Amanda Gates
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A Musings - February 2009

The second part of Dreams From My Father brings Obama to Chicago as a community organizer. During his campaign, Obama got a little flack for claiming his work as a community organizer was "executive" experience. When you read all the work he had to do during his first three years in Chicago, you can surely believe he has the gumption it takes to organize the varitey of people in D.C.

The work that he did with the people of the south side of Chicago is pretty amazing. Community organizing is a thankless job for not a lot of money (depending), and you really have to believe in what you're doing. Once again, reading about this part of his life, proved to me that our president is true to himself, even today.

Here are a few passages I found particularly interesting. This one is somewhat future-predicting, and maybe acts as a window into what Obama may feel as president:

"I wondered whether, away from the spotlight, Harold [Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, 1983-1987] thought about those constraints [that nothing seemed to change]. Whether like Mr. Anderson or Mrs. Reese or any number of other black officials who now administered over inner city life, he felt as trapped as those he served, an inheritor of sad history, part of a closed system with few moving parts, a system that was losing heat every day, dropping into low-level stasis.

"I wondered if he, too, felt a prisoner of fate."

I know Obama has just gotten into office, but somedays I wonder if he sits there watching republicans disagree with him - sometimes for good reason, sometimes to just disagree - and feels trapped. If he feels he might not be able to do everything he wants to do. If he might not be able to change, and to serve not only black people but the American people, the way he wants to. Granted, he wouldn't be a very good president if he was already frustrated one month in, but still, I don't envy his job.

The following is a quote from a conversation Obama had with a school counselor in an inner-city Chicago school back when he was a community organizer in the '80s. The counselor talks about the curriculum in black schools:

"Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself, his world, his culture, his community. That's the starting point of any educational process. That's what makes a child hungry to learn - the promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment. But for a black child, everything's turned upside down. From day one, what's he learning about? Someone else's history. Someone else's culture. Not only that, this culture he's suppose to learn is the same culture that's systematically rejected him, denied his humanity."

When I read a passage like this, it makes me a little embarassed about black history month. Why just a month, when white kids learn about their culture all year round (and don't necessarily appreciate it)? What he says makes perfect sense. Of course kids whose ancestors come from a homeland other than Europe would want to learn about it. Of course they're not going to be interested in learning each day about someone else's history. I understand that many Europeans helped found America, and as an American that's important to learn about, but the reasons they came here are not the same reasons black people came here (obviously), or the same reasons any other non-white race came to America. And that too is valuable information. I also understand that there's not enough time in the school year to teach everything. But, I don't think it would hurt to try and find a better balance.

During his time in Chicago is also when Obama met Jeremiah Wright. As someone who wasn't really familiar with Wright when the whole mess went down during Obama's campaign, I found this interesting. Putting religion and church-organization aside, I did find it interesting that Wright's church offered so much more to the community than just a place of worship. It offered Yoga classes, African history classes, volunteer opportunities, etc. It had a membership comprising all economic classes. When Obama first went to a service, he realized that it was a place where people could come and feel like they belong. So, if they can't get it in the schools, maybe they can get it at church. (Note: The first sermon Obama heard from Wright was titled "The Audacity of Hope," which is the title of Obama's other book.)

Obama has now left Chicago, having been accepted to Harvard law. He took a trip to Kenya before he started. I've just started this part of the book. While there were just a few sections of the Chicago portion that moved a little slowly, I'm still really enjoying this book.

Posted: Fri, 02/27/2009 - 02:12 |

How cool is this?! Lemondrop, a blog-o-mania site of AOL, found little Bookish Bent and made a mention.

You can find it here. It's a cute little post about different women who blog about books. My blog, and two others, got mentioned.

Granted, they made a tiny factual error in where I hail from, but I left a note and hopefully that will get corrected. But overall, I'm so pleased and proud (and curious about how they found me). Fun!

P.S. If you're visiting my blog because you found it on Lemondrop - Hello and welcome!

Posted: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 06:23 | Comments: 5

I started reading Barack Obama's memoir this week. It wasn't a book I set out to read, but I'd read some good reviews (Bending Bookshelf) and it became an impulse Target purchase on Monday. (This is why I shouldn't walk past the book/movie section, or the home section, or the clothing section, of Target. Just get the toothpaste and get out.)

I like Obama and I'm glad he's in the position he's in currently. But, I'm not someone who thinks he's God's gift, a rock star or our country's saving grace. I think he's a start, though. I've always liked the way he speaks, and how he speaks - like he's sitting across the table from you. And I appreciate his views on race, youth, the middle class, etc. But, when someone gets to level that he's at, you can never quite know if his words are his real words. Is this really what he thinks? Or, is this just rhetoric from the Obama "machine"? I think it's fair to say that politicians, no matter what side they're on, are hard to believe full stop.

With that being said, I am loving Dreams From My Father, for the following reasons:

1. Obama wrote this some 15 years ago, in his early 30s. What does this mean to me? It means he actually wrote it. At that point he didn't have speech writers, he didn't have a staff. He took a year off to write this on his own. And it's good writing. Excellent writing. I'm very impressed. It's engaging, it's funny, it's logical, it feels true, and his voice rings from it. The same voice I've been hearing nearly every day for the past two years. It proves to me that our president is smart and eloquent all on his own.

2. This is a book that discusses race to a great extent (obviously). Can you imagine being a black boy being raised by white grandparents and a white mother? Can you imagine being a white mother trying to raise a black son? Where do you find the influences he needs in his life? Where does little Barry look for guidance when he has all these questions about who he is? His grandparents were lovely people, who believed from day one that you should just treat people, all people, decently. (Go figure.) But in the end, it was his struggle to deal with, and boy, does he mentally struggle. It's quite the peek inside his head, and you better understand how he got where he is today.

3. It's honest. 15 years ago, I don't know if Obama had aspirations for the presidency, but I think if he really did, he wouldn't have written down some of the things he writes here. He's truthful about some of the harsh things he was thinking and feeling. He's truthful about the experiences he had. And the fact that he hasn't denied these things now, is pretty cool, too. (Though it's hard to deny things you wrote in your own memoir, we all know people try and do it anyway...)

Where I'm at in the book, Obama has only just graduated from college. But I'm pleased that through good writing and an honest voice, I can see the same passion for change in the 20-something Obama that I see in our president. I also think that if this book was written by any other person, and I read a good review in my EW or something, that I would still want to read it. He's an interesting man with interesting experiences to share.

Posted: Fri, 02/20/2009 - 02:55 | Comments: 3

I finished The Monster of Florence tonight. The last half of the book started in the 2000s, with author Doug Preston arriving with his family in Italy to work on a new thriller. He met journalist Mario Spezi and became fast friends. They decided to write an article for The New Yorker about The Monster of Florence (which never got published because 9-11 happened), so Preston got up to speed on the case. It's during this time that we learn Spezi's theory of who the real Monster is, and I have to say I completely agree with his idea. Unlike the Italian police, Spezi has actual evidence that who he thinks it is could actually be the right guy. Spezi and Preston even go to this person's house and interview him.

The thing is, the Italian police think they have the right guy. But they're using false witnesses and falsified evidence to make their case. The wrong man even goes to prison. And then, the police turn on the journalists when Preston and Spezi come out against them. The rest of the book is just unreal. Wrongful imprisonments, intense interrogations, police corruption, etc. I couldn't believe the things I was reading, and I can't imagine what Preston was thinking or feeling when all this was happening.

Being a journalist myself, all this was so interesting, yet so scary for me to read. But I enjoyed the book. True crime, and the author was even a part of it for a little while. What a story!

Posted: Tue, 02/17/2009 - 12:59 | Comments: 2

I hardly had time to read this week, let alone write about what I’m reading. So, with this spare moment, I tried to think of, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, any romantic books I would recommend.

I’m not a reader of romances, per se. But, I found romance, though high-school romance, in the Twilight series and Traveling Pants series. There’s romance in plenty of Chick Lit-type books, though it’s mostly cliché. But, when I think of romance, the books that really demonstrated love – all parts of love - were all three books by Indu Sundaresan: The Twentieth Wife, The Feast of Roses and The Splendor of Silence.

I’ve posted previously about The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses, a story and its sequel about the Indian Queen Mehrunnisa and her love for her husband the Emperor, set in 17th- and 18th-century India.

The Splendor of Silence, which is instead set in the 1940s, is about the love between a U.S. Army Captain and the daughter of an Indian politico. Their love is brief, very brief, but it produces something wonderful. The story of the couple’s love, pretty much forbidden, is heartwarming and heart breaking all at the same time. The book is told mostly through flashbacks, and tells of beauty, courage and romance. I saw this book on my shelf the other day and I want to read it all over again. While it's not a love story that's typical - we can't all have four-day, love-at-first-sight, forbidden love affairs, and everyday love is good too - it's still magical and I got swept up in it. And that's my definition of a good romance novel.

End note: While many may think Valentine’s Day is a holiday made up by Hallmark as a way to sell more cards, I think it’s wonderful. In times like these, when we’re unsure of what the future may hold and we’re stressing out, it never hurts to take a moment and celebrate the love you have for those around you. And if Feb. 14 causes us to do that, then more power to cupid.

What are your favorite romance stories - true or fictional?

Posted: Fri, 02/13/2009 - 01:50 | Comments: 1

So, these little interviews have been going on all over the blogosphere. Thanks to Pop Culture Junkie, my fellow book lover, for sending me some questions to answer.


1. What is one book you hate?

This is a hard question! In my post about Chick Lit, I mention some books I never finished. And there are some other books (On Beauty, The Secret of Lost Things) that I didn't finish last year. However, I'm not sure I can say that because I didn't finish them, I "hate" them. More that they were boring. I pretty much know what I like. I think high school turned me off to Ayn Rand, but if I were to pick up her books again, who knows...

2. What is your favorite classic?

I didn't read too many classics in high school, but in college my roommate introduced me to both Pride & Prejudice and The Great Gatsby. Loved them! But, I think my most favorite classic is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I read this book in English 1001 freshman year and was completely surprised by how much I loved it. I should really read it again.

3. What was your favorite book from your childhood?

I read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett several times, as well as Just As Long As We're Together by Judy Blume (seriously, I probably read that 20 times). I read those books in late elementary school. Earlier than that I loved anything by Tomie dePaola (Strega Nona rocks!), and Molly was my favorite American Girl. (However, when I was reading those 20 years ago, there was only Molly, Samantha and Kirsten. Did you know they're actually retiring Samantha?!)

4. What is your favorite series?

Well, we all know I fell in love with vampires last summer with the Twilight series; I so enjoyed the Traveling Pants; but really, when I have to choose, Harry Potter wins over all series I've ever read (child, teen or adult). They're magical, complex and hopeful, and to put all those themes into a book that's meant for pre-teens/teens, well, that takes some talent. I loved every single one of those books. I look forward to reading them again someday.
5. Do you read hardcovers with the dust jacket on or off?

I used to read with the jacket on, but when I started dating my husband, he would always take the jackets off his books. I realized this kept the cover looking nicer, plus it kept snoopy people on the bus from knowing what I was reading!

Thanks Alea, of Pop Culture Junkie!

What would your answers be? Or:

Want to be Interviewed?
1. If you want to be interviewed, leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the questions).
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions and let me know when you have posted it, so I can link it.

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Posted: Mon, 02/09/2009 - 02:15 | Comments: 6

I’m in the middle of The Monster of Florence, a retelling of a gruesome string of murders between 1968 and 1985 in Florence, Italy. In the first half of the book, co-author Doug Preston gets us up to speed on the serial killer (or killers) that ripped Florence of its innocence. The killer would target young lovers on moonless nights as they had sex in their cars in different secluded areas. He would kill both by gunshot, and mutilate the female. Eight of these murders (16 people) happened in 17 years time. Due to the fact that all the bullets were from the same gun, and the MO was nearly the same in all cases, the police could only believe they were all connected. The man was named The Monster.

Preston’s co-author Mario Spezi was the journalist during a majority of this time. Because he was so close to the cases, he was seen as an authority figure. He even wrote a book about the murders in the ‘80s. Preston moved to Florence with his family in 2000, learned of the still-unsolved serial murders and partnered up with Spezi to write about it (and try to nab the killer). (If you ever read Thomas Harris’ sequel Hannibal - when Hannibal Lector lives in Florence after escaping at the end of Silence of the Lambs – many of his storylines, themes and characters are based on people from the time of The Monster of Florence. Harris even stayed at the home of the lead investigator.)

I’m almost finished with Part I of the book, which recounts the murders and the coinciding investigation. The police had several different leads, arrested many men, but could never find enough proof to pin the murders on any one person. The retelling of the murders are pretty awful, and it’s very easy to get confused when there are so many players with very similar-sounding Italian names. But, the book is good. Not awesome, but good. It’s painful to read about all the mistakes the police made; this kind of thing didn’t happen in Florence, so I feel they were pretty out of their league, especially at first. But the story is also very interesting. In 2007 it was a Dateline episode, so I’m thinking of trying to find that online and watching it after I read the book.

The second half of the book is Preston’s story – after he moves to Florence and begins his research into the murders. The cover flap even alludes to Preston and Spezi getting so close to the investigation they become suspects themselves. I’m anxious to get to that part.

Posted: Fri, 02/06/2009 - 03:20 | Comments: 1

As I was buying a coffee at my local Dunn Bros., I saw an advertisement up for Winter Jackets, a book club sponsored by MELSA, the Metropolitan Library Service Agency. Those who participate in Winter Jackets (by reading library books and going to book events at local libraries) receive a Dunn Bros. Roastmaster Rewards Community Giving card. With this card, users receive discounts on coffee and beans, and in turn, Dunn Bros. gives 10 percent of the dollars spent back to local libraries.

I thought this was a good idea, and puts together two of my favorite things: books and warm beverages. Plus, Dunn Bros. does this for many organizations, not just libraries, so it’s a really cool community-support effort.

So, where are your favorite places to buy coffee? Do you use reward cards? Would you participate in a book club like this?

Posted: Wed, 02/04/2009 - 10:40 | Comments: 4