Saturday, December 1, 2018

Mini Reviews: The Blood Of Emmett Till || Negotiating With The Dead









The Blood Of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson



Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 291
Publication date: January 2017

In 1955, white men in the Mississippi Delta lynched a fourteen-year-old from Chicago named Emmett Till. His murder was part of a wave of white terrorism in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared public school segregation unconstitutional. Only weeks later, Rosa Parks thought about young Emmett as she refused to move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Five years later, Black students who called themselves “the Emmett Till generation” launched sit-in campaigns that turned the struggle for civil rights into a mass movement. Till’s lynching became the most notorious hate crime in American history.



Likes: Wow, Emmett Till’s mother was a force of nature. We need more people like her in the world. She pretty much singlehandedly kept her son’s murder in the news and forced the US to pay attention. She was sick of white America ignoring hate crimes and wouldn’t let them ignore this one. I don’t think I could have been as strong as she was.

If you know nothing about Emmett Till and the Civil Rights Movement in the US, then you need to read this book immediately. It’s important. Hate crimes didn’t stop in the 1950s. They still happen every day. The author does a nice job of giving the historical context for Till’s murder and showing that it wasn’t just an unfortunate historical incident. It’s still relevant. I love when authors of nonfiction prove that history doesn’t die. One event can trigger a movement that impacts the lives of future generations. We’re all living with the consequences of our ancestors’ (good and bad) decisions.


If we in America have reached the point in our desperate culture where we must murder children, no matter for what reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive and probably won’t.The Blood of Emmett Till



Dislikes: I love the opening chapters and the final chapters. They’re vivid and insightful. I’m not sure what happened in the middle, but the book suddenly became a slow, dry recitation of major Civil Rights events. The writing style didn’t hold my attention. It felt exactly like rereading the textbooks I was forced to read in high school. Since I wasn’t learning anything new from this book, getting through the middle was a slog.

I also think there’s some false advertising happening somewhere. This book hit my radar because I heard that the author was able to interview Carolyn Bryant, the woman who was partially responsible for Till’s murder. He did interview her, but she’s old, and the murder occurred a long time ago, so she doesn’t remember everything that happened. The interview isn’t a big part of the book. Probably because “I don’t remember” isn’t useful information. She did admit: “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”



The Bottom Line: If you know nothing about Emmett Till, then read this book. If you learned about Till in school, then you probably won’t learn anything new from this book. Read it if you want a refresher course.









Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer On Writing by Margaret Atwood



Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 248
Publication date: March 2002

What is the role of the Writer? Prophet? High Priest of Art? Court Jester? Or witness to the real world? Looking back on her own childhood and writing career, Margaret Atwood examines the metaphors which writers of fiction and poetry have used to explain—or excuse—their activities, looking at what costumes they have assumed, what roles they have chosen to play.



Likes: Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. I’m slowly working my way through everything she’s written. I’ve already read the majority of her novels and short story collections. I thought it was time to give her nonfiction a try.

This book isn’t what I expected. From the synopsis, I assumed it would be more of an autobiography. Atwood does talk about her own life, but it’s not the main focus of the book. Mostly, she analyzes literature throughout history to discover how writers see themselves and their roles in society. Her essays about literature are interesting, but I preferred the sections where she talks about her past. She grew up in rural Canada at a time when “poet” wasn’t an accepted career for a woman living in the wilderness. Becoming a writer was a struggle. I enjoyed learning about her journey.

Like all of Atwood’s books, this one is well-written. Her style is lively and funny. A book of essays about classic literature could be insufferable, but Atwood makes it (mostly) painless. The books she analyzes aren’t too obscure. I’ve read the majority of the classics that she mentions in these essays. I didn’t have trouble understanding her references.


There was also, as it turned out, the dismay of my parents to be reckoned with: their tolerance about caterpillars and beetles and other non-human life forms did not quite extend to artists.Negotiating with the Dead



Dislikes: The essays are kind of abstract. Parts of them probably went over my head. This book reminds me of the textbooks I read for literary theory and criticism classes in college. It’s somewhat interesting, not very conclusive, and I have no idea why I need to know this stuff. I guess it’s cool to learn what writers think about writing, but also, I don’t really care. I’m not sure what I was supposed to get out of reading this book.



The Bottom Line: Margaret Atwood is smarter than me. If you’re looking for an autobiography, you’ll probably be disappointed. If you’re a writer who likes reading about literature, you might find Negotiating with the Dead relatable.












10 comments:

  1. I'm embarrassed to say I've never heard of Emmett Till. It sounds like a really important read, even if it does get bogged down in the middle.

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    1. Emmett Till’s murder helped start the Civil Rights Movement. I learned about it in school, but maybe they don’t teach it everywhere.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. Interesting post...not titles I would have reached for, but of the two the first caught my attention. As for the mother figure, never underestimate a mother protecting/defending her "cubs". Great post!

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    1. Thanks! Yes, mothers are fierce, especially the mother in this book. :)

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. I don't know nearly as much about Emmett Till as I should so that book really interests me. It's a shame the middle is so dry though.

    The second book interests me as well. Normally I hate reading essays, but I love Margaret Atwood and would love to read her analyzing classics.

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    1. I love Margaret Atwood, too. Her writing style makes the essays a lot more bearable.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. I keep meaning to try a Margaret Atwood book. The Handmaid's tale put me off though... so I've been dropping her lower and lower on my list of authors to try.

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    1. The Handmaid’s Tale is my favorite book ever. If you don’t like that one, you probably won’t like other Atwood books. I think Handmaid’s Tale is her best.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. I do not know about Till so it might be nice to read about him and his mother. I also haven't read anything by Margaret Atwood but I do hear people love her. I haven't even read The Handmaid's Tale and doesn't that have a show on HBO or something. I am behind the times!

    Mary

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  6. Emmett Till's death was before I was born, but I have known that name since at least high school. I liked Tyson's first book, "Blood Done Call My Name," much of which took place in NC when I was in school (we both attended the same "9th Grade Center" in the 70s.

    www.thepulpitandthepen.com

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