The Year of Non-Fiction

I’ve always been a voracious reader, primarily of literary fiction. I’m the type to have multiple books going simultaneously via different formats. In recent years I’ve set myself a yearly book goal on Goodreads (a great site) and worked to meet it. My all time highs are 54 books read in 2012, and 48 in 2013. I used to have a book blog where I wrote just book reviews. Reading was a major way that I learned about and made sense of the world.

But ever since we moved to Atlanta, and especially since the election, I’ve had a hard time focusing enough to read a book. I can partly attribute this to the fact that I wasn’t very engaged in the last three fiction books I tried to read: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child (such a disappointment I can’t even talk about it), The Heart of the Matter and The Little Friend.  In the past I would have found a way to push through just to check a book off the list, or at least switched to something else. But this fall I just couldn’t make it through a book. And I know why.

With all the craziness going on in the world it felt somehow irresponsible to escape into fiction.

Since the election I’ve felt a responsibility to read and listen to everything I could get my hands on related to Trump, his family, his cabinet, his staffers and his shady business deals. I felt like I just had to read as much as I could so I could be appropriately knowledgeable about each new staffing change/political decision/executive order. Reading anything non-politics related felt like giving in to what was happening.

Each day I would read the news of the day, various commentaries on the news and then listen to podcasts with more commentaries on the news. Pretty quickly, however, this got to be too much. I felt emotionally exhausted keeping up with all of the bad. My tolerance level for Trump-related news was reaching its breaking point.

So I have backed off, to a point. Let’s say I’m reducing my Trump consumption for Lent (an idea I got from a blog post that I can no longer find, so sorry for no link). I’m still reading the news every day, but I’m no longer listening to news podcasts in addition. For the sake of my sanity I’m also trying not to seek out more and more and more commentary related to Trump.

I deleted my podcast app and switched back to Audible during my commute and while puttering around the house. I still don’t have a desire to read fiction. Instead, I’m reading non-fiction books on a regular basis for the first time in my life.

I’m working from a list on Goodreads called “The Post-Trump Big Questions Canon.” It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. Regular readers know that the election was earth- and faith-shaking for me, as I know it was for many. These books are helping me hone and reshape my view of the world in the new America of Trump. (Or perhaps it has belonged to people like him all along?)

In 2017 I want to come to a more nuanced understanding of history, politics, race, class, gender and the intersection between faith and all of the above. So far, I’ve read:

Getting back to reading is helping me feel like myself again. Long live books!

What are you reading these days, dear reader? And have others felt the same desire to learn more about the forces that created our current political moment?

 

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U.S. History, the Arc of the Universe and a Trump Presidency

One of my favorite parts of this school year has been teaching social studies to my third grade ESL kids. I have this class first thing every morning. This instructional delivery method of English is what is called sheltered content instruction, meaning that I teach the grade-level content that all third grade students learn, while providing language support and extra vocabulary instruction to make the content comprehensible. (This is a little teacher-y but hang with me for a moment.) I love history, and I’ve never gotten the chance to teach it before. It’s a great way to start the day.

The third grade curriculum focuses most units of study on a historical figure. Students learn about each person in depth while learning about the surrounding historical context. It goes in chronological order, so we’ve done Paul Revere, ancient Greece and the foundations of U.S. democracy, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and next Mary McCleod Bethune. By the end of the year we will also learn about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Caesar Chavez, among others.

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image via Pixabay.com

It’s so interesting to trace the story of our country for children. One thing that I’ve been reminded of this year is how much of the story is about people’s triumph over systems of oppression. My spiel at the beginning of each new unit of study goes something like this, to tie everything we’ve learned together:

“So we started the year talking about Paul Revere. Remember that Paul Revere and the American colonists wanted to be free from England because they wanted a democracy, where people could choose their leaders and everyone would be treated equally. But we’ve learned that America wasn’t free and fair for everyone. Who wasn’t treated equally? (Black people, women, etc.) The next person we’re going to learn about helped to make America a more fair country for everyone, and that person’s name is ________.”

(I’m not injecting my personal opinion here, by the way. This is literally what the standard says to teach: “Students will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s rights and freedoms in a democracy.”)

Children are so clear-eyed about what’s right and what’s wrong. These kids don’t have  much background knowledge about U.S. history, so they’re hearing everything basically for the first time. When I taught them about the institution of slavery in the United States they were a) horrified and b) surprised that it had been allowed to happen. The same for women not being allowed to vote.

History is speaking to me a lot right now as we are going into the Trump presidency. In many ways it feels like we are taking a big step backward. Unprompted by me, my students have made this connection as well. “Mrs. Love, Donald Trump doesn’t think that black people and people who speak Spanish are as good as white people like him. It’s just like it was a long time ago.”

A Trump presidency hurts partly because it disrupts the narrative that so many of us have always believed; that our current president up until now has seemed to believe. “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” U.S. history seemed, until now, to show this. Gradually, painfully, slowly, our country really has become a more free and fair place for everyone. Not perfect, certainly, but better. Does that “bending toward justice” stop now? And what should our response be? As citizens? As thinking people? For me, as a teacher? A white person?

I think the big, unsettling question right now is about whether DJT is a four-year aberration or a signal of fundamental change in the arc of the universe. I don’t think anyone can know the answer yet.