More contemplative than a travel book and more interesting than an academic text, it offers fair, history-laden insights into modern France. The husba...moreMore contemplative than a travel book and more interesting than an academic text, it offers fair, history-laden insights into modern France. The husband-and-wife team of authors write from a Canadian (French and Anglo) perspective, which offers an awareness of France's particularly European qualities while avoiding the habit shared by Americans and Brits of needing to take every possibile opportunity to insult the country and prove it wrong. Indeed, while vigilant in identifying the nation's less admirable features - Le Front National, for example - they refuse to engage in or allow for any complacent condescension, reminding their readers that most democracies continue to struggle with colonial history and see problems in globalization.
I lived in France as a community service worker for six of the twenty-four months the authors lived there, so I particularly enjoyed their stories for both nostalgic and educational purposes. Like the authors, I loved the food and the architecture, was shocked by the overt nature of racist remarks, hated the machismo, got used to the constant strikes (I actually joined in a strike myself), gaped at the art injected into everything from shop windows to PSA's, and found the power of the state fascinating. Readers more enamored with or suspicious of French culture may disagree with many of the authors' observations, but I was satisfied in the best possible sense of the word.(less)
I loved Truss's first book. Her outrage at the misuse of apostrophes was appealing but also beguiling because it was so over-the-top with tongue place...moreI loved Truss's first book. Her outrage at the misuse of apostrophes was appealing but also beguiling because it was so over-the-top with tongue placed firmly in cheek. This book, however, was validating (though not funny) when it was right, but worrisome when it became too far-sweeping and crotchety about social classes.
Everyone loves to feel justified in their outrage after feeling disrespected by strangers or the general public, but attacking entire classes of people (the workers, the fans, those rotten teenagers) and defending those at the top (the rich, the famous, your "elders," and the customers at the cash register) risks sounding too nostalgic for the Victorian era of servants. I agree with her thesis that there is a sad tolerance for "the utter bloody rudeness of everyday life" and not enough reverence for the value of trying to be polite for politeness' sake, but I don't agree with all of her reasons for it. When she bashes rude clerks and aggressive pedestrians who readily scream "You rich bitch!" she elicits sympathy. She then loses it when she defends the victims as belonging to a class that should be utterly immune to this unjust behavior brought about by the rabble and blames egalitarianism for what rich folks now must suffer. "Are rich people actually that bad?" she asks.
No, not most of them. But anyone who has worked as a lowly clerk or assistant at a "private box" or "gentleman's club" can testify that yes, some upper class people are still convinced despite egalitarianism that they are allowed to behave selfishly in the presence of someone they consider less successful - and thus, less important - than themselves. You see it frequently, whether they are exploding without restraint at a teacher or cook whose job is difficult enough without their extra emotion, or simply making a driver wait for hours as they stay overtime at an event without any regard for the family of the person waiting on them.
When she adds how abhorrent it is that some older people are actually called by (GASP!) their first names by the younger generation, I wonder if she's secretly wishing to return to the days of "thou" and "you," when hierarchies could REALLY be emphasized.
To me, the solution is not in proving that this new populist rudeness is tossed upon the undeserving but that it should not be enacted toward anyone by anyone. Despite Truss's claims to the contrary, the class-based past in which the servile were expected to kowtow and the rich were allowed to behave as they wished WAS INDEED awful. Her point should be that yes, the egalitarian movement has led to both sides acting without consideration, but the goal should be respect for everyone regardless of status. That's the definition of egalitarianism, after all.
This is a very impressive epic adorned with humor and founded in the lessons of overcoming tragedy either through battle or sheer resilience. As a nov...moreThis is a very impressive epic adorned with humor and founded in the lessons of overcoming tragedy either through battle or sheer resilience. As a novel itself it is wonderfully written in a lyrical prose with great, revealing dialogue. It is, however, much more than a novel.
I had to read it over ten years ago in eighth grade history class, yet I can still recall the many different stories comprising the biography, nearly chronicling all the various manifestations of race relations throughout American history. In America, as young people we seem to learn in school about the atrocity of slavery and the inhumanity of Jim Crow, and we consummate those lessons with, "Isn't it nice that's all over?" Rarely are we taught to question or recognize the remnants of those horrible institutions in today's society, just as we learn that racists are "bad guys" and therefore couldn't possibly be anyone we know personally.
Four years after having read the book together in eighth grade history, a classmate in twelfth grade history asked, "Can black people vote? Seriously?" I can only imagine if that we were required to discuss such books in light of their relevance to today rather than as tokens of the long-gone past, racism - be it in the form of aggression or sheer ignorance - would have a lesser chance of survival.
This is Simply Good Literature. And by virtue of that, it's anything but simple.
At times the stage was a bit too crammed with characters, forcing some...moreThis is Simply Good Literature. And by virtue of that, it's anything but simple.
At times the stage was a bit too crammed with characters, forcing some into mere caricatures (Ryan, Crispin, Magid). And the poetry was unevenly distributed throughout, so that it often came as a startling surprise that left me wanting more ("Her hair crashed down her back"). But straddling the complexity of multi-culturalism while baring the simplicity of white teeth, Smith aimed high and indeed achieved a feat of greatness.
It's impossible for me to have a favorite Dr. Seuss book, but this one gives some stiff competition. Whenever I read it to my nursery school English c...moreIt's impossible for me to have a favorite Dr. Seuss book, but this one gives some stiff competition. Whenever I read it to my nursery school English classes, I ask the kids to whom the egg ultimately belongs right before the baby hatches. The younger kids in the class (2 to 3 years old) almost always say the egg belongs to the bird because eggs belong with birds. The older kids (4 to 5) say the egg belongs to the elephant because he took care of it. An interesting revelation as to how kids approach the world at different stages as they try to make sense of it.(less)
"America is awesome." "America is the greatest nation on earth." "America - like it or leave it." If you've never heard these phrases before, you most...more"America is awesome." "America is the greatest nation on earth." "America - like it or leave it." If you've never heard these phrases before, you most likely have never lived in America. American children grow up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance from kindergarten on (with no idea what "liberty" or even "allegiance" means), and most know that not standing during a flag ceremony is a punishable offense in school. It is unsurprising that American history is also taught as a celebration of a wonderful country that has made few mistakes... unlike all those other countries no one would want to live in if they had the choice.
Loewen starts off his book with an attack on such a Pleasantville view of America as his central argument and admittedly caught me with it hook, line, and sinker. He focuses primarily on the survival of racism in America through the teaching of history and offers many enlightening examples. Why do so few classrooms learn of the archaelogical evidence for African explorers in the Americas? Why are achievements by minority groups lumped together almost solely in "Black History Month" or "Women's History Month" rather than taught as U.S. history, as American as George Washington? Why does the average history class spend 0 to 9 minutes on the Vietnam War?
I agree with some comments that Loewen's indictment of U.S. history as it is taught in American schools is also a soapbox moment for his own politics. A mere questioning of the history curriculum will not necessarily lead one to the conclusions he himself makes. However, that he is merely liberal should be unsurprising since the oppression of questioning and iconoclasm so rampant in our educational system is by definition conservative and counterintuitive to the idea that we must learn from history - and thus, from our mistakes - in order to progress. Few conservatives today can be seen leading an attack on American jingoism but for the extremists such as Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, or Pat Robertson whose own radical interpretations of history would end up alienating ten times as many students as already are. (less)