Tag Archive for libraries

Resist: Ignorance 

By Laura Rink

Heartsick over the presidential election, heartsick for all the Americans who feel targeted by a president who doesn’t see humanity in all people, who sees Others who are Less Than, I needed to take some sort of immediate action. I felt a gap between myself and the people who have more reasons to be fearful of this new administration than I. To understand my fellow Americans better, I posted a note to my larger writing group and sent an email to some reader friends: I need book recommendations, fiction or non-fiction, about other people’s experiences living in America. By other, I mean other than me (white, straight, middle class) in any combination. The more recently published the better. Nothing 20th century unless the book is so good you must recommend it. Thank you.

In a perfect world, we would go out into our communities and engage with other people to learn about their experiences and concerns living in America. We would travel around the country or attend a diverse college or at least take classes that exposed us to a variety of people and ideas. I’m an introvert—seeking out strangers to converse with is not going to happen. But instead of doing nothing, I’m reading books. The best written books make you feel like you are in a room with the author or the main characters, in their minds, in their skin, sharing their experiences.

Everyone, thanks to the public library system, has access to books. Read to begin, or to deepen, your understanding of others, to create empathy, to see connections. America is diverse and that will not be changing. Knowing each other better will create respect and harmony in our neighborhoods, in our towns, and in our country.

Books read so far:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a novel about a Nigerian woman, set in Nigeria, and America where she writes a blog: Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black.

Inside Out and Back Again, a free verse novel by Thanhha Lai, inspired by her childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama. The publisher recommends this book for eight- to twelve-year olds, but based on the book’s ability to distill another’s life experience, it should be required reading for everyone, young and old.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, a memoir about a white family and the unconventional, poverty-stricken upbringing Walls and her siblings had at the hands of their deeply dysfunctional parents.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, the first of her seven autobiographies recounts her life from age three to seventeen in the South and in San Francisco. Among many memorable parts of the book is the scene where her brother describes seeing a white man, grinning, standing over a dead black man, and her brother asks, “Why do they hate us so much?” Their uncle replied, “They don’t really hate us. They don’t know us. How can they hate us? They mostly scared.”

On my to-read list:

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, a novel by Mohja Kahf, about a Syrian girl transplanted to the American Midwest in the 1970s.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

Five Thousand Brothers-in-law: Love in Angola Prison, a memoir by Shannon Hager, about a largely ignored population in Amerika.

Juliet Takes a Breath, young adult fiction by Gaby Rivera, dealing with queer, latinx and social justice themes.

An Uncomplicated Life: A Father’s Memoir of His Exceptional Daughter, Paul Daugherty’s love letter to his daughter who has Down syndrome.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

There are gaps in my reading list, and the diversity of human beings will always make that true. But help me lessen those gaps: in the comments below please give me your book suggestions.


Author’s Bio: 

Laura Rink writes most days—short stories, essays, journal entries, sentences. She is currently working on a memoir, writing with authentic curiosity to find out how who she was has influenced who she has become. Her website LauraRink.com features an occasional blog and a picture of her calico cat.

Hermits, Groupies, and Ruth Ozeki

Like Alice Robb In last week’s blog, “In Praise of Writer Buddies,” I own the label of hermit scribbler,” a solitary figure at one with my keyboard even when I’m at the Village Books Writing Table, at my favorite library haunts in Ferndale and Burlington, or Café Adagio and the Swan Café at the Co-op.

I’ve been thinking about another label. I posted pictures and text about four Ruth Ozeki events I attended during Whatcom Reads. Dee Robinson responded with the following post: “Methinks Linda is a Ruth groupie.”

The Groupie designation originated in the sixties when teenage girls hung around and/or traipsed after rock groups, a phenomenon which became so prominent that the New York Post complained “Groupies—girls who chase boys in rock groups—are now getting so way out in their adulation that the whole mess warrants a federal investigation.” I entered the sixties at age seventeen, but neither I nor anyone I knew in my central California hometown of Visalia displayed excessive rock group admiration.

I like to think that my interest in Ruth Ozeki and other authors from whom I can learn, is admiration of a different sort. I was pleased at the FB reply by my library/FB friend Gayle Anderson Helgoe: “Me thinks that Linda is a groupie of all things literary…books, authors, writing, libraries and (of course) bookstores.” I smiled at Gayle’s comment, for I love being perceived as a supporter, enthusiast, and fan of “all things literary.”

Even so, I admit to a smidgen of groupie-ness. I showed up, always early, to all of the six publicized Whatcom READS! March 3-5 events, except for the showing of “Halving the Bones” at the Pickford which occurred while I was in class—and I’ll watch it on DVD. I took a dozen pictures, fourteen pages of notes, purchased four books, and had them all signed.

Writer and FB friend Kari Neumeyer posted, “Will you write a Red Wheelbarrow Blog about all the things you learned? I wasn’t able to attend any of the events, but I …listened to the audio book…and am interested in what she had to say.” When Red Wheelbarrow decided to do a series of blogs, I seized the opportunity to share some things that struck me.

Despite my background in journalism, I prefer to avoid the Who/What/When/Where /Why-And-Sometimes-How approach to reporting. Instead, I will do “BulletSpeak” quotes, notes, and paraphrases of Ozeki’s insights, serious and funny, on the writing process.

  • Researching is fun. It can keep you from writing.
  • I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than move commas around. (Also a distraction from writing)
  • Fixing sentences is like hanging wallpaper.
  • Unlike some writers who work from an outline, I don’t. I allow a book to grow in fractals, in branching patterns.
  • Writing a book is a long process. I abandoned it 4-5 times. It emerged in fits and starts and proceeded in a jerky way. Every new path ended up improving the story.
  • Technology is always failing. Pencils don’t.
  • You don’t need an MFA. Just go to the public library and check out books to learn what you need to do.
  • My mind is a great garbage patch of detritus spinning around.
  • I don’t always know where characters come from; they can emerge from anywhere. Nao (the main character in A Tale for the Time Being) came to me in a persistent voice. She wouldn’t leave me alone. “A girl’s voice washed up on the shores of my imagination.”
  • “When you perform an audiobook, the producers put a pillow over your stomach to muffle growls.” (Note: I also listened to the audiobook—Ozeki’s rendering is outstanding.)
  • Ambition is about the future. Figure out a way to live between the dualities of patience and impatience. Buddha said to find the middle way; use generative tension.
  • Serve your fellow man. Serve others first. If there were a splinter in your left hand, would the right hand ignore it?
  • Spiritual practice is about now. I try to be comfortable with the unknowing. I try hard when I meditate not to write the novel.

Her last directive is one we hear often:

  • “Writers: Just sit down and write.”

My next undertaking will be to launch a blog. I will begin with prompts based on Ruth Ozeki’s preface to the Whatcom Writes! Anthology called Choices. She suggested twenty, some crazy like studying one’s face in the mirror for three hours (!) and some fun like this one: “Go to a library… Roll dice and write down the numbers until they resemble a Dewey Decimal call number. Find the book with the closest corresponding number and read it as though it were the voice of God.” Watch for it at lindaqlambert.com (currently under construction) on April 1st.

 

linda lambert

BIO: Linda Q. Lambert is a January 2016 graduate of the Stonecoast MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Southern Maine, the mother of four sons and three daughters, an active member in Red Wheelbarrow Writers, and a retired library director.