Book Bingo

REVIEW: Caste

“As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”

Isabel Wilkerson has written an important book. Long-listed for some awards, and short-listed for others, it was named the #1 Non-Fiction Book of 2020 by Time magazine, and Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club.

Despite all that, not everyone will read it.

Everyone should.

Wilkerson, a Pulitzer-prize winning author and journalist has written a powerful, disturbing, and heartbreaking account of the American caste system. I know there are people who hear the word “caste” and think, not here! Or that’s only in India or other places. Wilkerson, through impeccable research of caste systems in India and Germany easily proves that a caste system is fully alive in America. Her book gains more credence as she weaves in stories and examples of our caste system at work. Like the time when a little league team went to a public pool to celebrate their win and the one black child on the team was not allowed in the pool and was relegated to eating his lunch on a blanket outside the fenced area. When his coaches pleaded with the lifeguard to let him in, the cleared the pool of everyone, and placed him on a raft, while one lifeguard pushed him around the pool repeatedly saying, “Don’t touch the water. Just don’t touch the water.” It’s no surprise a teammate recalled this incident saying the boy was never the same after that outing.

As hard as it is to read these stories, it’s imperative we do; especially if we have had the privilege of being born to the dominant caste. It’s our role to dismantle the confines of our caste system, rewrite policy, open doors, extend the seats at the table to everyone.

Wilkerson writes:

“In our era, it is not enough to be tolerant. You tolerate mosquitoes in the summer, a rattle in an engine, the gray slush that collects at the crosswalk in winter. You tolerate what you would rather not have to deal with and wish would go away. It is no honor to be tolerated. Every spiritual tradition says love your neighbor as yourself, not tolerate them.”

I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more. I have never felt good about the idea of tolerating another person. We need to connect, understand, respect, and support one another. And while we need more empathy, it’s not the cure-all to eliminating this struggle for power that has been ingrained for centuries.

“Empathy is no substitute for the experience itself. We don’t get to tell a person with a broken leg or a bullet wound that they are not in pain. And people who have hit the caste lottery are not in a position to tell a person who has suffered under the tyranny of caste what is offensive or hurtful or demeaning to those at the bottom. The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly. And the least that a person in the dominant caste can do is not make the pain any worse.”

I believe that all of us in the dominant caste have a responsibility to make the world better for everyone, not just those who look like us. One way to start is by understanding how we got here. Wilkerson’s book is a great place to start.

REVIEW: The Midnight Library

“Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices… Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”

The average adult makes approximately 35,000 decision a day – some consciously, others not. And each decision results in a specific direction or outcome that would be different, were we to make a different choice.

At 35, Nora Seed is sad. She’s just lost her retail job at String Theory, a guitar shop, that she’s held for 12 years. Her cat, Voltaire, was found dead on the side of the road. She’s estranged from her older brother. She does not want to live and is certain she will not be missed. So she makes a choice to end her life.

But life had different plans.

Nora doesn’t die. She ends up in a sort of limbo, in between life and death, at the Midnight Library. Staffed by her elementary school librarian, Mrs. Elm, Nora is presented first with a doorstop of a book that holds all of her regrets. There are so many, she can only read a couple at a time. Mrs. Elm has her close the book and focus on the choices she can make. Each book in this infinite collection, is a version of her life that goes a different way simply by making a different choice.

But Nora is done making choices and she’s ready to die. She want’s to die.

Mrs. Elm says if that were the case, she would not have ended up at the Midnight Library.

“Want,’ she told her, in a measured tone, ‘is an interesting word. It means lack. Sometimes if we fill that lack with something else the original want disappears entirely. Maybe you have a lack problem rather than a want problem. Maybe there is a life that you really want to live.”

And so, an adventure of sorts begins. Whenever Nora steps into a new life, she can stay and settle in, or if she remains disappointed, she can return to the library. There is a catch though, while there are infinite books meaning and endless amount of lives and possibilities, there is not an endless supply of time. The duration of her time to decide is unknown.

What could end up being a book of doom and gloom or pointless repetition ends up being a gem of a story — no, stories — about the possibilities that life can offer. The audiobook version narrated by Carey Mulligan as extra depth. Author Haig delivers so many good nuggets about patience, kindness, creativity, and curiosity. And there are important reminders, like this one:

“There are patterns to life . . . Rhythms. It is so easy, while trapped in just the one life, to imagine that times of sadness or tragedy or failure or fear are a result of that particular existence. That it is a by-product of living a certain way, rather than simply living. I mean, it would have made things a lot easier if we understood there was no way of living that can immunise you against sadness. And that sadness is intrinsically part of the fabric of happiness. You can’t have one without the other. Of course, they come in different degrees and quantities. But there is no life where you can be in a state of sheer happiness for ever. And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you’re in.”

The Midnight Library came into my life at an important time. When I, along with so many others, are dealing with major Covid pandemic fatigue. When I, along with so many others, have a loved one that deals with depression. When, I along with so many others, are getting by turning off the news, and turning to books. Especially books that remind us there is so much to experience in this life, even if every day isn’t picture perfect.

REVIEW: Anxious People

The first book of a new year is important. I always want to start strong, with a book I really enjoy. It feels like a way of starting the year off on a good note. Last year, despite all that was bad in 2020, I read some really good books. I kicked off the year with The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane and adored them both. This left me equal parts thrilled and terrified that I had read the best books I would read in 2021 before the end of February. And that was mainly true. You can check out my best and worst reads of 2020 column I co-authored with my Snotty Literati partner, Jennifer Spiegel.

So after the complete shit-show that was 2020, I was excited to turn a new page, pun intended, and was hoping my first pick of the year, Anxious People by Fredrik Backman would deliver.

The premise is a failed bank robber bursts into an open house and takes eight extremely anxious people hostage. Everyone, including the bank robber, is not who they seem. On appearances, they are annoying, irritating, total idiots. But as time passes, and times is invested, we learn there’s so much more than that superficial first layer. And as I read it, I knew this was the best book I could have chosen to kick off a year that is still recovering from the pain of the previous twelve months.

I hope Mr. Backman knows how special this book of his is. I am considering writing him a letter. Do people still do that? In the meantime, I will address him here.

Dear Mr. Backman,

Thank you.

Thank you for writing a book that so fully captures how idiotic, complex, annoying, beautiful, flawed, genuine, short-sighted, short-tempered, and insightful, and caring people can be. Thank you for writing a book that reminds us how far patience and a kind gesture can go. Thank you for writing a book that made me roll my eyes, laugh out load, and catch my breath. Thank you for writing a book that is a great reminder that it’s really hard some times to not be an idiot, that we are all idiots at one time or another, and we would all be a little better off if we offered up a little grace.

Consider me a forever fan.

Fate and Furies

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff is one of the most talked about books from 2015. After Snotty Literati read it, we couldn’t stop talking about it.

Check out our conversation about Fates and Furies and chime in with your own thoughts in the comments!

Fates and Furies Cover Image