Continuing with the book lists theme of my most recent posts I would like to offer you my collection of 5 books I wish more people would read. I am not arguing that these are the best works of their kind in any category – I don’t pretend to know that much. What I am offering is just a handful of books that I really enjoyed and that I think deserve more attention. (READER ALERT: the direction that this post took was influenced by watching and listening to a lot of non-book media).
A Rap on Race with Margaret Mead and James Baldwin : With all the press and hoopla that has been generated recently with the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge, this book should be required reading for everyone in high school; and not because it provides answers, it doesn’t. In fact, the transcribed conversation between the eminent ethnographer and the prolific writer is muddled, confusing and contradictory at times. It is filled with what some may consider tangents and anecdotes that don’t provide genuine insight, but instead help to draw in other variables or non sequiturs. These two erudite people, however, had seen a bit of life, and had thought long and hard about issues such as identity and race, and were still stumped by how gnarly anything got once “race” was thrown into the equation. There is a parallel here, as I see it, with the current Cambridge incident. Consider for a moment that Professor Gates is an eminent scholar on racial issues and identity, and that (according to some accounts I’ve read) the arresting officer, Sgt. Crowley was hand-selected to train other officers on issues of racial sensitivity and profiling. If these two men couldn’t deal with each other without seeing race, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Common Ground by John Edgar Wideman: Sorry, I’m not done with thinking about the issue and idea of RACE in America, yet. After you’re finished “listening” in on two of the coolest people of the last century wrangle with the problems of seeing the world in terms of black and white, check out this essay by Professor Wideman. This is the first of five essays in a book titled Fatheralong : A Meditation on Fathers and Sons, Race and Society. We do share common ground, explains Wideman. Turn back the hands of time far enough, and we’re all huddled around the same fire. Turn the hands forward, and we go our separate ways. But look closely enough, and you’ll recognize we never really went very far. Race according to Wideman has become like a net that catches nothing and destroys everything in its path. It is a word for Humpty Dumpty … made to mean whatever it is supposed to mean. Anytime we see the race card dealt, warns Wideman, beware, because the fix is in.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin: It appears that this blog post is turning into some list of my Books Everyone Should Read; Special Race Edition. I didn’t start out intending for it to be that way, it’s just that there is STILL talk on the radio and on television about the Professor Gates arrest – (I’ve been working on this post for 3 or 4 days now). Anyway, this book is really a collection of two essays. I especially recommend people read the first essay, “My Dungeon Shook”. It is a powerful and moving letter Baldwin writes to his nephew on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation contemplating America and its “problem”.
Mission to Kala by Mongo Beti: It’s been years since I reread this book, but it took just two sittings to whip through it. If you’ve ever read and enjoyed Chinua Achebe’s writing, you’ll enjoy this novel. Both funny and serious, without being overly preachy or nostalgic, Beti’s tale of a failed scholar who must return to live what he thinks is a simpler village life will transport you to a different time and place.
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn: I’ve recommended this book to both teachers and students, but I don’t think anyone has ever taken me up on the suggestion. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the main character is a telepathic silverback gorilla who thinks he understands the uppity humans and their destructive modern culture. This book uses the Socratic method and turns to ancient sources to ask, “what are the consequences of humans misunderstanding their place in the world”? Not a bad question from such a hirsute fellow Hominidae.
Note from seaworld.org.: “Historically humans and their extinct ancestors were classified in the Family Hominidae while all great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans) were classified in the Family Pongidae. However, biomolecular and genetic research along with recent fossil evidence have identified new similarities between species, leading to the reclassification of chimpanzees and gorillas into the Family Hominidae.”
Oh, there are plenty more titles I think people should read, but I’ll save that stuff for the future. I think 5 recommendations at a time is plenty, don’t you? Sorry for getting stuck on race there for a little bit, I couldn’t help reflecting back some of the information I’m currently taking in. I stand by my recommendations, however, as solid pieces of writing that I do wish more people would read.
Let me know what titles you think everyone should have on their MUST READ list. In the meantime, thank you for stopping by and I hope you are having a great summer.
Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.