely for you, and you should be prepared.  It's part of my leaving-the-house routine: grab whatever I'm reading off the nightstand.  It's a good habit, and it's infinitely better than succumbing to browsing your phone while you wait.  Better, as in, it helps you pass the time more quickly to be absorbed in a book.  If you're not absorbed, then you're reading the wrong stuff.  Okay, sermon over.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nudge - Richard Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

This summer, I've made it my mission to sprinkle in my reading of YA fiction and adult books with some nonfiction by people who are way smarter than me in an attempt to better understand the world around me.  That sounds really grandiose.  Nonetheless, that's part of the goal, and I think it's a good goal to have.  I can't speak for everyone, but sometimes I feel like I get small-minded with the routine of my daily life, which sometimes doesn't bring in a ton of intellectual stimulation.  Case in point: this week, the goal is to try one of the new shaved ice places in town.  See?  Not really challenging.

It started this summer with Michael Lewis's The Undoing Project, which provided a narrative framework to the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.  I followed that up with a deeper dive into Kahneman's work in his book/encyclopedia, Thinking, Fast and Slow, in which he shared much of his research.  To continue the trend in reverse order of publication, I moved on to Thaler's and Sunstein's Nudge, the premise of which is that human beings are too often swayed in what Tversky and Kahneman called "System 1," and thus need the circumstances of their choices to be framed in such a way to help them make better decisions.

Nudge is the seminal text in a theory of psychology and ultimately political science that the authors call "Libertarian Paternalism."  They've carved a niche position in the spectrum of lassez-faire economics and set up shop in the spot where intervention at too great of a cost is a bad idea, but nonintervention doesn't work either.  If you're still reading this review, and I haven't turned you off of this book completely, let me explain with some examples.