I’m not in a regular blogging routine during these mid-summer days, but here are some things that have caught my eye over the past few weeks…
Barack Obama’s summer reading list. I read the list and felt overwhelmed by how much I miss having a president who reads. Obama’s list has been making the rounds, but in case you missed it:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
“A true classic of world literature, this novel paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism. A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.”
A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
“A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.”
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
“Mandela’s life was one of the epic stories of the 20th century. This definitive memoir traces the arc of his life from a small village to his years as a revolutionary to his long imprisonment and ultimately his ascension to unifying president, leader, and global icon. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history—and then go out and change it.”
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the U.K., raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.”
The Return by Hisham Matar
“A beautifully written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.”
The World as It Is by Ben Rhodes
“It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.”
I’ve been finding book-related scenes during my walks…
Walking in Scituate, I came to the spot Where the Sidewalk Ends….
And I saw a tree that made me think of Boo Radley leaving gifts for Jem and Scout:
I follow lots of illustrators and museums on Instagram. It’s fun knowing that when I have a few minutes waiting in a line or for a friend at Starbucks, there is a world of art and illustration one click away. One of my favorites is a London-based artist, Steve Scott. With his permission, here’s my favorite of his illustrations:
I’ve also been reading, but my “official reading schedule” was scrapped by late June. Something grabs my attention, and off I go…
The last two books I’ve read are a good example of my scattered summer mind.
Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston is the recently published book based on Hurston’s conversations with Cudjo Lewis, who was brought to America on the last slave ship. Hurston conducted her interviews in Alabama in 1931. “Of all the millions transported from Africa to the Americas, only one man is left,” Hurston writes. The only man on earth who has in his heart the memory of his African home; the horrors of a slave raid; the barracoon; the Lenten tones of slavery; and who has 67 years of freedom in a foreign land behind him.” Lewis was enslaved for five years before being freed.
It’s a hard book to read for obvious reasons. The book is primarily written as Lewis’s monologue, with a few clarifications by Hurston. He spends much of his time talking about his life in Africa before he was captured in 1859 – and then there are the details of the passage, his years as an enslaved man, and finally learning of his freedom from a Union soldier. Honestly, I found it painful to read, but “listening” to a first hand account of the horrors of slavery made the experience more real than any novel I’ve read. There were small things I had not considered. For example, in most novels, the Civil War ends and there is some kind of resolution of how the enslaved people find out and what they do next. For Cudjo Lewis, however, the War was something he had heard rumors about, but he knew very little of the specifics. When a Union soldier tells him he’s free, Lewis says: “We glad we free, but den, you understand me, we cain stay wid de folks who own us no mo. Derefo’ where we goin’ live, we doan know.” That’s real. What do I do right now?
On a far lighter note and perhaps a deliberate “about face,” I read Beck Dorey-Stein’s memoir, From the Corner of the Oval. Dorey-Stein spent five years working as a stenographer in the Obama White House. The stenographers, I learned, are responsible for recording every public word the president says. That means they travel on Air Force One, transcribe press conferences, and stand in the “corner of the Oval.” Dorey-Stein’s book is not about policy or even politics. It’s the anecdotal account of a young woman working in the White House and the impact her demanding job has on her personal life. Among Dorey-Stein’s many entertaining stories, there are also fun glimpses of life in the West Wing.
I’ve got a few books in mind for my next one, but then again…..