Update: Brief Hiatus

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Photo credit: Gerd Altman / Pixbay / CC0 Public Domain

There was no Bookish post today and I apologize for that. I opted for sleep over writing a post. My dog, Nica, who is pictured in my profile picture, presented with severe fluid retention on Wednesday, August 16th and was diagnosed with a liver tumor. The tumor was surgical removed on Monday, August 21st. They ended up removing more than expected, including her gallbladder and a mass on her spleen as well as addressing an abnormal lymph node. Her recovery has been suboptimal and what was expected to be an overnight hospital stay turned into several days. Even though she was still incredibly anemic, we decided she should come home on Wednesday night in hopes of her improving faster out of the hospital. While she has made gradual improvement, she still needs care from me at least every 2 hours. This entire process has been incredibly draining as it has not been clear what is the underlying issue. We are still waiting on pathology results from the biopsies. The blog was updated last week mostly because of my writing the posts in advance, but my post on Thursday was written that morning and I am not happy with the quality. So in the interest of my own sanity and ensuring the quality on this blog is maintained, I will be taking at least a one week hiatus from blogging. If it needs to be longer depending on her recovery, I will update you as soon as the decision is made.

I appreciate all of your support and hope to connect with you all again very soon!

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The Shadow of the Wind – Reflection: Sexism

23682460491_1547feaeed_oPhoto credit: Ad busting: Stop sexism | luckyfotostream | CC 1.0

When I was reading The Shadow of the Wind I found myself getting angry and frustrated with the level of constant sexism. Worse though, I started attributing it to Spanish culture, even though I know this was simply one account of how things might have been in Spanish after the war. I kept flashing back to my time in Spain as a teenager and struggling to navigate a more aggressive sexual culture than what I had experienced in Midwestern America. I was uncomfortable with that experience and the book reminded me of that discomfort. But this time, I was uncomfortable with my discomfort.

When I watched the television show, Mad Men, I was not particularly bothered by the sexism. Yes, it angers me that that’s how it used to be, but I expect to see it during that time period. So why was I unable to chalk up the sexism in The Shadow of the Wind up to the time period? Is racism driving my concern that this type of sexism isn’t simply the time period, but part of a culture.

In the United States, there is a perception that in Latin American cultures, there is an aggressive sexual culture where men after forward and crass about their desires. I have previously dismissed this as likely a racist view of a culture people do not understand. Yet, when I was reading The Shadow of the Wind, I found myself assuming this was more of a cultural issue than a time period issue. I let a stereotype become true because I saw it in one book set in Spain.

I am still sorting out my reaction to the sexism in the book. I dislike sexism and I have no problem with my revulsion to some of the scenes in the book. Yet, I fear I focused too much on it to the point where I missed out enjoying a good book because I was so angry at a culture for treating women that way. I read this book with my perception of the world and was not able to fully put that aside. While I stand by my rating of the book, this is something I need to be more aware of in the future as I come across books with scenes I detest. I give American authors leeway I failed to give a Spanish author and I want to do better in the future.

When reading a book set in another time period, in a culture different from your own, how do you understand the rampant sexism in the book? Is it something to chalk up to a different era or a different culture? Should there be criticism for a book reflecting a reality? When do you let such things go?

The Shadow of the Wind – Review: Library

The Shadow of the Wind coverThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – 3.5/ 5 stars

When I walked into my library and saw this book on display, I immediately wanted to read it. I took it home and had to convince myself I needed to wait to read it until I finished the book I was currently reading. It’s not often that a book calls to me in such a way that I want to drop everything to start it, but The Shadow of the Wind called to me, which is a bit poetic since the entire premise of the book is that a book called to Daniel and led him down a path of mystery, intrigue, and danger. I wish this book had been as compelling for me as Daniel’s was for him. While I started with really high hopes, those hopes crumbled throughout the book.

In The Shadow of the Wind, a young son of a bookstore owner, Daniel, comes across the book, The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Yes, both the actual book and the fictitious book have the same name. Daniel devours the book and then seeks to learn more about the author. What he learns is that there are no other books by Julián Carax left in print because someone has been systematically destroying them. I found this to be an intriguing premise and to a certain extent I was captivated by its slow reveal, but there were several aspects which left me unsatisfied.

The first was how Daniel responded to this information. While the book blurb seems to indicate that Daniel will set out immediately to solve this mystery, actually, he is much more focused on a girl than the book or the story around the author of that book. While there is value in this story line, it drags on for entirely too long. In addition, this is where I stopped having a great affinity for Daniel. Like his father, I was incredibly disappointed with a choice that Daniel makes and honestly, it made much of the rest of the book unbelievable to me. This one action greatly shows who Daniel is and it isn’t a kind of person who would much care about unraveling a mystery, especially at great cost. While I enjoyed the unfolding of the mystery, I struggled to understand why Daniel was a central figure in it or why there was no movement on the mystery for many, many years and pages. My loss of affection for Daniel was a serious blow to the book as I care much more about characters than I do plot and this ended up costing the book a full star.

I also had problems with Daniel’s love interest. Unfortunately, it is challenging for me to say much about my problems without possibly spoiling the book. Suffice it to say that one love interest is better developed and makes much more sense in the context of the book and what the author is trying to accomplish where the other one is annoying instalove with little development and does not fit well within the broader story. Add to the top of that the constant, horrible, unnecessary sexism and it was hard to read much of the plot on the love interest at all. Of course, the sexism was not only towards Daniel’s love interests, but nearly every female character in the book. Yes, I understand that during the time period the book is set in, there was significant sexism and also that there may be differences in cultural views on women, but in the end, much of this commentary was strictly unnecessary and simply detracted from the enjoyment of the book. Again, I care much more about characters than I do about plot and these comments prevented me from having great affinity for nearly any male character in the book.

Since I found myself unable to connect to male characters, I pretty much was unable to connect with any character as nearly all female characters were background characters used to drive the story along. The most depth we get from female characters is from two different women who reveal much of the solution to the mystery. Whether men or women tell these stories, the characters always know significantly more than is possible for them to know. Their stories are told to other characters in the books, but yet they are written as simply another narrator, who is privy to personal thoughts, feelings, and background information of other characters in the story. This was unbelievable as some of these characters did not have the connections necessary to possibly know these things, let alone access to the internal struggles of characters outside themselves. This was a significant detractor from the book. Even Daniel, the main narrator and written from his point of view in the first person, knows things he cannot possibly know and the book is written as though it was in the third person, but since there are endless I’s throughout the book, it was instead written in the first person. I honestly found myself thinking it was written in the third person throughout the book and thinking that it made sense to know this much information, but then I would see the use of I and remember that Daniel cannot possibly know all of this information. This book would have been much more effective if it had been written in the third person, possibly from the point of view of more than one character, but only in the author would have been able to make those points of view distinctive, which I suspect would not have happened since the few moments we get of perspectives from other characters sound just like Daniel.

The final point of disappointment with this book is the ending, which is a little bit too perfect and covers too much ground. It was these last chapters that ruined the story for me as again I found it unbelievable and hard to connect with the characters. I do not understand why there are so many highly positive reviews and endorsements for this book, except for the fact that it is a book about books. As a avid reader, of course am intrigued by books about books, but I also know that it is simply a device to get more readers to read the book, so there better be something substantial to the book. There were several plot points I figured out less than halfway through the book, yet they weren’t revealed until the end of the book. In my opinion, the book was simply too long. Yes, it was incredibly well written and that matters greatly to me, but there needs to be more than simply well written sentences to push a book to a 4 or 5 star rating. There needs to be well developed characters the reader can connect with and this book lacked that for me. Without that, then it falls back on the plot and there was too much time spent on irrelevant plot, not enough time spent on relevant plot (though this is dangerously close to the lack of character development I mentioned before), too many unbelievable elements (not magical realism unbelievable – that was fine – but as discussed above), and too much unnecessary sexism to make this plot enough to carry the book. There are great lines in this book and those lines pushed me to continue the book in hopes that the final plot reveal would make up for the frustrations that worsened throughout the book, but in the end, the ending sealed for me that this was not the book for me. I wanted to love this book, but I simply could not. It was vastly better than Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which seems to want to be this book, but it was not on par with 4 star books, though it had potential to be. If you are interested in reading a mystery about books and know that is sufficient for you or you really love gothic books, than this is a definite read. If gothic books aren’t really your thing or you prioritize characters over plot, then I would suggest passing on this book, mostly because it is so very long.

Add on Goodreads! The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,  #1)

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Ready to buy? Purchase on Amazon or Book Depository. Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and Book Depository Affiliates Program, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com and BookDepository.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

Still Here – Reflection: Social Media

5209796269_3b538042c8_oPhoto credit: Social Media | Sean MacEntee | CC 2.0

I thought I’d do something different for this reflection. My copy of Still Here came with Extra Libris: A Reader’s Guide and I’m hoping it will spark discussion. I write reflections as a way to engage dialogue on books and I’m hopeful that this topic will spark lots of discussion. The question is:

How did reading Still Here and watching these characters interact with social media change the way you look at you own life online? Did you see any similarities or differences?

For those of you who have not yet read the book, here’s the relevant, non-spoiler quotes on how the characters interact with social media. From page 60, Regina is the lurker or someone who “rarely posted anything herself and almost never commented or liked.” From page 61, Vica is the affirmer and “‘liked’ everything and posted all these uplifting photos of their family trips.” The narrator forgets the name type for Sergey, but explains his type as one who “never posted anything himself, but would often butt in on his friends’ discussions with an especially lengthy intellectual comment, and then comment on his own comment.” Finally, Vadik thrived on social media as it “allowed him to try all those different personalities,” with a different personality for each platform.

What is your online presence like? Do you see yourself in any of these descriptions?

Starting around Thanksgiving 2016, I stopped checking Facebook. I haven’t actively checked since, though I log on every so often when I get an email that I was tagged in something or when I know pictures have been posted. I was an early adopter of Facebook (I signed up in 2004 when it still was The Facebook), but I didn’t ever quite figure out how to use it in a way that fit me. I want Facebook and social media to be another way to deeply connect with people, but that’s not how it works in practice. If one shares deeply personal things, it comes across as an overshare. Yet, at least for me, surface sharing just feels fake. I’m a person who strongly dislikes surface, how’s the weather kind of conversations, even with good friends. Social media feels more like these surface conversations, where people try to show the best version of themselves, but aren’t really connecting.

I thought I would really miss being on social and feel less connected to the world, but I don’t. Every so often, I think about going back to Facebook, but I never quite see the point. It would absolutely be different if I still lived far away from my family as seeing pictures of my nephew brought me endless joy, but now that I see him regularly, I don’t need other people’s pictures. I do have a Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr page for this blog, but things are automatically posted to those accounts, though I do go on them to interact with followers. I’m fine with this level of interaction with social media, but I don’t have much desire to engage more fully than that. I had gotten to a point where it consumed too much of my life and I’m glad I didn’t put the apps on the phone I bought last December.

I do see the value of social media and I understand how people different from me would love it. I usually post on Facebook whenever there is a crisis in my life; but I have yet to post about the current crisis. I’ve preferred to directly reach out to friends for support. Sometimes I feel obligated to post on social media to inform everyone what is going on, but this time, I do not. I need to deal with this in whatever way keeps me sane and not being on social media does that for me.

While Still Here didn’t go as deeply into the concept of an app that would preserve someone’s online presence after death as I was hoping, I did ponder whether I would want it to appear I was still there, reaching out from the beyond. I do not think I do. I find it a bit unsettling to have thoughts attributed to me after death and I’m not that bothered by not having a legacy. I do like the memorial page concept and I have found that helpful for the grieving process when I’ve lost friends. I don’t feel the need for more. All the things that went unsaid will forever be unsaid and no app can remedy that.

Interestingly, I just finished reading The Circle which take social media to a different extreme. It was an interesting contrast to read these books essentially back to back. There are so many aspects of social media we often do not take the time to think about, but as the technology continues to advance at an alarming rate, it’s not a bad idea to stop and think about who you want to be and what you want to share on social media.

What social media type are you? What are your thoughts on social media? Would you be interested in an app that maintained your online presence after death?

Still Here – Review: ARC

Still Here coverStill Here by Lara Vapnyar – 4/ 5 stars

The book blurb seems to imply the book will spend a significant amount of time on the “app designed to preserve a person’s online presence after death” which will “[spur] questions about the changing perception of death and the future of our virtual selves.” But this story isn’t really about the app, nor is does it set out to answer the questions “how do our online personas define us, and what will they say about us when we’re gone?” Instead, the description that is most accurate is that Still Here “follows the intertwined lives of four immigrants as they grapple with love, a new home, and the absurdities of the digital age.” It reminded me of a Seinfeld episode where nothing really happens, yet something does happen, all the while being amusing, with the added bonus of being about Russian immigrants.

This is an amusing tale about four Russian immigrants whose lives intersect in intricate ways, which is made all the more complex by the emerging situations they must confront. This is not a typical immigrant story as all four characters have all been in the United States for some length of time, but they do discuss current and previous struggles with how to fit in in New York City. These struggles to adapt to NYC are partly general identity struggles and ones which come up in a city with vast diversity in terms of income and ethnicity. I found myself relating to their struggles as I myself had struggled to find my place in NYC when I moved there. Still Here is a book about general life struggles and how four friends work on addressing those struggles. The struggles range from motherhood, employment, dating, housing, marriage, money, identity, among other things.Thus this is a story where everyone will have something to relate to.

While it took me awhile to get into Still Here, in the end, I found myself greatly enjoying it and I devoured it over two days. I found the story drew me in, though it is challenging to pinpoint exactly what this book is about or what it was that drew me in. The first four chapters are devoted to each of the four main characters: Vica, Vadik, Sergey, and Regina. While I was reading those chapters, they felt a bit like excessive backstory, but it becomes clear soon after that instead of being excessive, it’s the exact right amount of information needed in order to move the story forward while letting the reader understand the complexity of their relationships and the story unfolding. Their complex interconnectedness is what holds the book together throughout the novel and it is also is the heart of why this is such an intriguing story.

The most significant criticism is that the memory of this book is already failing. The feeling remains, but the details, the specific plot points, almost seemed to fade as soon as I finished the novel. While I greatly enjoyed the book, I struggle now to pinpoint why I enjoyed it or why I won’t remember it. In addition, while I enjoyed the prose, I won’t be running out to read another book by Lara Vapnar. I do hope to read some of her other books, but they will likely get buried on my to-be-read list. Maybe this is partly me; after all, I do not remember most Seinfeld episodes either, though I enjoyed everyone. Plus, it is not as though every book needs to stay with me. Entertainment is sometimes just that and like Seinfeld for me, this entertained, but won’t make a lasting impression.

If you are a reader who greatly prefers books with clear plots that have arches and end up resolved, this may not be the book for you. There are things that happen in the book and it is mostly wrapped up at the end, but the book also ends a bit open-ended while also not having strong plot points which drive the story. Instead, there are philosophical conversations and inner dialogues. There are personal internal struggles and misunderstandings. Much of what happens feels a bit like what happens in their everyday lives, though some of the events are not something which would occur every day. For me, this is what made the story so powerful. While not much happens, one becomes apart of their lives and ends up reflecting on death and social media.

I greatly enjoy books with strong character development and which make me think, especially along the lines of philosophy. This made Still Here a perfect novel for me. While it is less dark than many other novels I have read by Russian authors, it does have some elements of this; there is a decent amount of discussion about death after all. This novel also carries the tradition of philosophical and metaphysical questions which I love in Russian novels. If you also greatly enjoy Russian novels, than this book is for you. It is much more accessible than classical Russian novels and likely has a way of conveying its intended meaning better than them since there is no translator involved. If you enjoy literary fiction, you will also greatly enjoy this as it does an excellent job of transporting the reader through descriptive language. This is a book I would love for everyone to read, but I know there is a group of readers out there that strongly dislike books without strong plot and so I caution those readers before picking up this novel. But outside that, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading. It’s deep and yet light; it’s literary and yet an easy read; it’s about nothing and yet it is about something. I encourage you to pick this book up as it may be interestingly different from the books you tend to read.

I received this book from Blogging For Books and Hogarth in exchange for an honest review.

Add on Goodreads! Still Here

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Ready to buy? Purchase on Amazon or Book Depository. Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and Book Depository Affiliates Program, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com and BookDepository.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

The Hour of Daydreams – Bookish: Author Interview

AuthorPic_RiverMs. Rutledge, thank you so very much for taking the time for this interview. When I finished The Hour of Daydreams, I had questions about the context around the book which I did not quite know how to seek out an answer to, so I was delighted when you agreed to talk with me. I have since searched through your website and discovered a few other Q&As in which you talk about the folk tale this book is a retelling of, but for my readers that have not seen those interviews,

1) do you mind sharing again the name and details for that folk tale? What was it about this folk tale that inspired you to write a novel based on it?

See below.

2) In your interview on What the Log had to Say, you state that you gave the character, Tala, agency in her story. Why did you make that choice? Is it important to you for female characters to have agency?

In the folktale, a man falls in love with a star maiden. His father plots a way to entrap her. The man steals her wings and hides them. She moves into their home and becomes his bride. Through this, her side of the story is left unspoken. It’s taken for granted that she’s passive, a prize, an object. I couldn’t trust such a story as complete. My novel turns those assumptions on their head. Tala is in more control over the turn of events than the man who stole from her. To me, the maiden in the story is a main character, a powerful but vulnerable being, but not someone whose destiny is solely in the hands of the men around her. At the same time, the men in the folktale felt one-dimensional too. Manolo is much more conflicted. One could even say his love is genuine.

3) I am still fascinated by this idea that a folk tale could be based on real people. I saw the creation of the folk tale as a way for the characters to cope with a painful truth, about Tala’s background as well as her departure. In The Hour of Daydreams, the truth and the folk tale are so seamlessly interwoven, I felt the book spoke to a larger philosophical topic on the concept of reality – this question of where is the line between truth and tale. Was the book intended to speak to the concept of reality as shifting? What are your thoughts on reality and that line between truth and tale?

Truth is always changing and revealing itself. One person’s truth may be different from another’s. And even our own truths, about others, about ourselves, can fluctuate and deepen over time. The folktale reveals a snapshot of one truth. It is limited and designed to close the story, as if the one truth is all there is to tell.

I recreated the river scene in the folktale to show simultaneous truths from each character experiencing that moment in their own way. From the river scene, the novel branches off from the folktale to explore my unanswered questions about this marriage on new ground. Because of the nature of truth, learning about the characters’ past requires detective work. History is dependent on the historian. This is why both Manolo, and then Malaya, must seek out the answers about Tala for themselves.

4) Why did you choose the setting of the Philippines and use one of its folk tales? Is it important for you to share Filipino culture with an American English speaking audience? Is there anything you hope the readers gain from reading The Hour of Daydreams?

I chose to base the novel in the Philippines because that is where the folktale, The Star Maidens, comes from. However, there are many different versions of a similar folktale from other cultures. I’ve read one from Africa, where sky women come down from the sky via a rope that a man cuts in order to keep one of them grounded. And an Incan version where a sun goddess loses her golden dress so she cannot fly, and marries the man who hid it from her. These many shared tales suggest a link between cultures; there are universal themes that we are all invested in. More often than not, however, someone else’s version of a story is told. It means a lot to me that more people are seeking to learn about The Star Maidens and Filipino books/culture as a result of reading The Hour of Daydreams.

5) For me, this story was lyrical, poetic, magical, mystical, and vague. Even the setting felt a bit surreal. The truth was not laid out in a clear way and I am not certain I fully understand the truth of Tala. Was this intentional and if so, to what purpose? Why leave the truth a bit unresolved and hard to grasp?

The novel tells two parallel stories. Because of this, some people interpret the novel as saying that two things are always happening at once, both in the story, and in life; that the real world has a magical parallel. However, it was not possible for me to write two stories and make them both true. Early on, I had to decide which story I believed in order to continue the book. In other words, one of the plots is false. This was a great challenge, so to me, one of the greatest testaments to the novel’s success is the fact many readers have made far different conclusions from my own.

6) Would you say this book falls within modern Filipino literature, Filipino-American literature, or does it defy such categories? For readers of the The Hour of Daydreams who want to read more Filipino literature, Filipino-American literature, and/ or #ownvoices stories, do you have recommendations of fiction and/or nonfiction authors?

I’m proud to be an author, period. It’s a tough industry. I don’t know what category the book falls under, I myself am a Filipino American. I recently did the keynote speech for an awards ceremony honoring outstanding Filipino students in my community, and it was a privilege to learn how proud the students and their parents were to have me as a role model. While there are few nationally published authors in my city, there are even fewer of Filipino descent. I think the same can be said of most places. I’m happy I was able to write a book based on my own vision; not that of an editor or publisher who has their idea of what a book by a Filipino author should look like. I’d like to hope industry standards are changing; that publishers are responding to readers who seek authenticity in diverse stories.

Thank you so much for the questions, for reading and for connecting. I highly recommend Deceit and Other Possibilities, by Vanessa Hua;Monstress, by Lysley Tenorio; Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi; Queen of Spades, by Michael Shum; A Cup of Water Under My Bed, by Daisy Hernandez; and Marriage of a Thousand Lies, by SJ Sindu. I’m currently reading Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, and have Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizers and Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness waiting on my nightstand.

7) Do you plan to write more folk tale retellings? Retellings is a particular favorite genre of mine.

More and more, I feel another folktale retelling will happen. I’m getting excited for that time to come, when I’ve wrapped up my current projects. This is a matter of years from now; if you have the same email address then I’ll be sure to get in touch!

For more author interviews, press releases, and book reviews, check out: https://www.reneerutledge.com/

The Underground Railroad – Reflection: Privilege

3769037680_44652f2a55_zPhoto credit: Privilege | Stephen Dann | CC 2.0

This is another hard reflection for me to write. In order to be honest about how The Underground Railroad impacted me, I have to confront my privilege. As a white person, I have the privilege to ignore the horrors of slavery and their lasting impact. I have had the ability to have a general sense of its horrors, but never fully understand them. My privilege has allowed me to live in relative comfort thinking it wasn’t much different from how I was taught in school it was. After reading The Underground Railroad, I had a choice on whether to continue to live in the comfort of that privilege or acknowledge that I had hid behind my privilege all these years.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but to a certain extent, I like to bury my head in the sand. While this is in some ways a metaphor, it was also how I handled scary situations as a child. When there was an unnerving scene on TV, I would stick my head between the back of the couch and the couch pillows. My parents used to joke I was an ostrich. But even then, I wanted to hide instead of comforting what makes me uncomfortable. To this day, I still want to hide when I feel uncomfortable, though I don’t stick my head behind pillows anymore. But I do disengage. Disengagement and feigned ignorance has been my shameful secret to how I cope with America’s painful past.

Even as a young child, I paid attention to politics and as I learned about America’s shameful past, from slavery to Native American genocide to colonialism and the like, I distanced myself from America and disengaged from American politics. I loved politics and political behavior, but focused on comparative politics over American politics because I could not love a country which had such an awful past. But over the years, I learned that these awful pasts exist in most countries and the best way to love a country is to try to repair the damage.

I switched to American politics in my PhD work and became more actively engaged in politics. Before I had to stop working due to disability, I was working in politics. I had made progress on learning to love a country that had such an awful past. What I hadn’t worked on was confronting the full reality of that past nor the underlying institutions that exist to perpetuate it still today.

The Underground Railroad does not only show the horrors of slavery, and horrors is not a strong enough word to describe at least one of the scenes in the book, but it also shows the horrors of the institutions created outside of slavery perpetuating second class citizenship and indefinite servitude. It is not the history of slavery per se that has led to the institutionalized racism of the day, but rather the institutions which were created around slavery specifically to ensure that former slaves and freeborn blacks did not obtain too much power after slavery fell. While some people did not believe slavery would fall, others saw that it was not sustainable and put into place measures to ensure white privilege and black struggle for intuity.

Nothing made that more obvious to me than the fictionalized depictions of North and South Carolina. Even if I wrote spoilers here, it would not be possible to to truly feel the impact of those chapters without reading the book. These fictionalized accounts of reality highlight the real effects these policies had, even when they came from “good” intentions. In many ways, the depictions of what happened in these two states will haunt me more than the horrors of slavery in Georgia. Nearly anyone can see how immoral slavery is when faced with accounts like those of what happened in Georgia; but it is a lot harder for any of us to see the horrors of institutions designed with the best intentions until someone like Whitehead takes them to their limits and shows us the true outcome.

It is not as though I was entirely unaware of some of what was depicted in the Carolinas. I knew of Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose cervical cells were taken without her consent and used for medical research. As a PhD student in a science, one learns about the research that was once done on people of traditionally marginalized groups and performed on them without their consent. But knowing generally and living it through the eyes of a character are two different things. Though Cora does not specifically witness nor experience medical research without consent, she is privy to other immoral medical situations, and it is through her and other characters’ reactions that I understood the legacy of such actions. Black people have a reason to not trust medical personnel, the government, and whites in general, but it was not until I The Underground Railroad did I understand that connection.

It is incredibly hard for me to admit this, not only because it bruises my pride which believes that I am clever, but also because it highlights my white privilege and my choices to hide my head in the sand. I’ve been told time and again by readers I trust that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a powerful, well-written read, but I have yet to read it. I did not dive into the history of research abuses the way I have other bits of information I come across. I haven’t read personal accounts of slavery or watched the famous movies around them. I am uncomfortable with seeing humans treated in inhumane ways on a level that is painful to me. But reading The Underground Railroad has shown me that choosing to not see historical reality means I not only do not understand the institutions in place currently but also my role in maintaining those institutions.

Part of why I did not want to know more is because I do not know what to do with this knowledge. It is a heavy burden, but one I do not know how to resolve. I am a person who struggles to see the value in short-term goals and small wins, though I am trying to move toward a path where I can see the value in them. What I want to do is save the world, but as I will discuss in my reflection on The Hate U Give, there are serious problems with that framework. Which means I have work to do and I have to end this post feeling as though I am leaving the topic unresolved. But I am stepping into the vulnerability and sitting here with the discomfort. I am trying to do as Brene Brown suggests and not puff up or run from the discomfort. This is where I am right now. I’m not proud of it and I do not want to be here, but it is where I am. I know I will gain more insight by staying here and reflecting than I will by I taking action or hiding behind my privilege. This is me, raw and without all the answers. I feel naked, but I am trusting the process.

How do you face the discomfort of privilege, whatever that means to you?