Sunday, January 24, 2016

Good Read for an Ice Storm

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I completed reading The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man overnight. It is a short read at about 140 pages, and free on Kindle.

James Weldon Johnson first published this book anonymously in 1912, to avoid any controversy that might endanger his diplomatic career. And it is actually not an autobiography, but rather historical fiction.

As he wrote this book anonymously, he created characters who were also anonymous. Of all the dozens of characters in the story there were only about four who had names, some of them nick-names. Even the young man who tells his story has no name.

Much of the story draws from Johnson's personal life as a Civil Rights activist and a musician along with his brother Rosamond Johnson.Together the Johnson brothers composed Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing ("The Negro National Anthem"). But unlike Johnson who attended Atlanta University, the protagonist in the story spent many years in a variety of jobs where he learned various trades and several foreign languages.

Not until the "Ex-colored man" returns to the South knowing he could pass for white, did he begin to deal with the "race problem." But rather than involve himself in the issues of racism, Jim Crow, and the rights of black people, he spent much of his time learning the music and the vernacular of the early 20th century.

It is an easy book to read, probably more so due to the anonymous characterizations which would not point to the identity of the author.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Being black is bad for your health

Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and MedicineBlack Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a book club selection for one of my Book Clubs. I would call it an outstanding book to read. When Damon Tweedy entered medical school at Duke University, he expected a promising career which would give him the opportunity to serve the community. What he learned repeatedly is, "Being black is bad for your health." His professors highlighted the instances of poor blacks with no health insurance who can't afford the treatments they need, as well as the lack of health services for blacks in the rural South. In addition, the southern diet of over-salted fried foods, and the lack of exercise, cause hypertension, and heart disease.

Tweedy chronicles how during his internship, he met people waiting for hours for appointments in rural clinics, where patients often can't afford the medications prescribed, and doctors have to resort to samples to help their patients with limited income. While Tweedy had expected a career in cardiology, he actually transitioned to a practice in psychiatry, where he was able to provide talk therapy as well as prescription treatment for patients.

This was an impressive book, covering matters of health and race, as well as discrimination in the practice of medicine.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

Men Who Hate Women

It's been over five years since I first met Lisbeth Salander. After reading the first three books by Stieg Larsson, dubbed the Millennium trilogy, I was seriously hooked. But Larsson had died at age 50, leaving drafts of more books. Also leaving no will, no spouse to automatically inherit his work. His partner of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, continues to fight for "intellectual capital" involved around the books, including the characters, plotlines and political messages in the books.

So a new writer was hired to write the fourth book, The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz. The Major characters are still Stieg's, but the plot, language and new characters are all Lagercrantz.

The big question is did I like the book. It was slow starting. I had the book from the public library for two weeks and had read only 20%. So I was back on the wait-list for three months. This time I got the Kindle version. (I can read a lot faster when I can make the fonts larger.) But I had to scan through the first 20% to remember where I was.

This story goes back and forth between Sweden and the US. and centers around Frans Balder, whose life's work was the development of Artificial Intelligence, and his autistic son August. And then there is Lisbeth Salander, the consummate hacker-girl, and kick-butt opponent.

We can't have Salander without Mikael Blomkvist, who at the beginning of this book fears he is a has-been, and is fighting to stay relevant with the Millennium team.

Balder has divorced his wife Hanna and moved to Silicon Valley where he worked on his AI application. After a few years he decides he needs to be a father to his son, besides hearing rumors that Hanna's boyfriend is just there to spend the child-support money and is probably abusing August as well as Hanna. So he quits his job in the US, moves back to Sweden and takes his son to live with him in Sweden, with no argument from Hanna or the boyfriend.

Balder begins to form a bond with his son, but he becomes paranoid about people trying to steal his AI program. He hires a security firm to protect him, and then it becomes a real page-turner, with Salander at the ready to kick butt.

I had gotten used to the abundance of Swedish names of people and places that were often very similar. Nieminen and Niedermann, and everybody is somebody's son or strom. And streets/roads ending with gatan, making for many seven syllable words. Hey, I studied German including a year at the University of Munich. I'm used to long words.

And the title "Men who Hate Women" was the Swedish title for the Millennium Series.

I didn't love this book. Most of the old characters were still there. Lagercrantz made a point of listing the main characters at the beginning of the book, along with a little blurb about each one.

I give it three stars.