On the cover of Long Walk to Freedom is a quote from the Boston Sunday Globe. It says this book “should be read by every person alive,” a statement with which I am tempted to agree. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography is required reading.
The struggle of apartheid was something that happened before my lifetime. When the country was casting its first ballots in an open and democratic national election, I was only three years old. South Africa and apartheid was something that was on the fringes of my consciousness. It was hardly touched on in school. It was something I always had a vague idea of: I knew there was an injustice and it was “corrected,” quote unquote. It was just never something I knew that much about.
I first became interested in gaining more insight into this section of history and part of the world after listening to the radio piece Nelson Mandela: An Audio History, produced by Radio Diaries. It is an incredibly moving and visceral radio hour and it sparked in me a desire to learn more. I found no better place to begin than with Nelson Mandela himself and his account of the events in his own words.
The book itself is beautifully written. Mandela’s cadence is melodic and thorough. He writes about an incredibly troubled time in a clear but rousing manner. I never found my attention waning once in the over 600 pages. It is a fascinating account, beginning with his boyhood in the Transkei and ending with his election to the presidency of a free South Africa. It goes into great detail of the inner workings of the African National Congress, their protests and fight against injustice and the move to a more violent struggle. It recounts his twenty-seven years in prison for freedom fighting and the strain it put on himself and his family. The atrocities committed by the South African government against Africans made my stomach turn, at times having to physically put down the book. It boggled my mind that any one could treat human beings in such a way, that democracy and justice could be so flagrantly ignored and abused.
I’ve read a few of Jeffrey Brown’s books. They are often short and sweet, filled with quiet and compelling moments. The first book I read by Brown was Clumsy, a story of falling in and out of love. The book is an excellent read: equal parts sweet, funny, and sad. I found myself almost cringing at parts (particularly he and his girlfriend’s distaste for safe sex) because it is such a deeply personal read. But that’s just how Brown writes. He wrenches his heart out and illustrates it in detail on the page.
The back cover of A Matter of Life calls the book an “autobiographical meditation on fatherhood and faith.” Having read some of Brown’s previous work, seeing him progress to where he is in this book is really fascinating. He couldn’t be farther from Clumsy. He has a wife named Jenny and a son; they make up an adorable family unit.
The book explores Brown’s diminishing faith in Christianity as he grows up and how this is complicated by his devout family, his father being a minister. He expresses this evolution through a series of vignettes varying from childhood recollections to high school, college, and more present moments. As I’ve come to expect from Brown, these moments are personal and poignant. The way he connects all these bits of information makes for a cohesive and interesting book. It explores his relationship with his parents, his wife, and his son and how this relates to these themes of faith and fatherhood then and now. Brown may have lost faith in God but found it in other places, namely, his belief in science. Ultimately, I believe it could be argued that his faith turned to fatherhood. Now the same kind of devout energy is put into raising his son and being a family.
A Matter of Life is a fun, quick read, as is most of Brown’s work. I found parts of it hard to connect to, specifically the child raising bits, but overall I found it a good and engaging read.
Until next time!
P.S. I went to the beach today for the first time this summer. It was basically a bajillion degrees outside but I LOVED IT. As I will say forever and always about the heat: At least it is not snowing. Yay summer!
Last week, I had a dental emergency. I cracked a tooth and immediately went into panic mode. It was an accident. These things happen. As a general rule, I have a pretty healthy set of teeth. I brush twice a day. I floss. I go see my friendly neighborhood dentist every six months. I even started using mouth wash regularly. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to my teeth, so needless to say I was concerned.
Unfortunately, my dentist was out of town on vacation, so I went to someone recommended by a friend. I’m not the wait and see what happens type. He took one look at my mouth and told me I would need a crown since the tooth broke to the gum line. That part didn’t scare me. What did scare me was the $685 price tag. This was after my so-called dental insurance. The total price was about $1300. My insurance covered about half.
The Internet is one of the most powerful and terrifying tools ever granted to humanity: all the world’s information at our fingertips, access to completely unfettered communication. It’s near miraculous. But the Internet also has a darjk side. It erects a barrier that allows for a distance and anonymity that has the unfortunate effect of letting society reveal its worst self. You are probably familiar with the cruelty and mercilessness of Internet users. But how about the shame?
So You’ve Been Publicly Shames by Jon Ronson explores the horribly upsetting world of modern shaming on the Internet, specifically the madness wrought by Twitter and online forums. He discusses the cases of a host of people who have said or done something stupid online and was basically crucified for it. This is civilians ruining other civilian’s lives by public shaming: getting them fired, harassment, death threats, you name it. This kind of “in the public square” shaming harkens back to our ancestors and the pillory; the Internet allows a sort of mob to gather and completely destroy a person without feeling too bad about it. Ronson sheds light on the fact that these kinds of shamings have lasting effects on these people’s lives, both materially and emotionally.
It is difficult when the public becomes judge, jury, and executioner and take it upon themselves to decide that something someone has said or done is worth destroying them over. It is even more difficult when these mobs don’t realize that their comments and raking over has actually detonated these people’s lives.