Challenging Reads

I’ve been thinking about how and why we teach kids to read.  I believe one of the most important reasons is to create adults who love to read.  To inspire readers who will seek out books that challenge and change them, open their hearts to new worlds and ideas.  These two books did that for me.

I went into Evicted expecting to deepen my understanding of the housing crisis in our country and the heartache people face with eviction.  Having witnessed the effects firsthand with many of my students over the years, I thought I had a decent understanding.  This book laid bare just how much I still didn’t understand, and I am pushing it on everyone I know.    The research is so completely thorough and respectful, and the conclusions equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring.

Another important work is Burning Country, an education on the human rights disaster of Syria.  Don’t let the heaviness of the subject matter of either dissuade you – I came out of both of these reinvigorated to create positive change.  

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction, this book is terrifyingly, relentlessly focused on the problems of the private market housing in American cities.  Desmond follows a wide variety of tenants and landlords, allowing us to witness along with him the disastrous consequences of the lack of affordable housing and evictions.  As readers, we can come to understand how eviction itself perpetuates a cycle of poverty.  I came to realize just how hard it is for low income families to find housing, let alone keep it.  There is much here to shock and dismay.

The stories are heartbreaking, no question, but Desmond doesn’t dwell, he asks the harder questions and follows up.  The respect Desmond has for his subjects is obvious, and his explanation of their chronic, grinding poverty easy to follow.   I ended up sharing the frustrations of the people profiled in the book, really feeling as though I could come to know them as complete and complicated humans.   As bleak as most of the stories are, the book does not end without hope.  Desmond offers a series of possible solutions, and does so in such a way that you end up itching to get out and do something positive.

Burning Country: Syria in Revolution and War,  Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami

If, like me, you know embarrassingly little about the crisis in Syria and wish to know more, this book is for you.  It’s not a massive tome, but it manages to dispense a startling amount of information over the brief chapters.  There is a history of Syria and the surrounding area.  The authors take you through a detailed analysis of the origins of the revolution, and then the ISIS infiltration.  Not surprisingly, a chapter is devoted to the failures of the West.  I was fascinated to learn more about the flowering of the arts during the early parts of the revolution.  Of course there is also space given to the refugee crisis.

Through it all, there are interesting human stories of individual bravery, horror, and resistance.  By examining the humanity and inhumanity of all sides, the book takes a much more nuanced view than much of the reportage I have read.  The book manages to outline the broad scope while retaining smaller stories that make it relatable.  That said, this is not  an easy read.

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