The Creation of an American Undercaste: Reading The New Jim Crow


This is a book I have been meaning to read for a while. Several of my friends and acquaintances who I consider intelligent and well-read have recommended it as a very important work. The author, Michelle Alexander, admits that the book is not for everyone: it is written for those who are concerned about race relations in the US and about the marginalization of the black population here. It is, at times, a gut-wrenching read – the sort of thing that makes you feel angry and helpless at the same time. Luckily, Alexander’s writing is clear and moves quickly along, which makes this book easier to read without getting too fatigued.

The New Jim Crow was written back when Barack Obama was still president, before Black Lives Matter became a movement. Perhaps at that time it could have been easy to think that, as a country, we were moving swiftly upward on a steadily improving trend for race relations. Alexander knows differently. It is no secret that our prisons are filled with black men, that black neighborhoods are impoverished, and black families are often fractured. With a quick glance, some are tempted to blame African Americans as individuals or as a culture for their own marginalization in society. Without looking deeper at what brought us to the present day, however, we would come away from our musings tragically misled. Alexander shows throughout the book how mass incarceration is the tool used in America to continue oppression of African Americans after Jim Crow was ended, just as Jim Crow laws were used to maintain an underclass of black people after slavery was abolished.

Prior to reading this book, I assumed that discrepancies in arrests or conviction rates were due entirely to unconscious bias – the “intuitive” assumption that a black man is a “thug” skewing the perception of cops, juries, prosecutors, and judges. For example, I know a number of black people who all have admitted to being stopped for “driving while black” – that is, doing nothing wrong other than looking too suspicious due to the color of their skin. While that certainly plays a big role and contributes to the continued problems of mass incarceration, I was unaware of much of the intentional racism bred into many laws at their inception, and how those laws continue to affect communities today. No matter whether we actively promote these racist systems or simply ignore them in the vain hope that racism can disappear if we are only “colorblind,” by neglecting to fight these systems, we are perpetuating them. The problem is, colorblindness in the face of racial discrimination is just plain blindness. Continue reading


Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

When I was young, I disliked Thanksgiving. I had to go to a family get together that was loud and cramped and overwhelming; I always thought turkey was too dry (unless it was too slimy) and there wasn’t even the chance of presents to help endure it as there was at Christmas! The older I’ve gotten, the more I appreciate Thanksgiving – I now live far enough away that I look forward to seeing my family again, and I’m less of a picky eater so the promise of a feast is more appealing. That doesn’t mean, however, that I want to eat reheated Thanksgiving dinner for the next week straight, so coming up with more ways to eat Turkey is essential.

Rice is cooking

I adore this soup; it is rich, very flavorful (even without adding salt once you get to the table,) and the nuttiness of the the wild rice is balanced by the comparative brightness of the carrots and celery. I originally found the recipe at Taste of Home. Just like Turkey a la King, it is a perfect follow up to last week’s stuffing and mashed potatoes. Continue reading

Is There Such a Thing as the “Essential Nature” of a Person? A Book Review of Fates and Furies


Fates and Furies was the definition of an impulse buy. Two years ago, I was doing my Christmas shopping at the bookstore and, as I was checking out, saw a display of books on the counter. I had heard that Fates and Furies had been a finalist for the National Book Award; it popped up on a list of books read by Obama during his presidency; it was getting a moment in the spotlight as a best seller. “And this one,” I said, plopping Fates and Furies on top of my teetering pile of paperbacks. Pulling it from my shelf to read a week ago felt just as impulsive, but that’s appropriate – the book begins with an impulsive marriage between a college couple that has only known each other for two weeks. Lauren Groff’s novel tells the story of Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage, first from the husband’s point of view then from the wife’s, in order to dramatically show how the same marriage can look so very different from their two perspectives. It is a contrast between Lotto thinking everything is exactly as it seems on the surface… and Mathilde knowing that it is not. Continue reading

Moroccan Inspired: Butternut Squash with Cumin Couscous

Moroccan tagine is a slow-cooked stew made with meat, vegetables, spices, dried fruit, and nuts; it is named after the dish that it is traditionally cooked in. I have not always been familiar with Moroccan food, but the first time I was served tagine, I realized it was the inspiration for this aromatic vegetable stew. My mom used to make this in the autumn and when I moved out, I asked her to send me the recipe – back when I was in college, this stew would last me for many meals of delicious leftovers that were far more nutritious than Ramen! (And the leftovers taste even better when the flavors have had a day or two to really come out.) Recently, my mom gifted me a butternut squash from her garden and I immediately knew what I was going to make with it. Continue reading

Book Review: Frankenstein


It is a dearly held stance of mine that if you love someone, you should read their favorite book. Once you’ve read their favorite book, it is now a shared experience. It can give you insight into that person: what they value or what they think of themselves. Sharing a book will bring you closer. About a year ago, I started making a point of finding out what my friends’ favorite books are so I can read them. When my good friend, Morgan, told me that Frankenstein was her favorite (and granted me one of her multiple copies) it was the push that I needed to finally read the classic.

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is considered one of the first science fiction novels and was written by teenage badass Mary Shelley. Going in, I was aware of the premise, but not much of the story; while reading, I felt that I wanted to appreciate the significance of the work, but mostly I was caught up in how much I disliked Victor Frankenstein. Continue reading

Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling


Lately, Joe and I have been watching through Brooklyn 99 together; it always has me laughing out loud throughout the episode and the interesting and lovable characters make it compulsively watchable. Meanwhile, I have also been developing a keen delight in watching The Great British Bake Show. Nearly everybody I tell about this says the same thing: “it’s just so comforting! They’re all so nice to one another!” The charming tone and the fascination I have with so many of the different and elaborate things the contestants bake makes it a complete pleasure to watch; I’m surprised sometimes to find how invested I can become in their success with each task.

Last weekend, the combination of the above had me wanting a little more detective work, a little more British scenery, and maybe I had a little bit of a lingering nostalgia for children’s authors from reading Howl’s Moving Castle. I ended up picking up The Cuckoo’s Calling from my shelf. It is written by author J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I had purchased it a while ago with some vague intention of reading eventually, but always seemed to have something more interesting to pick up first. Although I loved mystery books when I was a child (and briefly wanted to grow up to be a detective,) I haven’t read a mystery novel since that time. Upon starting The Cuckoo’s Calling, however, I found it almost instantly compelling and read the entire book in only four sittings.

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Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle

Dianna Wynne Jones has long been an author I’ve admired for Fire and Hemlock, Year of the Griffin, and other books that I read in Middle School, so I’m surprised it has taken me this long to read this book. In college, I watched the Hayao Miyazaki film interpretation with friends and was enchanted by it, but never got around to picking up the book. My good friend, Morgan, has encouraged me repeatedly to read it and lent me her copy last weekend when I was on a trip home. I read it in 3 sittings. It is hard not to compare the book to the movie, but fortunately they are distinct enough to enjoy as separate works.

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