Wednesday, February 19, 2014

8 Outstanding Books to Help Us Appreciate Our Civil Rights

My cousin Ben married a lovely girl, Celeste.  (I actually take full credit for their successful marriage, because after his mission, Ben moved to the apartment complex I recommended, which is where he met her.)  They now have two darling sons (the older of the two looks just like Ben).  

Celeste is an avid reader, and a wonderful writer.  She has a new blog, that is really fun.  She is up on good reads her young boys, as well as for herself.  With her permission, I'm re-posting here her post:

8 Outstanding Books to Help Us Appreciate Our Civil Rights

Maybe it's just me (but pretty sure it's not), but I sometimes blow off Martin Luther King Jr. Day itself. It's easy to just be relieved for any old holiday off during dreary January. So the past few years, I've started a bit of a tradition to remember the important cause we're celebrating. **A shocker coming** I read a book.

In turn, I've found some of the most affecting books I've ever read. I recommend choosing one to read this month to help truly appreciate our freedoms!
Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi
An Iranian judge made to step down with the start of the Iranian Revolution, Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi tells her story of trying to create change in her beloved country. 
Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World by Louis Fischer
After seeing the movie that got Best Picture, I had to know more about the Mahatma's life. This was my favorite of the ones I read.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
The engaging and retching stories of six North Korean defectors. Full review here.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
An incredible book of three generations of women in 20th century China. From foot-binding to idealistic communists, then the Cultural Revolution. It's all covered here within the perspective of this grandmother, mother and the author herself.
Tree Shaker: The Story of Nelson Mandela by Bill Keller
Written for a juvenile audience, this is an easy read to appreciate the leadership and sacrifice of recently departed Nelson Mandela.
Persopolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
A graphic novel telling the story of a young girl in revolutionary Iran.
Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden
The only person ever known to survive an escape from a North Korean labor camp, the chilling story of his life.
Mayada: Daughter of Iraq by Jean Sasson
One girl's up-close and personal associations with Saddam Hussein and her life in his Iraq. Many gruesome scenes and some graphic descriptions, but as it is real life, I thought it was worth reading through the gore.

Or if time is short, there's always King's powerful "Letter from Birmingham Jail".

You might notice the notable absence of books on American civil rights. I need to right that. Any recommendations?


  1. Great post. I took a jazz appreciation class in college (I'm a nerd...) honestly one of the most enlightening classes I ever took. Our teacher had us read quite a bit of MLK's writings. He was a very profound individual, although, not a perfect one.

    Thanks for the book recommendations!

  2. Wow, what a lady! I am proud to say I have read one of those books (Persepolis). I need to read more!

    On American Civil Rights, I took a course in college and read a lot of very sad/inspiring books. "Trouble in Mind" was one about the post-slavery, pre-civil right movement era. Also read the autobiography of Malcolm X, which is at times disturbing, but certainly sheds light on the era.

  3. Thanks for the interesting suggestions.

    I loved reading Mark Mathabane's "Kaffir Boy" (1986) about his experience growing up in apartheid South Africa, how he escaped it and thrived. It was an inspiring story. I also read a sequel autobiography, "Love in Black and White: The Triumph of Love over Prejudice and Taboo" (1992), written with his (white American) wife, Gail Mathabane. In between those two he wrote "Kaffir Boy in America" (1989), about his early life in America, followed by 3 or 4 others (I haven't read) that deal with race relations in South America and the United States. Sound interesting though.

    In college I read "Convicted in the Womb: One Man's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker" (1996) by Carl Upchurch, who grew up in a gang-ravaged neighborhood in inner-city Philadelphia, destined for a gang before he was born. Through the intense violence of his youth, he wound up in prison for ten years, eventually discovering Shakespeare's sonnets (quite by accident... the book was supporting the leg of a table in his cell), and started pouring through other great literature that helped him overcome his despair and understand himself. After leaving prison, he went on to have a strong, unique voice in the civil rights movement (quite at odds with some mainstream civil rights voices), founding the Council for Urban Peace and Justice and working to establish peace, especially among gangs. Great read.

    Maya Angelou's "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" (1969) is another great in the American civil liberties movement. Similar to the others I shared, her story chronicles her rise above the difficulties of her young life and the personal changes she underwent in her quest to overcome racism and find dignity. The book is controversial because of a descriptive rape scene (of herself as an 8-year-old) and other sexual material, but in spite of that, it is a wonderful memoir.