Every so often I like to share what I’m reading because, well, I live alone and have no one to talk to about it.
That’s a lie. Two of the following books come from my company’s Inclusion Book Club.
I just like to share what I’m reading because I (obviously) think it’s interesting, and because I find it interesting I think that more people should be reading it. That’s it really.
So in no particular order, the most interesting books I’ve read in the past year…
The Moor’s Account
From the publisher: In 1527, the conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez sailed from the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda with a crew of six hundred men and nearly a hundred horses. His goal was to claim what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States for the Spanish crown and, in the process, become as wealthy and famous as Hernán Cortés. But from the moment the Narváez expedition landed in Florida, it faced peril—navigational errors, disease, starvation, as well as resistance from indigenous tribes. Within a year there were only four survivors: the expedition’s treasurer, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca; a Spanish nobleman named Alonso del Castillo Maldonado; a young explorer named Andrés Dorantes de Carranza; and Dorantes’s Moroccan slave, Mustafa al-Zamori, whom the three Spaniards called Estebanico. These four survivors would go on to make a journey across America that would transform them from proud conquistadores to humble servants, from fearful outcasts to faith healers. The Moor’s Account brilliantly captures Estebanico’s voice and vision, giving us an alternate narrative for this famed expedition. As the dramatic chronicle unfolds, we come to understand that, contrary to popular belief, black men played a significant part in New World exploration and Native American men and women were not merely silent witnesses to it. In Laila Lalami’s deft hands, Estebanico’s memoir illuminates the ways in which stories can transmigrate into history, even as storytelling can offer a chance for redemption and survival.
My Recommendation: I read this book for our Inclusion Book Club at work and really liked viewing the discovery of the United States from a another minority’s perspective. For me it was really interesting to read about Estebanico’s discovery of and interaction with Native Americans, and especially his view of the white explorers’ interactions with them. He could view the oppression through the lens of one who was oppressed. The book is based on a true story, but Estebanico’s point of view is largely fictionalized based on what the author knows of the slave trade in that time period. It was a quick read, incredibly interesting, and will leave you thinking.
Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
From the publisher: In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. And as Dunbar-Ortiz reveals, this policy was praised in popular culture, through writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, and in the highest offices of government and the military. Shockingly, as the genocidal policy reached its zenith under President Andrew Jackson, its ruthlessness was best articulated by US Army general Thomas S. Jesup, who, in 1836, wrote of the Seminoles: “The country can be rid of them only by exterminating them.” Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic bottom-up peoples’ history radically reframes US history and explodes the silences that have haunted our national narrative.
My Recommendation: This book took me awhile to get through because every section I’d be so outraged that I couldn’t continue right away. I only have so much outrage in me, apparently. It’s easy to forget that not everyone has had the education I have on native issues, and what most people know of Native Americas comes from textbooks written by white people in Texas. And the stories in those textbooks are based off transcripts, narratives, and memoirs by other white people. I think this should be required reading for everyone hanging their hat on what they’ve been taught about U.S. History. Read both perspectives knowing that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Read this book knowing that it’s one of many attempts to get the native perspective known. Read this book knowing that natives were not just silent witnesses to Manifest Destiny, but instead actively fought relocation, assimilation, and termination as best they knew how. That 500+ tribes still exist and fight today is proof that they succeeded.
That the Blood Stay Pure
From the publisher: That the Blood Stay Pure traces the history and legacy of the commonwealth of Virginia’s effort to maintain racial purity and its impact on the relations between African Americans and Native Americans. Arica L. Coleman tells the story of Virginia’s racial purity campaign from the perspective of those who were disavowed or expelled from tribal communities due to their affiliation with people of African descent or because their physical attributes linked them to those of African ancestry. Coleman also explores the social consequences of the racial purity ethos for tribal communities that have refused to define Indian identity based on a denial of blackness. This rich interdisciplinary history, which includes contemporary case studies, addresses a neglected aspect of America’s long struggle with race and identity.
My Recommendation: I went to advance screening of Loving where the author of this book came to speak about Richard and Mildred. One thing she said knocked my socks off – that on her marriage license Mildred Loving is identified as an Indian. On her deathbed Mildred Loving claimed her heritage as Indian. In between those two events her identity vacillated between Indian, negro, and a combination thereof, but I wanted to know why. As a member of a woodlands Indian tribe in the north, we didn’t really have that much historical integration with blacks…at least, not like tribes in the Southern states did. So I suggested we read this book for our Inclusion Book Club at work, and it was really interesting to see how identity shifted to protect personal safety and/or property rights. The experience of Eastern tribes (in areas of the original colonies, East of the Mississippi River) is so different than that of Western tribes. It was fascinating to learn a little more about the racial issues that emerged and are still being dealt with today.
Good Girls Revolt
From the publisher: On March 16, 1970, the day Newsweek published a cover story on the fledgling feminist movement entitled “Women in Revolt,” forty-six Newsweek women charged the magazine with discrimination in hiring and promotion. It was the first female class action lawsuit–the first by women journalists–and it inspired other women in the media to quickly follow suit.
Lynn Povich was one of the ringleaders. In The Good Girls Revolt, she evocatively tells the story of this dramatic turning point through the lives of several participants. For many, filing the suit was a radicalizing act that empowered them to “find themselves” and fight back. Others lost their way amid opportunities, pressures, discouragements, and hostilities they weren’t prepared to navigate. The Good Girls Revolt also explores why changes in the law didn’t solve everything. Through the lives of young female journalists at Newsweek today, Lynn Povich shows what has–and hasn’t–changed in the workplace.
My Recommendation: I read this book before seeing the Amazon Prime show and thought it especially relevant for today’s political anti-feminist climate. The reason we females enjoy so many opportunities is the fight and sacrifice of those who came before us. What really struck me though is that for every two steps progressed we stumble one step back…and I think that could be true of any civil rights fight – not just gender equality.
From the publisher: When Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, his beautiful and flamboyant daughter was transformed into “Princess Alice,” arguably the century’s first global celebrity. Thirty-two years later, her first cousin Eleanor moved into the White House as First Lady. Born eight months and twenty blocks apart from each other in New York City, Eleanor and Alice spent a large part of their childhoods together and were far more alike than most historians acknowledge. Blood may be thicker than water, but when the family business is politics, winning trumps everything. Vivid, intimate, and stylishly written, Hissing Cousins finally sets this relationship center stage, revealing the contentious bond between two political trailblazers who short-circuited the rules of gender and power, each in her own way.
My Recommendation: If you need an historical reminder that politics in the United States have been just as acrimonious as they are now, then this book would be one of many to read. I admit that I didn’t know much of Alice Roosevelt Longworth before reading this book, and it’s interesting to imagine what her heyday would be like if it were happening now. Would she have such unfettered access to the White House and Congress or would our current sensibility against political dynasty blunt her influence? It’s hard to say. Because in politics, what’s in fashion and acceptable is generally up for a matter of opinion based on how well it fits your own narrative. This book tells the story of a relationship between to cousins at the center of Washington for decades, but I think it also tells the story of two fiercely opposed political ideologies. And it’s fun to read knowing how it plays out (up to now, at least).