A Book That Everyone Should Read: Angie Thomas

It’s about Seven. Sekani. Kenya. DeVante. It’s also about Oscar. Aiyana. Trayvon. Rekia. Michael. Eric. Tamir. John. Ezell. Sandra. Freddie. Alton. Philando. It’s also about that little boy in 1955 who nobody recognized at first – Emmett.

The messed-up part? There are so many more.

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Photo by 3Motional Studio on Pexels.com

For a long time I couldn’t bring myself to start reading Angie Thomas’ timely masterpiece The Hate U Give. Having read quite a bit about police violence in US and seen the tape of the horrifying shooting of Philando Castile, I knew I was going to cry throughout the book. Even though the book is conceptually very different it reminded me of Malala Yousafzai autobiography in the tone of horrible things seen and described through the eyes of a young girl. This incredibly powerful story of Starr whose friend gets shot by police officer is both eye-opening and heart wrenching and is most definitely far from one-sided. It is an acute portrait of ugliness of racism and violence that at the same time manages to be thoughtful and implicit letting the reader understand the bigger picture through Starr’s experiences. Angie Thomas is Harper Lee of our time and this book is an absolute must read for everybody.

A Book That Everyone Should Read: Naomi Alderman

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I can’t even begin to describe the impact that reading The Power by Naomi Alderman had on me (and I am sure I am not alone). I would even go as far as to predict that this book will become a classic that will keep on being discussed for many decades.

The main premise is the following: at some point teenage girls start experiencing the ability to strike someone with the electricity thanks to the new organ they developed. This new development than leads to complete re-definition of the gender norms on unprecedented scale.

The point that the book is making in the incredible clever and spot-on manner is that the inequality is about power and it has absolutely nothing to do with race or gender by default. I read lots of angry counter arguments to the book stating that if power dynamics were switched women would never ever be so violent or power hungry. But I believe that truth of the matter is when there is an opportunity, means and societal approval people are ready shift their morals surprisingly quickly.

In my opinion, the problem we have nowadays is not there is a better race or gender for politics, computer science or battle against climate change, it is the disproportional representation of people with the certain kind of opinion in the position of power. And what Ms Alderman illustrates wonderfully by the means of extremely readable fiction is that true equality is not that women and minorities can in principle do whatever they want, true equality is the proportional representation of all humans in all the relevant position of power.

Dear Mr President

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Petar Kujundzic/Reuters: Vaclav Havel, Dec 19, 1989

 

Fourteen days ago I thought this post will be full of optimism of getting an educated liberal enough president with the potential to lead my home country into the direction that Vaclav Havel had in mind.

Sadly enough, instead we are getting another term of racism and sexism fuelled pro-Russian populism. After the first (and landslide for that matter) victory of Milos Zeman in 2013 many people thought it was just a symptom of not sufficiently appealing counter-candidates. While I thought Mr. Schwarzenberg would make a fine president, I could understand that many people did not see him as an ideal choice. Or, in the 2016 terminology, it must have been a Hillary Clinton situation right? Except at the end of January it turned out that was not the case. Even with the number of white male attractive-enough reasonable candidates, Czech people still chose the old sick racist angry guy. The fear of a made-up muslim refugee threat resonated better than objective advantages and economic growth associated with being part of western society.

As Mr. Zeman keeps insisting after his victory on referendums on EU and NATO memberships (after five years of hard work on misinforming the public on their function), I keep thinking of Vaclav Havel. He led us out of communistic misery and under his leadership we became a western democracy. Even though that democracy is now under the threat and even though the results of both presidential and parliamentary were extremely depressing, at least in the former case, the race was close. Close enough to know that at least half of the Czech voters are still Vaclav Havel’s nation that will not buy into bigoted narratives. So let’s try to learn a lesson from this and, like voters in US, get more involved into politics of our home country.

 

Non-fiction corner

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In general, I am a huge fan of literary classics and a contemporary fiction, and I spend most of my time reading it. Lately, I tried to extend my literary horizons by adding some new biographies and non-fiction books into this years reading list. I wasn’t disappointed and enjoyed throughly some contemporary perspectives from talented individuals with fresh and eye-opening points of view.

Let me start with Giant of the Senate by Al Franken, which is genuine and funny autobiography of the junior Minnesota senator. There is many funny stories making the book light and super entertaining read, but at the same time he doesn’t come out as a person who is living his life just to create a lot of funny stories about himself. There are underlying ideas and standpoints strongly present and Al seems like a person who genuinely wants to make the world a better place (I guess the fact that I happen to personally agree with much of his political ideology kind of helps there:)). Of course, he is little bit full of himself, but at the same time he is able to make fun of himself and also convey very strongly motivations for his political stands and principles.  At the moment, I am reading another of his books, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, which he wrote during the Bush administration before he became a senator and I must say I find it to be an extraordinary piece of political satire and if you ever been frustrated with Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly reading it definitely brings a lot of humorous relieve..

Another memoir I read recently was Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. In this book Trevor concentrates on his growing up in South Africa during apartheid and right after it was dismantled. Even though he is still his usual funny self, he shows much more serious side in his book and well, most of his experiences are extremely chilling. Reading about the ‘perfect racism’ of apartheid is extremely scary… and then you get sad and scared even more when you realise that there is still way too many people around the world who subscribe to those points of view (which for some reason become somehow acceptable if you deviate just slightly enough from appalling apartheid rules). I must say that I found mostly admirable how he dealt with the difficult situations he was put in and found the book overall great and worth reading.

New book by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, is a pure pleasure to read (or listen to, which is what I did, since Neil narrates the recording himself). I have been raving on this blog about how great job is American Museum of Natural History doing in making science fun and accessible and Neil of course contributes to that greatly. He has wonderful storytelling skills and cool ways to explain science without unnecessary trivialisations. As a physicist I am always wary reading popular books about physics, because there is only so many popular explanations of entanglement I can take, but this book was an overall pleasant surprise. Well, I’m not an astrophysicist, so maybe some of them would beg to differ. But I really liked the science explanations (even the LIGO detection of gravitational waves was included!), and while I don’t necessarily agree with all Neil’s philosophical points of view I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to everyone, a scientist or not.

Finally, I read Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg. This was definitely the lightest of this portion of my non-fiction reads content-wise, but still interesting, serious and sufficiently scientific investigation of how the newest technology is impacting the human relationships. Aziz is a great writer and the studies presented seemed serious enough to me, even though I don’t have experience in social science. The conclusion presented is basically this: while we are in much better position to find a partner that is a right match for us compared to the generation of our (grand)parents, we get overwhelmed with the amount of choice and put much less effort into actually cultivating relationships with the people we meet. So while our parents had to make a choice about a spouse from a very small set of people, they were generally valuing the relationship more and tried to put more effort into making it work (because, well, that was the person they were supposed to be stuck with for the rest of their life), we tend to dismiss people based on tinder photo or weird text and never talk to them again.

In addition to this I am re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird mostly because I feel like everyone around me keeps quoting Atticus Finch and I barely remember any details from the story since high school, so I feel perhaps I didn’t appreciate it enough as a teenager and want to give it deeper look.