The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

Read: 19 January, 2019

On this story, Faulkner wrote: “if we in America have reached that point in our desperate culture when we must murder children, no matter for what reasons or for what color, we do not deserve to survive and probably won’t.”

To which Tyson responds: “Ask yourself whether America’s predicament is so different now.”

This is the story of a gruesome murder, a complicit culture, and a miscarriage of justice. While the United States was fighting its cold war in the name of democracy, it allowed two men to be acquitted of a murder that every single juror knew perfectly well they had committed, simply because their victim – a child – was black.

And have we changed? Really?

In a time where “Black lives matter” is a controversial statement and Trump is president, I can’t see that we have. As the author puts it, “we cannot transcend our past without confronting it.”

Apart from the subject matter, this is an excellent book. It covers Till’s life, giving a good sense of who he was as a unique person. Tyson also spends a good deal of time setting the stage, going into some of the recent events of the time. After going over the murder and the trial, Tyson covers the aftermath – both immediate, in the civil rights movement, and more long term, in Till’s memory in the Black Lives Matter movement. The book is a good coverage of what happened and why it matters, without that “true crime” fetishization.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell

Read: 4 February, 2018

I happened on this book while searching for north African recipe books, and I’m still debating whether that’s a search algorithm win or a search algorithm fail. In any case, I knew as soon as I saw it that I had to read it, and promptly put it on hold at my library.

The book is a collection of memoir essays. They are a bit disconnected (although all come back, in some way, to themes of social justice), but I didn’t mind this time. It felt natural, like a conversation with a good friend that goes all over the place.

I really enjoyed the way Bell breaks down concepts – even when I still understood what he was getting at, I enjoyed the journey of the explanation. I never felt talked down to or excluded, even when he was explaining 101 concepts, even when he was clearly addressing readers who’ve shared his perspective and experiences.

This isn’t as hard-hitting as, for example, Between the World and Me or The New Jim Crow, while still expressing many of the same ideas. This would be a perfect starter book for that white friend who kinda gets it but doesn’t get it get it, but who wouldn’t want “all the negativity” of Michelle Alexander.

Divergent Trilogy #3: Allegient by Veronica Roth

Read: 6 September, 2014

The series began as The Breakfast Club in a post-apocalyptic world. In the third and final installment, Roth seems to have been going for a graduation from that high school prejudice into the prejudices of the adult (or “outside”) world – racism. Except not racism, of course, but “genetically damaged” versus “genetically pure.” But yeah, racism. Reading the book, as I am, so soon after Ferguson, I feel like it should resonate more than it does.

The “twist” fails, I think, because we’ve been peeling back the layers of the onion only to discover that it was actually an apple after all, and that just doesn’t work in the third book in a trilogy. The idea of an outside world was set up early on, but the image we get of it as the big reveal at the end of the second book is shown to be a near-complete falsehood just a few chapters into the next book. As a result, if feels much more like a lack of planning than an actual twist.

There’s also a rather significant stylistic change. Rather than all being in Tris’s voice, the third book suddenly adds Four as a secondary POV character. Changing narrative styles so late in the game should be done with caution, and I don’t feel that it worked here.

The characters seem addicted to revolution. It was one thing to fight against the Jeanine and perhaps the current fraction structure, that was set up early on and it made sense within the context of the book. I could even sort of understand a realization that the revolution didn’t really improve things, and that the oppressed are often quite happy to become oppressors when given the chance. That would have made sense and would have made for a perfectly good moral lesson to tie the series together. What happens in the third book, however, is that Tris & co. first join the Allegiants to fight against Jeanine and the Factionless, then join the Genetically Damaged to fight against the Genetically Pure. They’re so addicted to the process of revolution that they couldn’t even stick with one for the entire length of the book.

SPOILERS: The big sacrifice ending was silly. No one was in danger of dying, so Tris’s big sacrifice was to keep people from having their memories erased, because she believed that erasing people’s memories is a morally bad thing. Yet her sacrifice occurs while erasing people’s memories. That’s right, she believes that X is bad, so she sacrifices herself to do X. It’s absurd.

Overall, I found that the book felt rushed, and suffered from an apparent lack of planning throughout the writing process of the series. Through the other books, I was content with the peeling of onion layers. But in this one, knowing what the core looks like, really revealed the series’s flaws.

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