There There by Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange’s ‘There There’ fictional account experience of Native American Indian in an urban setting, begins with a historical review of how Native populations were stripped of their identity, rights, their land, and in some cases, their lives.

The story is focused in the city of Oakland, California. The ‘Urban Indian’ resulted in generations of the government assimilating Native Americans. The struggles of coping with domestic violence, alcoholism, gun violence, and poverty are interwoven throughout the book. Yet, this flattening of the Native American persona is exactly the point – as Native Americans find ways to rise above these stereotypes, and constantly work to improve their lives.

“We’ve been defined by everyone else and continue to be slandered despite easy-to-look-up-on-the-internet facts about the realities of our histories and current state as a people” writes Orange.

In dark times, Will there be singing? Yes, there will be singing. About the dark times. – Bertolt Brecht

There There – A Novel by Tommy Orange

The Graves Are Walking by John Kelly

Excellent account of the natural and man-made disaster of the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s. The blight affected the potato crop, the primary source of food for people of Ireland. Year after year during this decade, yields from the many farms across Ireland failed. There was no land in Ireland immune from the blight. And the man-made part of this disaster?  England’s policies, practices, and politician’s refusal to aid the people of Ireland.

English landlords of Ireland tenants were ruthless in supporting people living in poverty-level conditions,driving thousands of Irish people from property. Coupled with the fact the English government did little to aid Ireland with provisions, and a harsh anti-immigrant and anti-catholic policy. The end result?  More than 1 million people dead in Ireland.

Another 1 million people fled and sought refuge to other countries. Sadly, the U.S. had poor immigration policies. President Millard Fillmore (1850-53) had a staunch anti-catholic/anti-immigrant stance, and the fear and hatred of the Irish people paved the groundwork for aiding this humanitarian crisis.

For example, boat owners with refugees entering Boston were forced to pay a tax for each immigrant on board. Instead, Irish immigrants were forced to go north, to the St. Lawrence waterway, and seek refuge in Canada, where the anti-immigrant sentiment was not nearly as harsh.

At that time, the anti-catholic and anti-immigrant policies of the U.S., and the demonization of Irish people were based upon fear and hatred of other people and religions. This fear and hatred propelled politicians into positions of power, and allowed for augmentation of these fear and hate policies into the political mainstream. Sound familiar?

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Gold siblings, Daniel, Simon, Varya, and Klara, are adolescent kids growing up in New York’s Lower East Side in 1969. They sneak out of the house to visit a psychic, claiming to know the exact date their deaths.

This carries with them for the rest of their lives, influencing their decisions, and changes the courses of their lives with the inescapable question, seared into their minds forever: Was the fortune-teller right, and, if so, can they change the course of their own fates?

Can our fate be determined by something other than ourselves, or is fate a self-serving, self-fulfilling concept? If you know your fate, can you avoid it, or is knowing it the only thing certain to set you on a course that will fulfill it?

Paul Simon – The Life by Paul Hilburn

Paul Simon’s career has spanned seven decades, from his early collaboration with Art Garfunkel (they met when he was 11), to world tours with Bob Dylan and Sting. Simon’s enamored world music spans this time, with the Latin rhythms of ElCondor Pasa (If I Could), to his 1980s Graceland album, utilizing musicians form South Africa enabling a unique and groundbreaking sound.Hilburn, in cooperation with Simon, chronicles his childhood days up to present day. Simon had risen through the drug culture of the 60s and 70s, and always focused on making the best music possible. His songwriting skills are on pace with his contemporaries such as Lennon-McCartney and Leiber and Stoller, as well as road builders Irving Berlin and George Gershwin.Simon had many failures as well, yet he persevered, and was highly successful at reinventing himself. Simon struggled with bouts of depression during his career, yet continued to create wonderful melodies with beautiful lyrics. Although differences with Art Garfunkel hampered their creative experiences over the years, Simon has collaborated with many in the industry to create passionate, point-of-view songs that will resonate for years to come, and stand the test of time.

El Condor Pasa from 1970’s Bridge Over Troubled Water
The Boy In The Bubble from Simon’s 1986 Graceland

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

McKibben’s Radio Free Vermont provides a fictional account of “terrorists” wanting to secede the state of Vermont from the USA, against the non-fiction climate of today’s political and social upheaval. Laced within the book, Vermont’s rich history, along with facts about the massive increase in the production of craft beer, and of course, Vermont’s beautiful countryside.
But, don’t be fooled about these Vermont niceities. The heart of the story involves paths to civil resistance, and the importance of staying involved to protect democracy. The book serves as an elixir for those who have not lost hope in their government, and instead assemble to make a formidable force to withold those values to support the strenght of democracy.
McKibben has been a driving force increasing awareness and volunteerism, fighting for the future in the midst of drastic climate change. The global climate movement can be found here (opens a new window):