The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Read: 9 October, 2017

In this book, Alexander describes the ‘New Jim Crow’, in which blackness is linked with criminality, and criminality with inhumanity – giving the perfect ‘colourblind’ cover for policies that disenfranchise huge numbers of African Americans.

Alexander’s writing style is very readable – which is great, because the subject matter is so relentlessly depressing. If it were a slog to read through as well, I don’t know that I would have been able to finish it. As it was, I slipped my way through the whole book, wide-eyed and feeling rather ill, in just a few days.

On a simple style level, this is also one of the best written non-fiction books I’ve read in a while. Every point is brought up exactly where it needs to be, and every question that occurred to me was anticipated and answered. Each chapter serve a purpose and builds to form a strong whole. I’m always complaining that non-fiction books often lack a targeted focus, seeming to blunder through a variety of somewhat related points with no clear focus on a thesis. The New Jim Crow is the opposite – for such a huge, systemic issue, Alexander strictly trims the tangents and focuses with laser-like precision.

It’s an interesting experience to be reading this book – which is all about ‘post-racist society’ and ‘colourblindness’ – in Trump’s America. I woke up this morning with a few pages left and headlines in the news about a follow-up neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. Alexander spends so much time trying to explain that the racism is still there, merely disguised as colourblindness, and I can’t help but wonder what the book would look like if it were written today.

I highly recommend this one. In fact, I wish it were required high school reading. It’s well written, well researched, and thoroughly heartbreaking.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol. 2: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

Read: 9 May, 2014

In the second volume of Octavian’s story, we find him escaping from slavery with his tutor, Doctor Trefusis, as the Revolutionary War erupts around them.

I found this volume to be quite a bit more of an emotional rollercoaster than the first – Trefusis providing a great deal of comic relief (and cementing himself as one of my all-time favourite fictional characters) against a backdrop of horror.

While the first book focused on the formation of Octavian, the second focused much more strongly on the theme of freedom – a word used so much in the context of American independence, yet one that is surprisingly fuzzy (as a black man, Octavian naturally notices that the freedom fought for often included the freedom to own other people).

As with the first volume, I found the book to be very informative and it left me with a lot to think about.

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