September 2018 books read

  • A Bend in the River – V.S. Naipaul, 1979 – I thought I had pulled quotes, but I can’t find them. Read for Second Monday. I recall liking it.
  • Strides: Running Through History with an Unlikely Athlete – Benjamin Cheever, 2007. Didn’t love it, but my dad did and I got him a copy! It gets my hackles up when people claim “anyone” can run an 8-minute mile if they just try hard enough.
  • Emily Fox-Seton – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1901 – Re-read for the umpteenth time, thanks to myself for digitizing it! I actually found a few more typos but didn’t mark them… I will next time. Trivia: I swear I read somewhere that this (or maybe just the first of the two novels that were combined here, ie The Making of a Marchioness) was one of Princess Di’s favorite books, but I can’t find it now.
  • I just skimmed it because I had to miss the Nature and Enviro meeting: The Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey D. Sachs (2015). It’s too bad it turned out to be such a textbook, but I learned some things I’m glad to know about: the five concerns about distribution of wellbeing (extreme poverty, inequality, social mobility, discrimination, social cohesion), the chart of nine planetary boundaries, countries where Human Development Index and gross domestic product run in different directions (high HDI/low GDP in 2013: UK, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Korea; high GDP/low HDI: Qatar, Kuwait, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon), Kondratiev waves, stunting (short, from long-term poor diet, infections, etc.) vs wasting (thin, from acute undernutrition), etc. I never took any econ classes so the fundamental ideas, wrongly applied as they may be, were interesting. “[S]ustainable development is inherently an exercise in problem solving. It is about being creative and creating new models to combine economic, social, and environment concerns.”
  • 1984 – George Orwell, 1949 – quotes pulled, review tdb
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization – Thomas Cahill, 1995 – quotes pulled, review tdb
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott, 1868
  • The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin, 1974
  • The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin, 1963 – quotes pulled, review tdb
  • The Beachcomber’s Book – Bernice Kohn, 1970 – Borrowed from the library based on nostalgic memories, especially of the clambake recipes. The illustrations by Arabelle Wheatley are classic. Still enjoyable.

The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin, 1963

This was a Great Books selection that most everyone thought highly of, and which led to a great discussion. I want to read it again more slowly – it was so good.

Short quotes

  • “For these innocent people [white people] have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.”
  • “For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.”
  • “But the Negro’s experience of the white world cannot possibly create in him any respect for the standards by which the white world claims to live. His own condition is overwhelming proof that white people do not live by these standards.”
  • “When I watched all the children, their copper, brown, and beige faces staring up at me as I taught Sunday school, I felt that I was committing a crime in talking about the gentle Jesus, in telling them to reconcile themselves to their misery on earth in order to gain the crown of eternal life. Were only Negroes to gain this crown? Was Heaven, then, to be merely another ghetto?”
  • “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time to get rid of Him.”
  • “But renewal becomes impossible if one supposes things to be constant that are not—safety, for example, or money, or power. One clings then to chimeras, by which one can only be betrayed, and the entire hope—the entire possibility—of freedom disappears.”

Longer quotes

The fear I heard in my father’s voice, for example, when he realized that I really believed I could do anything a white boy could do, and had every intention of proving it, was not at all like the fear I heard when one of us was ill or had fallen down the stairs or strayed too far from the house. It was another fear, a fear that the child, in challenging the white world’s assumptions, was putting himself in the path of destruction.

For many years I could not ask myself why human relief had to be acheived in a fashion at once so pagan and so desperate—in a fashion at once so unspeakably old and so unutterably new. And by the time I was able to ask myself this question, I was also able to see that the principles governing the rites and customs of the churches in which I grew up did not differ from the principles governing the rites and customs of other churches, white. The princples were Blindness, Loneliness, and Terror, the first principle necessarily and actively cultivated in order to deny the two others. I would love to believe that the principles were Faith, Hope, and Charity, but this is clearly not so for most Christians, or for what we call the Christian world.

When told by a fellow minister not to give his seat to a white woman:

But what was the point, the purpose, of my salvation if it did not permit me to behave with love toward others, no matter how they behaved toward me? What others did was their responsibility, for which they would answer when the judgment trumpet sounded. But what I did was my responsibility, and I would have to answer, too—unless, of course, there was also in Heaven a special dispensation for the benighted black, who was not to be judged in the same way as other humans beings, or angels. It probably occurred to me around this time that the vision people hold of the world to come is but a reflection, with predictable willful distortions, of the world in which they live. And this did not apply only to Negroes, who were no more “simple” or “spontaneous” or “Christian” than anybody else—who were merely more oppressed.

To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread. It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again, instead of the blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it. And I am not being frivolous now, either. Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become. It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives, that makes the discussion, let alone elucidation, of any conundrum—that is, any reality—so supremely difficult. The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality—for this touchstone can be only oneself.

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.

All of know, whether or not we are able to admit it, that mirrors can only lie, that death by drowning is all that awaits one there. It is for this reason that love is so desperately sought and so cunningly avoided. Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.

The Negro boys and girls who are facing mobs today come out of a long line of improbable aristocrats—the only genuine aristocrats this country has produced. I say “this country” because their frame of reference was totally American. They were hewing out of the mountain of white supremacy the stone of their individuality. … I am proud of these people not because of their color but because of their intelligence and their spiritual force and their beauty. The country should be proud of them, too, but, alas, not many people in this country even know of their existence. And the reason for this ignorance is that a knowledge of the role these people played—and play—in American life would reveal more about America to Americans than Americans wish to know.

The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed that collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world’s most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents—or, anyway, mothers—know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way.