Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Heavy Reading

I've been in a great reading groove for quite some time now. I'm on my 13th book since the beginning of the year, and it's one I've been anticipating for a long while.

Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns has been on my radar since it came out three years ago. In this massive undertaking, Wilkerson, who in 1994 became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize while working as the Chicago bureau chief for The New York Times, tells the story of the emigration of African Americans from the South to the North and West that took place from World War I until the early '70s.

During that half century, approximately six million people fled the brutally repressive conditions in the Jim Crow south for cities ranging from Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and New York, to Los Angeles, Oakland and Houston. They didn't know what they would find upon their arrival, and often times they surely discovered that conditions weren't much better than what they'd known back home.

I've just barely cracked this book, so this isn't a review. I just wanted to get across how excited I am to be reading this book. I'll admit that I knew next to nothing about this amazing chapter in America's history. I was aware that black Southerners headed north seeking work, and that countless Delta guitarists turned Chicago into the capital of the blues.

But I had no idea of the scope of the exodus, and never thought about the incredible bravery involved in taking part. Entire families left everything behind because they were so sick of being harassed, beaten, threatened and humiliated by white folks. Sometimes just the men left in search of work; at times it was just women. All of them went seeking something better, a place where they could spread their wings a bit, have a chance at moving upward.

Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,200 people while researching and writing this book. She uses the riveting information from their stories to build the base of the 500-plus page book, while focusing on three individuals whose stories she tells in rich, rich detail.

Here she explains her process:

I may post more about this book as I read it, and most likely something when I'm all done. I can say this, though. I recommend it already and I'm only 35 pages in.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

On the Mend

I had my surgery a week ago, and things are going better than I'd anticipated. While I'm still taking pain medication, I'm not hurting as much as I thought I would be. I was imagining discomfort and inconvenience comparable to when I had my Achilles tendon repaired 15 years ago. Thankfully, arthroscopic hip surgery is much easier to deal with.

I've been reading quite a bit for the past seven days, continuing a long streak of cranking through books. Yesterday, I finished Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away, a collection of essays that are mostly funny observations about adjusting to life in the U.S. compared to Europe.

I moved right on to David Comfort's The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead: The Fatal Journeys of Rock's Seven Immortals, which a friend of Beth's picked up from the YMCA's discard bin. Seriously. Somebody left this book behind after a workout and apparently enough time went by that the Y put it out for anyone to take.

The book spins tales of the lives and deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Jerry Garcia. I'm knee-deep in the Hendrix saga, which is interesting in terms of just how messed up he was mentally and pharmaceutically.

Surprisingly, I haven't been watching much TV while sitting in my living room nook, surrounded by my drugs, water, cell phone, house phone, books, magazines and computer. The only thing I've watched is some episodes of "Wilfred" from my DVR, and, occasionally, the local news.

OK, after dinner I've taken to watching "The Six Million Dollar Man" or "Charlie's Angels" reruns, but I swear, that's it. And, of course, the Red Sox.

I've also done a bit of writing. I'm working on a short story for my buddy Jim's next planned anthology, which focuses on travel. He published his first collection, Movable Feasts, earlier this year.

Much to my family's chagrin, I've been shuffling around the house, and out on the porch and front yard, while wearing my anti-embolism socks and brown slippers. I really look like an old man, let me tell ya. I believe today is the last day I need to wear the socks....

It won't be long before I'll be able to do this: