Yes, I’ve been a bad boy and have not posting about the stories I’ve read recently, but at least I have still been reading my story weekly. What have I missed sharing? Well, I thought I’d go ahead and do a brief wrap-up of selections 5-8, which I have completed.
“Week” 5 – ♦A♦ – Letter from a Birmingham Jail (essay) – Martin Luther King
Well, Deal Me In’s “randomizer” just missed in having me draw this card the week of the Martin Luther King Holiday here in the United States, but since February is also “Black History Month” here, I figured DMI’s hand of fate was trying to land it somewhere in the middle.
Confession: I don’t remember reading this essay before, though I have of course been aware of it. I certainly haven’t read it as thoughtfully as I did this time – I know that at least must be true. It’s also an essay that has perhaps added meaning in these challenging political times, and I was amazed at how chock-full it is of quotations that are part of the mainstream now. We are, for example, reminded that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and that “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up there privileges voluntarily,” and that “groups are more immoral than individuals.” How true this last…
For those who don’t know, the famous letter is King’s answer to one group of his critics (eight white clergymen) who were urging him to end his policy of nonviolent resistance and allow the issue of integration to be “handled in the courts.” King effectively gives many arguments and cases why he should not do so. His frustration with the lack of support from more moderate whites is also transparent throughout. At one point he says, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negroes’ great stumbling block in the stride forward is not the White Citizens “Counciler” or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice.”
A great and iconic essay that rightly belongs in my copy of the Joyce Carol Oates-edited collection The Greatest American Essays of the Century. I recommend revisiting it if you haven’t lately, or even reading it for the first time if you never have. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments.
“Week” 6 – ♦K♦ – The Devil Baby at Hull House (essay) – Jane Addams
For week 6, DMI’s hand of fate kept me in the same suit and same source, leading me to this interesting essay by Jane Addams, a woman of letters who, though I was certainly aware of, I had never read before. This essay was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1916, and later was included in Addams’s “The Second Twenty Years at Hull-House in 1930.
To understand the setting of the story, one must know first that Hull House (above) was a “settlement house” in Chicago and, according to Wikipedia, Hull House became, at its inception in 1889, “a community of university women” whose main purpose was to provide social and educational opportunities for working class people (many of them recent European immigrants) in the surrounding neighborhood.”
It seems that Hull House became the center of what we would now call an “urban myth” – one in which a “Devil Baby” had been born there and was being kept secret from the public. The rumor became so powerful that Hull House became inundated with “pilgrims” who visited there and refused to believe the repeated denials of the “Devil Baby’s” existence. Addams expertly uses this phenomenon to examine just what are the kind of people who are likely to believe such a story, even when contradicted by those who would certainly know better. In the essay, the standard “profile” of these visitors becomes one of an “older woman” and Addams also notes that “…the story constantly demonstrated the power of an old wives’ tale among thousands of people in modern society who are living in a corner of their own, their vision fixed, their intelligence held by some iron chain of silent habit.” The essay drifts a bit into an examination of old age, but returns to conclude that the legend was so widely believed “because the Devil Baby embodied an undeserved wrong to a poor mother…”
A very interesting read that goes much deeper that I first expected.
“Week” 7 – ♦3♦ – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
The randomized order of DMI continues to honor Black History Month, and I was pleased to have an excuse to finally read this, which I must sadly report, I was apparently unequal to. Upon finishing, I still didn’t know why the Caged Bird Sings until I googled it. It was taken from the third stanza of a poem by African-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar:
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.
This essay was actually adapted from the opening sections of the 1969 “autobiographical fiction” book of the same title, and tells of the author’s childhood growing up in Stamps, Arkansas. There are undoubtedly some great sections, including a “showdown” between Angelou’s mother and a local group of “white trash” kids who harass her family at the store they own. I found the day to day life descriptions well done too, but probably just fell victim to “unrealistic expectations” for this work, since it is such a famous title. I probably should read through it a second time or, better yet, read the entire book, not just an excerpt.
“Week” 8 – ♠K♠ – Double On-Call – John Green
Green is a local “literary hero” here in Indianapolis. (His office is just a few miles from mine, and a coworker has even bumped into him grabbing lunch at the nearby Whole Foods store!). This was a good story and quite unlike his other work that I’ve read. The quotation it leads off with might give you some indication:
“God is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way in which he is with us to help us.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
What does THAT mean? I think that I still don’t know even after reading the story, which is about a very young man who works as a chaplain in a hospital, where we meet him during a “double on-call” shift – or two consecutive nights of being on call at the hospital, chained to his pager. On this particular night, the crisis du jour is a young couple who brings in their baby who “fell.” Fell as in that’s the transparent “story” they’ve come up with to explain away its head trauma, caused by the father. It is the young chaplain’s duty to talk with the father and get him to realize the magnitude of what he’s done.
Not a pleasant story, but one well told. I read in some online reviews (but was unable to confirm) that this was an earlier story of Green’s, tidied up to be published in a volume titled “Double on Call and Other Stories.”
That get’s me current, though I am currently reading “Safety” by Larry Fitzpatrick for selection #9. What have YOU been reading lately?
What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked! Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.