I don’t know my history well enough to know to what extent Woodson was in the conversation with Washington and DuBois. He definitely shows deep disdain for the latter.

It is not to his credit that Woodson’s words are still relevant to us today; it is to our shame. He writes clearly and persuasively about the flaws in the education offered to African-Americans. I suspect this is a well-known passage:

When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. You do not have to tell him to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.

And he will, Woodson argues later, focus on “trifles.” Today, we call them shoes.

There are a few moments I wanted to push back on, to question; that’s one part of reading such a monumental book alone.

Do you teach African-American students? Are you preparing to teach African-American students? This is mandatory.

Entering this book is like stepping into the middle of a conversation. It can be disorienting at times, but I think there’s a point to it that’s best emphasized by Crawford’s discussion of an organ making / restoration company. We are all entering in the middle of a conversation. We are all standing on the shoulders of those giants. He’s right when he says that these days we think creativity depends on a lightning strike; it’s untrue.

I was pleased that Crawford’s subtitle, “On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction,” was not just about technology. He regrets our reliance on representations of the world – texting someone rather than talking to them face-to-face, for example – but he’s more interested in the distance that’s developing between us and sensation in, for example, cars. This leads him to one of the best sentences ever –

The basic design intention guiding Mercedes in the last ten years seems to be that its cars should offer psychic blow jobs to the affluent.

Hands-free driving? Are you kidding me? I’m not ready to yield to the notion that taking out seat belts would make us more cautious drivers, but I see his point.

Part of Crawford’s charm is that he’s able to quote both Kant and Springsteen in the same paragraph and make it work. Unfortunately, in the end, he lapses into the familiar lament that more of education needs to be hands-on without considering that the last time we did this, all of the boys and particularly the boys of color, ended up in shop class. Also, he neglects the more abstract life of the mind and dismisses it as having no value in its connection to the world. I wonder what he would say to President Obama’s comments here (Obama interviews Marilynne Robinson) —

Interviewing Marilynne Robinson in the second instalment of a two-part interview for the New York Review of Books (also available as audio), the American president asked the author if she was worried about people not reading novels anymore, as they are “overwhelmed by flashier ways to pass the time”. For himself, Obama said, “when I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels”.

“It has to do with empathy,” Obama told Robinson in a conversation which is published in the 19 November issue of the New York Review of Books. “It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of greys, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.”
Shop Class as Soulcraft is the better book; this one continues the conversation (as it should). Join it.

This was not a great book to read alone. While there were reflection opportunities, the book and, as I understand it, the very process requires conversation. It’s a useful resource book for me, but I think it’s one where either the school is all-in and everyone reads it, or it’s not going to have the desired impact.

I get nervous when educators put numbers on things. The 6 agreements, etc.. Still, I get the point of the process for both individuals and a group. I wasn’t too impressed with the limited research the authors provided to demonstrate that their system works. And i was disappointed, in the end, that the authors dictate that the Principal should be leading the work. I guess I’ve transformed into more of a grassroots guy.

It also seems like an exhausting and consuming process and, as far as I could could tell, there was no real consideration of how to incorporate new teachers the next year. Having started at a school once in the second year of their work, I definitely felt the absence of what I’d missed – the newly common vocabulary.

Lane’s powerful poems are as sharp as their single column format. There is no hiding here. Lane does no behind form or metaphor (though there is no lack of either), and the reader cannot hide from poems that often sound (and I’d love to hear them read out loud) that they are a direct address. No, not address, well, “call.” Maybe that’s the call of the title.

The first poem that really made me sit up and take notice was “Indigenous Black Boy” because it seems, so accurately, to describe many of my students. (Full disclosure: Lane was kind enough to visit my classroom, long after this book was published.) Speaking of the person from the title of her poem, she writes, he

yells out

for comfort

fights to



This captures the intense contradictions of my students. She’s just right.

“Calling Out,” which is dedicated to everyone from Trayvon and Tamir, had another stanza that stopped me cold with its truth –


who have






his joy

for treachery//


his masculinity

as monster

Again, precise, cutting, and true.

“Not Here/ Not Now” discusses “the sludge / of misogyny.” What a perfect word. I will never call it anything else. “Privilege” absolutely made me feel exposed. “Body Parts,” with these lines – “white people/ turning / our remains / into ancient / artifacts” – should be brought before every museum I know. The poem, in surprising prose form, “Just Beacuse It Happened Doesn’t Mean It Has To Be” is worth the price of admission all by itself.

You need this –

Buy Calling Out After Slaughter



Yes, I’ve read and taught it before, but I had an excuse to read it again, as a reader, and I relished it. As I read it, I thought about a question that we should ask repeatedly – what makes a book a classic? I will try not to spend much time repeating the obvious about timeless themes, though they are present here, and how much we should judge the writer by choices they made that are veiwed through a very different lens by a modern reader.

This time, for me, it was the new details that stood out – things I’d never noticed or considered before. And it was the sentences. I just enjoyed their deliberate and elegant precision. Finally, it was the book’s compactness. I could find no scene to remove, no moment that I skimmed. It is all engaging; it all matters. It is, in my mind, a classic.

Although she announces the victim in the first sentence of the book, for about 50 pages or so, I actually hoped that this wasn’t a mystery. Penny has, once again, created such a dynamic range of people, so fully human, that I just wanted her to tell the story of these people and their village of Three Pines. These characters are flawed and funny and so relentlessly decent that I was genuinely moved by their interactions.But then the promised murder happens, and there’s another dead body.

But then the promised murder happens, and there’s another dead body. That the two were related did not surprise me. That Penny still resorts to the mystery author’s trick of suddenly and unrealistically concealing a detail still nagged at me. But these minor annoyances were easily displaced by the magic of Three Pines and its inhabitants. Once again, we have a creative murder and the dogged persistence of the thoughtful Inspector Gamache, who now has his own problems to address, not at home, but at work. Perhaps buoyed by the success of her first novel, Penny is clearly planning ahead here. I, for one, look forward to following along. The Cruelest Month is next.

I loved Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys. This one, I enjoyed. It goes in that category of “gently devastating.” Strout’s accomplishment here is Lucy Barton’s voice. It didn’t take long for me to ‘hear’ it. It takes longer for her to reclaim it. Strout fans will not be surprised to learn that this one is not overburdened by action. Instead, it focuses mostly on a conversation between Lucy (or “Wizzle,” as her mother calls her) and her mother, whose visit to Lucy’s hospital room is as unexpected as her  abrupt departure from it. Prompted by these conversations, Lucy moves back and forth in time. This is not a spoiler. There is never any doubt that, despite a couple of close calls, that Lucy emerges from her somewhat cryptic illness to resume her life. And life here, as in her other books, is extremely difficult, in large part because after so many years with the same people (whether it’s a family or marriage or a community), every small word or action carries so much weight. In this way, when Lucy’s mother finds her way to where Lucy is to emerge from one of her emergency tests, we understand why it’s such a Herculean act of love from a mother not prone to saying, “I love you.”

Don’t make this the first Strout. But if you like the other two I mentioned (and, boy, does Burgess Boys seem prescient now), then you’ll glide into this one.