Saturday, February 6, 2021

First Lines: January 2021 edition

Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in January.  I was able to complete 6 books only because I had a huge break from work at the end of December.



Book 1

The first week of July 2016 was tumultuous. The nation was rocked by two killings of black men at the hands of law enforcement officials.



Book 2

The Speech for the Defence

This is the story of a five-year sojourn that I and my family made on the Greek island of Corfu.  It was originally intended to be a mildly nostalgic account of the natural history of the island, but I made a grave mistake by introducing my family into the book in the first few pages.


Book 3

In February 1884, just as Anna Hall Roosevelt learned that she was pregnant, a blinding fog closed over Manhattan. Thicker and heavier than any in recent memory, it shut the city down for days.


Book 4

Prologue: Straightening Cobwebs

It is almost impossible, by today’s standards of celebrity, to comprehend the level of fame that Boris Pasternak engendered in Russia from the 1920s onwards.

Book 5

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.  For some they come in with the tide.  For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sign, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.  That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget.  The dream is the truth.  Then they act and do things accordingly.


Book 6

Over the past few years, conversations about politics have started feeling toxic and hopeless.  People we sit in the pew with every Sunday have begun to feel like strangers, and loved ones sitting across our dinner tables feel like enemies.


The titles and authors revealed:


Book 1

There’s A Storm Comin’: How the American Church Can Lead Through Times of Racial Crisis   by Dr. Harold Dorrell Briscoe, Jr.  © 2020.  194 pages.  

An interesting approach – using what the author learned about mitigation of climate change consequences, and applying that to how church leaders can engage in mitigation of racial crises.


Book 2

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. 271 pages.  © 1956.

This book would have been quite amusing, but the older brother is a narcissist, and that made it difficult reading for me.  If you like flowing, adjective-full descriptions of animals and nature scenes, interspersed with strange family dynamics, this is the book for you.  The writing did improve as the book proceeded.  Some really funny scenes.  For book club.


Book 3

Eleanor by David Michaelis,  © 2020.  536 pages of text; including footnotes, index: 698 pages.

A biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, given to me by my brother and sister-in-law, in recognition of Pennsylvania voting for Biden-Harris in the 2020 election, and my part in making that happen. Eleanor Roosevelt was an amazing person.  While she grew up in a rich family, it was by no means a happy childhood.  She ended up being a spokesperson and activist for peace, human rights, civil rights, and dignity.  She was often unsure of herself, which I can relate to. This book tells her story in an engaging way.



Book 4

Lara: The untold love story and the inspiration for Doctor Zhivago, by Anna Pasternak. 310 pages.  © 2017

The true story behind Pasternak’s novel – his affair with Olga Ivinskaya, as researched by a journalist who is the great-niece of Boris Pasternak.  Despite Pasternak’s passionate declarations of love for Olga, he was never able to leave his second wife Zinaida and family. Olga was sent to the gulag (Soviet concentration camp) twice.  Olga’s daughter Irina was sent to a concentration camp – most probably for revenge against Pasternak.  For book club.


Book 5

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. © 1937.  219 pages

This is a singular book.  To me, this book is about agency, or the lack of it - being able to make choices to control your own destiny.  I hope to say more about this book later, but the way things are going… well, we’ll see.  I read it for book club.


Book 6

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A guide to grace-filled political conversations  by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers.  © 2019.   224 pages.

I did a speed read of the book.  The points made and the exercises seem excellent, but I didn’t engage in doing them.  In a sense, given the insurrection a month ago today at the U.S. Capitol, this book seems a little out of date.  The authors have a podcast, which is more current than this book, but I haven’t had time to listen. 

What’s on your reading list?

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Groundhog Day 2021

Selections from my Equal Justice Initiative History of Racial Injustice calendar.  I’ve chosen historical items from after 1900, all from the month of January.  

Jan 2, 1944

William James Howard, a Black 15-year-old, is lynched by three white men in Suwannee County, Florida, after one of the men accuses Howard of writing a love note to his daughter.

Jan 4, 2008

Ohio SWAT team fatally shoots Black mother, injures baby in her arms.

Jan 7, 1966

After student activist Samuel Younge Jr. is killed by a white gas station attendant because Younge insisted on using the white bathroom, Tuskegee University students march in protest.

Jan 11, 1960

Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver Jr. threatens to withhold state funding from any public school that attempts to integrate Black and white students.

Jan 15, 1991

In Board of Education of Oklahoma City Schools v. Dowell, U.S. Supreme Court ends federal desegregation order even though it will cause racial re-segregation of school system.

January 19, 1930

For five days, white mobs harass, beat, shoot, and destroy property of Filipino farmworkers in Watsonville, California, following interracial dancing and economic competition.

January 24, 1956

Men who murdered Emmett Till confess in Look magazine.

January 30, 1956

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s house in Montgomery, Alabama is bombed while he speaks at a mass meeting; King later addresses angry crowd and pleads for nonviolence.

* * * * * * * * *

Black history made in the past ~ 2 years in January, as hastily compiled by me

January 5, 2021

Senator Raphael Warnock wins election to become the first Black U.S. Senator from Georgia.

(Black people have been living in Georgia for ~260 years.)

January 6, 2021

Insurrectionists storm the U.S. Capitol Building.  The Confederate Flag is carried through the halls of U.S. Government.  Most of those involved are white.  Most walk away that day without being arrested, a stark contrast to those involved in protests against the killing of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a White police officer.

January 14, 2019

US Representative Steve King of Iowa is stripped of his committee assignments, following his white supremacist remarks.  (He lost his seat in the primary election of 2020. He had been introducing racist legislation and public comments for ~ 17 years.)

January 20, 2021

Madam Vice President Kamala Harris becomes the first Black woman VPOTUS.

January 29, 2019

New York City Reaches $3.3 Million Settlement With Kalief Browder's Family.

Kalief Browder, arrested at age 16,  was imprisoned for three years without trial, on accusation of stealing a backpack. His imprisonment included two years in solitary confinement, and also beatings by guards and other inmates.  The charges were dismissed and he was released from prison.  He later committed suicide.  

Little Progress on Civil Rights Issues