Thursday, November 5, 2009

"What Else But Home" and Other Readings

My mom is usually great at picking out wonderful books for me. Seeing as she works in the library in technical services and sees most of what is new that gets put on the shelves, and she knows me pretty well, she is usually able to come up with some wonderful book that was not otherwise on my radar. I thought that this would be the case with the latest of her suggestions What Else But Home by Michael Rosen. Everything considered, I should have loved it--the book is about a group of inner-city boys living in the New York projects who are taken in by the author and his family as a kind of adopted family. I am a sucker for stories where the underprivileged are given a chance at a decent life, and through trials and tribulations, they are able to live the life that they deserve, so at first glance, I expected to love What Else But Home, but I couldn't stand it. First of all, I didn't find Rosen to be that great of a writer--there were a ton of grammatical errors in the book and his prose is sometimes hard to follow. It makes for distracted reading when every few pages, you have to re-read a sentence numerous times in order to understand what it says (and it's maddening when you still can't understand what he is trying to say). The concept is great--Rosen and his family are very wealthy, living in a penthouse in Manhattan. A park separates their lavish home from the projects, and the park is where the family meets a group of boys who live in the projects over a game of baseball, a theme which is constant throughout the book. For reasons unknown really except for the fact that the boys seem to take a liking to Rosen's oldest son, the family incorporates these boys into their lives and eventually some of them come to live with them. I'm not going to get all political or philosophical on my own beliefs, but I really did have a problem with Rosen's methods. I also had an issue in connecting with the book at all. I wish that I had gotten some idea of why the seven boys from the projects were great people or why Rosen took such a liking to them and invested a ton of money in their futures (which some of them took advantage of, but not all), but the image that I kept getting from the writing was that these were just seven boys who were basically identified by their race (Black and Latino) and were becoming part of the family for that reason alone, really. I don't want to say that what Rosen and his family did was not extraordinary--not many people would take in seven boys whom they had never met into their home, feed them, clothe them, send them to school, and help them find jobs. It is really an amazing thing that they did. But I feel like the book approaches the whole experience from a kind of experimental point of view rather than a story of humanity. And in all honesty, what I did like about the book was the way that Rosen was very up front with these boys were human, and they weren't all responsive to help and that they were not perfect, and that he himself was not perfect. While that did add an element of human-ness to the book, I found it overall disappointing. I personally would not recommend it, although it certainly made me think about my own moral beliefs and instincts.

If you are like me and are a sucker for feel-good books about the ways that people help others, here are some other books to consider:
-The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers--This is the book that the movie is based on, and it is really a story of triumph and a good read.
-Amazing Grace by Jonathon Kozol--I think that Kozol is amazing and his way of studying the life of people living in the projects is spectacular. I have put this on many a booklist, and would love for someone to read it!

In other news, my DC book club has just chosen Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway for our next meeting. Although it was not my vote, I do love Mrs. Dalloway (I read it twice last year alone because I wrote my English symposium paper on it), and I'm excited to read it again. I feel like fall is a great time for Virginia Woolf. I've also been absorbed into another smaller book club with one of my roommates, and I suggested reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett for next month! Some of you should know that as what I hailed to be the best book I read all summer, and I think some of you would agree! I'm so excited to be able to read it with other people and discuss it!

Last weekend, at the National Gallery of Art (where I work part-time), Toni Morrison came to read for the opening of the new exhibition of Robert Bergman's photographs (which I'm really excited to see!). Morrison wrote the introduction for Bergman's book called A Kind of Rapture, and it's an essay called The Fisherwoman. I was not able to go see her live, but did see the video they showed staff, and was bowled away by the story and her reading of it. It was truly wonderful, and was able to capture the feeling that I get when looking at a Robert Frank photograph. I will post it on here when they release the video, because it is something to hear. It really made me want to read Sula again.

The fall is really starting to settle in here--I barely see the light of day because it gets dark so early, which has always made me feel cozy for some reason. I'm looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving and being able to listen to Christmas music without feeling silly!

I hope that your readings are more successful than my last one! More to come soon!

Next on the pile: My Life in France by Julia Child

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