Bet you all thought I had given up on the #15BooksofSummer Challenge Cathy @ 746 Books has been hosting.
(The idea is that you make a list of 10, 15, or 20 books from your TBR, you read them between June 3 and September 3, and then you post about them. A bit of focus for the summer months and a nice way to clear off some of those books that always seem to get overlooked)
But I haven’t! I’ve been trying really hard to make sure that the books get read. Posting about them however…given the choice between using nap-time (sacred, sacred time) for reading or for writing content…this lazy mom chooses reading.
I’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction tear and gravitated towards the non-fiction picks on my list. Looking at the books I wanted to mention, they are all non-fiction so I guess I do have a theme today. I also really liked all of them.
First up: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Am I the only one that I didn’t realize that this was non-fiction? In May of 1981, antiques dealer Jim Williams shot and killed Danny Hansford, a local male prostitute. Over the next decade, there are four different trials and everyone in Savannah has an opinion on what happened.
I love true crime but this is probably one of the least interesting crimes I’ve read about. What makes this book such a compelling read is the cast of characters that the author socializes with during his time in Savannah. He has a front row seat to all the drama and introduces readers to the most incredible people: The Lady Chablis, a local transgender woman and entertainer, the folk magic practitioner Minerva, fighting with her husband, Dr. Buzzard, from beyond the grave, the guy who walks around with a small bottle of poison that could supposedly kill the entire city if he dropped it in the water supply, Williams’ lawyer, the keeper of the University of Georgia’s bulldog mascot, Uga.
Along with the people, Berendt manages to create an incredible sense of place. 1980s Savannah comes to life. It is, however, very much a product of it’s time. Berendt tells a privileged story from a position of privilege and it shows, despite the fact that at least half of the people involved in the story were actually quite poor.
After I finished the book, I watched the movie directed by Clint Eastwood. That’s probably where I got the idea that this book was fiction. The whole time my husband and I were watching it, I very helpfully explained to him what the actual story was.
I’d put off reading Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba because I rightly assumed that it would be a tough read. Les Parisiennes tells stories of the women in Paris during WWII, those who collaborated, the ones who were a part of the Resistance, those who were deported to concentration camps for being Jewish.
It is a really wide picture of what it was like to be a woman in Paris during the War, how the ‘choices’ one made were hardly choices. What choice is there between your child or your husband, feeding your family or spitting at a Nazi, living or dying? Sebba does a really good job at reminding readers that the things these women did weren’t so much choices, as they were the things that had to be done.
After the war, France (and a number of other countries including the Netherlands) liked to position their citizenry as all having been a part of the Resistance but that wasn’t actually true at all. There was also a marked difference between how those women returning from a place like Ravensbruck for Resistance work and those who returned from Auschwitz for being Jewish, were treated. And a few years after the war, people started to express that they were tired of hearing about it, how it was time to move on. For so many of these women, moving on wasn’t really possible.
Reading Les Parisiennes reminded me a bit of Caroline Moorehead’s A Train in Winter. But it was more difficult to keep track of everyone’s story in Les Parisiennes. Still, I found it to be a thoroughly researched picture of an unspeakable time.
Finally we come to the book that affected me the most: 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Josephs. Reading about Indigenous Peoples in Canada has always been something I’ve shied away from, likely because I knew it would shatter the ideal we hold that racism isn’t an issue here. But in the last couple of years I’ve tried to educate myself.
This book is based on a viral blog post that Josephs wrote. Josephs is actually a culture sensitivity trainer, working with companies to better understand Indigenous culture and history. The book covers things that you probably knew (it created reserves, forbade students from speaking their Indigenous languages, denied women status) and a LOT that you probably didn’t.
I obviously knew that the Indian Act was a travesty, stripping peoples of their culture, language and identity as resource-rich land was taken over by the Canadian government. But I didn’t know how far-reaching it actually was. I didn’t know that the Act created the band system, overriding traditional means of government that had worked for generations; that they were forbidden from appearing in traditional dress and performing dances or even just appearing at exhibitions or events; that it declared the potlatch illegal; that it renamed people with European names; or that it made it so that Indigenous peoples were unable to sell the produce from the farms they were forced to work.
I didn’t know that the Indian Act still exists.
And even allowing for the times in which he lived, John A. MacDonald (Canada’s first Prime Minister) was incredibly racist and I seriously don’t know why he’s still on our currency (he got bumped off the $10 but he’s being moved to the $100 – so long, Borden).
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, released it’s report and made 94 recommendations in order for Canadians to address the cultural genocide perpetrated by the Canadian government. Bob Josephs has included all of them in this book and I found it incredibly helpful, not only to have that as a resource, but also to have a way forward. It is 100% my responsibility to help work towards Reconciliation and now I have some concrete ideas for how I can do that.
Seriously, this book blew my mind. I’m still thinking about it weeks later and I want to press a copy into the hands of everyone I know.
So that’s it for the update for now – I’m about to finish A Gentleman in Moscow and then I will have read…7 of 15. Which is better than I thought and also really validates my decision not to pick 20!