What I’m Reading 1-22-18

By Penny Smith

Lillian Smith, Killers of the dream. Originally published n 1949. I reread the 1994  reprint put out by Norton Press.

If you don’t know the work of Lillian Smith (no relative), you should. Born in Florida, she spent much of her life outside Clayton, Georgia, where she eventually oversaw a summer camp started by her father. The camp gained a national reputation for innovative teaching.

However, it’s not her educational theories that endear her to southern liberals, but her politics, work against segregation, and novels. Her most famous book was probably Strange Fruit, about interracial romance (it was banned in Boston), but this collection of essays has steadily gained in popularity.

Although the Freudian analysis is sometimes dated, her fierce defense of equality and her dismantling of the rationale for southern inequality are worth the reading in an era of racist resurgence and backlash. It’s all too familiar today.

 

Susan Bordo, The Destruction of Hillary Clinton. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2017.

For Hillary Clinton supporters, this book is a head-nodder. Bordo, herself a Clinton advocate, takes apart the election and points out the many ways the opposition demonized Clinton, then used their cartoon characterization of her to run against.

Among the abettors in her defeat: Comey, the right-wing conspiracy machine, Bernie’s Bros, and the media. There wasn’t anything particularly new in the book, but if you are Clinton voter who wants affirmation of your election analysis, this easy read may help.

 

For the politically weary, a trio of “journey” books:

Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye

Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop

Emma Hooper, Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Jonas Jonasson, The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and 

               Disappeared

 The journey is as classic a literary trope as one can get. Perhaps the hero’s tale is older, but classics like Canterbury Tales and The Odyssey form the template of what has become the travel tale.

The four books cited above all involve journeys. Harold Frye traverses England in search of a former girlfriend; in France Monsieur Perdu sets out to discover why a lover left him, using his barge-bookstore as transportation; Etta leaves Otto in the middle of Canada and heads to the coast (like Frye, on foot); and Allan Karlsson escapes a nursing home in Sweden and takes us on two journeys – his own remarkable youthful exploits and his equally over-the-top attempts to escape authorities in old age.

No, I didn’t read all of them this past week, but I finished Etta and Otto recently and the other three have entered my “books read” list over the past year. With the exception of Monsieur Perdu, our pilgrims are senior citizens. Each may have a different goal in mind, but the journey is the focus. You’ll find some magical realism (there’s a talking wolf in Etta and Otto), some slapstick (The 100-Year Old Man), a lot of meaning-seeking, interesting travel companions, adventures, misadventures, and sweetness that is not cloying.

You’ll meet people for whom you can cheer, people whom you’ll recognize as obstacles in all our roads, and people you don’t quite understand. You’ll certainly recognize parts of the journeys.

None of these novels is what I would consider a masterwork. What they are is a viable alternative to blue light laptops and tablets, to Netflix and HBO. They do not take much time, but you’ll find it’s time satisfactorily spent when you finish.

 

Journey Sidebar: Sharyn McCrumb, whose novels are set in and about our region, penned a Canterbury Tales knock-off entitled St. Dale (2005). If you’re a NASCAR fan (even if you’re not), it’s a hoot. And, yes, it is that Dale, Senior rather than Junior.

 

 

Michael Abramowitz, “Democracy in Crisis,” Freedom House (available on line), 2018.

 

Freedom is in recession (see previous blog post), but the decline is even more severe than I thought when I wrote about that concept a week ago. The United States freedom scale score has declined and we are now on a watch list, particularly with regard to challenges to judicial freedom and the press. The judiciary should come as no surprise to anyone who paid attention to what the GOP did nationally with bench appointments in the last year of the Obama administration (essentially didn’t move on them) and with his last Supreme Court nomination (did not even get a hearing) or to what is happening in North Carolina with the judiciary. The report paints an unpleasant picture, but one worth viewing.