Surprising how at times, at least to this reader, reading seems less understandable, less enjoyable than it is at its best. The day comes when books that had seemed to call so strongly, become a reading chore. And so my reading life goes this week. It wanders, capriciously, not in a good way. I try to figure it out.
Sing, Unburied, Sing
For the past several months, I hummed with excitement at the thought of reading Jessmyn Ward’s new novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing. How I had been captured by her nonfiction memoir Men We Reaped. I couldn’t wait to try her new novel. But this week I find myself bogged down in the book. It’s short in length; I should have finished.
The story seems repetitive, as is the life of its characters. Some of the characters are not real. Combining other-worldly characters and realistic fiction is popular these days with literary writers and critics. Though many may enjoy this kind of a read, I find the ghostly characters distracting. For me the story loses its urgency, its reality, its power.
As pictured in this story everyone in this real/unreal world takes drugs. The author means, I think, for us to understand just what these characters are up against. The scenes between the children are especially tender and even hopeful. But pain seems overwhelming. If I’m tired after 170 pages, think of the people who are living that life. For characters in Sing, Parchman Farm, the Mississippi State Prison, is an expected chapter in their lives.
Prisons – Blood In the Water
It may be my reading tiredness comes of reading two books at the same time about prisons in the United States. After hearing the author speak I couldn’t wait to begin turning the pages of Blood in the Water, about the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971 and its aftermath. It is a weighty matter that in this country we have incarcerated so many people, often those who have committed minor crimes due to drug addiction and poverty. According to a report I heard on the radio today some law enforcement subscribes to the theory if you round up those accused of small crimes, the other criminals will go somewhere else.
We insist on treating drug addiction as a crime and not as an illness. We insist on putting these people in prison, an expensive endeavor leaving us less able to deal successfully with serious criminals, or the addictions. The reader of this book soon understands the militarization of police and prisons leading to war such as occurred at Attica.
If I can stick with this book perhaps my vision on the subject will clear.
Finding Hope – Reality, Grief, and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks
The third book I’m reading, Reality Grief and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks, has me thinking of the message that God has given us in the words of the ancient biblical prophets. I hear the message that neighborliness is more important than nations, more important than race, religion or ethnic origin. If this is true I believe we may want to refocus some of our energies as we strive to live in a world where the parts are less independent and isolated than may have been true in the past. The last pages of this book may help me see the hope in neighborliness.
As I read what I have written, I at least understand why my reading week has become too weighty. Clearly I need to lighten up. My shelf contains some lighter reads. It’s time for me to choose one. Wish me luck.
But, as I have the last word in this conversation with myself – burying my head in the sand may not be an answer that holds any lasting power.