Sunday, January 31, 2016

BW5: February Safari

Courtesy of Travelbag - Indian Ocean Holidays

Welcome to February Safari and our author flavors of the month:  E.M. Forster and Karen Blixen.  We are continuing our travels, sailing around the Indian Ocean, stopping in various ports of call. I'm still in India at the moment and looking forward to experiencing 1920's India through Forster's eyes in A Passage to India.  At some point this month, we'll weigh anchor and sail  to Africa to spend a bit of time exploring African colonialism with Blixen's Memoir Out of Africa.  It would also be interesting to compare the books to the movies so be sure to check out both on Amazon or Netflix. 

I have another special guest post for you this week.  Jane, from Well Trained Mind 52 Books Group offered to lead the discussion this month as she has a special affinity for E.M. Forster.  So, without further ado, here is Jane to tell us all about him.


I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves.   E.M. Forster

E.M. Forster 
Thirty years ago or so, a friend placed a book in my hand I had not read before, A Passage to India. I recognized the author’s name, but that was it. She had discovered the book via a film version of it released the previous year in 1984. What neither she nor I realized was that she had introduced me to a man whose words would resonate for years to come and whose social satires would bring amusement while giving me pause. 

Forster was born to middle class parents in London in 1879.  Although his father died before his second birthday, a life of relative luxury was assured via an inheritance from an aunt.  Forster attended Cambridge, became a writer, and toured the continent with his mother. His travels certainly influenced his writing.

Forster’s first published novel was Where Angels Fear to Tread.  Like A Room with a View, the novel is set in Italy and concerns a time when people did not flit off to the continent for a long weekend but often a season of travel.  In Forster’s novels, we often find English people who are interested in seeing other places and in learning about other cultures, but are convinced of their own moral and intellectual superiority. 

If I were reading Forster for the first time, I would either start with A Passage to India or Howards End. Both are beautiful books.  A Passage to India draws on Forster’s own experiences on the sub-continent where he served as private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas, an experience he relates in his memoir The Hills of Devi.  A Passage to India is the book that I will be rereading and hope to discuss in more detail throughout the month.

Howards End may be the best choice for Austen fans who are ready to step forward into the early 20th century.  The story concerns the intertwining lives of three families:  one of modern aristocrats (i.e. the new capitalists), one intellectual (and perhaps a tad Bohemian) and one impoverished.  Those who seek a tale of redemption will find comfort at Howards End. 

Forster’s point of view is so interesting to me.  He writes as an outsider looking in and questioning conventions of the time; yet he has knowledge of the inside view so his perspective is not na├»ve or one-dimensional.  It has been speculated that Forster’s insight comes from his own position as a homosexual peering into conventional society.  What is apparent is that he is prepared to bring hypocrisy to the forefront—sometimes gently with humor, other times with rage or with a passion that moves this reader to tears.

I have not read Maurice, a novel that Forster did not want published in his lifetime.  It is a same-sex romance, written in the early twentieth century but not published until 1971.  Forster did not attempt to have the book published while he was alive.

While researching information on Forster for this introduction, I learned that he also penned the libretto for Benjamin Britten’s opera of Billy Budd.  I have not watched this but a 1966 BBC version is available here.

For February I have pulled my copy of A Passage to India from the shelf. On the inside cover I wrote “gift from Edith, 8/85”.  Edith left this world too early but those years here were well spent.  I am so glad that she gave me this book! 

Come join me this month as we venture into the Marabar Caves to see how we shall be transformed. 


Please link to your specific post and not your general blog link. In the Your Name field, type in your name and the name of the book in parenthesis. In the Your URL field leave a link to your specific post. If you don't have a blog, leave a comment telling us what you have been reading. Every week I will put up Mr. Linky which will close at the end of each book week. No matter what book you are reading or reviewing at the time, whether it be # 1 or # 5 or so on, link to the current week's post.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

BW4: Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore 

I finished A Suitable Boy and the story lead me on many rabbit trails looking up definitions of words, people and places in India.  Rabindranath Tagore has been mentioned quite a few times.  He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913, mainly for his poetry.

"because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West"

However, he also wrote short stories, dramas, essays as well as songs.  He was knighted by the British Government in 1915, but resigned the honor a few later in protest of British policies in India.

I have enjoyed reading his poetry and will leave you with this  

Where the Mind is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high 
Where knowledge is free 
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 
By narrow domestic walls 
Where words come out from the depth of truth 
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection 
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way 
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit 
Where the mind is led forward by thee 
Into ever-widening thought and action 
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Please link to your specific  post and not your general blog link. In the Your Name field, type in your name and the name of the book in parenthesis. In the Your URL field leave a link to your specific post. If you don't have a blog, leave a comment telling us what you have been reading.   Every week I will put up Mr. Linky which will close at the end of each book week.  No matter what book you are reading or reviewing at the time, whether it be # 1 or # 5 or so on, link to the current week's post.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

BW3: Martin Luther King

This post is brought to you by Eliana, from Well Trained Mind's 52 Books group, who offered to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the United States, Monday January 18th is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. He was a black leader, civil rights activist, and Nobel Prize laureate. The holiday was signed into law by President Reagan in 1983, after many years of petitioning, including a song by Stevie Wonder:

The King Center includes a brief bio of Dr King, a summary of his philosophy, and a documents archive. On the History Channel, you’ll find many articles, videos, and more about Dr. King. MLK Day is also designated as a day of national service.Check out  National Service.Gov for events happening around the country as well as more information about Dr. King, lesson plans and service projects.

I'd like to start us off by sharing a video with a brief excerpt from Dr King's last speech which begins with a challenge which is at the heart of our discussion here: when will we stand by the principles we have espoused and committed to as a nation?

I volunteered for this week because our discussion last year, and my own tentative readings, had left me wanting to give more time and reading space to African American history and culture.

I had intended to write a post focused on African-American literature - novel, plays, poetry, essays - with a few history books and memoirs to round them out... and also to try to create a rough outline of some key texts. ...but our conversations this past week have shifted my intentions (though I'd still like to share the other ideas another day!).

My focus this week is on race and racism - analysis, personal reflections, fiction, poetry, and even drama.

Before drowning you all with my overflowing TBR list, I want to highlight two of the books which have been a catalyst for intense conversations and soul searching for many of us here: 

Between the World and Me: a very personal description of being a Black man of my generation, framed as a letter to his teenage son. It isn't a comfortable read, and it doesn't offer any real analysis or solutions, but it does give a vivid, powerful sense of how this one person has seen and experienced the world.

The New Jim Crow: This book draws a clear line from slavery to Jim Crow to our present-day systemic racism.  It is an essential book for understanding some of the challenges our society faces today.

As we've read and talked, I've been struggling to understand "race" - where did this concept come from? how has it shifted over the years? (and why?)

Here are 4 books which might help in this examination:

Racecraft: a collection of essays which looks at the social construct of race and the ways we  use it to try to make sense of our experiences and observations. The authors are making an analogy to the ways in which the idea of "witchcraft" has been and is used is some cultures.

History of White People: As I've thought more about the ideas of "race", I've been wondering where this "whiteness" came from. I know it hasn't always included the ethnic groups that might now be grouped under that designation (Italian, Irish, and Polish come to mind), but I want to see if this book can give me a clearer overview of how and from where our current cultural construct originated.

Two books in my stacks which touch on the same issues, but from a different angle: Whiteness of a Different Color and Working Toward Whiteness, both of which look at immigrant experiences and their efforts to become "white".

I've wondered about how we evaluate the impact of our assumptions.

Whistling Vivaldi examines the effects of stereotypes and identity, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria challenges us to talk about race, with each other and with our children. Racism without Racists looks at systemic racism and its implication, and Blinded by Sight brings the startling research that the blind aren't any more colorblind than the sighted...and explodes the myth that a colorblind society would be a more just society.

But, as I struggle to find my place in this big picture issue, I am drawn to the work of Tim Wise. I recently finished his Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama. It isn't a deep book, or as compelling as the Coates or the Alexander, but, near the end of the book he says:

"Confronting racism is white folks' responsibility because even though we, in the present, are not to blame for the system we have inherited. We have inherited it nonetheless, and continue to benefit, consciously or not, from the entrenched privileges that are the legacy of that system... If we are to make use of the assets (as we really cannot help but do) accumulated over a period of several hundred years - including, of course, assets whose possession owes directly and indirectly to slavery and its legacy of racial subordination that enriched many and brutally oppressed many more - then we cannot, ethically, turn our backs on the debts accumulated at the same time."

...and, further on

 "...white silence is the only privilege whites can voluntarily relinquish: the rest obtain as a matter of merely living as a member of the dominant group...speaking out will not be easy: resisting injustice never is. And for white folks, so long practices at maintaining our silence, it may well be among the more daunting tasks we have undertaken. But not to do it... is to give our consent, to undermine our personal and national pretensions to democracy. To remain silent, to fail in this endeavor is, in a strange way, to shirk our patriotic duty...and to make our claims of national greatness out to be lies.”

And he ends with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr: "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle."

I want to hear more. More about what I can do, beyond hearing, beyond caring, beyond my own little garden of life. Especially given the warning sounded by Reproducing Racism which asserts that these injustices might be "locked into place" without significant structural changes *soon*.  So, I am on the hold list at my library for Dear White America.

Then I looked through my list above and I noted a glaring absence. Do you see it?

Every book above looks at racism from the assumption that it is a gender-equivalent experience. Even the little reading I have done tells me this is not true.

Although I see a number of books about race and the feminist movement (Women, Race, and Class and When and Where I Enter ( both high on my TBR list), but very little which directly addresses the issues I'm thinking about. One exception is bell Hooks' Ain't I a Woman - I tend to enjoy her writings in small doses. I have several I am nibbling at, but am not sure I will finish. But this one I will try to read all the way through.   I am also pulling a very dusty book off my shelves: In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, which is a collection of Alice Walker's prose focusing on what it is to be a black woman, in a range of contexts.

A memoir which contrasts with Coates' on a number of levels is Negroland by Margo Jefferson.

"At once incendiary and icy, mischievous and provocative, celebratory and elegiac—here is a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, and American culture through the prism of the author’s rarefied upbringing and education among a black elite concerned with distancing itself from whites and the black generality while tirelessly measuring itself against both.”

But, perhaps, there are things which can only be expressed in fiction? Without all the statistics and other data, without how it fits into the real-life bio of the author/memoirist?

Several of us read The Sellout last year - a biting, sad, hilarious satirical novel which reached me in ways I don't think a more serious, factual account would have done.

Nella Larsen's Passing was a compelling, chilling read - and her Quicksand is now on my TBR stack.

Morrison is most renowned for the intense, horrific whirlwind that is Beloved, but I found her quieter, more realistic Home spoke to me more. (And her Playing in the Dark makes some fascinating assertions about the unspoken racial impact on much of American literature.)

Baldwin's Fire Next Time is a powerful piece of nonfiction, but I've never read any of his fiction, so I am adding If Beale Street Could Talk to my lists.

For the genre readers among us:

I am determined to finally read some Olivia Butler! Kindred is on my shelf, but there are several which have intrigued me for years. Nor have I read any Delaney... I have some trepidation, he's outside my preferred range of sci-fi, but I am glancing at Nova and Babel-17

As a break from all that prose, some poetry and drama:

Langston Hughes has long been a favorite poet; his Selected Poems is wonderful. Sonia Sanchez is a new favorite. Her Shake Loose My Skin has left me wanting more and more... it is powerful, lyrical, moving verse that gave me a glimpse of a black woman's experiences and culture.
Citizen: An American Lyric addresses many of the issues we've struggled with here, but, somehow, shook different things within me.

I also have Lorde's Black Unicorn and Komuyakaa's Neon Vernacular in my stacks - poets I've heard of, but never tried.

A Raisin in the Sun is a classic play for good reasons, and if you haven't seen or read it, I recommend it.

One can't talk about African American theater without giving a place of honor to August Wilson. His Fences is an explosively powerful, touching drama, part of a ten play cycle which traces the Black experience over ten decades.

When my husband and I went to see Othello last year, I discovered Desdemona

co-written by Morrison, which gave a different perspective on the story.

While reading No Cause For Indictment about the Newark Riots in the 60's, I was drawn to try some of  Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) plays.  They are not comfortable plays to experience - reading them was hard enough, I imagine seeing them would be even more harrowing. The anger and violence is shocking, but they also express a strand of reaction and experience that I've never looked at before.  His volume  of his well-known plays: Dutchman and The Slave are probably as much Jones as one can take at a time.

I am thinking of revisiting For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. I was too young when I read it as a teen.   I think I need to come back to it now.

Two other plays I read last year which don't match their more famous siblings above, but gave me valuable perspective and a reading experience I enjoyed: A Soldier's Play and Five on the Black Hand Side.

I'd like to close with a few quotes from Dr King and a brief video clip of his "How long?" speech which includes a line which speaks to my deepest hopes:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

May we, soon and in our days, see this proven true.  I believe all our caring, thinking, talking, and striving are part of the bending of that arc, and I have been holding on to a quote often attributed to Dr King, but not sourced: 

 “Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

(also seen as "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase")

Here are a few quotes from Dr King's speeches and writings which echo, for me, some of our conversations:

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” - "A Time to Break Silence" [quoting, and agreeing with, an executive committee's document]
“We are challenged to  rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” - "Facing the Challenge of a New Age"
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”  - "A Time to Break Silence"
"We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation" - "I Have A Dream"
"I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future. … When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."  - "Where Do We Go From Here?"

Please link to your specific  post and not your general blog link. In the Your Name field, type in your name and the name of the book in parenthesis. In the Your URL field leave a link to your specific post. If you don't have a blog, leave a comment telling us what you have been reading.   Every week I will put up Mr. Linky which will close at the end of each book week.  No matter what book you are reading or reviewing at the time, whether it be # 1 or # 5 or so on, link to the current week's post.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

BW2: Sahitya Akademi - India's National Academy of Letters

Since I'm experiencing 1950's India through Vikram Seth's eyes, decided to do a bit more exploring and found Sahitya Akademi which is India's National Academy of Letters. The academy was established to promote Indian Literature.   They issue awards to authors of books written in 22 Indian languages, including English.  Seth won the English Award in 1988 for his novel The Golden Gate and Arundhati Roy won in 2005 for her novel The Algebra of Infinite Justice, which she declined to accept.

Every February, Sahitya Akademi holds a week long Festival of Letters where they present  awards for creative writing,and  hold literary seminars and lectures by distinguished writers.  Throughout the year, they hold seminars and author readings as well as workshops for translators to gather, discuss and hone translations. If you are curious, check out their multi part you-tube videos of talks during 2015 Festival.  Besides the Sahitya award, they also have the Sahitya Prize for Translation,  Bhasha Samman for outstanding translations, the Bal Sahitya Puraskar for books published in the past five year and Yuva Puraskar for writers under 35.

Recent winners in each language category 

  • Assamese:  Akashar Chhabi Aru Anyanya Galpa (Short Stories) - Kula Saikia
  • Bengali:  Piya Mana Bhabe (Poetry) - Utpal Kumar Basu
  • Bodo:  Baidi Dengkhw Baidi Gab (Poetry) - Brajendra Kumar Brahma
  • Dogri:  Parchhamen Di Lo (Poetry) - Dhian Singh
  • English:  Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer (Novel) - Cyrus Mistry
  • Gujarati: Antey Aarambh (Part-I & II)(Essays) -  Rasik Shah
  • Hindi:  Aag Ki Hansi (Poetry) - Ramdarash Mishra
  • Kannada:   Akshaya Kavya (Poetry) - K.V. Tirumalesh
  • Kashmiri:  Jamis Ta Kasheeri Manz Kashir Natia Adabuk Tawareekh (Criticism) - Bashir Bhadarwahi
  • Konkani:  Karna Parva (Play) -  Uday Bhembre
  • Maithili: Khissa (Short Stories) - Man Mohan Jha
  • Mayalam:  Aarachar (Novel) -  K.R. Meera
  • Manipuri:  Ahingna Yekshilliba Mang (Poetry) -  Kshetri Rajen
  • Marathi:  Chalat-Chitravyooh (Memoirs) - Arun Khopkar
  • Nepali:  Samayaka Prativimbaharu (Short Stories) - Gupta Pradhan
  • Odia:  Mahishasurara Muhan (Short Stories) -  Bibhuti Pattanaik
  • Punjabi: Maat Lok (Novel) - Jaswinder Singh
  • Rajasthani:  Gawaad (Novel) -  Madhu Acharya 'Ashawadi'
  • Sanskrit:  Vanadevi (Epic) - Ram Shankar Awasthi
  • Santhali:  Parsi Khatir (Play) - Rabilal Tudu
  • Sindhi:  Mahengi Murk (Short Stories) - Maya Rahi
  • Tamil:  Ilakkiya Suvadugal (Essays) - A. Madhavan
  • Telugu: Vimuktha (Short Stories) - Volga
  • Urdu:  Tasawwuf Aur Bhakti (Tanqeedi Aur Taqabuli Mutalea) (Criticism) - Shamim Tariq
In addition to publishing individual works and anthologies, the Akademi also publishes biographies, critical editions and the National Bibliography of Indian Literature.  Check out the link here to see the full lists and have fun exploring

Please link to your specific  post and not your general blog link. In the Your Name field, type in your name and the name of the book in parenthesis. In the Your URL field leave a link to your specific post. If you don't have a blog, leave a comment telling us what you have been reading.   Every week I will put up Mr. Linky which will close at the end of each book week.  No matter what book you are reading or reviewing at the time, whether it be # 1 or # 5 or so on, link to the current week's post.

Friday, January 1, 2016

BW1: Happy New Reading Year

Courtesy of World Atlas 

Happy New Year and cheers to a wonderful new year of reading 52 Books in 52 Weeks. Welcome back to all who are joining me for another round and to those joining in for the first time.

 The rules are quite simple. Read 52 Books. That's it. How you get there is up to you. To aid us in our reading adventures, we have several optional challenges which are listed in the link bar above:  A to Z, Dusty and/or Chunky and 52 Books Bingo, as well as our perpetual Well Educated Mind challenge.  We have monthly themes and author flavors listed along with a few readalongs and various mini challenges throughout the year to tickle your reading taste buds.  

There is no Frigate like a Book  
To take us Lands away,  
Nor any Coursers like a Page  
Of prancing Poetry –   
This Traverse may the poorest take         
Without oppress of Toll –   
How frugal is the Chariot  
That bears a Human soul.

~ Emily Dickinson

In previous years we have traveled by train, plane, car and on foot, backpacking across the continents. This year, with Emily Dickinson as our muse, we will be sailing around the world, visiting various ports of calls.  We'll start off East of the Prime Meridian in the Indian Ocean.  Quite a few countries are bordered by the Indian Ocean including Africa and the Arabian peninsula,  India, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, as well as the Antarctic. So many choices.  You may choose to travel along with me or chart your own course.

Our author flavors of the month are Vikrim Seth and Arundhati Roy.   I'll be weighing anchor in the Bay of Bengal and begin exploring India with Seth's A Suitable Boy.

Discover more authors from India through  Penguin India and  Harper Collins Publisher India  as well as independent press Grapevine India.

In February we will be starting a year long read of Susan Wise Bauer's History of the Renaissance World, reading two chapters a week.  Please join us. 

Our first reading week will run from January 1st through Saturday, January 9th.  Take your time to explore the different challenges, links to book resources, visit your fellow readers and of course, read.  I look forward to hearing all about your adventures.  

For the first week, link to your I'm participating post, reading plans or to your most current review. Please link to your specific  post and not your general blog link. In the Your Name field, type in your name and the name of the book in parenthesis. In the Your URL field leave a link to your specific post. If you don't have a blog, leave a comment telling us what you have been reading.   Every week I will put up  Mr. Linky which will close at the end of each book week.  No matter what book you are reading or reviewing at the time, whether it be # 1 or # 5 or so on, link to the current week's post.