October 07, 2008
WINTER BOOK SUGGESTION
MARTIN & MALCOLM & AMERICA: A DREAM OR A NIGHTMARE by James H. Cone
This is one of the best books I've encountered.
Cone discusses the rhetorical strategies of Martin Luther King, Jr, and Malcolm X as they applied to their particular audiences: King to the South and Malcolm X to the North. Cone argues that Martin King's strategy of non-violent protest, while effective in the extremely segregated and anti-integrationist South, was not effective in the North (particularly in cities like Chicago and Detroit) because the discourse and policy of "integration" was already superficially accepted by Northeners. The "liberal" North found King's rhetoric to be more or less agreeable even as the structures of discrimination continued to subject black people to a brutal double-standard. Thus Malcolm X's policy of Black Nationalism (separatist rather than integrationist) that allowed for violence epitomized by the slogan "by any means necessary" was more successful in the North because it more effectively confronted personal and systematic racism. Long story short: two different rhetors with different rhetorics because of different situations, different audiences, with different immediate goals. Interestingly, near the close of both men's lives--Malcolm X killed in 1965 and Martin King in 1968--Malcolm began to sound a little more like Martin; and Martin began to speak even more forcefully, not unlike Malcolm had been known to do previously.
SPRING BOOK SUGGESTION
A GLASS CASTLE: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls
TRUE STORY...An account of growing up nomadic, starry-eyed, and dirt poor in the '60s and '70s, by journalist Walls (Dish, 2000). From her first memory, of catching fire while boiling hotdogs by herself in the trailer park her family was passing through, to her last glimpse of her mother, picking through a New York City Dumpster, Walls's detached, direct, and unflinching account of her rags-to-riches life proves a troubling ride. Her parents, Rex Walls, from the poor mining town of Welch, West Virginia, and Rose Mary, a well-educated artist from Phoenix, love a good adventure and usually don't take into account the care of the children who keep arriving-Lori, Jeannette, Brian, and Maureen-leaving them largely to fend for themselves. For entrepreneur and drinker Rex, "Doing the skedaddle" means getting out of town fast, pursued by creditors. Rex is a dreamer, and someday his gold-digging tool (the Prospector), or, better, his ingenious ideas for energy-efficiency, will fund the building of his desert dream house, the Glass Castle. But moving from Las Vegas to San Francisco to Nevada and back to rock-bottom Welch provides a precarious existence for the kids-on-and-off schooling, living with exposed wiring and no heat or plumbing, having little or nothing to eat. Protesting their paranoia toward authority and their insistence on "true values" for their children ("What doesn't kill you will make you stronger," chirps Mom), these parents have some dubious nurturing practices, such as teaching the children to con and shoplift. The deprivations do sharpen the wits of the children-leading to the family's collective escape to New York City, where they all make good, even the parents, who are content tolive homeless. The author's tell-it-like-it-was memoir is moving because it's unsentimental; she neither demonizes nor idealizes her parents, and there remains an admirable libertarian quality about them, though it justifiably elicits the children's exasperation and disgust. Walls's journalistic bare-bones style makes for a chilling, wrenching, incredible testimony of childhood neglect. A pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, thoroughly American story.