Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature / weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week they, and other bloggers/readers, make a top ten list from a given topic.
 This week's topic is...
Top Ten Books Tackling "Tough" Issues

I have a serious problem picking the "top-random-number-thing." My picks tend to center around what I find relevant at the time and what made an impression on me in the past. This list is a combination of fiction and non-fiction. I think there's a little something for everyone.

1) The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. This book tackles so many tough issues. US foreign policy during the Cold War, racism, disablism, the role of women, and Christian supremacy, just to name a few. It is also beautifully written. Kingsolver does a masterful job capturing the voices of her four narrators.

2) The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan. This was my first formal introduction to feminism. While the book is highly flawed and quite dated, I remember reading it in astonishment. I was so impressed by Friedan's research. In my mind's eye I imagined her furiously scribbling at the table, surrounding by interview notes, research reports, statistics, and god knows what else, trying to define "the problem that has no name."

3) The Jungle, Upton Sinclair. I had to read this back in AP US History and so should you! Horrifying descriptions immigrants put to work in the dangerous meatpacking industry. This is what the invisible hand gets you, people.  But seriously, I think I may re-read this at some point, especially in the light of the current anti-immigrant and anti-regulation climate expressed by so many here in the US.

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe. This book asks us to reconsider colonialism from the colonized's point of view. I also recommend reading this brief essay by Achebe where he responds to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  

5) Sold, Patricia McCormick. This is a heartbreaking tale of a young Nepali girl sold into an Indian brothel as a slave. It's fiction, but unfortunately there are too many true stories like it. This is a good introduction to tough issues for younger readers. There's no reason to wait until after high school to realize these awful things exist in the world.

6) The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley. This powerful profile of the Civil Rights leader made me examine my white privilege. 

Defending the Damned, Kevin Davis. Davis, a Chicago journalist, explores what it's like to defend people accused of murder. In his introduction, he brings up the "cocktail party question"  - "How can you defend these people?" and points out that public defenders feel it's "a provocation, a statement loaded with judgment and preconception, implying that public defending is less noble, that these lawyers must explain themselves whereas prosecutors
 do not." He doesn't explain why prosecutors get a free pass, but he does make a group of public defenders human to his readers.

8) The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang. Chang exposes the horror experienced by the citizens of Nanking, China, during December 1937. Over 300,000 civilians and soldiers were raped, tortured, and murdered. After WWII, there was a concerted effort to hide this incident.   Chang's meticulously researched book was the first time many people learned about what happened.

Religious Literacy, Stephan Prothero. Prothero explains why it's necessary to have a working understanding of certain religious ideas if you want to understand current American discourse. I see so many people just reflexively spouting certain ideas without an understanding of what they mean. This is a good start if you want to understand religious ideas without religious indoctrination.

10) King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild. The Belgium Congo was NOT a fun place to be. (That may be the understatement of the year). King Leopold was a master at spin, like so many modern people in power. I liked that this book made us look not only at Belgium's wrongs, but how the world as a whole had no problem exploiting colonies. There are also some insights on the state of African Americans. Reverend William H. Sheppard, a Presbyterian missionary and explorer, was treated as "less-than" in America, even while accomplishing many of his goals in Africa.

So that's my list. If you asked me for another one tomorrow, I'm sure some of the titles would change. This was my first "Top Ten Tuesday," but it won't be my last!


Marce said...

Defending the Damned, wow, you have my attention. NF is a personal goal, I want to read more so will add this one.

My Top Ten


Let's Evaluate said...

Great list! I absolutely loved Things Fall Apart when I read it like 4 years ago ...I will definitely have to read it again in the future.

Erin @ Let's Evaluate

Lauren B said...

Haven't heard of these but they sound really good. I'll have to check them out.
Thanks for stopping by my Top Ten.

Lissa said...

thanks for coming by. i still have the poisonwood bible on my shelf. maybe this is the summer i get to it =D

Anonymous said...

What a list for your first Top 10 Tuesday! :p You handled it marvelously, though, and your list is expansive and well-detailed. Kudos!

I loved The Poisonwood Bible. Kingsolver writes such amazing descriptions and characters -- her writing is very easy to fall in love with.

I tried several times to read The Feminine Mystique, but could never get into it. It felt pretty dated to me, too. I should probably give it another try, though.

MJ said...

Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

@Marce: I'm glad you got a NF recommendation. I go through stages; sometimes lots of NF, then a bunch of fiction. Just depends.

@Lissa: Yes! Give it a go and let me know what you think.

@Couchpotatocritic: Thank you so much! If you want to give TFM another go, I think it helps to read it as a period piece. It really speaks to what was going on at that time, in a certain segment of society.