Sunday, April 22, 2018

Rosa Lee

Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America by Leon Dash
1996
Weight: 8.8 oz
Method of Disposal: Give back to mom or lending library


This book was brutal.  It was a window into a world I can clearly see I have no known experience with, and it was hard to face.  The very idea that a mother would feel like she had to sell her own child and that she felt the child had been able to consent in any way is truly shocking to me and what is more shocking is that you cannot just villainize that mother and neatly put her away in a box labeled "terrible."  There is so much more to Rosa's story--good and bad. Rosa Lee's family is so influenced by institutionalized racism that is impossible to even imagine what would have happened to them in a different society or place.

I understand the fear that some people have that this book makes black people look bad, but I definitely disagree.  It is very clear that it does not represent all black people or all poor black people and, if you were ignorant enough to think it truly did, the author clearly writes that it is a thorough case study on just one family and explains why he thinks it is important.  Still, I know that there are many people who would read this story as evidence for whatever they already believe and that is always scary. 

The author writes, "I recognize that there are many ways to look at Rosa Lee.  There is something of her life to confirm any political viewpoint--liberal, moderate, or conservative.  Some may see her as a victim of hopeless circumstances, a woman born to a life of deprivation because of America's long history of discrimination and racism.  Others may give her the benefit of the doubt in some cases but hold her personally accountable for much of what she did to herself, her children, and her grandchildren.  A third group might say that Rosa Lee is a thief, a drug addict, a failed parent, a broken woman paying for her sins, and a woman who seemingly was so set on placing her children on the path to failure that it is amazing that even two of them manage to live conventional lives" (p. 251).

No matter how the reader feels about whether it should have been written or not, there is one thing we should all be able to agree on.  It is heartbreaking from beginning to end.  The destruction the drugs wreaked on this family and this community is unbelievable and frightening.  The individual understanding, accountability, and expectations each hiv-infected person had about their illness, their future, and the future of others around them was eye-opening. 

I could not help but think about myself now aged 32 and Patty Cunningham, Rosa Lee's daughter, being in her thirties in the book and completely addicted to heroine.  Unable to get through a single day without the drug, despite the danger she was in, without jail time.  The sexual abuse she suffered again and again.  We know what happens to Bobby and to Rosa.  I don't know if I want to know, but I cannot help but wonder what happens to Patty and Junior.  I also wonder about the others, of course, about Alvin, Eric, Ducky,Richard, Ronnie, hell, even Mr. Dash.  This appears to be Patty: http://www.tributes.com/obituary/show/Donna-D.-Wright-86154465.  What did she do until 2009?  I suppose it is none of my business, but I am grateful to the author for taking the time and for Rosa and participating family members for sharing their secrets and their lives.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Cherry

Cherry by Mary Karr
2000
Weight: 12 oz
Method of Disposal: Lending Library


Coming of Age stories, like the previously written about coming out story, are hard because they are done by so many people in so many different ways.  It can feel like you have read them over and over again.  The time this is written is also important for context.  18 years ago. 

I was enjoying it but not overly blown away by it.  I totally appreciated the young narrator reveling in her sexual power, but I felt like I was watching her fall into low self-esteem, drugs, bad situations with little consequence and not a lot of insight into the reasons she was spiraling out.  We did get the impression that it was due to her parents not being overly concerned with her life, though they were there for her in very important and big ways when it counted.  Her dad is painted as having some anger issues, and her mom does at one point attempt to kill herself with both daughters begging her not to.

 It was not until the author, or maybe it was the letter at the front, someone anyway, pointed out that it was a sexual coming of age story written from a girl's perspective that I felt that old familiar rallying cry of pro-sex feminism rise up within me.  I had forgotten that we have for so long not been able to read young girl characters as sexual agents in their own story.  That we've had coming of ages stories for boys out the wazoo but not for girls.  So, I can respect it for that.  I don't know when life started ti improve enough that I forgot that, but I remember being a young girl now and hating Holden Caulfield and feeling like I could not relate to any coming of age story ever written.  Given, as a super lesbian teen, I probably would not have related so much to this one either, but I can appreciate it's importance.  I was busting with sexuality back then, but it was in a very different way, I think.

One complaint I did have was that I did not feel like there was a real ending, and I felt like the writing there was kind of rushed.  I wished for something more, but I am not sure what it was.  There was just this hippie, drug-induced, whatever whatever that ended in jail and then Mary's mom came to the rescue in a way that still made Mary feel angry and isolated.  I guess with it being a memoir, maybe that is just real life?  I don't know.

Prayer Warriors

Prayer Warriors: The True Story of a Gay Son, his Fundamentalist Christian Family, and their Battle for his Soul by Stuart Howell Miller
2000
Weight: 8.8 oz
Method of Disposal: Lending Library


This book was an easy and quick read though, of course, it is never "easy" to stomach the homophobia and cruelty put forth by someone's family to their own son.  It was easy only in that it was very conversational, was made up of basic language, was fairly short.  The author would randomly throw out a joke with his audience that would pull me out of the story very suddenly, and I would actually say out loud, "what?" and then reread the sentence to be sure it was there.  These little snippets were usually overtly "gay" and felt unnecessary. Of course, Stuart's family often came out with the more seriously off the wall shit.  Here is an exchange where both of them do from page 144:

"Troy retold the story of how an electric fence nearly killed my sister when she was a child and then said, "The lifestyle you have chosen is more dangerous than death by electric shocking.  God loves you Stuart.  Please do not spit in his face with this homosexual lifestyle you have chosen for yourself.' 

I immediately ran outside and searched for a pretty girl to marry, but the closest I could find in West Hollywood was a drunken, gravel-voiced drag queen. 'I don't want to marry,' she said, 'I like my freedom.'"

What?

The author was clearly very involved in the L.A. Community and has a very impressive resume.  I had hoped that would make it easier to find out how he was doing 18 years later.  I do not really need another book, though this one was a basically good read, but I would love an article about if his family ever came around, and/or if he managed to hold up okay. 

I also think this book would have been more powerful to me had I read it when it was first published.  So much has changed since then--not to say these things still do not happen--because they do, but I had less access to information and community then.  A lot of us did.  I was more isolated, though I was not completely alone like some folks in generations before me, and I would have held this account more closely.  At 32, I have read many many stories about white, gay men struggling with conservative christian families.  I have also, of course, read many more violent coming out stories.  Maybe that is the larger thing here, I have read and heard thousands of coming out stories and, while I know they are important, I am not as keen on seeking them out and reading them as I use to be.  Any who, I wish the best for Stuart, and I appreciate him sharing his story.  I think that, in the right hands, it could be a much more powerful book. 


The Moon

The Moon by Maryam Sachs
1998
Weight: 1.4 lbs
Method of Disposal: Lending Library


No matter how badly I want to go, I will never go to space and so I dream of the moon.  I am sure that, if it was a more serious possibility, I might choose somewhere else in the solar system to travel to or maybe I would just orbit around earth and view everything I know from a distance.  It   will never happen.  I am not on track to be rich, but I am on track to be an overweight 33 year old woman who dreams. 

I guess the moon makes logical sense as a place many people dream to go when they dream of space.  We have all the imagery from NASA of the first man walking on the moon and the excitement the country felt watching him.  We have yet to put a person on Mars or any other planet and so the moon is, at least somewhat, attainable.  It will be for the wealthy soon enough anyway. 

If you can put down an $80,000 deposit and ultimately pay $9.5 million for a vacation, you may be able to be one of the first guests in the Aurora Station Space Hotel in 2022.  Your vacation will be 12 days and the hotel will orbit the Earth (not land on the moon).  That is so unattainable to me it might as well not exist. and I jealously dread seeing the guest list when it is announced.  I already feel the unfairness of it all weighing down on me (thank you gravity!).

This book includes various photos of the moon, poems about the moon, facts, thoughts throughout history, etc.  It is fun, though if there could have been an even larger budget (I assume), it would have been even better to have it be a larger book with more high definition photos.  This book has some fairly grainy small ones.  It feels like a moon smorgasbord.  Nothing flows.  It is just all there on the pages.  It is fun, but it is simple.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Flush

Flush by Virginia Woolf
1976
Weight: 10.4 oz
Method of Disposal: Leave in Lending Library


I love Virginia Woolf, and I love dogs so imagine my delight when I found this book after having read almost all the other Woolf books.  It felt like an impossibly wonderful discovery.  How had I never heard of it?  I got so excited that I bought it, took it home, put it on the book shelf, and then did not read it for years.  Why?  I have no idea.

I finally read it, and I found it to be sad, realistic, enjoyable.  It is not the best Woolf, but it brings to light some more of her quirk and point of view.  I wish all the classic authors had written a book from a dog's point of view so we could compare and contrast them all and explore the author's personalities through the text.  What fun would that be?  Anyway, this was fun, and I am passing it on in hopes someone else is delighted by its very existence.