Holy crap...that was hard to read. Important, but difficult. If you need to have another example of oppression that you can use to see the oppressionHoly crap...that was hard to read. Important, but difficult. If you need to have another example of oppression that you can use to see the oppression you impose upon others (that's partly what I used it for..it is easy to draw parallels up to the present moment), and/ or if you want to learn how deeply British oppression of Irish people actually goes, this is probably a good tip of the iceberg to begin with.
The author, Thomas Gallagher, begins in the preface by describing what it was like having Irish parents and growing up in the US without constantly hearing anti-British sentiment being thrown about in his family--his parents had been treated well by some English folks in the past. Imagine then his feelings of perplexity when in the Irish-American neighborhood in which he grew up, all he heard was kids trashing the British. He wondered why they had so much hate--as an adult, he endeavored to find out, researching in hundreds of books, newspapers, and other publications of the day, the day being the endless night of the Great Famine in Ireland of the 1840's, known to some as the Great Starvation.
With excruciating detail, Gallagher describes, based on his research, daily life for Irish people who experienced the famine, from the first anxieties of those who found their potatoes rotting in the fields to the details of the physical deterioration of those starving to death or dying of diseases spread by lice that the people did not know were spreading them. From people who were forced out of their homes and made to watch their homes be "tumbled" (aka, destroyed with battering rams) to those who eventually were forced onto ships traveling to the US. A good portion of the second half of the book is dedicated to rewriting an account of one particular group of immigrants on a particular ship, the Mersey, and the torture they endured for 8 agonizing weeks to get to the US. Gallagher spares no detail in description here, or anywhere else in the book, from the cramped and uncomfortably close quarters to accommodate 350 people to the fact that the two privvies were located on the top deck so that when there was a storm, no one was allowed up from below to use them. Other passengers were physically unable to get above deck anyway, and the way the ship was constructed, there was no way for anyone to dump their waste off the ship unless they hauled it to the top deck. Some people died because of these paltry accommodations on their way to what could've been a better quality of life than what they left behind.
Gallagher also details the various blunders, excuses, ignorance, and all-out hatred for the Irish by the British that allowed them the extremely erroneous moral grounds upon which they stood and time after time, decided to CONTINUE importing food from Ireland while millions of Irish people starved to death. Many Irish folks did not have enough money or a job to afford to pay rent to their British or Irish landlords, who most likely showed up and took the land ownership out from under a family built upon generations and generations of Irish people living there, then said pay me or get out. So they had to pay with food instead, or be forced off their land. And if they were forced off their land, there was no way for them to get food--the British provided nothing in compensation for importing the food or destroying the homes of the Irish. The only thing that was done in the beginning for the people was something called a "workhouse," which, as described, was more of a death house. The majority of these houses worked physically able people to death, literally, and provided very little nourishment if any. Most people at these houses were diseased and spread the illness quickly to others because of poor accommodations.
This situation reminded me very much of what happened when Europeans came to what is now the United States and forced their way upon the land that had belonged to Native Americans for centuries, then turned around and said pay up or get out. Or they killed them and perpetrated other violent and malicious acts. And those oppressors in both cases turned around and blamed those being oppressed and disenfranchised for their undoing. They're too stupid and ignorant to help themselves, or this is God's will. Some of us still do these things today to others who are oppressed, although we may oppress in more indirect ways. But it was easy for me to connect things like the perpetuation of the US prison industrial complex, and pretty much any institution imposed upon Americans of all demographics, established by my European ancestors as one result of what happened to the Irish (who are also my ancestors) in this account.
The book ends with the experiences of some newly immigrated Irish folks, specifically their time exploring New York City, "fresh off the boat" as they say. Gallagher goes into details of daily living there as well, for the Irish and various other folks, immigrants or not.
Well documented and well written, it is easy for me to see why Gallagher's subtitle to "Paddy's Lament" is "Prelude to Hatred."...more
There is so much to respond to and think about in this book concerning race, racism, and white privilege, especially as it exists and manifests iWhoa.
There is so much to respond to and think about in this book concerning race, racism, and white privilege, especially as it exists and manifests in the U.S., even in its mere 191 pages. Each page is dense with information, emotional expressions, and questions, all of which I think are extremely important. I can at least say this.
Tim Wise gives readers many things to consider, much of which people of color (poc) are already aware, but may surprise a lot of white readers, especially middle-class and wealthier white liberals. In fact, Wise spends some significant time throughout the book, but especially in the second half, attacking white liberals (typically middle-class or wealthier) for decrying various social problems related to race and class, yet not really doing a whole lot except complaining and being polite to poc and/ or poor people and thinking that those things alone are enough of a contribution to social justice. Wise challenges those of us who are or were liberals (and who have always been white) to think beyond any party line and realize that a lot of gestures of white liberals towards poc are in fact empty, whether white liberals are aware of it or not, because they refuse to see or are ignorant of their racial privilege. I've seen this played out in many instances in my life by others and also myself. I would define myself as radical politically at this point. However, there were a number of years where I was calling myself a radical, but my efforts were only along anarchist lines, which is now a pretty limiting front to be working on for me if I'm not doing anything else like addressing my own complicity in a racist, classist society. So, in my estimation, I was simply using the word "radical" to describe actions I was taking that were in fact radical, but only in a very limited sphere. I am thankful for Wise's insights regarding white liberal politics as many times I've paraded as a radical when in fact I wasn't even necessarily being as liberal as a lot of white liberals.
Steve Almond is candid enough in this book to reveal what I think is true for a lot of adults these days, and maybe throughout history, at least sinceSteve Almond is candid enough in this book to reveal what I think is true for a lot of adults these days, and maybe throughout history, at least since consumerist capitalism rose to such an exorbitant and disasterous level: we tend to make emotional connections to products where they are lacking with the people who surround us as children. For Steve, candy became a place of escape and self-love in a family who was adept at self-loathing. It also has continued to comfort him into adulthood, especially in terms of failed romances, a few of which he describes in the book. He also remembers in detail which candies he sought as a comfort after those break ups.
We join Steve as he begins a series of travels around the US to track down candies from his youth and even further back (Steve was in his late 30s at the time of publication, 2005). He ends up meeting a lot of people who are just obsessed with candy as he is, some of whom still produce these now obscure candies.
Throughout the book, Steve is very thorough in his descriptions of his own vice, through taste and smell, as well as visual sensations (packaging is very important to Steve). These descriptions are often extremely detailed and exaggerated to bring humor, although after a while, the descriptions start to become a bit hackneyed.
Also, it seemed like Steve did a good job mixing details of his excursions and personal history in the first half of the book. In the second half, his visits are written serially and it becomes hard to remember who was the president of what company. A lot of times, too, he seems to characterize most of the men (all the presidents are men) toward the end of the book as these rogue characters or cowboys, driving around in SUVs to save the world of independent candy-making...I don't know...I'm just sick of reading white men superheroes in the world. And yes, they were almost all white. I can tell because of Steve's rather ignorant use of "Indian," "Hispanic," and "black," to describe side people in airports, on the telephone, or packing the boxes of candy, and the lack of the word "white" to describe anyone else, mostly people in positions of relative power and privilege. However, Steve does a good job noticing when someone is Jewish, perhaps because he is Jewish himself.
Steve also does a good job describing the precarious position of being a consumer, loving the product personally and having the knowledge of candy's lack of usefulness in as far as everyday life for most people in the world. He analyzes capitalism and mass production and candy's place in that. He also does well in profiling "the big three": Mars, Hershey, and Nestle and how they, especially Hershey, created an American taste for chocolate to keep consumers coming back to the candy racks for generations.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and it made me think about candy politics (who knew?) and it made me want to eat candy all the time....more
There's not too much I can say here that my friend Andrew Sydlik hasn't said in his review of Noah Levine's "Dharma Punx"; it's very thorough and I beThere's not too much I can say here that my friend Andrew Sydlik hasn't said in his review of Noah Levine's "Dharma Punx"; it's very thorough and I believe a fair and balanced critique while also being informative. I would recommend reading Andrew's review prior to reading the book and/or my review.
I agree with Andrew that the book is principally a memoir that does not explore the subjects of 80s punk culture and Buddhism beyond their relation to Noah's life. While punk and Buddhism and their intersection are very important to Noah and his experiences, like Andrew says, he doesn't really explain what Buddhism is. Andrew already has some basic understanding of the elements of Buddhism whereas I do not, and i did find myself at times getting bored with the reading in the second half of the book and my unfamiliarity with Buddhism is one reason why.
However, one hook that saved me from putting the book down in the second half was Noah's decision to participate in the "A Year to Live" project, inspired by his father's (Stephen Levine) experience of having already completed the same project. As you might imagine, Noah prepared to live his life for a year as if he would die at the end of that year. At this point in his Buddhist and meditation practice, he was pretty self-disciplined and self-motivated, so though it wasn't easy to embark on this project, Noah seemed to take it very seriously and he did complete it with profound results. This part of the book definitely motivated me to check out Stephen Levine's book, "A Year to Live," which is about his own experience at the age of 58.
I think too, after exploring Noah's websites, that his latest book, "Meditate and Destroy" (2007), may answer some of the questions about what Buddhism is and more information on how he and other punks experience their practice. I'm also inspired to read "Meditate and Destroy" and learn more about Buddhism, meditation, service, Noah's life, and his father Stephen's life and works.
One reason for my continued interest in Buddhism and meditation beyond this book is Noah's emphasis that it is a way in which to deal with life's struggles and suffering in a way that can't promise happiness or contentment at all times, but that can allow someone connection to life's adversity without escaping or running away. Escaping and running away was how Noah now framed his involvement with booze, drugs, violence, and promiscuity as a youth, starting before the age of ten. His goal in the face of the pain and suffering he experienced as a young person, he recounts, was to become as numb as possible. Punk culture gave Noah an avenue in which to express himself and his disagreement with the values touted by mainstream society in 1980s America. But the misery he experienced led him away from his punk values and to a point where all he was doing was living for his next crack high or speed ball (crack combined with heroine).
As Andrew remarks, Noah finally gets to a place where he can see that if his own behavior doesn't change, nothing in his life will change either. He does take his father's advice and begins to meditate. Each time he does so, he takes another step toward his own freedom from dangerous habits and addiction. At first, I had a problem with Noah's seemingly non-chalant descriptions of how he progressed from the depths of savage addiction to being able to regularly meditate. It seemed like he just woke up and became a Buddhist by some of the descriptions, but since I'm taking that as his experience, it doesn't bother me so much. However, I'm worried that other folks reading it may have had a much more difficult time getting from addiction to a healthier place, or may still be struggling; I feel they could benefit from a more in-depth description of dealing with the challenges of coming out of the depths of addiction.
As Andrew describes, Noah starts off with a scene where he is in a rubber room after a suicide attempt at 17 and in the depths of his drug addiction and self-hatred. Another sucker-punch comes directly after with an intense experience where Noah is hiding under the front porch at five years old with a knife he stole from the kitchen, fantasizing about cutting his stomach open while his mother and stepfather fight inside. It wasn't hard for me to dive into the book and read about these intense and heavy experiences. But the second half was harder for me to speed through, although more of what I took away from that than boredom or lack of understanding was an inspiration to learn more and an appreciation for Noah's dedication to stay on his path of meditation, practice and service to other folks dealing with addiction....more
I actually heard this as a book on CD, but I think it still counts. This is definitely what I would call a "dude-bro" book, in that the authors come fI actually heard this as a book on CD, but I think it still counts. This is definitely what I would call a "dude-bro" book, in that the authors come from a macho, woman-objectifying, partying point-of-view. Readers, be prepared for descriptions of lewdness from the all-American male perspective. That said, this book was fun to hear as its authors describe grandiose true tales of adventure in the Middle East. First, the two protagonists take off for Israel/ Palestine, then make their way to Baghdad where they walk into an NGO office, say they have experience, and are hired as volunteers right off the bat. From there, they weave their tales of hijinks in and around the Iraqi city, which include parties, getting driven around in sports cars by wealthy Americans and Iraqis alike, and almost getting killed numerous times. The book also gives an inside perspective on the workings of the US military and NGOs during the war in 2003-04 and how the people who live in Baghdad were reacting to American presence there.
In closing, it's a fun read, but also is quite exploitative in that these 2 American guys are basically going to Baghdad because they have nothing better to do and they're looking for adventure. They did do some admirable work while there, and gave a good sense of what was going on in 03-04 from an American perspective. But, even though the authors seemed somewhat conscious of this fact in their writing, it still feels like they are treating Baghdad like Disneyland....more
This book made me laugh a lot, but also question a number of times why I was reading it. The preface makes clear that reading this shouldn't be life-cThis book made me laugh a lot, but also question a number of times why I was reading it. The preface makes clear that reading this shouldn't be life-changing or anything, but rather that the book is actually a collection of email letters the author sent to various family and friends after moving from small-town Texas to the huge mega-opolis of LA with his boyfriend/ husband, specifically West Hollywood.
The humor is caustic and both critical of others and self-critical. The author saves himself by ranting about the indignities he has to deal with in everyday life (almost getting run over by SUVs, the weird behaviors and fashions of his fellow West Hollywood residents, aggravating publicists and others he deals with as a freelance writer, etc.), but also begrudgingly admitting that he is sometimes grossly unreasonable himself.
With chapter titles like "Anger," "Botulism," and "Murder," the book is, by turns, fascinating and repulsive. The author does an excellent job portraying the bizarre ways in which all different types of people, particularly gay men and celebrities, live in this part of LA. The author is not afraid to use swear words and other words a lot of people find offensive (re: the book's title), so be prepared. The only reason I wondered sometimes why I was reading this raunchy account was because I am leaning more toward the writings of folks like Thomas Merton lately, and thus far, Exile in Guyville is nothing like The Seven Storey Mountain....more
I read this book several years ago and found it an intimate and intriguing look into Kerouac's letter writing. I also learned about Joyce Johnson forI read this book several years ago and found it an intimate and intriguing look into Kerouac's letter writing. I also learned about Joyce Johnson for the first time. I distinctly recall, however, Johnson denouncing anyone's claims or any evidence that Kerouac was at all homosexual. I'm not really sure why she felt a need to do this, and in the face of overwhelming evidence from folks like Kerouac's close friend, poet Allen Ginsberg, I don't believe Johnson's argument holds up. Of course Kerouac had heterosexual relationships, including that with Joyce Johnson, but Kerouac himself speaks of his own attraction to men in different books, including Subterranean Kerouac by Ellis Amburn. I don't mean to get into a debate about Kerouac's sexuality, but it is telling that this is the one specific thing I remember about Johnson's book....more