I’ll feature 4 items that I’ve read in the past month, but the actual list is much longer. I am only providing an abridged overview of items that I really liked.
The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
My grandparents grew up in a Polish community in Minnesota. They spoke Polish at home, Polish at school, English at work, and sat in Latin-spoken Catholic mass. In 1926, the family moved to Southwest Washington, when my future father was 3 years old.
On the first day of school, Dad’s older sister came home crying. She’d wet her pants because she did not know how to ask, in English, “please may I use the restroom” and was afraid of getting in trouble. My grandmother looked at grandfather and said, “That’s it. From now on we speak English at home.” At that moment, my family tree lost our Polish heritage. Language is the key stone.
In high school, I had Vietnamese friends. They went to my Catholic church, and when I went to their home, they had buddha statues. They cooked Chinese food. Fascinating.
I am interested in immigrant stories in general, and more specifically, I am interested in how immigrant families retain their traditions and how they lose them or adapt them as their family trees become American.
And thus, I was hopeful in reading this book, The Namesake. The novel gives a detailed look at a Bengali family from Calcutta, newlyweds moving to New England and starting a family. There are “good names” and “pet names”, trips back to India to see family that the kids do not know, customs that their friends do not celebrate. There is a bastardized Christmas Eve celebration outside of Boston with Bengali-American friends and Indian food. Saris and blue jeans.
I have vague ideas for an immigrant project of some kind. Right now, I’m just reading and making mental notes, so I’ll ask, does anyone have book recommendations – fiction or nonfiction?
Excerpt from “Proof” by Elizabeth McCracken.
He’d thought he might wear a kilt to their wedding.
“Oh no,” said Irene. “No kilts.”
“But your uncles —”
“No kilts anywhere.”
“I hate them.”
What could be sadder in a marriage than incompatible feelings about bagpipes? Ought they still marry?
I was putting books away and tossing out magazines and noted that I still had the Fall 2017 issue of All-Story out, waiting to be read. I have moved since receiving this in the mail, but it was still sitting out waiting for me. I recognized the name Elizabeth McCracken, that I had just mentioned from the Winter 2020/21 issue. So I read it – really good.
I know nothing about contemporary art in Africa and was delighted to read about El Anatsui’s work in Nigeria. “Structure and Flow” was a profile in The New Yorker (January 18, 2021) by Julian Lucas. Anatsui was beginning his art career seven years after Ghana declared its independence from Great Britain in 1957, and then President Kwame Nkrumah urged his public to assert an “African personality.” That call has shaped his work ever since. He works with found objects, garbage essentially, to create massive sculptures. From the early years of his career, he has demanded prices for his work consistent with prices paid to contemporary Western artists. Cool article.
The featured image is one of Anatsui’s sculptures, made of the aluminum wrappers from bottle caps. Inspired, I requested two additional things from my public library:
- The documentary, Fold Crumple Crush: The Art of El Anatsui is excellent!
- The biography, El Anatsui: Art and Life by Susan Vogel is a good art book, but after watching the documentary, I am done.
Atheism by Julian Baggini
I am an atheist. I want to be an ethicist, but the dry texts do not always mesh well with my ADHD. I took four philosophy classes, I think, in college, and I took another lecture series a few years after that on philosophy of art. I love philosophy and wish I had studied more in college, but the texts can be slothful reading.
I keep trying. This is a good book. Here is an excerpt from Baggini:
What happened in Soviet Russia is one of the reasons why I personally dislike militant atheism. When I heard someone recently say that they really thought religious belief was some kind of mental illness and that they looked forward to a time in the future when religious believers would be treated, I could see an example of how militant atheism can lead to totalitarian oppression. But this is not a danger specific to atheism. Fundamentalism is a danger in any belief system, and that is why I think the main danger we need to guard against is not religion but fundamentalism of any description.
Christian fundamentalism comes to mind for me. You might think of Islamic Fundamentalism. You could think of the Trump Cult. There are many evil examples.
One of my philosophy classes, Philosophy of Science, began steering me in the direction of atheism, but as all things that I take seriously, a confluence of effectors took me where I am. Regardless, I wanted to read more about atheism and understand where great thinkers are on the matter. Baggini’s book is excellent. I took a copy from the library and then bought my own copy – it will be a useful reference as I continue reading and thinking about atheism and ethics. . (And I just bought another bookcase and am in the process of adding additional storage to my home, so book accumulation is again viable for me.)