|Image taken from the teaser for the book.|
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (2016)
The most poignant aspect of Desmond’s writing is how he understands the conjoined relations between experience and data. The first 292 pages of Evicted focus primarily on the lives of tenants in Milwaukee’s urban neighborhoods. These tenants are mostly single mothers and the children for which they struggle to provide. These stories immerse the reader in the everyday lives of the urban poor, and their battles become more real and less imagined through Desmond’s prose. In these sections, he sprinkles statistics amidst the testimony, but the people are not lost in the numbers. And yet his epilogue “Home and Hope” is twenty or so pages of data-driven argumentation. The shift is beautiful and exactly as it should be. Moreover, Desmond does not hesitate to propose solutions to a crisis he has both recreated through story and sketched with numbers, and the result is the whole elephant in the room, not just a trunk, not just a tusk, but the entire, unavoidable beast.
Furthermore, Desmond cuts to an issue that is a bed rock of so many other issues. This past week my social media threads read as if people lived in several different Americas. And that’s probably true. Desmond’s work in Evicted suggests as much. Our cities and neighborhoods were designed in other times, with other thoughts and feelings about what America should be, and yet those skeletal structures still stand. We, as citizens, live and breathe, play and die, within the spaces of yesterday’s blueprints. We are a country that dreams largely the same dreams, but we live in separate spaces—and we forget what lives exist beyond the walls of our own dwellings and Facebook feeds. Desmond’s Evicted is a plea not to do so, and, perhaps more importantly, his research and testimony prove that there are no facts without both the contextual story and the statistical data.
I look at the past week—the violence done to black men and to police officers—and I think any discussion about how Black Lives Matter, police brutality, gun rights, mental health, and what have you requires both elements (the experience and the data) if they are to be constructive of a nation in which we can all live.
Sudden Death by Àlvaro Enrigue (published in 2013 and translated from Spanish in 2016)
I like tennis. I like the game’s shifting geometries and the net as nylon metaphor. I like tran-Atlantic subject matter. I like hearing about the Aztecs and the Spanish empires. Enrigue’s book draws all of this subject matter together via a tennis ball made from Anne Boleyn’s hair. The result is a novel that is both serious and whimsical. While faith and history pump through every sentence, so, too, do the forces of creation and apocalypse. The result is comically devastating look at the deaths of two old worlds and the birth of a new one. The chapters imagining the bastard romance between Cortès, the clueless conquistador, and Malinche, the oft-noted scapegoat, were my favorites.
|This image courtesy of NPR.|
The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley (1924)
As a kid, two staples of my TV-watching schedule were Disney’s 1957 version of Zorro and the Adam West version of Batman. I liked both. I reenacted both. My parents and neighbors probably wondered what the hell my sister and I were doing in the yard. The answer: we were saving all of Gotham City and/or southern California.
As an adult, I read McCulley’s book (plus the introduction by Robert E. Morseberger and Katharine M. Morseberger). I liked it. I have not reenacted it. The dynamic between Don Diego and the masked outlaw is more interesting now than it was as a kid.
What is not yours is not yours by Helen Oyeyemi (2016)
Before reading this collection of short stories, I had never read anything by Oyeyemi. After reading it, I’m not sure I’m smart enough to get it. Or, I didn’t have the right background experience or identity to get it. Maybe the problem was when I read it—during the middle of the school year. I feel like maybe I need to reread parts of it or pick up one of her other books because what I do understand I like. This is probably the worst review of book ever, and Helen’s work probably deserves better.
Bryan Harvey tweets @LawnChairBoys.