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What a humbling, hopeful, and unbelievably timely trilogy this is. John Lewis is an American hero, and what’s most amazing to me is that he refuses to quit. In the face of opposition, he keeps going. Even within the last year, he was literally “sitting in” on the floor of the House of Representatives. This is a man who believes change can still happen, even after all he’s seen and endured. That kind of strength baffles me even as it inspires. How many times could I be beaten by police before I decided nonviolent protest wasn’t up to the task of changing hearts and minds? How many times could I be spat on, called names, treated like an animal before I decided no progress was worth the personal cost to my body and sanity?

I’d already realized this, but my history education growing up was grossly inadequate. Somehow, in all the discussions of MLK, everybody totally forgot to talk about how opposed so many white people were to the civil rights movement. The revisionism makes me twitchy. All the lessons about lunch counter sit-ins and marches conveniently left out the whole ending-with-beatings-in-the-street part. Based on what my teachers told me, I assumed the demonstrations ended with everyone, white and black alike, holding hands in a circle and then going on their way, civil rights achieved, high five! (And if I may interject a rant: This is why it’s so important to educate yourself. Read for yourself. Don’t expect anyone, even or perhaps especially someone in a leadership role, to tell you the whole truth.) If I’d known sooner the truth of how unwelcome the civil rights movement of the 1960s was to the people whose privilege and status it challenged, maybe I wouldn’t have been all slack-jawed dumbfounded by how casually and unapologetically white supremacy is talked about today. Now I know better, and now I will do better.

I’m soapboxing, I know. I thought about tossing this review and rewriting it with a jauntier, more inviting tone. I want people to read these graphic novels, after all. I want EVERYONE to read them. But some things we have to take seriously, because they are serious. Maintaining an ironic distance when discussing these books feels like a perpetuation of the problem that got us here. So I’ll risk turning some people off by banging the drum loudly. Bang bang.

Which brings me to the invitation I have for you today. Like many Americans, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be a good person and citizen under the new administration. About how to show my support for all the groups targeted by our current president and his hateful coterie. Adam and I have chosen several charitable organizations to support with monthly donations, but I want to do something beyond giving money. I want to keep learning and educating myself so that whenever possible, I’m not part of the problem. Even though my privilege allows me to stick my head in the sand, I refuse to do it.

The Muslim ban is not okay. Bathroom bills targeting transgender people are not okay. Police shooting black and brown people with impunity is not okay. Turning away refugees and tearing children from their immigrant parents is not okay. Sexually assaulting women, no matter how wealthy or famous you are, is not okay. And from very near my neck of the woods just this week, racially-motivated domestic terrorists gunning down innocent people in bars is not okay. It feels very important to say all of that, as clearly as possible, even though part of me can’t believe I have to. Most days, I look at the news and feel like I’ve fallen into a dystopian nightmare.

Out of these feelings of hopelessness, frustration, and impotence came the idea for the Give a Sh*t Book Club. Are you concerned about the hateful rhetoric and extremism spouting from the White House? Do you want to read books that will give you a way to respond the next time you hear someone say something ignorant, racist, misogynistic, or homophobic?

Come sit by me. We can read and learn together. Because what’s happening is not okay, and because we give a shit.

I have a lot of ideas of where we could go with this and titles we could try, but I want to hear your thoughts too. What issues are you most passionate about? Or, conversely, what issues do you know you need more information on?

Below are a few of my ideas so far. Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in participating, and what books you think would be a good fit. Once we have a consensus, I’ll announce our first title and the date of our first discussion (which will most likely happen in late March, so we’ll all have plenty of time to read the book). I’ve included both fiction and non-fiction books here, because I strongly believe that fiction can educate and build empathy just as well as non-fiction can.

Can’t wait to hear from you!

 

Police brutality - The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

LGBTQIA rights - When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio, One of These Things First by Steven Gaines

Immigration - American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Poverty - Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Mass incarceration - The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Slavery - Grace by Natashia Deon, The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Life in Countries Targeted by the Muslim Ban - A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri, Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed, A Word for Love by Emily Robbins

Jim Crow - Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South by Beth Macy

Climate change/environmental concerns - The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Women’s Rights - Difficult Women by Roxane Gay, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

And someday, I’d like to read Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi, but it’s super long and intimidating, so maybe we’ll work up to that!

Find it at your library!

There are books I put off reading because I’m intimidated by them. Some seem too literary or academic, others broach topics I’m not comfortable reading about, and a few scare me off because I’m not sure I’m the intended audience. Check, check, and check: The Sellout manages to hit triple cherries on that list, but the other day I guess I got to feeling cocky and decided to give it a whirl. Maybe I had seen one too many reviewers compare Paul Beatty’s humor to Dave Chappelle’s and could no longer resist the siren song.

Based on interviews of Beatty I’ve read and Chappelle’s recent turn as host of Saturday Night Live, I’d say the two share a sort of bemused frustration with this country and the racism rampant in it. Their humor is similarly sharp-edged, too, I suspect because it has to be. Both of them make me think of the phrase “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry,” though that might just be me, as a sheltered, well-meaning white girl who still has the capacity to be surprised by racism (though that’s going away, the more I read and learn).

So yes, a novel about a black man owning a slave and reinstituting segregation was uncomfortable to read, and it’s uncomfortable to write about. But once I shouldered past my discomfort and relaxed into the narrative, I saw that The Sellout is at least two other things besides uncomfortable: hilarious, and surprisingly accessible. It’s not dense or hard to follow, even in audio. There are tons of snappy one-liners and I laughed out loud many times. It gave me a lot to think about and reflect on, and if you have a really brave and ballsy book club, you’d have no shortage of stuff to talk about with this book.

Despite its triple-cherry intimidation factor, I’m glad I decided to nut up and read The Sellout.