First, thanks for the good wishes after the flying debris episode yesterday. I still have a mighty headache and a sore neck, but I’m staying home from work, taking ibuprofen, and have a convenient chiropractor appointment already scheduled for tomorrow. I’m not supposed to be looking at screens, so I am typing but not looking up except to fix typos. I am apparently driven to type!
Bret Anthony Johnston is apparently very familiar with the Corpus Christi/Port Aransas area of southern Texas, which made his 2014 book, Remember Me Like This, a lot of fun for me. I used to go to the area every year with friends from my old church, until our Most Toxic Member Ever’s kid broke something and they refused to pay for it. I digress, again.
I’m glad the neighborhood book club chose this one, because it was not too gory or triggering for me (I m not fond of the “tiggering” thing, but that’s what happened in the last book, There There; I got sick to my stomach and could not read any further, even though I’d found it interesting up to then).
This month’s book club book is so sad I had to take a long break from it, and discovering this book made that WAY easier. I think I just spotted Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution, by Menno Schilthuizen in the new nature books section on Amazon. I loved the cover and was really intrigued by the subject matter: how life evolves in the world’s urban enclaves.
Schilthuizen, a naturalist in the Netherlands and author of many articles in popular science publications, writes really clearly without “dumbing down” the science behind what he talks about. I think his reminder that evolution is not just something that goes on in the forests, oceans, and hidden jungles; it’s going on right under our noses.
I’m very thankful that I have some brilliant people among my Facebook friends and that many of them share what they’ve been reading. In the past couple of days, I’ve read and shared a few articles that I want to talk about today. You might like them, too.
One article was on how we treat dogs we don’t know. Debby McMullen wrote this article on the Positively dog training blog. It’s called Consent: Not Just for People, and I really like how the author puts us in a dog’s position to see how the way we treat dogs might appear to them.
Nowadays, the topic of consenting to be touched or approached is popular when talking about people. But, hey, a lot dogs aren’t just sitting around hoping to be bopped on the head by random strangers, either.
This whole unpacking of boxes in the garage and general removing unnecessary stuff from my house thing is not becoming easier for me. However, I am still doing it! Yes! And that’s why I honestly think someone should give me a gold star or something. So, I made myself an award on Bitmoji. I’m very proud of this award.
What keeps me going?
Certainly the lifting of heavy boxes of books and empty CD cases (Lee’s) is not a motivating factor. The heat isn’t helping (though it isn’t bad in the garage). Yeah, having more space in the garage is nice, but the real thrill is…
Our little neighborhood book group met last night to discuss A Place for Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza. This is her first novel, which makes it an even more amazing book. I’m glad we chose it! And look, a convenient way to buy it:
This month, we met at Maria’s house. We all enjoy inspecting each other’s houses for cuteness and signs of the owners’ personalities. I was most impressed that the house was mostly white, even though she has two small children. Many of us unwittingly dressed with a white theme, which made things even more festive than usual.
Another fun part of the evening that had nothing to do with the book was that we had a new member, Marilyn, who has just moved here from England. Her perspective was really welcome in the discussion of sibling issues, and she fit in so well!
The discussion this month went a little more smoothly, because those of us who need a rational discussion made the effort to come up with a few discussion questions, and I brought a “talking stick,” which was actually a magnifying glass with a deerskin cover. It looks sort of like a microphone, so people kept saying, “Is this thing on?” and talking into it, like it was going to help.
It did help us keep side conversations down to pretty much zero (that had been the issue last month; everyone talking at once about their own personal topics). When people spoke without the talking stick, the comments were all brief and in support of the main speaker. So, I got a lot more out of our thoughts and feelings on the book. Yay! (And later we got to just do chit-chat and neighborly support.)
Actual Book Report
As for the book, I enjoyed it so much that I took my time reading it, bit by bit, until I had to finish it for the meeting. There are actually a few really different reasons to love A Place for Us. And to me, they are equally important, so I had trouble deciding what to talk about first.
I’ve always been drawn to books about other cultures. I think it’s a great way to learn about how people live in the rest of the world AND enjoy a good story. I loved Maeve Binchy’s Ireland, Amy Tan’s Chinese-American families, and more. With my background in linguistics, I also have fun with learning politeness phrases and common terms in other languages.
This book had all that and more! While I’ve read lots of books about Muslims, most have been about Arab cultures, women in harems, and that kind of Islamic life. This book elegantly weaves normal day-to-day life for a normal Indian/Muslim family living in the US in among the story telling and life lessons.
I was especially pleased at how well Mirza included bits about the spiritual practices of each member of the novel’s family. If you aren’t familiar with the wide variety of practices in Islam (all with a common core) you might feel much more comfortable with Islam when you see how each person chooses what is meaningful to him or her, and the beauty they see in verses, prayers and teachings, just like so many Christians and Jews practice differently.
The story-telling is another thing I just couldn’t get enough of. I’ve always liked novels that present events and ideas from more than one character’s perspective. You really get to know Haida’s family (she’s the main character until a sudden shift in Part 4 of the book), their dynamics, and their virtues and frailties. I had a great time teasing out why each person acted the way they did, and realizing how small things can send a life in unexpected directions.
You pretty much end up liking everyone you encounter in the California community of Urdu speakers, because they seem so human. I drew a lot of comfort seeing how people can learn from their mistakes.
Our book club talked a lot about the family dynamics, and I enjoyed that older siblings sympathized with Hadia, middle children thought the middle daughter, Huda, got the short shrift, and younger ones had so much sympathy for how the younger brother dealt with what life handed to him.
I do look forward to more books from Mirza. She was born in the same year as my oldest son. Wow. I’ll stop before I give away a lot of plot, but one insight I had was that this actually was a mystery book, only it wasn’t a “who done it” but rather was a “why did they do it?” mystery.
Here’s a nice story! Yesterday, I was checking my blog statistics, like I do once or twice a day to see what posts go over well, and I noticed a big spike in hits. What? And wait, they are all coming from Twitter? Why are they all linked to my book review of Dignity (which I still can’t stop talking about).
At most I usually get 3-4 hits from my Twitter posts every day. Part of that is because I don’t think all the posts get shared to Twitter, and part of that is that most of my friends and family are on Facebook and access it there. That’s fine, because I write this for friends and family, not to share my brilliant thoughts with the world (first, I’d have to HAVE a brilliant thought).
Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America, by Chris Arnade, may not be the most well-crafted book I ever read, but it made a huge impact on me, and I am very grateful to have had the chance to read it. It helped me understand some of the issues in Cameron as well as why some of the things the movers and shakers are trying don’t really work.
I have a suspicion that my friends, family, and coworkers will be very glad when I write up this review, so I’ll stop summarizing the book and explaining what it says. I’m just so glad that I had some of my prejudices and misconceptions ripped away and have at least a bit more understanding of a subset of American society that I once had some strong biases against: the people in small towns or impoverished neighborhoods.
So, all about Dignity
Arnade calls people like me “front row people,” which are people who by luck of their birth have had all the opportunities available to be able to do what counts as “success” in the US: advanced degrees, home ownership, a job that uses the brain, not the body to earn a living. They have a front row seat at all the possible things the society values. He calls people who live in towns where all the employers are gone, where many people use drugs or alcohol to get through the day, and who use their bodies to work, when there is work, back row people. Always having trouble getting ahead, behind on opportunities, etc. *
It impressed me that Arnade, who was a Wall Street stockbroker, and therefore way in the front row, got curious about the lives of people near him who didn’t have the same opportunities he did. He spent three years getting to know a community in Brooklyn, then visited places across the US to learn how they get where they are and why they stay.