Read With Us

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.

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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. . .