How’s your summer going? Political? Yeah, mine too. I made a playlist for our recent vacation in Vermont and as I sifted through all our musical choices, I realized the music I wanted had a social justice theme: Jidenna, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Andra Day, the Hamilton Mixtape, Dessa, Delta Rae, etc. (Side note: Andra Day, my God, the voice on that woman! I vote her Queen of Music, if that’s a thing. Even if it isn’t.) Have other suggestions? I’d love if you shared in the comments!
Anyway, if you’re looking for hope and intelligence in literary form, I have a few recommendations. Two new releases: On Tyranny and The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell, and a re-release, The Farm in the Green Mountains.
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder
This is a pint-sized book with enormous ideas. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of the various communist and facist regimes in recent history, Snyder draws parallels to our current political situation. He explains, in brief chapters and in simple terms, how tyranny comes to be, what to watch for, and how to resist it. From the war on facts, to the internet, to getting your passport, Snyder covers everything in a bite-sized reference. Reading it is both a terrifying and inspiring experience.
Takeaway: think for yourself, read for yourself, and pay attention to the myriad ways tyranny takes root and tries to normalize itself. We are responsible for this democracy; it’s high time we came together and accepted that.
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6’4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian, W. Kamau Bell
To call this a wide-ranging memoir/comedy/political book seems like an understatement. W. Kamau Bell covers just about everything here, in his casual, sharp, and very funny unique voice.
Budding comedians will be interested in his (long and arduous) path to stardom. As a parent, I loved hearing about his (warm and close) relationship with his daughters. He also delves extensively into pop culture, interracial relationships, sexism, racism, most other -sims, and does it all with a grace and humor that gives you hope. There were many sections that resonated long after I finished, not least of all the one where he introduced me and my kids to the fabulous Doc McStuffins. I know.
The Farm in the Green Mountains, Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer. Translated by Ida H. Washington and Carol E. Washington
Written by a German intellectual fleeing Hitler, this is a tale of Vermont as experienced by an immigrant who finds a home here. Alice and her husband “Zuck,” both highly educated with zero practical experience, end up working a large farm, deep in secluded Vermont during the war. As they learn to perform the myriad tasks that their survival depends on, the war fades into the background. There is firewood to stack, pipes to baby, chickens to feed.
Alice tells us that the small, repetitiveness of the tasks is what saves them from drowning in worry. Attending to these crucial matters makes life bearable. And life, as it tends to do, goes on. There are very funny descriptions of goats, tragedies, and very Vermont-y sections. The book began as a series of letters to family left in Europe, and it’s a quick read. For the most part, the writing stands up to the test of time. (There is a bit of an issue with one of the last chapters, where she waxes on about Dartmouth and their history of “civilizing” the native peoples. Yup, that part’s pretty racist.)
Side note: I found this in the fabulous Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock, VT. If you are in the area, here’s their website. If you are not in Vermont, I imagine you can find an older version through your favorite library, or the newer version in your own indie bookstore.