For Kids!

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate PowellMarch Pic

People, I had the chance to hear Congressman John Lewis speak this past weekend—if you ever have a similar opportunity I highly recommend it. Lewis has written a graphic novel (along with a co-author and illustrator) about his experiences in the civil rights movement. His project is modeled after a comic book he read in the 1950s, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, which ultimately inspired him to join the civil rights movement. Lewis’ book aims to bring his story to a new generation and it was really great to see a bunch of tweens in the crowd. From what I’ve read so far, this would be good for kids roughly 10 years and up. I think. I know nothing about kids or what they read, so, parents: check it out and be the judge. (And let me know) It’s very well done.


NG Pic

The Night Guest
by Fiona McFarlane

Consider this metaphor: growing old is like being the protagonist in one’s own mystery. Things start out on solid footing, but as events progress, a fog settles over your preconceptions. You start to question your memory of things but you also question the version of those around you. Perhaps you’ve misinterpreted something or are being misinterpreted. Who can you trust? Where can you turn?

The small, grainy author photo of Australian writer Fiona McFarlane had me guessing she was somewhere in her 20’s, but it turns out that Ms. McFarlane clocks in at the ripe old age of 36. That fact is notable only because this debut novel deals with the topic of aging in such wise and knowing terms, it seems hard to believe that its writer is 40 years younger than its protagonist.

So what we have here is an interesting idea—a crime story written from the perspective of its 75-year old victim—written with great empathy and understanding. But beyond that, I don’t know what to tell you. This was one of those books where I kept repeating, “I won’t know if I like it until the end.”

How do you decide whether or not you’re going to keep reading a book about which you feel ambivalent? I spent years (and years and years) following some now-bewildering code of diligence in which any book I began to read I would finish, whether or not I was actually enjoying it. I’d love to think that this vigilance was the sign of a serious mind that wanted to embrace every challenge or figure out the value in any work, but frankly, I fear I was asleep at the wheel half the time.

I really hate to admit this, but up until probably just a few years ago, I carried around this idea that if enough other people (particularly people with some credibility) liked a book, then either I should too, or, at the very least, said book deserved a complete read, because who was I with my subjective thinking to deem someone else’s work uninteresting?

I can’t identify exactly when I finally figured out that applying a Protestant work ethic to the act of reading was as joyless as a Puritan at prom, but I can pinpoint one moment that stuck with me. I happened to be looking through one of my favorite catalogs, Levenger, (fancy office supplies for reader types) and stumbled upon a quote from its founder that went something like this: “If you’re not putting down at least 20% of the books you read before you finish them, you’re not challenging yourself enough.” Now you might say, “But T, you were challenging yourself. You were reading all those books you didn’t like.” Well, here’s the cold, hard truth, friends. Those books I didn’t like? Half the time I think I’d just start zoning out and wasn’t even paying attention. I was just completing the task at hand. What a waste!

So thanks in part to the CEO of Levenger, I’ve become a lot more intentional about my reading selections. And while The Night Guest certainly passed my newly imposed 50-page test and was worth the read, know that if you choose to pick it up, much like its slightly confused protagonist, you won’t be sure how you feel until the end.

Up Next: The new Murakami!


Another great cover. Who needs Henry when the books look this good?

Another great cover. Who needs Henry when the books look this good?

The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Reagan’s Rise to Power
by Seth Rosenfeld

Being a staunch Gen Xer in a city of militant hippies can be a confusing existence. Starting with the realization that there is such a thing as a militant hippie. So I figured that Subversives, which chronicles Berkeley in the 60’s, might provide me with some missing historical knowledge about this place that’s become my home and, in the process, maybe I would start to understand the mysterious habits of an indigenous species known as the Baby Boomers.

Subversives follows the trajectories of three men whose paths converged during Berkeley’s student protests: Mario Savio, leader of the Free Speech Movement; Clark Kerr, president of the University of California; and Ronald Reagan. Seth Rosenfeld, the book’s author, spent more than 30 years piecing together this story as he battled the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act to attain secret agency files. Four lawsuits later, he finally obtained 250,000 pages of previously unreleased material that fleshes out the standard 60’s narrative in a detailed and fascinating way. Given my penchant for getting to the bottom of this whole Baby Boomer thing, I found myself particularly drawn to Mario Savio’s story.

Born in 1942 and raised in a Catholic household, Savio was an uber intellectual with a genius-level IQ and a sensitive soul. He loved math and science and assumed he would become a physicist. As he hit his teenage years, Savio’s deep thinking became more complicated as he tried to reconcile his scientific mind with his devout religious beliefs.

Later, looking back on his childhood, Savio claimed that his most formative experience was when he came across pictures from the Holocaust for the first time. “It’s like a dark, grotesque secret that people had, that at some time in the recent past people were being incinerated and piled up … I started to get the idea that people weren’t really coming completely clean about things … that there was almost a conspiracy not to tell the truth to oneself, even on a mass scale.”

Reading this quote from Savio, I started to get where his generation was/is coming from a little more. If one feels that society has refused to acknowledge evil and act accordingly, it would follow that one would Question Authority and all the convention, consumerism and bureaucracy that comes along with that authority. So, yeah, trying to change the world comes with some entitlement.

There isn’t space here for me to tell you exactly how, a decade later, Savio found himself standing on top of a Berkeley police car delivering an improvised speech to hundreds of his fellow students who sat surrounding the car. That speech would come to mark the beginning of the Free Speech Movement and, some would argue, the beginning of The Sixties.

I began reading Subversives during the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri. I’d been riveted by CNN’s 24-hour coverage (by the way, if anyone can tell me why people hate Don Lemon, I’d love some insight) and I was feeling like I needed a reading selection with some relevance—however indirect—to current events. In Rosenfeld’s prologue, he explains that his book “illustrates the dangers that the combination of secrecy and power pose to democracy, especially during turbulent times.” Enough said. I recommend this book to anyone interested in a history of Berkeley and/or those seeking to fan any dying flames of resentment toward Ronald Reagan.

Speaking of Reagan, I think I’ll be reading fiction next …