Monday, March 11, 2019

A Few Non-Fiction Reads

Lately, I've been having trouble getting into the fiction books I've been picking up - I find my mind wandering and I can't quite keep track of the plot and all the characters.  When this happens, as it does from time to time, I find that taking a break and reading non-fiction seems to help.  Here are a few I've picked up lately to try to get myself back on track:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo: Written by a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, this book is a three-year look into life in the poverty-ridden settlements of Mumbai.  The author delves into the lives of the people struggling to survive in unsanitary conditions, making ends barely meet as garbage sorters, negotiating amidst unending political corruption, and yet still focused on striving always toward a better life.  This book was in so many ways horrific and tragic - to know that there are people living in these conditions is inhumane to me.  But, at the same time, it is obviously a depiction of the brilliance of the human spirit.  I couldn't shake the feeling as I was reading this that it was all so exploitative and voyeuristic - that this author profited professionally by her invasion of the lives of these people.  It's hard for me to reconcile this with the knowledge that it's also important to have these stories told.

The Distance Between Us  by Reyna Grande:  Given all the debate recently about Trump's border wall, this book (and so many memoirs like it) was a timely read.  That so many people would risk so much, and give up so much in terms of their family and safety, to come to the United States, speaks volumes to me of what this country must represent in terms of hope and opportunity.  Grande's memoir begins with her father making his trek to the United States, leaving behind his wife, along with Grande and her siblings, with promises to send for them when he is financially able.  Her mother then makes the journey, leaving Grande and her siblings behind to be cared for by their grandmother - until it's time for Grande to make the journey of her own.  This book gracefully retells the challenges of living two lives  of hoping for a better future,  and of dreaming of reuniting with parents while the years pass without them.  It is the story of families torn apart under the guise of seeking a better life - and raises the question of what price we pay - or more accurately what price our children pay - when we build walls further criminalizing and separating families, rather than addressing the underlying problems of why.

Akeelah and the Bee

Akeelah and the Bee by James W. Ellison & Doug Atchison:  My second grader was interested in starting a gathering with a few folks from his class - to read a book and then watch the movie based on the book.  A book/movie club of sorts.  His best buddy chose this book as their first read.  It's technically a book based on a movie - rather than a book that a movie was made about - but they are 8-years-old and I wanted to encourage the independent spirit.  This book turned out to be a perfect selection, as spelling in the second grade seems to be quite an obsession.  Akeelah and the Bee is the story of a girl from a low-performing school in Los Angeles - a place where no one has even heard of a spelling bee, much less competed in one.  But Akeelah has a gift for spelling - and her principal is counting on her to bring some much needed positive attention to their school.  While Akeelah struggles with finding her confidence and pride, and learning that being a "smart" kid doesn't have to mean turning your back on old friends or who you thought you were.  My son and I read this book together - reading level-wise, I think this is perfectly appropriate for a second grader to read on their own.  But, I'm glad we read it together because there were so many themes to tease out - and the book lead to some wonderful discussions between us.  I'm looking forward to talking about the book with a small group of second graders, and can't wait to see the movie.  I'm also hoping to do a screening of the documentary Spellbound which explores the real world of the National Spelling Bee - one of my old favorites that I think my son will really appreciate.