I love making random little connections between books, noodling on book pairings (between other books, TV shows, music, etc), picking up on big ideas and seeing it across multiple books. Almost like the books are having a conversation with each other (and maybe letting me eavesdrop).
Does it ever seem like your books are talking to each other? You’re reading, say, a book about the justice system and then the next book you happen to pick up continues along that same path. Almost like the nonfiction gives me facts, the fiction provides “real life” examples.
I watched the film adaptation of JUST MERCY a couple of weeks ago and was struck by how perfectly Tayari Jones captured the injustice served by our “justice” system and how it fails Black families in AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE. On the international level (because shitty justice systems and corrupt politicians are a global problem), I recently finished A BURNING about a young Muslim woman arrested for a terrorist attack that she was not a part of set in present day India.
I’ve read reviews about AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE that floor me…” this isn’t what marriage looks like” …”they were married a year, that’s not a marriage”. I want to smack these people over the head with a hardcover edition of the book. That isn’t the point, folks. It is a single marriage that was barely given a chance before it was swiped out from under Roy and Celestial when he is accused of rape by a white woman. I’ve never compared my marriage to anyone else’s because it’s a unique bond between two people who make a choice to love each other forever and since no two people are alike, it’s impossible that any two marriages are alike.
Where AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE is quiet, personal, focusing on the interior lives of the characters. A BURNING by Megha Majumdar takes place in public. Jivan, an accused terrorist, is arrested based on a social media post. She lives in the slums of Kolkata and has few resources or people to vouch for her. She is taken to prison with little evidence and public opinion already against her. PT Sir is a physical trainer at a local school that Jivan once attended on scholarship. He wants to be more though; after stumbling upon a political rally, he becomes deeply involved with the right-wing party. Lovely lives in the same area as Jivan and aspires of being a film star. Interludes between each chapter provide a wider picture – perspectives from reporters, Jivan’s parents, etc.
After finishing A BURNING, I remembered a book I purchased years ago at an event sponsored by either the State Library or a local consortium that featured Shona Patel. Her father was an Assam tea planter and so she wrote what she knew (smart!). TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY is not heavy-hitting literature, but it is a charming love story set in and around an Assam tea plantation during the 1940s. The descriptions were luscious, the details divine, and the characters captivating. Reading about tea just makes me want to drink sweet tea from Ken’s (a restaurant in my hometown).
And with that, we’ve come full circle back to justice (or the lack of). Wait? How did I make that jump? I grew up in North Florida where sweet tea was plentiful and not once did someone say “we have sugar on the table” when I ordered SWEET TEA. Sugar on the table?! That’s just having unsweetened tea with sugar in it. You can’t have sweet tea when you’ve already got ICE IN THE CUP. But I digress…
Racism is also plentiful where I grew up (and where you grew up). Since finishing SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE and WHITE FRAGILITY, all of the posts I would normally pass over as “nothing to do with me”, I now read with the knowledge that the defensiveness I felt that caused me to keep scrolling was my white fragility rearing its ugly head. Realizing that was like a giant smack in the head with a frying pan and the greatest bathroom lighting in the world got turned on all at the same time. So, great I have this new knowledge and I feel TERRIBLE, what the hell am I supposed to do?!
While I still have a lot of unlearning ahead of me, I have learned these three things:
- Shut up
So that’s what I’ve been doing. Inspired by JUST MERCY and the inspiring work of Bryan Stevenson, over the last month I’ve donated to several organizations focused on criminal justice reform. Including:
My monthly donations will go to a variety of organizations. Some are already decided or are already on monthly billing cycles, but I also want to keep my dollars open to new groups that may form.
Wear a mask!
Read good books!