Recent Reads | Winter 2021

February 19, 2021

1. 999: The Extraordinary Young Woman of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz, by Heather Dune Macadam

I read this nonfiction book in early January. As someone who is fascinated by World War II and the Holocaust, I have been always been drawn to reading both nonfiction and historical fiction novels about the terrors of the war. As the title suggests, 999 provides an incredibly detailed account of the first official transport to Auschwitz that was comprised of almost one thousand young and unmarried Jewish women. Beautifully written, terribly fascinating, and chillingly raw, I spent an entire day reading this book, and given the inhumanity of the Holocaust and Macadam's blunt, harrowing account, the rest of the night I spent merely processing, digesting, and reflecting on what I had just read.

2. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is an incredible writer, and I fell in love with her style of writing after reading her novel Beloved during the fall time. Her language is so rich and full of life that I often find myself having to re-read her sentences to truly soak up the words. Given how much I adored Beloved, when my English teacher offered us three choices for books to read independently, Song of Solomon was an easy choice. I enjoyed reading this novel as much as Beloved and am hoping to read more of her works including The Bluest Eye in the future. For my project in response to the book, I am creating a collection of poems and artwork inspired by passages from Song of Solomon.

3. Not So Pure and Simple, by Lamar Giles

I am a part of the Summer Reading Committee at my school, a small group of students and faculty members who meet throughout the school year to read and discuss a collection of books and ultimately choose the one novel that will be read by the entire school community over the summer. After reading several books over the summer, we narrowed it down to three books. The first two books we read were Body Talk by Kelly Jensen and Between the World and Me by the incredible Ta-Nehisi Coates, and our final book for consideration is Not So Pure and Simple by Lamar Giles. A young adult novel, the book centers on themes of toxic masculinity, sexual assault, and the oppressive nature of some religious communities toward sex education and LGBTQ+ rights. Though am not a huge fan of the YA genre, the book was still an enjoyable and lighthearted read. As we vote in the upcoming weeks on the final novel, however, I will likely be casting my vote for Between the World and Me. 

4. Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Today was my last day of class before my spring break, and in my English course we read the first chapter of Underground Railroad. Though only one chapter in, I am in complete awe of Whitehead's writing. The honesty and simplicity of his language is profound and powerful, and I cannot wait to read the remainder of the novel over my spring break. Comprised of narratives from multiple characters in various states in the antebellum South, Underground Railroad relates the journey of a young slave as she flees the southern United States in search for freedom.

5. The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett

I have been wanting to read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett for such a long time. I read The Mothers, Bennett's earlier novel, a couple of years ago. I loved the novel, and knew that I had to get my hands on The Vanishing Half after hearing so many great reviews and recommendations. In addition to completing my project on Song of Solomon and reading Underground Railroad, I am hoping to squeeze in Bennett's novel too.

From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white. — Amazon

Must-Watch Documentaries: Social Justice & Politics | Part II

February 9, 2021

As I have mentioned before on my blog, I love to watch documentaries. I have a running list of films on my Notes application, and over every weekend for the past several weeks, I have indulged myself by watching at least one of the documentaries on my list. As someone who is very interested in politics, most of the films I gravitate toward are centered on political and social justice issues. Given that this winter I am enrolled in Comparative Government and Politics, it has also been really interesting to watch these documentaries as I am learning about politics and governance in my class and apply knowledge I acquired outside of class into the classroom (well, Google Meet classroom). From Russian interference and white extremism to voter suppression and threats to other civil liberties, these films focus on a variety of important issues.

Part I | Must-Watch Documentaries: Politics & Social Justice

Part II | Must-Watch Documentaries: Politics & Social Justice

1. Agents of Chaos

This documentary is absolutely fascinating. Divided into two episodes of around two hours each, Agents of Chaos takes an incredibly detailed dive into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The first episode is centered on the strategic efforts of online trolls in exacerbating divisions among American voters through the use of social media, the success of Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and the motivation for targeting Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The second episode focuses on former president Trump and the connections that he and several of his associates had with high-up individuals in Russia. Given the more overt dangers of social media that have been exposed as a result of the violent attack on the capital, the detailed explanations of the efficacy of online sites in sowing greater division is quite frightening.

2. All In: The Fight for Democracy

All In: The Fight For Democracy explores the history of voter suppression in the United States and the insidious techniques and barriers that are used to prevent particular communities from exercising their democratic right to cast a ballot. The film examines the gubernatorial race of Stacey Abrams, former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, against current Governor Brian Kemp and the tactics that were employed to obstruct people of color from casting ballots. After her defeat, Stacey Abrams founded Fair Fight Action to combat voter suppression and played a major role in mobilizing Georgian voters in the 2020 presidential and senatorial elections.

3. Welcome to Leith

Set in the small, twenty-four member town of Leith, North Dakota, Welcome to Leith examines the efforts of notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb to take over the town and establish it as a home for fellow followers of the white nationalist movement. As Cobb attempts to command control of Leith's city council and construct monuments meant to energize his movement, the frightened locals are forced to take action against the attempted invasion. The film was especially harrowing not only because of the intimate interviews with and intense footage highlighting the hateful, bigoted views of the white supremacists, but also because of the recent rise of white nationalist sentiments in the United States and what that suggests for the future of the country. 

4. The Fight

The Fight follows the legal struggles of lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union to combat efforts by the Trump administration to suppress civic rights. Interweaving four cases centered on stopping the separation of immigrant families, fighting for the right to abortion for an undocumented teenager, challenging the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census, and objecting to the ban on transgender enlistment in the military, this film is an emotion rollercoaster full of upswings of intensity, inspiration, and empowerment but also sensations of anger, frustration, and heartbreak. 

5. Reversing Roe

Reversing Roe explores the history of the feminist movement to fight for abortion rights and the longstanding efforts by opponents to overturn Roe v. Wade. In addition to immersions into the history of abortion and the progression of the rights of women over the last several decades, what I found most interesting was the examination of how abortion transformed from a social issue into an intensely partisan issue and also the fervent rejection of scientific evidence by pro-life communities that clearly convey the safety and innocuous procedures of most abortions. Additionally, it was also quite concerning to consider how the addition of Brett Kavanaugh and very recently of Amy Coney Barrett, the latter of which the film did not cover since it was released in 2018, might influence the essential ruling in Roe v. Wade which endows women with the natural rights to make their own decisions and control their own bodies.