Essential Reading: Wishing
The traditional New Year’s resolution comes in for a good deal of mockery. Why inaugurate the year by promising to do what we won’t get around to doing? Why foreground the awkward reality that our energies so often prove unequal to our ambitions? It seems to me, however, that we can still get away with talking about hopes and plans for 2015, as long as we don’t pretend that we’re going to resolve anything. And how about wishing? I think we can still wish without much risk of censure.
For those who wish they had a better understanding of how we can be affected by racism, sexism, and other discriminatory assumptions, even when nobody is overtly or intentionally oppressing us, I recommend Whistling Vivaldi. It’s a sort of research memoir by Claude M. Steele, a social psychologist who spent decades teasing out the mysteries of what he calls “stereotype threat.” In highly readable prose, he illuminates the nature of social identity and our vulnerability to subtle forces in our environment, forces that can hold us back even when we are surrounded by people who want us to excel. He focuses on underperforming groups of students on college campuses, but his findings have interesting implications outside of academe. Read on for further recommendations from our editors and columnists, with our best wishes for the new year.
Editor-in-Chief Maria Scala writes, “One of my wishes, at the start of this year, is that more people read the anthology Kwe: Standing with Our Sisters, edited by Joseph Boyden. ‘Kwe’ means ‘woman’ in Ojibwe, and more specifically, it means ‘life-giver’ or ‘life carrier’ in Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language. This book, which includes writing from Sherman Alexie, Margaret Atwood, Lorna Crozier, Gord Downie, Tanya Tagaq Gillis, Lee Maracle, Yann Martel, and Michael Ondaatje, is a call for action regarding the prevalence of violence towards First Nations women in Canada. These Aboriginal women are three times more likely to face violent attack and murder than any other of their gender. As Boyden writes in his introduction: ‘Hey, boys, what are we to do? Hey, men, why don’t we question this sickness that beats inside too many of us? Shall we healthier ones spend our lives staring, not knowing what to do, just stand and look at our shoes or touch our faces and ask for forgiveness for horrors we feel no part of . . . ?’ One thing we can do is purchase a copy of this e-book; all proceeds from the sale of Kwe are donated to Amnesty International’s NO MORE STOLEN SISTERS.”
“Birthing the Mother Writer” Columnist Cassie Premo Steele wishes that we could feel free to explore and address our most intimate concerns: “I recently read Vagina by Naomi Wolf, and I highly recommend it. Weird but good, it discusses the connections between the vagina and the consciousness of women. It reads like a discussion with a smart friend. You will learn about your mind-body connection, its implications for women’s empowerment, and the importance of healing old wounds that may still be affecting you in the present. This is a taboo topic, but the book goes a long way toward moving us from shame to joy.”
Managing Editor Karna Converse offers a book about books and how they can distill and clarify our wishes: “I’ve been a fan of Anna Quindlen’s work for years and knew I was in for a thought-provoking read when I stumbled across How Reading Changed My Life. Each of the five short chapters are filled with multiple references to, and reflections on, the books that showed her ‘who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself.’ She works her way from childhood to adulthood, addressing her choices of reading material in the context of the times. The book isn’t new—it was published as part of the Library of Contemporary Thought series in 1998, well before the book reading pledges that are so prevalent in cyberspace today—but I think Quindlen’s reflections are timeless and will resonate with readers for generations to come. If you believe that reading has changed your life and have an inclination to write about it, Quindlen’s essay is a model to emulate.”
Christina Consolino, profiles editor, shares, “I can’t think of the word ‘wishing’ without thinking of The Wish Stealers by Tracy Trivas. My twins and I read the novel for a children’s book club a few years ago. Sixth-grader Griffin Penshine loves wishes, to the point that she wishes on everything and anything. When an old lady tricks her into taking a box of pennies (which are really stolen wishes), Griffin must figure out how to return all of the stolen wishes if she wants her own wishes to come true. This book is a delightful middle-grade fantasy that teaches a few good lessons about love, family, and the importance of never giving up on your wishes and dreams.”
“Senior Mama” Columnist Bonnie L. Pike raves, “I’ve just finished reading Marilynne Robinson’s latest novel, Lila. Talk about wishing! More like yearning, for the mother Lila never knew, and for the foster mom she loves but eventually loses. In typical Robinson style, this story unfolds gently, each detail building on others throughout until the reader knows the whole scope of it as though she had lived it herself. Breathtaking!”