Lynn’s memoir, CAGED EYES, is by far the most important book I read in 2016 – it educated me, angered me, and made me want to DO something. That’s one of the many wonderful things about reading. There are books that entertain. There are books that make you think. And then there are books that make you get up off the couch and act. In the wonderful NY Times article called Obama’s Secret to Surviving the Whitehouse Years, we are told that for Barack Obama, books are “a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration, and [give] him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.” I have certainly found that books can be so powerful, a story can be so motivating, that it makes me take some kind of action. I’m not alone – there are books out there that get people to jump up and hike the PCT, or learn to cook, adopt a dog or maybe even run for office. There are certainly books that have shaped my worldview and urged me on to make changes in my life. Here are a few examples:
Let’s start with the book of the day, CAGED EYES by our very own Lynn K. Hall. I read Lynn’s book in the fall, as in during the primary season of the presidential election. As we went from “Look at that face” to “Grab ‘em by the pussy,” I found myself even more enraged than I normally would have been. Why? Because Lynn’s book isn’t hypothetical. It’s true. It’s a true story. It shows what happens when sexism is carried to its furthest extreme: rape and then dismissal of that act by those who want to keep a sexist system in tact. (For more on Lynn’s book, please read her powerful Op-Ed in the NY Times.) Lynn was on my mind when Trump stalked around the stage behind Hillary Clinton, rated women from 1 – 10, and engaged in “guy talk” on a bus. Here’s the problem: NONE of that is okay. And when I read Lynn’s story, I got a clear example of precisely why. If you believe the basic principle that women are people and should be treated as such, then you are a feminist. (If you don’t believe that, then… wow, we’re done.) As Hillary Clinton said, “Women’s rights are human rights.” And seriously – when you think about it – DUH. So, having read Lynn’s book, I donned my pussy hat and marched, with determination in my mind and Lynn Hall in my heart. And my plan is to keep on marching.
In the Times article about Obama, we are told of his “embrace of artists like Shakespeare who saw the human situation entire: its follies, cruelties and mad blunders, but also its resilience, decencies and acts of grace.” Lynn’s memoir encompasses all of these human traits. It’s a moving, infuriating, painful, important book, and I highly recommend that everyone read it. And guess what: It’s available today!
Here are a few other books that have caused me to do something important in my life:
THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood. I read this book and decided I absolutely had to teach it to high school students. I taught this book to seniors, and I felt it was the most important cautionary tale out there that I could share and discuss with young people. Read it, if you haven’t already. Please! It shows how quickly societies can change, how quickly governments can be altered to the point of being unrecognizable and what can happen when too much power is put in the hands of few. And it shows the problems of having religion be the source document for the law of the land, especially when it means that women are put in a position of subservience. This dystopian novel portrays a world that is sickening and terrifying. It made me donate to the ACLU. And I still feel that including this book in my 12th grade curriculum was one of the best teaching decisions I ever made.
On a lighter note there’s THE REAL THING by Tom Stoppard. This was a play I read and was cast in at the MIT Dramashop when I was in college. It’s a wonderful play. I was cast as Annie, and I met a great guy named David who played my husband. We divorced after Act 1, scene 3. However, this play was SO good that in real life, I decided to marry my pretend ex-husband. We got married a few years later and have stayed married for just under 25 years. As far as literature goes, this play was most definitely life-changing.
DER YETTI IN BERLIN by Will Gmehling and Markus Grolik. Okay, I’ll explain. This is a wonderful German novel I bought for my kids when they were young and we were living in Berlin. It has adorable illustrations, and it’s about … Okay, I don’t know what it’s about. But I WANT to know. I’ve been trying to read this book for the last ten years. This is THE book that is (one day) going to make me learn German. It’s hard, in terms of vocabulary, but it’s not that hard (6th grade reading level?), and I swear – with a lot of effort and determination – I will read it before I die. Stay tuned.