Thursday, September 8, 2011

30 More Days Book Challenge: Day 30

Really.  We made it again.

Day 30: Books That Give Us Hope for the Future


Well, this is it (really), we have blogged for 60 straight days [other than that week that I was away; couldn't be helped] and written about I don’t know how many books (counting is hard). But we need a little break…you know, to read. However, thanks to our good friend Emily Bruce we have a great topic for our last day: books that give us hope for the future [I'm digging through my euthanasia collection right now....].

1. Muhammad Yunus is what is what the educated call a "smarty pants." Yunus founded the Grameen Bank, which provides microcredit--also known as microloans--to poor people who do not have collateral. These people who otherwise would never be able to improve their lots in life become self-sufficient. In his book Banker to the Poor: Micro–Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty, he describes how lending works and how in the end it can change the world. Yunus won the Nobel Prize in 2006. Personally I love micro–lending and Kiva is the charity I am most involved with.  I have never had a loan not be paid back [except the ones to me], and of course once your money is paid back, you can roll it into another loan. It’s the best sort of addiction you can have. Here take a peek:

 2. “Women hold up half the sky” – Chinese proverb

Written by the dynamic duo Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The authors argue that the equality of women is as paramount as ending slavery and should be addressed as such. This book is a call to action, after you’ve read it you are a witness, and to not become involved (and there are so many easy ways to become involved) is a crime. The book focuses on sexual violence including sex trafficking, girls education (this is key of course), maternal mortality, and microfinance (seriously, if you haven’t looked into microfinance please do, $25 gets you started). This is an important book, a beautifully written book, and most of all, it is a hopeful book. Check out their website here.  [If Gianna hadn't picked this book, I would have.]

 3. When Howard Dully was 12 years old, he received a transorbital lobotomy. A transorbital lobotomy is also known as an ice pick lobotomy, which is just as horrifying as it sounds. A long, sharp tool not unlike a chopstick is inserted through one or both eye sockets, just above the eyeball, until it hits the brain. Then the practitioner simply, and I mean simply…wiggles it. [Tasty! If you want diagrams, check out Joyce Carol Oates's novel based on Jeffrey Dahmer, Zombie.  I'm not kidding.] Dr. Walter Freeman made quite a living, and he put on quite a show out of the ice pick lobotomy – sometimes doing two at a time. Freeman, when pressed by Dully’s stepmother, diagnosed the boy as having schizophrenia and the lobotomy ensued. Dully did not need the procedure, of course, and it took him decades to recover so he could have a functional life. What this boy and ultimately man went through is nothing sort of heartbreaking. The fact that he has come out the other side the gentle forgiving man that he is, is miraculous. I think his book My Lobotomy belongs on this list because Dully is proof positive that the human spirit is an incredible thing.  Howard Dully gave a great interview on NPR and you can listen to that here:

4. Much like Howard Dully, Jean-Robert Cadet overcame incredible odds. Cadet was a "restavec," or one who stays – or to stay with. In Haiti, it is not uncommon for a child to be sent by their parents to work for a “host” family as a domestic servant, mainly because the family can not afford to keep the child. The term "restavec" is almost solely used to refer to children who are with host families and are abused. According to Cadet, the term for children staying with host families that are not abused is timoun ki rete kay moun (this is Kreyol for "who stays in a person’s house"). The number of restavecs in Haiti is astronomical and the UN considers restavec a modern form of slavery. According to research by the Pan American Development Foundation, there are 225,000 child slaves in Haiti. That report can be found here:

 Jean Robert Cadet was a restavec and has told his story in the 1998 book Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle Class American. The continuation of his story called My Stone of Hope: From Haitian Slave Child to Abolitionist will be published this October.  Cadet now spends his time fighting to end child slavery and here is how you can help him:

5.  Animal Liberation by Peter Singer belongs on this list for two reasons: it was the first of its kind, and because I say so and this is my list [...which I edit.  Ah, the power of the edit]. The main theme in this groundbreaking book first published in 1975 is that animals can experience suffering and we must treat them accordingly.  One of my favorite podcasts is Philosophy Bites; it's fantastic, plus if I die in a car accident people will think I am smart when they find it on my iPod. Which reminds me, I need to get rid of the hundreds of things that expose who I really am [Like that Charlene song]. Anyway, the theme that has come up over and over again on the podcast is ethical treatment of animals (and vegetarianism but I guess that’s implied).

Singer has another book called The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. I love this book because it is filled with simple every day things we can do to end poverty. Imagine ending poverty in our lifetime; it really can be done [Send Lizzie your checks!]. Here is the website:


People sometimes wonder how it is that Gianna and I are pals, particularly when she offers me to the greater Texas inmate population for conjugal relations.  It's simple.  Gianna has the biggest heart of anyone I know.  She believes that the world can be a beautiful place and she actively works toward making it so.  The list she's compiled above is a testament to her compassion and generosity. 

Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama, illustrations by Loren Long.  I admit it: this is an odd pick for me.  It's a children's picture book, for crying out loud.  But it's also beautifully illustrated and beautifully written.  Obama paints a portrait of inspiring models for his daughters and all of the children in the country.  From Jackie Robinson to Albert Einstein to Neil Armstrong to Sacajawea to Benjamin Franklin and on and on--these are the people who overcame adversity and changed the world for the better.  I would want every child in the country to find inspiration in these pages, and for that matter, every adult.  I should give a shout-out to my friend Elizabeth and her kid LJ, who insisted that we read this book before bedtime, by the way.  I don't normally read picture books unless they involve eating children or obstinate pigeons (I like to chase pigeons).

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder brought the work of Dr. Paul Farmer to the forefront.  Farmer is a hero, plain and simple.  Even before graduating from medical school he was spending time in impoverished places, particularly Haiti, and setting up clinics to help the less fortunate.  He's actively combating contagious diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis in Haiti and places like the Russian prison system.  Farmer's group, Partners in Health, is a leader is global health initiatives, along with groups like Doctors Without Borders, and they deserve our support.  His work in Haiti is even more critical since the catastrophic earthquake, too.  You can find information about his organization here

The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana isn't a "cause" book.  It's a memoir about a young woman who wins a Fulbright Scholarship on a whim and ends up spending time in Damascus, Syria.  While there she studies language and finds herself (as trite as that expression has become) when she takes a retreat to a monastery in the desert.  What I like about this book is that it's also a story of tolerance and resisting prejudice.  Syria is considered a potential hotbed of terrorism and appears on enemy lists, but the people who inhabit a country aren't the leaders.  These people with whom Saldana lives are compassionate, funny, and gentle souls.  They watch out for her.  They argue for the belief that humanity transcends cultural differences.  And this is a really well-written, shamefully overlooked memoir.

Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World by Kerry Kennedy, photographs by Eddie Adams.  I know that Gianna is a huge fan of this book too, and has already written about it on our little blog.  I think it warrants revisiting.  This book is a stunning photo essay of people struggling for human rights worldwide, both the famous (Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, the Dalai Lama) and the anonymous, everyday people who are battling for equality without the media attention.  It's gorgeous.

The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam.  Mam was a 12 year-old Cambodian girl sold into sexual slavery by her grandfather.  She was repeatedly raped for years, shuttled from brothel to brothel, until she managed to escape when she was in her 20's.  Though she'd witnessed and experienced the worst atrocities, Mam made it her mission to return to Southeast Asia and fight for all of the other girls and women experiencing the same torture she suffered.  She is a crusader against sexual slavery, going into the brothels and saving girls from their captors.  She provides shelter and education for these women and children, and she gives them hope for a better future.  She deserves a Nobel Prize.  You can read more about and support her work here.  But read this memoir, too.  It's brutal, and it's one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. 

So there you go.  30 days of books, and then 30 more.  I hope we've added to your reading lists, made you laugh, made you cringe.  Thank you for reading, and keep following our blog (and Facebook page).  I'm sure Gianna has much more to say about my social life...and I'm blackmailing her with a certain camel toe picture.  Good times.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to see the book challenge end...really enjoyed this last category.
    I would add Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker to your list. Great example how we can make a big difference in one person's life.