Saturday, April 18, 2009

a week way too fast: three books

And since I'm still posting about last week, this has to be it for Semana Santa. I managed to finish two books and start a third in Barichara. Here's what I read:

The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky by Ken Dornstein. A memoir written by a younger brother about an older brother, David. David was in his twenties when he died in the PanAm Lockerbie bombing. He left behind boxes of notebooks and essays, things that Ken decided to catalog. In a way, Ken tried to give David the book he'd wanted to write by piecing together bits from David's journals and stories. While the book is about David's aspirations, David's writing, David's character, it seems like Ken finally surrenders to himself. Imagine spending years of your life trying to put together your dead brother, trying to give him what he failed to attain. That's what Ken ultimately tells about: his own quest.

I couldn't help but think of my own boxes of notebooks and letters.

Tales from the Town of Widows by James Canon. Exquisite. Canon is a Colombian living in New York. In this, his first book, he writes about the isolated town of Mariquita after all the men are forced to join the guerrillas in the early 1990s. What will the women do? This was one of the most beautiful books I've read, partly because I'm living here and see Colombia's beauty. But interspersed throughout the book are Dispatches from the Land of Men, short vignettes about guerrilla, national army, and paramilitary soldiers; humanitarian workers and journalists. And those tell the pain of Colombia's war. Side by side, the voices of the men and women, though fictionalized, do offer depth to Colombia's history. Canon writes with a bit of magical realism that reminded me of that other great Colombian writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I appreciate the voice of Marquez now more than before I moved here and look forward to future books by Canon. I hope Tales from the Town of Widows is the first of many.

Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools by Jonathan Kozol. This book is depressing. It was published in 1991 and based largely on data gathered in the 1980s. But other teachers I've talked with about the issue of funding public education - we get the idea that not much has changed, particularly in urban districts. Kozol focuses specifically on the spending gap between rich and poor districts (suburban and urban), asking why blatantly unequal education exists in a country that speaks highly of the value of equality between people. Money does matter when it comes to public schools and what those schools are able to offer their students.

I'm not sure what to do with Savage Inequalities. I feel anger and disappointment and dread at learning the current statistics but I don't know what to do. I think it's a book worth reading. Kozol makes some good arguments regarding taxes, district integration, and state and federal funding and requirements. Kozol mentions "other people's children." We are very concerned with our own children, and, yes, they are our priority. But we must also care for others. We must also want what is truly best for others. Kozol seems to say: look around, at the very least, look around.

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