Friday, September 15, 2017

The Resistance Will be Literate

Given the political state of my country right now - the country that my parents immigrated to, and the country I love - it is easy to sink into despair. When I need reflection or a mental pause, I turn to books, as I'm sure many of you do as well.

I just finished a short book - an extended essay, really - that struck me. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by historian Timothy Snyder is a direct response to recent and current events. He never names our president, but it is obvious that these lessons are a both cautionary and a call for resistance. After the election, I started gathering a list of books that are important, particularly now. These books, mainly non-fiction, celebrate diversity, acknowledge the struggles (and triumphs) of the under-represented and minorities, remind us of our history, and provide a guiding path forward. So I was particularly taken with lesson number 9: Be kind to our language. 

Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.
Snyder briefly expands on this, noting that information from "screens" - mainly televised news - causes its consumers to fall into the "collective trance." He mentions both Fahrenheit 451 and Nineteen Eighty-Four, noting that classic totalitarian dystopian novels have "warned of the domination of screens, the suppression of books, the narrowing of vocabularies, and the associated difficulties of thought."

On the flip side, books stimulate the brain. Many studies have shown that reading books have beneficial effects, such as increased cognitive ability, critical thinking skills, imagination, and (notably) empathy. Readers are more empathic to others.


Reading improves empathy. Specifically, reading literary fiction, which exposes readers to explorations of relationships and psychology of characters.

It's also been shown that being exposed to diversity in media can change how one thinks and views the world, and can make one more tolerant and accepting of others. I know we're talking about books here, but this 2006 study looking at how just watching a TV show featuring gay characters -- not directly interacting with gay people, just watching a show where their existence is normalized -- correlates with decreased prejudice towards gays and lesbians.

Once more for those in the back.

Earlier this year, it was a BIG FUCKING DEAL when a judge sentenced some teen vandals to read after they had graffitied a historical African American school. The full reading list can be found here but it's full of diverse books, both fiction and non-fiction, that will hopefully provide these kids with some much needed perspective in their lives. This sentencing was an acknowledgement that reading diversely -- being exposed to diverse people, cultures, histories, and viewpoints -- can counter hate and ignorance.

So here's my list: my "resist-list" if you will. This is by no means exhaustive. I have read some of these, but many more are on my to-read list. I am rationing them out for now because as important as these books are to read, it is also important for my own mental and emotional health that these are not all that I read.

But, it is also important that I read. Because the resistance will be literate. That is my rallying cry.

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine,and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen

Inauguration by Idris Goodwin and Nico Wilkinson

I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity by Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish

The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys' Club by Eileen Pollack

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Sex Object by Jessica Valenti

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay

You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones

A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

What's on your resist-list?

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