A Few Side Effects

I got my second shot of the covid-19 Pfizer vaccine on Saturday. A lot of people have warned of side effects for a couple days after getting vaccinated, especially with the second dose. Some have said the symptoms can be quite debilitating.

I am grateful that mine were relatively mild. On Sunday I had a headache, fatigue, and body aches all day. They weren’t terrible, but I felt kind of disoriented, as if I might have had a fever, and didn’t feel up to doing much except sit on the couch watching television. Monday I still had a headache and some body aches, but they were considerably better by Monday night.

I’m not complaining. The symptoms weren’t that bad, and I would have gladly endured worse to get the vaccination. Now I have two weeks for the vaccine to do its magic. And then I am considered protected.

April 13 Writer Birthdays

953 – Al-Karaji, Persian mathematician and engineer who pioneered the theory of algebraic calculus and wrote groundbreaking works on mathematics.

1743 – Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. President and author of some of the most influential documents in American history, including the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom; he was also a lawyer, farmer, inventor, architect, scientist, and violinist, though his legacy is tarnished by his status as a slave owner. At a White House dinner for Nobel Prize winners, President John F. Kennedy said, “This is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

1891 – Nella Larsen, American nurse, librarian, and novelist of the Harlem Renaissance.

1902 – Marguerite Henry, multiple Newbery Medal-winnning American children’s author who wrote novels about horses and other animals, based on true stories; her best known book was Misty of Chincoteague.

1906 – Samuel Beckett, Nobel Prize-winning Irish playwright, novelist, short story writer, theatre director, poet, and literary translator.

1909 – Eudora Welty, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author of novels and short stories, mostly set in the American south.

1922 – John Braine, English novelist who was associated with the Angry Young Men literary movement of the 1950s.

1924 – Junnosuke Yoshiyuki, Japanese novelist and short-story writer.

1936 – Choi In-hun, South Korean novelist and professor.

1939 – Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet, writer, and translator known “for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”; he is recognized as one of the major poets of the 20th century

1940 – J.M.G. Le Clézio, Nobel Prize-winning French-Mauritian novelist, short-story writer, essayist, professor, and translator.

1947 – Rae Armantrout, Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet and professor, associated with the Language Poets.

1948 – Drago Jančar, Slovenian novelist, playwright, and essayist.

1949 – Christopher Hitchens, British-born author, journalist, columnist, essayist, orator, and social critic who wrote about culture, politics, literature, and religion.

1959 – Zeruya Shalev, bestselling Israeli writer, children’s author, literary editor, and screenwriter.

1964 – Lee Jeong-hyang, South Korean film director and screenwriter.

Dreaming Again

Yesterday I wrote about a dream I had Wednesday night, about living on Guernsey Island and being separated from my son just as the Nazis invaded. I think it was really about my fears for my son during the pandemic, because he was not yet eligible to be vaccinated. The very next day, he learned that his university will be vaccinating students soon. That was a huge relief to me.

So Thursday night, I dreamed more directly about the pandemic. I remember only fragments.

In this dream, the pandemic was nearly over. In fact, that night at 8 p.m., it was to be declared officially over, and people waited in anticipation, relieved and excited. I lived in an apartment building, and there was a dinner planned at a cafe on the ground floor for a group of friends, just after the announcement.

In Wednesday night’s dream, Jon Morgan was a little boy. In this one, he was an adult, and was living far enough way so that I hadn’t been able to see him in months. I missed him terribly. He was coming that night, and as soon as the pandemic was over, I wanted to hug him and never let go. To pass the time until then, I was watching something on television that had a scene with a car chase through the corridors of a hospital. As I watched, I kept thinking that the hospital corridors looked very much like the hallways of my own apartment building. The show ended at 8 p.m., the announcement was made, and the pandemic was past!

I’d been expecting Jon Morgan to arrive and come straight to the apartment, but he had not. I knew he’d join us at the dinner party downstairs when he did arrive, so I went down to join my friends. Everyone was ecstatic. This was the first time since March 2020 that any of us had eaten in a restaurant, and the first time that many of us had been with friends at all since then. There was a sense of well-being and jubilation, and everyone was determined to enjoy good food and good company. We were all talking and joking about the television program that it turned out many of us had watched, with the car chase in the hospital.

I sat near one end of the table, taking part in the conversation, but really just waiting for my son to arrive. But I didn’t notice when he slipped in. Suddenly, he was just there, at the other end of the table. I jumped up and was going to run around the table to hug him. I awoke before I reached him.

So, analyzing this one isn’t that hard. After the news that Jon Morgan would be able to get vaccinated this month (and maybe also connected with the fact that I knew I was scheduled for my second dose over the weekend), I dreamed again of separation from my son, but this time the pandemic ended, and that separation also came to an end. The dread and fear of the last dream gave way to hope in this one. And then there’s that heavy-handed hospital imagery, which to me feels like thumbing my nose at the sickness.

I can guess that the car chase motif came from recent local events; for months now, sleep has often been interrupted by a bunch of idiots who are holding drag races on the Beltway in the middle of traffic. It’s even possible that they were at it again Thursday night, and the sound of their engines worked its way into my dream.

To me, this feels like a nice bookend to the dream of the night before. Now, in real life, we need to stay vigilant, continue to take precautions, and make sure as many people as possible can get vaccinated. But car chases through hospitals are still probably a bad idea.

April 12 Writer Birthdays

1573 – Jacques Bonfrère, Belgian professor, Jesuit priest, Biblical scholar, and leading commentator on the Old Testament.

1808 – Pauline Marie Armande Aglaé Craven (née Ferron de La Ferronnays), award-winning French novelist, essayist, memoirist, and biographer who spent time with many of the most influential people of her day; her style has been describing as having “all the limpid clearness and charm of the best French writers.”

1823 – Alexander Nikolayevich Ostrovsky, Russian realistic playwright said to have “almost single-handedly created a Russian national repertoire.” His dramas are among the most widely read and performed plays in Russia.

1866 – Vrtanes Papazian, Turkish-born Armenian writer, historian, translator, political and cultural activist, literary critic, editor, literature historian, and teacher.

1873 – N. Kumaran Asan, Indian Malayalam poet, writer, philosopher, and social reformer who initiated a revolution in Malayalam poetry in the first quarter of the 20th century, transforming it from the metaphysical to the lyrical; his poetry is known for its moral and spiritual content.

1904 – Francis Claud Cockburn, Chinese-born Anglo-Scots journalist who was a second cousin to novelists Alec Waugh and Evelyn Waugh.

1905 – Inger Hagerup, Norwegian author, playwright, and poet; she is considered one of the greatest Norwegian poets of the 20th century.

1907 – Hardie Gramatky, American painter, author, and illustrator of children’s books; Andrew Wyeth called him one of America’s twenty greatest watercolorists.

1907 – Imogen Clare Holst, British writer, biographer, musicologist, composer, arranger, conductor, teacher, and festival administrator who was the only child of the composer Gustav Holst.

1907 – Zawgyi (born Thein Han), leading Burmese poet, author, playwright, literary historian, critic, scholar, and academic who was one of the leaders of the Hkit san (Testing the Times) movement, which searched for a new style and content in Burmese literature; the name, Zawgyi is a mythical wizard from Burmese folklore.

1908 – Ida Pollock (née Crowe), British writer and painter who, still active at age 105, was referred to as the “world’s oldest novelist.” She also wrote under the name Ida Crowe and various pseudonyms.

1913 – Shulamis Yelin, award-winning Canadian Jewish writer, poet, and educator who was among the founders of the Reconstructionist synagogue in Montreal. Her work reflected her experiences growing up in Montreal’s Jewish community; she also developed a syllabus, The Jew in Canada: 1760 – 1960, for use in Canadian schools.

1916 – Beverly Cleary, popular, prolific, and influential American author of books for children and young adults, best known for Ramona the Pest and the other Ramona books; she passed away in March 2021.

1916 – Heera Pathak, Indian Gujarati poet, writer, and literary critic; she married writer Ramnarayan V. Pathak.

1921 – Carol Emshwiller, Nebula Award-winning and World Fantasy Award-winning American author of science-fiction novels, fantasy, westerns, magic realism, and short stories.

1928 – Hazel Townson, prolific English author of children’s picture books and novels.

1930 – Bryan Edgar Magee, British philosopher, broadcaster, politician, author, and poet; he is best known as a popularizer of philosophy.

1939 – Alan Ayckbourn, English playwright, author, and director.

1940 – Miriam Khamadi Were, award-winning Kenyan novelist, writer, public-health advocate, and academic.

1941 – Lee Mun Ku, South Korean novelist and short-story writer whose work explores agrarian Korean society in transition, shining a light on the harsh reality of Korean farming and fishing villages and the lives of rural people alienated by industrialization.

1942 – Kang Dae-ha, South Korean screenwriter, poet, and film director.

1945 – Kiyoko Murata, award-winning Japanese writer whose work has been adapted for film by Akira Kurosawa and Hideo Onchi.

1945 – Serge Schmemann, French-born writer, journalist, and editor.

1947 – Tom Clancy, American author of intricate espionage and military thrillers; creator of the character Jack Ryan; he also coauthored screenplays and nonfiction books.

1947 – Ana María Moix, award-winning Spanish poet, novelist, short-story writer, translator, editor, and children’s author who was part of the team that published the journal, Vindicación Feminista and was able to employ textual strategies “in order to counter the silencing of lesbianism while still managing to evade the Francoist censor.”

1949 – Scott Turow, bestselling American author of legal fiction and nonfiction.

1950 – Isaad Younis, Egyptian screenwriter, author, actress, film producer, and television host.

1952 – Gary Soto, American poet and young-adult fiction author.

1954 – Jon Krakauer, American author and mountaineer, known for his action-packed nonfiction books.

1957 – Tama Janowitz, American novelist and satirist.

1961 – Yang Tongyan (pen name Yang Tianshui), Chinese novelist, essayist, and poet who was best known as dissident for his criticism of the Chinese government.

1963 – Lydia María Cacho Ribeiro, Mexican leftist journalist, feminist, and human rights activist, described by Amnesty International as “perhaps Mexico’s most famous investigative journalist and women’s rights advocate”; her reporting focuses on violence, including sexual violence, against women and children.

1965- Nino Abesadze, Soviet Georgian-born Israeli writer, journalist, and politician.

1965 – Tracey Corderoy, prolific, award-winning Welsh author of children’s picture books and young-adult fiction.

1974 – Antje Rávik Strubel, German writer, translator, and literary critic.

1975 – Elena Alexieva, Bulgarian writer, poet, playwright, translator, and novelist.

1986 – Elise Parsley, American piano teacher and author/illustrator of children’s picture books.


I had a couple of odd dreams recently. Wednesday night I dreamed that I was living with my husband and son on Guernsey Island, off the coast of England, during the second world war. I was a midwife and medical assistant, and by this time the only person in my village with any sort of medical background. Jon Morgan was seven years old.

It was June 1940, and we had all grown increasingly anxious since the fall of Paris to the Nazis. We expected them to invade the channel islands next. The threat grew closer and closer, and the terror and sense of oppression grew.

More and more, we could the booming of guns in the distance. The village was on a hill, and we had a spot at the village green with chairs to sit on, used for viewing concerts in friendlier time. But there was a clear view down into the valley. Some of us took to sitting there and watching the valley to the south. At first there was nothing, except sounds that could have been off-shore. Gradually, wisps of smoke rose, detaching themselves from low-lying clouds. The Germans would be here soon, maybe in a day or two. But there was nothing we could do to stop the invasion. There weren’t enough of us, and few islanders were armed. We had resigned ourselves to living under occupation.

Someone came running to ask me to come quickly. A boy had been injured in an accident. I left Bob and Jon Morgan and scrambled off to help. The boy had broken a leg. It needed cleaning, setting, and stitching. Once I was finished, I made my way back to the village green. Before I’d even arrived, I could hear sobbing. The valley was filled with the smoke, and the guns were close. Twice as many people as before were crowded onto the village green. Residents of the surrounding hills must have flocked to the village for safety. Or maybe the Germans had been sweeping through the countryside, forcing everyone together.

I ran to the chairs where I’d left my husband and son, but they were gone. Someone was urging everyone to stay in family groups; the Nazis might try to separate us, and that would give us the best chance of staying with our families. But I couldn’t find Bob and Jon Morgan.

“They’re here!” someone screamed. “The Germans are here!”

German jeeps rolled up, and officers started barking orders, telling people to stand in rows on the green. I searched and searched for my little boy, but there were too many people. “He’s only seven years old!” I remember crying. “He needs his mother.”

That’s when I woke up.

I’m not sure where Guernsey and World War II came from. But the day before I’d been looking at a photo of my son at age seven. But I also think this dream was really about the pandemic. My husband is fully vaccinated and I knew I was scheduled for my final vaccination dose this weekend. But our son, who is actually 19, was still too young and healthy for his turn to come up. I’ve been so worried about him contracting the virus at school, and so powerless to do anything about it.

On Thursday, he texted to say his university had gotten a lot of doses and would be vaccinating students! So his turn is coming. What a relief. That news seems to have affected my subconscious; Thursday night’s dream also dealt with separation from my son. But it was more closely connected to the virus, with hope replacing dread.

Because this is getting too long, I’m going to end this here, and write about the second dream tomorrow.

April 11 Writer Birthdays

1492 – Marguerite de Navarre, writer, poet, playwright, salon leader, princess of France, and Queen consort of Navarre; as an author and patron of humanists and reformers, she was a key figure of the French Renaissance and was once called “The First Modern Woman.”

1883 – Camille Marbo (real name Marguerite Appell Borel), French writer who was president and laureate of the Prix Femina and president of the Société des gens de lettres.

1893 – Dean Acheson, Pulitzer Prize-winning American memoirist, lawyer, and U.S. Secretary of State.

1898 – Conny Méndez, Venezuelan writer, caricaturist, composer, singer, and actress who wrote about metaphysics.

1903 – Misuzu Kaneko, Japanese poet, writer, and songwriter who has been compared to Christina Rossetti; she was born in a fishing village, and often included images of fishing and the sea in her work.

1911 – David Westheimer, American novelist and editor.

1920 – Peter O’Donnell, British writer of mysteries and comic strips who also wrote gothic romances, under the pseudonym Madeline Brent.

1931 – Nelly Kaplan, French filmmaker, screenwriter, author, essayist, and journalist.

1934 – Mark Strand, Canadian-born American poet, essayist, professor, and translator who was U.S. Poet Laureate.

1940 – Thomas Harris, American author, journalist, and screenwriter best known for his series of novels about his fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter.

1951 – James Patrick Kelly, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning American author of science fiction and cyberpunk novels and short stories.

1968 – Cecilia Eudave, Mexican writer, poet, novelist, short-story author, and professor.

1977 – Lee Young-you, Korean writer and comic-book artist.


I just came from getting my second dose of the Pfizer covid19 vaccine. Woo-hoo! It will be two weeks before I can say I’m fully vaccinated, but I am so glad to have received both shots.

I’ve been impressed with the efficient way the city is running the vaccination clinics. The volunteers and staff are knowledgeable and friendly, the space is well organized, and the process seems to be running like clockwork. My appointment today was at 3 pm. I arrived about 10 minutes early, filled out the pre-registration app, waited in a short line, and got my vaccination. Even with a glitch in the app that forced me to fill in the same information twice, I was finished and waiting for my ride at 3:15.

Next, my son needs his vaccination. His university has just started vaccinating students. He could have signed up for his first Pfizer dose today, but he wanted to hold out for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose. (He could have gotten Moderna too, but the timing of that one would have required a trip back to Harrisonburg for the second shot after he’s already home for the summer, so it wasn’t convenient. Of course, if that had been his only option I’d be happy to make the trip to drive him back for the second dose.)

If he’d been home and was told he could get it, I probably would have just made him an appointment for whichever vaccine he could get soonest. But he’s 19 years old and 135 miles away, so as long as he can get it quickly, I’ll just have to accept his decision. Supposedly he’ll be able to sign up for Johnson & Johnson in a few days.

My husband has been fully vaccinated for some time now. He got Moderna, so if Jon Morgan gets the J&J, we’ll be a three-vaccine family.

April 10 Writer Birthdays

1734 – Eleonore von Grothaus, German poet, writer, and musician.

1778 – William Hazlitt, English writer, drama, literary critic, painter, social commentator, and philosopher.

1835 – Henry Villard, German-born American journalist, financier, and railroad president.

1847 – Joseph Pulitzer, Hungarian-born American newspaper publisher; the Pulitzer Prize is named after him.

1867 – George William Russell, Irish poet, theosophist, artist, and political activist.

1887 – Pavel Golia, Slovenian writer, poet, playwright, and children’s author.

1890 – Mary Buff, American children’s book author who, with wrote with her illustrator husband Conrad; the two were four-time runners-up for the Caldecott or Newbery medals.

1903 – Clare Boothe Luce (born Ann Clare Boothe), American playwright, author, short-story writer, essayist, journalist, war correspondent, U.S. Congresswoman, U.S. Ambassador to Italy, and managing editor of Vanity Fair magazine; she was famous for her acid wit, and coined such often-quoted lines as “No good deed goes unpunished.” She was also the first female winner of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

1903 – Clare Turlay Newberry, American children’s book author of four Caldecott Honor books.

1905 – Norma Lochlenah Davis, Australian poet who wrote under a variety of pseudonyms; her house in Perth, Tasmania, is now the Jolly Farmer Inn.

1910 – Margaret Clapp, Pulitzer Prize-winning American scholar, author, and biographer.

1912 – Jeanine Moulin (née Jeanine Rozenblat), Belgian poet, literary scholar, and researcher.

1914 – Maria Banuș, Romanian poet, essayist, writer, diarist, anthologist, translator, and anti-fascist activist.

1922 – Vesna Parun, Croatian writer, poet, children’s author, illustrator, and translator who has written romantic lyrical poetry as well as erotic poetry and satiric verses directed at politics.

1925 – Mongush Borakhovitch Kenin-Lopsan, Russian writer, poet, historian, archaeologist, and shamanism researcher.

1933 – Park Jaesam (박재삼), Korean poet, journalist, and editor whose poetry “expressed the eternal and delicate beauty of nature and the hidden dignity of humble human daily life through the medium of traditional Korean lyrics.”

1934 – David Halberstam, American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose nonfiction featured politics and sports.

1934 – Richard Peck, Newbery Medal-winning American young-adult novelist; after leaving a job teaching junior-high English, he began writing, and wrote 41 books over the next 41 years.

1937 – Bella Akhmadulina, Soviet and Russian poet, short-story writer, screenwriter, translator, and actress who was part of the Russian New Wave literary movement; poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky called her the best living poet in the Russian language.

1939 – Claudio Magris, Italian scholar, translator, and writer who was popular in much of Europe.

1939 – Penny Vincenzi, bestselling British novelist and short-story writer whose books include Old Sins and Wicked Pleasures.

1940 – Clark Blaise, Canadian/American author, professor, essayist, and short-story writer; he is married to novelist Bharati Mukherjee.

1941 – Paul Theroux, American travel writer and novelist.

1947 – David Adler, American author of children’s and young-adult books, most notably the Cam Jansen series.

1947 – Mirela Roznoveanu, Romanian novelist, poet, essayist, literary critic, columnist, nonfiction author, and journalist who was part of the dissident group of journalists who took over the Romania libera newspaper from the Communist government, making it the first independent and anti-communist newspaper in Romania.

1953 – Pamela Wallin, Canadian journalist, politician, diplomat, and autobiographer.

1954 – Anne Lamott, American novelist, nonfiction writer, essayist, memoirist, and political activist.

1957 – John Michael Ford, American science-fiction and fantasy writer and poet.

1962 – Dani Shapiro, novelist, memoirist, and magazine writer.

1963 – Peter Morgan, British playwright and screenwriter.

1966 – Chido Onumah, Nigerian journalist, author, and rights activist; he was once arrested and detained by Nigeria’s State Security Services on his arrival from Spain for wearing a T-shirt with the inscription, “We Are All Biafrans.”

1970 – Micheline Maylor, award-winning Canadian poet, academic, critic, anthologist, and editor.

1972 – Kojo Baffoe (full name Frank Kojo Baffoe, Jr.), German-born South African writer, poet, blogger, media consultant, columnist, journalist, and editor.

April 9 Writer Birthdays

1766 – Albertine Necker de Saussure, Swiss writer and pedagogue.

1821 – Charles Baudelaire, French poet, essayist, and art critic; translator of Edgar Allan Poe; his name inspired Lemony Snicket’s choice of family name for the Baudelaire children in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books.

1824 – Louise Cathrine Elisabeth Bjørnsen (pen name Elisabeth Martens), Danish novelist and short-story writer.

1860 – Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler, English poet, novelist, and children’s writer, best known for her popular romances.

1865 – Adela Florence Nicolson, English poet who wrote under the pseudonym Laurence Hope.

1875 – Jacques Futrelle, American journalist and mystery writer who died in the sinking of the Titanic.

1880 – Maria Jotuni, Finnish feminist novelist, playwright, and short-story writer.

1891 – Lesbia Harford, Australian poet, novelist, and political activist.

1894 – Camila Henríquez Ureña, Domingan, writer, essayist, educator, and literary critic from the Dominican Republic who became a naturalized Cuban citizen.

1897 – Cuthbert Quinlan Dale Collins (pen name Dale Collins), Australian journalist and author of popular fiction; he is notable for a series of sea romances, some of which were adapted for motion pictures — including Rich and Strange, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

1899 – Jiang Biwei, Chinese memoirist and artist’s model who was influential in the lives of the painter Xu Beihong and politician Chang Tao-fan.

1902 – Olga Vasilievna Perovskaya, Russian Soviet author and children’s writer; her most notable work, Rebyata i Zveryata (Kids and Cubs), was a series of stories of about the pets she and her sisters kept during their childhood.

1908 – Joseph Krumgold, American author of screenplays and children’s books; first person to win two Newbery Medals.

1908 – Ivan Yefremov, Russian Soviet writer, paleontologist, science fiction author, philosopher, and social thinker who was the originator of the concept of taphonomy, the study of fossilization patterns.

1912 – Lev Kopelev, Soviet author and dissident.

1917 – Johannes Bobrowski, Soviet-born German author, poet, translator, literary editor, and soldier.

1923 – Leonard Levy, Pulitzer Prize-winning American history professor.

1929 – Paule Marshall, award-winning American poet and novelist; she was a colleague of Langston Hughes.

1929 – Zheng Wenguang, Vietnamese-born Chinese science-fiction writer.

1933 – Genevieve Duboscq, French author who wrote the best selling My Longest Night — a twelve-year-old heroine’s stirring account of D-Day and after.

1933 – Fern Michaels, bestselling American author of romance and thriller novels.

1936 – Valerie Solanas, American feminist writer best known for trying to assassinate artist Andy Warhol.

1946 – Nobuko Takagi (pen name for Nobuko Tsuruta), award-winning Japanese author.

1947 – Maria-Pia Boëthius, Swedish journalist, novelist, non-fiction writer, and activist.

1947 – Vera Nosková (Hroznetín), Czech writer, journalist, and promoter of science and critical thinking.

1948 – Eva Gerlach, award-winning Dutch poet who also writes under the name Margaret Dijkstra.

1952 – Robert Clark, Edgar Award-winning American novelist and nonfiction author.

1953 – Christine Van Broeckhoven, Belgian writer, politiian, molecular biologist, and professor.

1954 – Ken Kalfus, American author and journalist.

1955 – Joolz Denby, British poet, novelist, artist, and tattooist.

1955 – Kate Heyhoe, American food writer and cookbook author.

1959 – Jeon Yeo-ok, South Korean journalist and conservative politician.

1960 – Isabel Coixet, Spanish screenwriter, writer, and translator who is also one of the most prolific film directors in modern Spain.

1964 – Margaret P. Haddix, bestselling award-winning American author of novels for children and young adults.

1965 – Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson, German historian, writer, author, and university teacher.

1967 – Sam Harris, American author, philosopher, and neuroscientist.

1974 – Anna Troberg, Swedish author, blogger, translator, and former politician who was leader of the Swedish Pirate Party.

Anti-Racist Reading

A year ago, a friend of mine organized an anti-racist book group. Those of us in the group are not Black, and that’s by design. We wanted a safe place to discuss our fears, root out our own biases, and educate ourselves without expecting a Black person to bear the burden of explaining to us. All of the books we’ve read are written by Black authors:

  • So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
  • How To Be An Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Eloquent Rage, by Brittney Cooper

The three books are very different, and often present opposing viewpoints. For instance, Oluo believes that Black people cannot be racist, that being in a position of power is integral to the definition of racist thought. Kendi, on the other hand, says just the opposite; he thinks Black people can be racist too. Personally, I found Kendi’s argument more convincing (though I liked Olua’s book very much). Cooper, so far, has not addressed that particular question, but we haven’t quite finished with that book. I can’t say for sure that it’s not in the final chapters, but I would guess not; it’s not the kind of exploration this book is getting at.

So You Want To Talk About Race was a great book to start with. It’s a clear, practical primer that gives an overview of issues of race in America today. How To Be An Antiracist is a more academic treatment of the issue, bringing in the works of various other authors but grounded in Kendi’s own experiences. Eloquent Rage is in large part, well, an expression of rage. Subtitled “A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower,” it seems aimed at other Black women, to validate their anger and help them find ways to use it.

On the whole (and so far), I much prefer the first two books to the third one. Some of Cooper’s ideas are fascinating, and I have learned a lot — from her and, of course, from the other authors — about the experiences of Black people in America. But her appeal is more of an emotional one, she doesn’t always back up her perceptions with facts, and I often find myself wishing she would choose her words more carefully. But as I said, this book does appear to be aimed at Black women, so it really wasn’t intended to speak to me.

We in the book group are still struggling with how to put this education into use. All of us are involved in politics and activism to some extent, but there always seems to be so much more to be done. And it can be hard, as a White person, to know how to be involved in working for change without seeming to be attempting to co-opt the struggle.

Next week we’ll finish discussing Eloquent Rage, and then it will be time to choose the next book. Any suggestions?