More nonfiction

More than Just Race, William Julius Wilson

My library said that it had all these books by bell hooks, on whom I developed a girl crush in college, but when I went to the section of the library where bell hooks’s books were supposed to be, there were none! I should have checked to see that it was my branch of the library that has those books. But I was too excited to read about racism to just walk away, and I have heard many shiny good things about William Julius Wilson, so I checked out a few of his books.

More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City explores the structural and cultural factors that have contributed to racial divisions and persistent poverty in inner city neighborhoods. Wilson discusses all sorts of structural factors that have contributed to this. For instance, he cites one study that found that 80% of entry-level jobs are located in the suburbs, even though most entry-level workers are found in the inner city. Public transportation is terrible and nobody can get to work! It’s all highways, and not everyone can afford a car!

I was impressed with Wilson’s readiness to consider studies and theories that espoused views in conflict with his own, as well as to point up flaws in studies and theories that aligned with his views. Although he is dealing with a number of fraught issues, as in the chapter on the economic plight of poor black men, or the one on the fragmentation of families, he is unfailingly thoughtful and careful, always acknowledging the difficulty of coming to conclusions about the relative importance of structural and cultural factors in the persistence of racial divisions and poverty in the inner city.

Has anyone else read this? I will add a link!

The Caliph’s House, Tahir Shah

This is what Tahir Shah did. He bought a mansion in Casablanca and moved there. The mansion came with three guardians, who insisted on mediating between him and the many Jinns they insist populate the house. The Jinns were (apparently) responsible for the hanged dead cats that showed up in the trees and scared his little daughter; for actually any misfortune at all that happened in the house. When Shah tried to renovate the house, the architects knocked down all the walls and seemed incapable of finishing anything. The first assistant he hired–

I have to stop. The catalogue of misfortune is too long to list it all again here. If I have ever in my life taken from any book the message that I should stay in my own hometown, and never leave, because if I leave, I will have no money and no walls and no working toilet and when I find myself unhappy about this state of affairs it will be blamed upon Jinns because everyone in Morocco believes in them (says Tahir Shah), IT IS THIS BOOK. The moral is, don’t travel. Ever. Never leave home. I am pretty sure that’s what Shah is trying to say.

Okay, I guess that is not the message. The book ends on a hopeful note. Don’t not read it because you are afraid it will convince you never to travel anywhere again. I was a coward long before I read The Caliph’s House. Long before. Years.

Shah can be very funny about the people he encounters in Morocco, and I really liked the way he structured the book, with little tidbits of several different stories at a time. He would tell a snippet of a story about his assistant with her romantic troubles, leave it for a while to talk about the gangster who lived in the shantytown near the Caliph’s House, leave that for a while to talk about the mysterious locked room in his house, to which the guardians will not provide the key. Until eventually you have the whole of all these stories. It feels frenetic and bewildering, like Shah’s life in the Caliph’s House.

Survey: Are y’all adventurous travel people? Or staying at home people? When you have a catastrophe while traveling, do you melt into nervous breakdown, or rise to the occasion and tell the story later with gusto?

I do the former. In 2005 I burst into tears in the Atlanta airport after 48 hours with no sleep and missing my connection and one suitcase vanishing and the other suitcase catching and ripping off one of my fingernails. So I sat down on the floor and cried and ate McVities chocolate digestive biscuits, and when an airport employee came to ask what was wrong, I could not formulate and produce a verbal answer. So I gave him a cookie instead. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. That is the kind of traveler I am.

Other reviews:

At Home with Books (thanks for the recommendation!)
S. Krishna’s Books
Tammy’s Book Nook
Lotus Reads

Let me know if I missed yours!

Runaways (vol. 1), Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Adolpha

Runaways has been sounding wonderful to me for a while now. It’s a comic book about a group of kids whose parents turn out to be supervillains. The kids witness their parents sacrificing a young woman; duly horrified, they run away from home. Their parents are supervillains and they all run away! Supervillains! Their parents are supervillains! As premises for comic books go, this is a fun one. With runaway children, and parents that are supervillains. It was adorable and charming in many ways.

I am sitting here heaving huge sighs of unhappiness, because I wanted to and in many ways did like this book. It made reference to The Prisoner. The kids all have different powers and do different things. I think it’s possible that if I had read this book in single issues, one at a time over several weeks, rather than in a big compendium of the whole run of comics, the problem that bothered the crap out of me would have bothered me less. But I didn’t do that. I read it all in one day, on the drive to and then back from visiting my grandmother.

Briefly, what stopped me enjoying Runaways was race stuff. I wasn’t happy with the portrayal of the only set of black parents. I’m about to spoil a whole bunch of things about this volume of the series, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading. Fairly enormous spoilers follow.

First of all, there are twelve parents, but the guy to shank the poor, innocent, teenage girl at the beginning is the black father. Then it’s the black mother who shoots the cop nonfatally, and subsequently, when the cop gets shot fatally, guess who does it? The black father! Oh, yeah, and check out the backstory. All the parents were engaged in their various activities when they were summoned by the Super Evil Evil People, who then set them on the path to supervillainy. One set of parents were scientists, one time-travellers, one mutants being persecuted, one aliens checking out the earth, and one magicians. Guess what the black parents were doing before they became supervillains? They were petty thieves! They robbed people with guns! That’s what they did before they became supervillains. Nice, eh?

Oh, but wait, I am not quite done. Hold for the really huge spoilers. When the book starts, and the kids are first running away, the parents get a note that basically says Dear parents, I still love and trust you and will tell you where we are soon; and then throughout the book you are always wondering who the mole is. Personally, I was hoping that the note was part of a cleverly masterminded plan to fool the parents. I was hoping that, and ignoring evidence to the contrary, because–why? Because I didn’t want the mole to be the one of the kids never really under serious suspicion of being the mole. But it was. It was the black kid. Who then dies in the final battle.

In short, the black characters seemed disproportionately criminal and wicked compared to the others, without any real plot reason for them to be that way. And the longer the book went on, and the more I wanted to find it fun and awesome, the more I felt I could not find it fun and awesome because I was so uncomfortable with the race stuff. Frown.