I was about halfway through The Autobiography of My Mother when I realized the main character really bugged me. It was several more pages before I realized the value of an unlikeable protagonist.
Xuela — Kincaid’s main character — isn’t nice. She’s not trying to be your best friend. And she’s pretty unapologetic about it. She’s a woman who marches to the beat of her own drum and shuns love in all its forms. Sex to her is just a form of physical pleasure, which she experiences no shame in fulfilling.
I started the book thinking I’d see a lot of myself in the main character’s development and story, but no such luck. Yes, there were some aspects to Xuela I understood – she was considered inferior by white people and she was not seduced by material wealth. But Xuela’s lack of emotional response to other characters – such as her husband of many years – was something I couldn’t relate to:
As much as good writing enchants me, I also love when I am reminded of the power of photography to capture a person, a moment, an idea. This week I was fortunate to come across Ruddy Roye’s Instagram account, when seeking out professional photographers to follow. A self-described “photographer with a conscience,” Roye’s street photography is fantastic by itself, but he often adds commentary to the photos that makes them even more interesting, talking about why he took a particular shot or giving some facts or a quotation each one. It seems that his work brings an important lens to black America and working class America.
When you’re jobless, the pace of time becomes very slow. Like excruciatingly slow. I was getting more and more addicted to Facebook and that had become a serious problem. During those days, Farmville was at its peak and people were going crazy sending each other pigs, horses, dogs, and what not.
This was quite a unique read for me. Varun’s story is a book straight out of Bangalore, India, and so it feels different from the U.S.-published books I read almost exclusively. It doesn’t quite read like the memoirs and autobiographies that I’m used to, and it took a minute to adjust to the super-casual language and frequent interjections of Varun’s thoughts.
Varun wants to start a company, but he feels trapped by the expectations of his family that he get a steady, well-paying tech job and make a good impression on the aunties in his mother’s social circle. Then he and a good friend get the idea to start a clothing brand company for alums of prestigious local high schools. The book is a mixture of self-exploration, business strategy, and cultural analysis.
I liked that Varun’s book took me into a different side of the world, and through the first-person narrative of a current resident, rather than that of a non-native or an expat. However, at the same time, I have to say that I wasn’t always riveted by the story he has to tell. Maybe a lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m not really interested in starting a business right now, and I don’t quite relate to his focus on making the most money possible. Or it might have to do with my observation that the book has a distinctly “bro-ey” feel to it — Varun is often hanging out with his male friends talking about drinking or the girls they think are hot. Also, the chapters sometimes feel too short (many are just a couple pages), with not enough material to get into the interesting relationships in Varun’s life, and while he strives for a light, whimsical tone the comedy was hit-or-miss.
But I do think that Varun’s story could be particularly appealing to the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial types or anyone else starting up a small business. The one thing you take away from the book is that it takes a lot of creativity and persistence to get any business up off the ground.
I am reminded of what I have always known, but what some would choose to deny: that there is no way to work your way out — earn your way out — of this sort of crisis. In these moments, what you’ve done matters less than how you look.
The article that really gave me chills this week was Charles Blow’s account of his son having a gun pointed in his face at Yale for being a suspected burglar (aka, walking while black). Blow’s post isn’t particularly long or one of his more purposefully eloquent pieces of writing, but you can just feel the sadness and anger coming across the page that he can’t protect his son from the discrimination one experiences as a black person in the U.S.
He agonizes about what could have happened if his son had made a “suspicious” or panicked movement in his surprise and distress at having a gun pointed at him. He laments the fact that he had to have a talk with his son in the past about what to do if this very situation were to happen, even as he rejoices that he did.
Most of all, I’m thankful that Blow took a clear shot at respectability politics by pointing out that no black kid is safe from this harassment and violence. No parent of a black child is free from the specter of losing him or her through the perception that this child is a threat.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s day of remembrance seems to have arrived at a particularly opportune time of the year, given the heightened dialogue around black lives and race relations in the U.S. I watched the Selma movie this past weekend to put myself in an even greater mode of reflection about where we’ve been as a country and where we’re headed when it comes to race. I’d definitely recommend the film.
In the social justice world I often hear talk about how society has made much progress in racial justice throughout the years, but that we have a long ways to go. This is still true. We have to acknowledge both the past and the present.
With regards to the latter, here’s roundup of racial justice links I found interesting this past week:
Organizers took MLK day as inspiration for a weekend-long set of actions in various cities across the U.S. Here’s what went on in just the Bay Area, for example.
The best long-form article I read last week was on the making of Silicon Valley with respect to race and class. An important read, given the high intensity economic pressure that Silicon Valley and the tech sector exert on low- and middle-income residents throughout the Bay Area.
Speaking of income and neighborhood change, this video by a young man named Kai about the changes he’s seen in his home community of the Mission District in San Francisco is quite well-done.
As most people heard, the Oscars were pretty white this year. I’m also particularly surprised looking down the list of past non-white actor nominees to see very few Asian/Pacific Islanders.