2015 Diversity in Reading Update

I talked about pursuing diverse books last month, looking at my track record for both gender and racial diversity. It’s hard work. Diversity doesn’t just happen.

So far this year I haven’t been consciously picking diverse books (choosing a book because it’s written by a woman or a person of color as opposed to a white guy), but I have been lining up more diverse books in the lists of what I want to read.

Basically I want to read more diverse books without going so far the other way that I refuse to read something written by a white guy.

Here’s where I’m at so far:

  • 17 of 24 female authors
  • 11 of 24 POC characters or authors

Not bad. The slant to women authors is probably more coincidental. I honestly thought there would be more people of color so far, but this is more proof of how you have to work for it. Most of the POC reads have been books I intentionally sought out. Only one was an “accident” (a book featuring a main character of color that I didn’t know about ahead of time).

It’s also clear just how hard it is to find good diversity in books. I’ve been searching and I continue to search for more sources and recommendations. I’m thankful for organizations like We Need Diverse Books that move beyond the rallying cry and offer resources and solutions. I’m especially looking for good chapter books to read to my kids.

Favorite book so far? Probably the Parable of the Sower/Talents series by Octavia Butler. Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson is a close second.

Reflections on MLK’s Birthday

This week #BlackLivesMatter protesters were charged with various crimes and restitution for the Christmas protests at the Mall of America. At the same time I’m reading the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. and hoping to actually attend MLK Day events instead of just enjoy another day off. I’m troubled by the continual question of whether or not black lives actually matter—questionable police killings, terror in Paris that trumps massacre in Nigeria, and condemnations for protests that inconvenience people.

I’m frustrated by all of it. So I rant…

In this day and time when we celebrate the work and life of Martin Luther King Jr., why is it that we sanitize the man?

We want to make him a hero of racial harmony, the winner in the battle for freedom and equal rights.

We forget his challenge to the churches of the time, who stood by in silence while King wrote to them from his jail cell on scraps of paper. We forget that King not only wanted racial equality, but progress. Jobs, housing, education—King wanted fairness and equality in all of these areas of life. He was anti-war and even argued for a nationalized healthcare system.

We forget all those unrealized dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. Instead we focus on free at last. We look around and decide that segregation is gone so we must have made it to the mountaintop.

Such a vision of King allows us to declare his work done.

Here in the North we like to congratulate ourselves that we weren’t the center of marches and protests, we didn’t unleash dogs and fire hoses.

Yet here in the North, in Minnesota where we pride ourselves on being nice, it’s really just a facade. While our education system is the pride of the nation, it fails Minnesotans of color. Our achievement gap is among the worst in the nation. Blacks make up only 5% of Minnesota, yet they fill 37% of our prisons—the black to white disparity in our prisons is among the worst in the nation (Council on Black Minnesotans Disparity Analysis, PDF). Across the country the net worth of blacks is one-thirteenth the net worth of whites.

50 years after free at last why do these basic inequalities still exist?

If we truly believe that all people are equal, if that’s the foundation of our society, the basis of our freedom, the ethos of America itself—then why do such disparities exist?

It is time to open our eyes to the casual, hidden racism in our own hearts. It’s time to stop thinking that we are post-racial and realize the million tiny ways that our society is still segregated, still racist, still separate and still definitely not equal.

Disagree? Then why are black people 20 times more likely to be stopped by police? And it’s not justified, because “whites stopped during traffic searches were found to carry contraband at higher rates than blacks and other minorities, [yet] resulting arrests and prosecution rate were ten times higher for blacks than for whites,” (Disparity Analysis).

There’s Minnesota Nice at work.

We think the black man needs to pull himself up by his bootstraps, but we forget, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, that the black man is actually barefoot.

We bristle at the idea that a black person should get help that we never received. I worked hard to get to where I am today. Yes you did. But so did your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, many of whom benefited by ousting Native Americans, by enjoying the benefits of free slave labor or milking the lives of sharecroppers. None of that is personally your fault or mine (and we bristle at the idea), but we have privilege lifting us up, while the black community has centuries of weight holding them down even today.

This cartoon so simply illustrates the differences:

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It’s time we open our eyes to the realities. Today it’s not blatant Jim Crow laws, but hidden biases in our justice system that seek anything but justice. A white teenager caught with drugs made a simple mistake, boys will be boys and they’re given a slap on the wrist. Black teen drug offenders are thugs and gangbangers. They get criminal records.

We villainize  criminals today, forgetting that Jesus Christ was a criminal, falsely accused and executed by the state. While hanging on the cross with thieves and robbers on either side, he turned and forgave the criminal.

When a black man is shot and killed by the police, we pull up every wrong the black man has ever done. We pull up his criminal record, the bad things he said, the questionable photos on social media. The forgiveness that is supposed to be at the very heart of our Christian faith goes out the window as we justify why this man deserved to be killed. He said bad things, once upon a time, so it’s OK for the police to shoot him. He robbed a store, so the death penalty is OK. Innocent until shot by police and proven guilty by a jury of sensational media. But he broke the law, so he had it coming.

It doesn’t matter if that black man was 12 years old.

It doesn’t matter if that black man was innocent.

Forgiveness does not apply because that black man was a bad man.

Not only was Jesus Christ a criminal, but so was Martin Luther King Jr. He sat in jail more than 30 times. The FBI had him under surveillance. They were more worried about this black man protesting and marching across the south than they were the KKK who were bombing and murdering across the south.

This is where we are today. We have sanitized—dare I say whitewashed—the civil rights movement to make it safe and comfortable and convince ourselves that we arrived at the mountaintop a long time ago. That way we don’t have to look around at the injustices piling up at our feet. We can ignore them and keep on walking.

We can decry the protesters who block freeways and clog shopping malls, dismissing them and labeling them as law breakers and criminals, ignoring that these same tactics were used 50 years ago in the civil rights movement. We herald these actions in history but condemn them in the present.

freewaysitin1964

We do not have equality today. We do not have justice today. We have not made it to the mountaintop.

There is still work to be done.

As we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the many other civil rights pioneers, let us not give in to the thinking that the work is done. Let’s find today’s civil rights pioneers, today’s strugglers and join with them.

What Now?

If, like me, you’re wondering what to do and want to be involved and know how you can help, then join me in listening.

Let’s read the powerful words of Martin Luther King Jr. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a good place to start.

But let’s not stop with powerful words written more than 50 years ago (as amazing as they are). Let’s listen to today’s leaders like Nekima Levy-Pounds, a local civil rights lawyer and law professor at St. Thomas. She’s one of 10 charged with organizing the #BlackLivesMatter protests at the Mall of America and charged with $25,000 in lost income and police overtime, in addition to other fines.

Let’s read books like The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Let’s attend MLK Day events and celebrate more than a sanitized legacy.

Let’s begin to understand how the promise of American has been limited to a select few, and that struggle and protest are the only way that promise has been opened to all. Keeping that promise is never easy or automatic. For justice to roll down, the people must rise up. Let’s do the work to ensure that all people truly are created equal and have the same advantages and opportunities.

Let’s make America the land of freedom and equality we claim it is.

Gender Diversity in Books

Last week I looked at diversity in my reading  going back to 2001. I simply looked at racial diversity, assuming gender diversity wasn’t a big deal anymore.

Out of curiosity, I went back and charted gender diversity.

Turns out I’ve been lacking gender diversity as well:

Gender diversity among the books I read.

  • This is a little more straight-forward to chart than racial diversity. For books with multiple authors, I counted them if any of the contributors were women.
  • 2014 is the only year I’ve read more women than men (54%). The only other years that come close are 2008 with 45% (that happens to be the year I re-read the entire Harry Potter series, accounting for 7 of the 9 books authored by a woman) and 2013 with 42%.
  • Most years I’m sitting between a quarter and a third of my books written by female authors.
  • For a few years I only read two or three female authors. In my lame defense, I didn’t read many books that year. But the ratio was still around 10% or less. Ouch.
  • I’ve read a lot more YA and middle grade fiction recently, and I wonder if that has accounted for my recent spike in women authors. There tend to be a lot more women authors in YA and middle grade.

Clearly, more proof that diversity doesn’t happen by accident.

Why We Must Pursue Diverse Books

We Need Diverse BooksI believe diversity matters. We’re better when we hear from a diverse range of voices. But if we’re not intentional about embracing diversity, it doesn’t happen.

I got my We Need Diverse Books swag in the mail today, my reward for supporting their highly successful Indiegogo project.

I read a lot of books last year (203, not that I’m bragging), and I was curious how diverse my selections were. I made an effort to read more diverse books in 2014 (in part thanks to We Need Diverse Books), but I was also curious about previous years as well.

So here’s a chart of the diversity of my reading going back to 2001:

My total books vs. diverse books Continue reading

Top 5 Nonfiction of 2014

So I talked top 15 fiction and my entire 2014 reading list, now it’s time for my top 5 nonfiction.

I don’t read nearly as much nonfiction, so this list isn’t quite as amazing. But I’m pickier about my nonfiction selections. Any way, on with the list!

  1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
    This book blew my mind. I underlined about half of it.
  2. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
    A heavily tattooed Lutheran pastor drops f-bombs while talking about the grace of Jesus. She’s tough and gritty, but she’s also honest and real in a way that’s so refreshing. She’s a reminder of what the church needs to be, and I love that so many of her stories are self-deprecating, not in a look-at-me, I’ll tell you how I’m not perfect which really means I’m perfect kind of way. Instead she’s full of real brokenness, real mistakes, real screw ups. That’s what faith is. That’s why we come together in communion, to receive grace and healing. There’s a lot more I could say about this book, and will say as I dive into it for both book club and Church Marketing Sucks, but I think it’s enough to say I’ll be reading it again.
  3. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
    A great little book of encouragement and advice for the creative. Quick read and full of inspiration.
  4. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” by Rachel Held Evans
    I was initially reluctant to read this book. I’ve enjoyed Rachel’s work, but this felt like a rehash of the A.J. Jacobs book and, frankly, I felt like I didn’t need a primer on biblical womanhood. But I’m glad I finally read it. While I’m still not a fan of the “Year Of…” approach, she offers an approachable path to an otherwise overwhelming topic. She tackles poor biblical interpretation and male patriarchy with humor, grace and a little righteous indignation.
  5. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
    Incredible autobiography of a young girl in Pakistan fighting for her right to education in the face of the rising Taliban. It’s quite a history lesson and a needed new perspective. It takes a little while to get through the history and background, but then it dives into the guts of the story and moves pretty quickly.

Top 15 Fiction of 2014

I read a lot of books this year, so I’m offering my top 15 fiction books (here’s nonfiction).

I don’t think 2014 had as many home run reads as 2013 did, but there are still lots of good reads in this year’s list.

  1. Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
    A beautiful, sparse, partially illustrated and wonderfully wacky story about a girl and a squirrel-turned-superhero. While it touches on over-the-top comic book superhero themes and ideas, it’s more down to earth with family issues and interested in deeper ideas like poetry. Yes, squirrels writing poetry! I read it out loud to my kids and it was an absolute joy to read. The voice and the flow of the language was very unique and just fun. I mean, c’mon, “malfeasance” is just fun to say.
  2. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
    A summer of tragedy in a small Minnesota town in 1961, as told through the eyes of a 13-year-old boy. It has an edge of mystery to it, but it’s mostly about this boy and his family, their relationships and ultimately a coming of age story. It deals with faith and tragedy honestly and realistically and is just saturated with perfectly honed writing. I was especially impressed by the clarity of the characters.
  3. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
    This is the greatest novel you’ll ever read about six-foot-tall praying mantis soldiers devouring a small town in Iowa. It might also be the best book you read all year. It’s funny, weird, rambling, and full of the profanity and sex you’d expect from a 16-year-old narrator. It starts off as another story of an outcast teenager, struggling with life and his attraction to his girlfriend and gay best friend. But it turns into apocalypse by experimental mutant insects. It gets there (and holds together) thanks to the wonderful narration of 16-year-old Austin, a wannabe historian who lays it all out and explores the weird connections and fascinating underbelly of an economically depressed community in rural Iowa. It’s as if my two favorite genres—funny yet painfully honest teen novel and post-apocalyptic sci-fi got together to create a genetically modified hybrid super-genre that kicked every other book’s ass.
  4. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
    Astrid Jones has never felt safe since moving to a small town. Her mom is image-obsessed, her dad is checked out, her sister is a people pleaser, her best friend lives a double life and, oh yeah, Astrid has a girl friend and hasn’t told anyone she’s gay. Not even herself. Since she can’t confide in anyone, she spends a lot of her time lying on picnic tables, sending her love to random passengers soaring past at 20,000 feet. In many ways it’s your typical teen finding out who they are story, but it’s so well-written and funny and fresh that there’s nothing typical about it.
  5. Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith
    Martin is invited to join an elite group of black businessmen, but he discovers they’re part of a secret society that wants to repay the evils of slavery by enslaving whites. It’s a fast-paced thriller wrapped around a thought-provoking idea. It’s terrifying, which is both as it should be and a little disturbing for what it says about myself.
  6. Fledgling by Octavia Butler
    Why do we read any other vampire novels? This one is it. Incredible. It starts with a young vampire awaking in a cave, disoriented and injured, suffering from amnesia and remembering nothing of what happened to her. As she pieces together the mystery it’s revealed that her dark skin is a genetic modification that allows her to stay awake during the day and survive the sun, but she’s hated by what amounts to vampire white supremacists. The action shifts from shadowy attacks to a court room like showdown and the intensity just ratchets up.
  7. The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout
    A post-apocalyptic far-future where a boy wakes up in a broken ark to find himself the last human in the world. He has to adjust to a new world with a robot for a companion. It’s a great little kid’s story. I read it out loud to the kids and we all loved it.
  8. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
    Such a great and powerful story of a Gilly, the foster kid bouncing to a new home and starting over yet again. The defensiveness and fight or flight mentality is so spot on. She’s the world weary teen, wearing her guts and her prejudice on her sleeve, so eager to out-smart everyone and prove herself. It’s a quick read and the end comes too fast—you’ll be fighting the tears.
  9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    A husband comes home to find his wife missing, but nothing is quite as it should be. This mystery is a captivating page-turner that in the end was just plain terrifying, not from any horror but from the sheer craziness of what a person is capable of. 5 stars for being an incredible read. 4 stars because it gives me the willies.
  10. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
    A short and lovely tale told from the perspective of a captive gorilla in a carnival-like mall. Not only is it a great little story, but the voice of Ivan is spectacular. I might be a bit biased since I listened to the audiobook and the voice work was very good, but the tone and voice of Ivan was just unique and so well done. I could listen to Ivan pontificate all day long.
  11. Lion’s Blood by Steven Barnes
    An alternate history where Europeans are enslaved by Africans. We see an Irish village sacked by Vikings, the people sold off in slavery, and forced to endure the passage across the Atlantic to an Islamic colony in North America at uneasy truce with the Aztec nation. It flips our racial expectations in a jarring way that’s hard to get used to (so used to the typical slave narrative, I realized halfway through that I was imagining the enslaved whites as blacks). Not only is it a jarring situation, but it’s a powerful story of master and slave.
  12. More Than This by Patrick Ness
    Desperate and depressed, Seth commits suicide and wakes up in an abandoned world. He finds himself inexplicably in his childhood home in England, across the world from where he drowned, and the world is dusty, overgrown and empty. Is he in some kind of hell? This one is weird and deep, but really good as you start diving down the rabbit hole.
  13. Like No Other by Una LaMarche
    A lovely Romeo and Juliet story between a Hasidic girl and a black teen in modern day New York.
  14. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    Malinda starts high school by calling the cops on a major party. She’s lost all her friends and everyone hates her, but the worst part is she tried calling the cops because she was raped at that party and never told anyone. Her freshman year continues to get worse as she tries to cope (or not cope) with what happened to her. Despite what feels like a cliche story (though I’m not sure I can name many teen girl is raped stories) it has a great voice and realistically moves through the aftermath of a traumatic event.
  15. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
    A workaholic mother sends her family off for Christmas vacation without her and as her marriage is on the brink she discovers a magic phone that connects her with her husband from 15 years earlier in the midst of another relational crisis. Complicated? Yes. It’s probably not as coherent as it could be, but it’s full of humor, warmth, random asides and near time travel. That’s always fun.

If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

2014 Reading List

Another incredible year of reading. Since writing about reading a few years back and formalizing some addictive reading habits (i.e., I’m a big nerd), my reading numbers just keep going up.

I hit 203 this year, which is just ridiculous. Though the number really isn’t important. You could easily accuse me of padding my numbers with middle grade and graphic novels (and that’s just too bad since reading is about enjoying what you read and not following some weird rules).

This year I read pretty widely. I’m still formulating my top reading lists (UPDATE: Here they are—fiction and nonfiction), but looking back it seems like 2013 had bigger hits. This year instead of coming up with a list of amazing reads—though I did find a few of those—I found a bunch of authors I really enjoy.

I took the rise of We Need Diverse Books to heart this year and found more diverse reads and authors. It’s not all multicultural either. I read a number of books about homelessness, foster care and disability.

Lots of fun reading this year. Let’s get to it.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001. Continue reading

Reflecting on the Black Lives Matter Protests

It’s been a busy week. Two weeks ago my family joined the Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Minneapolis. Last Saturday they protested at Mall of America (we did not attend) and police turned out in riot gear and shut down the mall for a peaceful protest.

On the same day two New York police officers were shot and killed by a mentally unstable man who had killed his girlfriend earlier in the day, killed himself after the incident, and has spouted revenge rhetoric, implying his actions were in response to recent police killings of black people.

Some of the response to that tragedy has blamed the protestors. Not just mild finger pointing, but incendiary language about “blood on your hands.” (Here’s perhaps the best response I’ve seen.)

So here I sit on Christmas Eve writing about it. The whole situation is pretty intense (especially as yet another case is breaking news).

Continue reading

Black Lives Matter Rally in Minneapolis

Today my family went to the Million Artist Movement rally/protest in downtown Minneapolis. It’s part of #BlackLivesMatter response to the continuing racial injustice in cases like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others.

It’s interesting. I’ve never really protested before. I’ve been to a few peace protests, mostly in response to 9/11 and the continuing war in Iraq, but I was more there as a journalist/observer than a participant.

Today I was here first and foremost as a dad. Secondly as a protestor myself.

It’s been kind of a bizarre week talking about these cases with our kids.

How do you explain all of this to your kids?

How do you explain what a “die in” is?

How do you explain to your brown-skinned son that police are killing brown-skinned people?

How do you explain that police are still heroes? That while this injustice happens and it’s bad and we want to stop it, not all police officers are bad?

None of it is easy, I can tell you that.

When we told Milo that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were black, he broke down in tears.

His reaction broke my heart. But it also seems like the only appropriate way to respond.

The civil rights movement may have been 50 years ago and we did elect a black president, but that doesn’t mean injustice is over. It’s still all around us, it’s still causing pain, and it’s our time to stop it.

At the rally they led us in a song. I shot a quick video of part of it:

Oh the day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
But while my sister ain’t equal
And my brother can’t breathe
Hand in hand with my family we will fill these streets.

I can’t help but think of the day that will come when we don’t have to march or cry or fight or despair no more. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. It’s a kingdom hope, but it doesn’t have to be an unattainable hope.

This whole thing is hard and complicated and painful and difficult. If you’re feeling those things, I feel them with you. Please listen.

At the end of the rally they had ribbons and asked us to write something on the ribbons. Here’s what we wrote:

Black Lives Matter A Lot Black Lives Matter!My Boy Shouldn't Cry No More!

Black Lives Matter: Listen & Finding Solutions

News broke this evening of no indictment in the death of Eric Garner. I wasn’t following this news very closely, but it serves as just one more incident of unnecessary death.

In the span of a few weeks 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police, within seconds of police arriving on the scene; there was no indictment in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Mo.; and now there’s no indictment in the Eric Garner case.

Where the Michael Brown case might seem murky (no video, conflicting stories, charging the officer), the Eric Garner case seems much more direct. There’s video of the confrontation and while Garner is subdued on the ground an officer has him in a choke hold and doesn’t let up, even though the NYPD doesn’t authorize that kind of force.

Their are now protests around the country. My Twitter feed is lit up with outrage.

I don’t want to debate the ins and outs of any of this. I’m tired of that. But there are two things bothering me: Continue reading

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.