Salutations August 2020

What do you say when someone asks how was your day, and it was a rough one? “This day was a real 2020.” That’s right. Once we thought of 2020 as perfect vision. And now? Not so much.

I’m troubled most about lives cut short from our current twin plagues – the virus and racism. And I’m stymied by what I can do to make a difference, to make it better. Well, sure, I can and do exercise appropriate Covid caution and hope that my actions will add to the critical mass necessary to shift the behavior of many. But beyond that, what can I do to beat back the threat of Covid?

And how or how can I be a better ally to people of color? Black and brown people are not well-represented in my small city. It’s much too easy to remain ignorant of injustice here as it’s been in most of my rural/small-town life. As it likely remains in much of the country. But how can a thinking person not see the rampant and long-standing results of America’s oppression toward its citizens? Still, I keep asking what can I do to change racial disparities – here where I live? How can I be a better ally?

I posed that question to my friend of two-plus decades, Frances, the smartest black woman I know. She reminded me that influencing the white folk around me is just as important as lifting up people of color I may not yet know. My mind’s been percolating on influence opportunities ever since our conversation. It may be no surprise that one venue I squarely landed on was through books.

So here’s my plan.

Photo by Pixabay on

I will read books by and about people of color to educate myself, to exercise my empathy muscles. I will promote such books with members of both my book clubs and here in Salutations. And, in the new story I’ve begun writing, I’ll explore what happens when small-town Lee rips off her band-aid of ignorance in a new urban environment and privileged suburban white boy Matt immerses himself in a world of black musicians. I’m only twelve chapters in, and as always, I don’t know what will happen. But I hope they, I, and future readers will learn a lot. Stay tuned…

So what have I read since last time? And how has that reading educated me?

In this story, the education was focused on the extra challenges women face – at home, in academia, and sexually. Our heroine makes all kinds of compromises with her milk-toast husband, with her dissertation committee, with a sexy photographer who turns out to be more interested in the images he can make of her than in releasing her pent-up desire – until she’s had it with settling for less than she wants. It’s a good read, especially if you’re intrigued with Georgia O’Keefe.

Picture an idyllic dead-end block of brownstones in NYC where the neighbors are neighborly – until peace and privilege is disturbed by an act of violence against their shared handyman at the hands of one of the neighbors. Some defend the privileged, some the servant class, and it all gets personal in a hurry – right down to the dissolution of a marriage. The ‘us and them-ness’ of this story and who supports whom does touch on race, haves and have-nots, and an interesting set of archetypes one sees in various strata of society.

I LOVED this book when I first read it – so much I recommended it for both my book clubs – which meant I got to read it again! This one is all about being and loving an ‘other.’ Frank is a charming, smart, and chaotic kid who’s far too quirky and ‘other’ to fit in at school or with other kids. He’s an education all on his own! It’s great fun to see twenty-something Alice try to befriend, protect, and learn from Frank as he creates havoc cover to cover. I loved reading this terrific book again!

I wasn’t a big fan of Before We Were Yours, but I liked this Wingate novel much more. I especially liked the true letters she included from the newly freed looking for their people. I’m ashamed to admit, I never gave much thought to this particular legacy of slavery – the yearning for separated and scattered family. My eyes were opened. Parallel stories a hundred years apart offered hope in rescued connections, but for once, I thought non-fiction was more compelling than the fiction.

In the sixth of Donati’s Adirondack wilderness series, the community of Paradise seems less wild than it did thirty years before. There’s even a surprising level of acceptance of natives and freed blacks born from the need for good doctoring, even at the hands of Mohawk woman and/or their oldest resident, Curiosity. I enjoyed seeing the next generation of the Bonners and their little people again even if it seemed they lived by 1824 on the edge of the wilderness.

And just when I thought I was done with the Bonner clan, they showed up again in NYC via Paradise and New Orleans – sixty years later. Anna and Sophie are cousins from different branches – one white, one black, white, and native, both physicians. In 1883. When desperation was the expected lot for women, the poor, and people of color. No contraception – by law and the damning eyes of the ‘Society for Decentness.’ But the desperate will find a way – even when that way too often leads to excruciating death. Eye-opening!

And now for a little candy… I make no apologies for being an eclectic reader. I like my meat and potato stories. And I like candy too.

I wouldn’t call this one great candy. Lots of sex, pretty standard romance plot, fun enough – for what it is. And fairly forgettable. I’d liken it to a petit four. So colorful and pretty, you salivate just looking at it. And then when you bite into it… you’re not sure it was worth the calories.

This was higher quality candy. Dark chocolate. First, Cleo doesn’t pretend to be likable. She’s into power – and she’s worked hard to earn a considerable amount. A bid for the White House is in the offing – until some regrets catch up with her and she’s forced to reckon with herself. And her teen-aged son. He’s the only thing she didn’t plan and plot to have. And the best thing in her life. As she grapples to rescue her son’s trust and deal honestly with her regrets, Cleo becomes likable. Would I vote for her? Maybe.

This one was plenty light, plenty frothy, and another example of really good candy. All the characters are likable – eventually. But the real kicker that makes this story delectable is the irreverent narration and zippy dialogue. I’m not one who highlights in a book – unless a clever line is so good I can’t stand to lose it. Waxman delivered several – and more than one scene made me laugh out loud. This is the expensive dark chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt, filled with red wine. Hey, if you’re going to have candy, get the good stuff!

And that’s my reading round-up for August. So far. I’m looking forward to next month’s book club choices and the fulfillment of goals – yoga every day, water aerobics three times a week now that my Y has opened the pool, closing my red circle daily, and watching both political conventions no matter how painful it feels.

And applying for my absentee ballot to avoid any possibility that my vote won’t count. Because that’s the other thing I can do to address the afore-mentioned plagues of racism and uncontrolled disease. I urge you to also make your vote count!

Till next month… many sweet adieus!

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