Read With Us

Read With Us: Announcing Our Next Book Pick

Read With Us

Back in January, my computer was inundated with promotional ads and posts about a highly anticipated new book . . . "American Dirt."  And before I could even put it on my "want to read" list on Goodreads . . . well.  There was controversy.

I don't want to turn this post into a forum for what you think of all that, but I do want to say that . . . initially, the controversy made me want to read the book to see for myself what all the hub-bub was about.  But it also made me want to look deeper into why there was controversy in the first place (because when it comes to Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies. . . I'm a Questioner).

I read a lot of articles and essays and opinion pieces about the book and surrounding controversy . . . and then I read this one, which did a great job explaining the issue (it's long, but worth reading if you want to learn more).  And I decided I didn't actually want to read that book after all.   But I was more interested in the topic of immigration than ever, and particularly in border crossings into the US from Mexico.  And I was most interested in reading authentic fiction about the immigration experience.  

I happened upon this list of 17 great books to read on the border instead of American Dirt, and when I shared the list with Bonny and Carole, we discovered there . . . our next Read With Us title!

Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

I hope you'll join us in reading I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Ericka L. Sánchez.  I think you'll find it an interesting and timely read -- with so much for us to discuss.  

We'll be giving you more background on the book in April, and we'll begin our discussion posts in May.  So you have plenty of time to find the book and start reading!  The book should be readily available at most libraries, and because it came out in 2017, there may not be much of a wait for it (fingers crossed).  The paperback version is available from Amazon for $7.99 right now -- even less than the price of the Kindle version.  However you choose to read, I hope you'll choose to . . . 

Read With Us!

 


Fever: Week 3 Discussion

Read With Us

Welcome to the final Read With Us book discussion for Fever!

Please join the discussion by leaving a comment here on the blog. I'll be responding to your comments directly IN the comments, so please do check back once in a while to see how the discussion is going this week. Please feel free to respond to other commenters as well.

As Carole and Bonny have already explained, this time around we've got an added bonus to participating in the book discussion. We have put together a “book lovers' surprise package” to be given to one lucky Fever reader! Just leave a comment on any of our book discussion blog posts. Your name will be placed in a hat EACH time you make a comment — so the more you share, express your opinions, and comment, the more chances you have to win the prize. The winner will be revealed as part of our wrap-up post on February 25!

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Now.  On with our discussion!

Fever

It's kind of interesting to host the final discussion.  I'm already privy to many of your thoughts and insights about the book, based on your comments in our earlier discussions hosted by Carole and Bonny.  I know, for example, that many of you felt that the book would have been stronger with more attention paid to Dr. Soper, and with perhaps more focus on the factors that led to the link between Mary Mallon and her identification as an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever.  I also know that while most of us agree that it's critical to protect public health, we also feel that Mary Mallon was treated unfairly because she was a poor immigrant -- and a woman, to boot.

What else can I even ask . . . in this 3rd and final discussion?

Well.

First, let's talk about Alfred, shall we?

The character of Mary's long-time partner, Alfred Briehof - a German immigrant with addiction problems, a spotty work ethic, and commitment issues - was not based on an actual person in Mary's life (according to the available historical records and details). While it is nice to think that Mary had a "special someone" to share her life with, it seems to me that the author gave the character Alfred a lot of "space" in the story (even allowing him his own "point of view" for a few rather confusing chapters there in the middle of the book).

What did you think of Alfred?  Did the relationship between Mary and Alfred help you understand Mary's life choices better?  Did their life together ring true in this particular historical setting and context?  Did you think Mary's behavior toward Alfred was consistent with the rest of her character?  What do you think of the author's choice to focus attention so heavily on Alfred?

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Next, let's talk about Fever as a work of historical fiction.

The book is classified as historical fiction. It is factually based on a real-life, historical person (Mary Mallon) and features many key events in her history.  It is also fictional -- bringing the past to life for readers by embellishing Mary's life with fabricated details.  Many people in the story were historical figures:  Dr. Soper, the Warren family of Oyster Bay, Dr. Biggs, Josephine Baker, and Ernst Lederle, for example.  And the book tied in some real-life events to help cement the setting and timeline:  the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the sinking of the Titanic, for example.  Yet the majority of characters, situations, and conversations are fictional.

How do you think this worked in Fever?  Did you notice any things in the book that seemed out of place or time, given the historical setting?  Did the characters speak and act like people would have done in that period of time/in that situation?  Did the book feel authentic to you?  Why or why not?

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And, finally, let's talk about Mary herself.  

Many of us, in our comments in the earlier discussions, mentioned that we didn't feel that we really got to know Mary Mallon.  She seemed enigmatic to us -- sometimes independent, confident, and stubborn, but other times . . .  well, not so much . . . taking on work that would get her in trouble, for example, just so she could feed her boyfriend's addiction.

Do you think this was the author's intent -- to keep us at arm's length from Mary?  Are there things the author might have done differently to draw us closer to Mary?  Were you surprised at how Mary reacted/responded to Alfred's drug addiction given how she handled other situations in her life?  Do you think you may have enjoyed the book more if you could understand (and maybe even cheer for) Mary?  

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Would you recommend this book to others?

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Be sure to join us next Tuesday over at Bonny's . . . as we wrap up this go 'round of Read With Us and announce the winner of our "book lovers' surprise package!"

 


Read With Us: A New Book

Read With Us

Bonny and Carole and I are pleased to share our next Read With Us book selection today.  After much discussion and careful consideration, we've chosen Fever by Mary Beth Keane.

Fever

What's it about?  

Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

On the eve of the twentieth century, Mary Mallon emigrated from Ireland at age fifteen to make her way in New York City. Brave, headstrong, and dreaming of being a cook, she fought to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic-service ladder. Canny and enterprising, she worked her way to the kitchen, and discovered in herself the true talent of a chef. Sought after by New York aristocracy, and with an independence rare for a woman of the time, she seemed to have achieved the life she'd aimed for when she arrived in Castle Garden. Then one determined medical engineer noticed that she left a trail of disease wherever she cooked, and identified her as an asymptomatic carrier of Typhoid Fever. With this seemingly preposterous theory, he made Mallon a hunted woman.

The Department of Health sent Mallon to North Brother Island, where she was kept in isolation from 1907 to 1910, then released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary, proud of her former status and passionate about cooking, the alternatives were abhorrent. She defied the edict.

Bringing early-twentieth-century New York alive, the neighborhoods, the bars, the park carved out of upper Manhattan, the boat traffic, the mansions and sweatshops and emerging skyscrapers, Fever is an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life. In the imagination of Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon becomes a fiercely compelling, dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising, and unforgettable heroine.

Why did we choose it?

We really did put a lot of thought into our second book selection.  We wanted to choose a fiction book for this go-round, and we wanted it to be obscure enough that most of you haven't already read it, interesting - and full of discussable issues and topics, highly regarded, old enough to be available through most libraries, and short enough to be readable during the holiday months.

That's a lot of shoes for a mere book to fill . . . but we think we've done it with Fever!  (Besides . . .it's historical fiction about a woman most of us have heard about by reputation -- but really don't know much about.  And that's always interesting.)

What's the timeline?

Let's just say . . . you have plenty of time to get your hands on a copy of Fever!  We'll be starting our background/promotional posts in January, with discussion posts to follow in February.

Where can I get a copy of the book?

I see that Fever is available for download on Kindle or iBooks ($12.99), as a paperback ($10.99 on Amazon; I also saw it on the shelf at my local Barnes & Noble for the same price), or through your local library.  (The book was written in 2014, so there shouldn't be a big rush to read it.)

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So.  There you have it.  All the details on our new book selection.  
I hope you'll . . . Read With Us this winter!

 

 


The Big Wrap-Up: Just Mercy

Way back in September (which seems like a million years ago now, doesn't it?), Bonny and Carole and I launched our Read With Us experiment.  Although we thought it would be a fun thing to do . . . we had no idea if anyone else might think it was a fun thing to do.  Y'know?  

Read With Us

Would you think it was a good idea?
Would you like the book we chose?
Would you join in?
Would you . . . Read With Us?

And, now . . . here we are.  At the end of November.  Having our first read-along under our belts -- and all ready for a wrap-up!  (When we were doing our blog post planning for Just Mercy, I drew the "short straw."  Which means . . . I get to write this summary post for our first book.  And since we've never done this before, there is no precedent.  Which means I can make it up . . . right here right now.)  Let's go!

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You Had A Lot to Say

Each of us . . . first me, then Bonny, and then Carole . . . hosted a week of discussion about our chosen book - Just Mercy - on our blogs.  And, yes.  We know the format was not ideal (we're working on that).  But.  Even though the discussion format was less than ideal, you had . . . A Lot to Say!  I'm not going to reiterate all of your comments and our discussion here in this post, but I will say that this book touched most of us in a profound way.  We were shocked and appalled by the injustice of our criminal justice system; horrified by how it all "works."  I'll just summarize by saying it was . . .  eye-opening.

(Please click on our names, above, if you'd like to check out the discussions on our blog posts.)

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You Wanted to Take Action

Many of us, after reading Just Mercy, wanted to Do Something.  We were ready to take action.  The issues with mass incarceration and the failings of our criminal justice system (especially for people of color, children, and those struggling with mental health issues) were just overwhelming -- and appalling to all of us reading along.

In her discussion, Bonny shared this link from Equal Justice Institute (the author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson's, organization).  The site encourages us to "get close"/get involved through action in the following four areas:

  • Change the narrative
  • Get proximate
  • Be uncomfortable
  • Create hope

The EJI website lists several things we might do to be involved.  Do check it out!

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Taking It Further

Here are a few more things I've found over our weeks of reading and thinking about Just Mercy that may interest you.

In the News

First, I ran across this article in yesterday's Washington Post about 3 men in Baltimore - arrested as teens - being exonerated after 36 years in prison for a wrongful murder conviction.  Their story could have been lifted right out of the pages of Just Mercy. In this case, though, it was Baltimore's Conviction Integrity Unit that cleaned up this criminal justice . . . mess.  

More and more courts (districts, states) are forming their own Conviction Integrity Units (according to the Washington Post article, there are more than 50 in the country now).  Do a Google search to find out what's happening in your state.  (I discovered that there are a couple of active Conviction Integrity Units here in Michigan, for example.)

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We Are All Criminals

Next, I want to share this TED talk by Emily Baxter explaining her We Are All Criminals project.  This TED talk is 18 minutes long -- and worth every single minute.  (In fact, there is an even longer version of her original talk at Google available here.  It's 46 minutes long.  But absolutely worth the time.) 

What's all this about?  Well . . . it's about the very, very, (very) fine line between living in the shadow of a criminal record . . . or having the luxury to forget.  It's all about reframing the way we look at justice.

(Watch it.  It'll change the way you think.)

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The Movie

And lastly, I just want to remind you that there is a movie - Just Mercy - based on Bryan Stevenson's book coming out in December (on the 25th, I believe).  It's getting some Oscar-buzz, and looks terrific.  Here's the trailer.  If you want to see the book come to life -- or if you didn't have a chance to read the book, but you're interested in what it's all about -- watch for the movie at your local theater next month.

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And . . . that's a wrap on our first Read With Us read-along . . . Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.  

Next week, we'll be announcing the NEXT book that you can . . . Read With Us!  

In the meantime, we'd love your input!  Please click here to take a VERY-short-and-VERY-sweet online survey.  It's 8 questions - guaranteed to take No Time At All!  We want to hear from you -- whether you read along with us this go-round or not.  At the very beginning of this whole adventure, we told you it was our Read With Us "beta" test.  Now, we'd like your help so we can make it even better.  Thanks.

 


Checking In

It's been a while since I've written a post about fitness and wellness.  (Like with exercise itself, sometimes we get off track, y'know?)  So as I head out this morning for an early spin class and probably some weight work (I don't really feel like it right now, but I really ought do it anyway. . . ), I thought this would be a good time to check in with you.

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How are you doing with your fitness these days?  
What's working for you?  
Or . . . what's not working for you?
Do you have any progress or new goals you want to share?

Let's . . . check in!

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And . . . head over to Bonny's today for more Read With Us.  This week, Bonny is hosting our continuing discussion of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.  (I hear she has pastries . . . )

 

 


Read With Us: Book Discussion Week 1

Welcome . . . to the first ever Read With Us book discussion post!

Read With Us

We're so happy to have you join us as we begin our discussion of Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.  I'll be focusing our discussion this week on the Introduction and first 5 chapters of the book.  Next Tuesday (Nov 12), Bonny will talk about the middle portion of the book, and then Carole will follow up on Nov 19 with the final section.  On Nov 26, I'll be back to sum up our discussion for you.

Now for a bit of "housekeeping" regarding the discussion and how (we hope) it will work:  Please join the discussion by leaving a comment here on the blog.  I'll be responding to your comments IN the comments, so please do check back once in a while to see how the discussion is going this week.  Feel free to respond to other commenters as well.  We realize that this is not the most ideal discussion format, and that it's somewhat cumbersome and a little awkward --  but it's the most reasonable way we could think of . . . for a beginning step.  

So.  Let's get started, shall we?

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Welcome!

If this were an in-person kind of book group, I'd be welcoming you to my house for the discussion.  Since we're meeting via blog instead, let's just set the stage . . . and pretend we're all together.  In my living room.  Relaxed and sitting around my coffee table in front of the fire.  With a plate of homemade brownies and a couple of bottles of wine in easy reach.  After a few sips of wine and some social chit-chat, I'd announce that we were ready to begin . . . 

So.  What did you all think of the book?

Bryan Stevenson, an attorney in Alabama working with poor and underserved clients, provides a personal and sobering look at modern-day injustices in the US criminal justice system.  While the book closely follows the story of Walter McMillian, a man unjustly sentenced to death row for a murder he did not commit, Stevenson also weaves in several other poignant stories about underage and/or mentally ill clients suffering similar injustices.  By telling these heartbreaking stories, Stevenson brings criminal justice statistics to life and makes us care . . . and seethe.

I found this book to be heartbreaking AND hopeful -- and certainly inspiring.  Going into the reading, I already knew the criminal justice system in our country was broken; Just Mercy opened my eyes to just HOW broken it really is. Bryan Stevenson has challenged me to think more openly about what justice means . . . and what mercy looks like. 

(I shared quite a bit of background about the author, Bryan Stevenson, in an earlier post, and Bonny provided a link to his TED Talk, so I don't want to repeat any of that information here.  Please do take a look if you missed either of those posts earlier.)

Here are a few questions rooted in the early chapters of the book, just to get the discussion started:

  1. Just Mercy begins with information about Bryan Stevenson growing up poor in a racially segregated community in Delaware. He remembers his grandmother telling him, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close." How does Stevenson get close to the incarcerated people he is helping? How does getting close to Walter McMillian affect Stevenson’s life? Do you think you can be an effective criminal lawyer without getting close?

  2. Walter McMillian was from Monroeville, Alabama.  Monroeville is extremely proud of its hometown hero Harper Lee and her book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a Pulitzer Prize winning piece that sees white lawyer Atticus Finch defending African American man Tom Robinson against fabricated rape charges of a white girl in racially divided Maycomb, Alabama. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is likely the most famous 20th century novel dealing with racial injustice, a distrustful legal system, and the evils of stereotyping. What do you have to say to a community that simultaneously wrongfully convicts a man due in large part to their own prejudice, all the while celebrating Harper Lee’s work? Is it ignorance? Naiveté? Indifference? What would you like to tell the community of Monroeville about this startling parallel?

  3. Early in the book, Stevenson describes an incident when he was racially profiled and the police searched his car. He wonders, if there had been drugs in his car and he was arrested, would he have been able to convince his attorney that his car was searched illegally? Stevenson says, “Would a judge believe that I’d done nothing wrong? Would they believe someone who was just like me but happened not to be a lawyer? Someone like me who was unemployed and had a criminal record?”  How does Stevenson’s work shape his understanding of the justice system? Do his experiences make him more or less empathetic to those in the justice system?  Is it surprising that someone whose 86-year-old grandfather was murdered would work so tirelessly against the death penalty?

Please join in the discussion by commenting below.  We're eager to hear what you think!  And if you don't like the questions I've asked, that's okay!  Please feel free to share your thoughts and impressions about the book -- or ask your own questions.  

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"My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.  Finally, I've come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment ot the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, adn the respected among us.  The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned."
    ----- Bryan Stevenson

 


Read With Us

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I'm a read-in-bed kind of person.  Most nights, before I go to sleep, I read a chapter of something.  (I have a nifty little book light for "traditional" books, and I love the "night reading" feature on my iPad for digital books.)  (So I don't bug Tom while I read, y'know?  Because he is generally not a read-in-bed kind of person.)  Right now, my before-sleep reading is Just Mercy, our Read With Us book selection for this quarter.  It’s a compelling read -- and I’m getting caught up in the stories author Bryan Stevenson is telling.

There’s still plenty of time to join us as we read Just Mercy this quarter.  This month, we’re providing some background information about the book.  Next month, we’ll begin posting some discussion questions so we can talk about the book together.  I hope you’ll join us!  It's easy.  There's nothing to sign up for or commit to.  All you need to do . . . is read with us!

Whenever I read a memoir*, I always find that I get more and more curious about the author as I read, and it’s been no different with this memoir, Just Mercy.  As I’m reading, I’m also doing quite a bit of Googling about the author, Bryan Stevenson.

Bryan stevenson

Bryan Stevenson. 
(Photo: Nick Frontiero/Pacific Standard)

Here are some interesting things I’ve learned about him:

  • Bryan Stevenson was born in the same year I was . . . 1959. (We graduated from high school the same year, too . . . 1977.)  He grew up poor in rural Delaware, in a community where segregation was the norm – even after integration in the early 1960s.  As a child, Bryan was a talented pianist and singer.  He traveled and performed with his church choir.  Bryan’s great grandparents were slaves in Virginia; his grandfather was murdered in a Philadelphia housing project when Bryan was a teenager.
  • He attended Eastern College (now Eastern University) in Pennsylvania, and then went on to Harvard Law School. As you’ll read in Just Mercy, his law school classes weren’t quite resonating with him – until he did an internship with Southern Prisoners Defense Committee based in Atlanta and first worked with death row prisoners.  Then . . . his career path was clear, and he made this his life's work.
  • Alabama is the only death-penalty state that doesn’t provide state-funded legal assistance to death row inmates. To address this inequity, Bryan founded the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989, and remains its executive director.  In his 30 year career with EJI, Bryan Stevenson has won relief for scores of condemned prisoners, exonerating a number of innocent ones.  He fought to end the death penalty and life sentences without parole for juveniles, and continues to work for improvement in the treatment of the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, and children in prison.
  • In addition to his work in the courtroom, Bryan has also led the creation of two cultural sites which opened in 2018:  the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which chronicle the legacy of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation, and the connection to mass incarceration and contemporary issues of racial bias. 
  • An HBO documentary about Bryan and his work with EJI, True Justice, premiered in June.  (Watch the trailer below.)  In December, Just Mercy - a movie based on the book we're reading, will be out in theaters.  You can see the trailer for the movie here

To read a more comprehensive summary of Bryan Stevenson’s accomplishments and accolades, click here.  To learn more about his philosophy and commitment to breaking down bias by teaching/talking about racial trauma, segregation, and listening to marginalized voices, you may want to read this excellent interview in the Pacific Standard.

I do hope you’ll join us over the next few weeks as we read Just Mercy.

Read With Us!

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*If you’re wondering what the difference is between an autobiography and a memoir, click here for a helpful description.

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Read Bonny's post from last Tuesday with even more information about Just Mercy.  And watch for another post next Tuesday when Carole adds her perspective.

 


A Bloggy Kind of Book Group

Every now and then, I get an . . . itch . . . to do something differently.  
To shake things up.  
To take a bit of a risk.
To try something new.

Today, I'm excited to invite y'all to come along!

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Yep.  It's a bloggy kind of book group, and I'll be one of your hosts -- along with Bonny and Carole.

Here's how it works:

Each quarter, we'll read a new book together.  On the first month of the quarter, we'll introduce the new book.  In the second month of the quarter, each of your hosts will put together a post about the book, and in the third month of the quarter, we'll host book discussions on our blogs.  (For now, we'll just discuss the book in our comment sections, but maybe - if this works - we'll get fancy and try something more interactive.)

Want to read with us?

Our first book is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, a "powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice"*  This book has been on my personal "to read" list for a while now.  I've heard it's excellent -- a book you won't easily forget, one that will both make you mad and give you hope -- and I can't wait to read it with you.  

If you're hesitant because you don't like to read non-fiction, please don't rule this book out!  I've heard it reads like a story, and that even people who don't care for non-fiction find it engaging.  It's been out for a few years now (published in 2014), so it's available in paperback ($7.89 on Amazon, if you're a Prime member) or on Kindle or iBooks (slightly higher $).  I was able to pick up the book at my local library -- there wasn't even a waiting list.

You know what else might be kind of fun?  Just Mercy is coming out in movie form in December.  (It's on my Oscar watch list, and it's getting Oscar-hype already).  Wouldn't it be interesting to have read the book before the movie comes out?

I really hope you'll come along and . . . Read With Us!
(Tell your friends.)

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Please let us know what you think of our plan in the comments.  We consider this a "beta" test of the "bloggy book club concept," and are eager for your feedback to make future adjustments.  

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* A statement made in so many reviews of the book I just don't know who to quote. . .