Nicholas E. Barron

Reader, writer, hiker

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Author: Nicholas E. Barron (page 3 of 3)

What Toni Morrison’s Beloved Can Teach Us About Privilege

What would happen if every American read Toni Morrison’s Beloved?

Maybe we’d be a little more understanding. Maybe we’d be a little more appreciative. Understanding and appreciative of what?Book cover of Toni Morrison's Beloved.

How about understanding of slavery’s residual impacts. Perhaps appreciate of the benefits we, those of us not belonging to a race that was enslaved, enjoy through our skin color.

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“Privilege” has become a testy word in America. Many of us white folks are told we are privileged. Some of us are instructed to “check our privilege.”

Many of us white people hear this while our kids can’t find work, our bills are unpaid, and our neighbors overdose. Many white Americans live in dire circumstances. It doesn’t feel privileged when you’re scraping together loose change to buy gas.

Privilege denotes an access, a wealth, a power many white Americans feel they don’t have. How can it be that a poor white American is anymore privileged than a black American?

Read Beloved.


There’s a chance some of my ancestors were once slaves in some Northern European outpost of the Roman Empire. Outside of during the antiquities, though, it can be assumed none of my ancestors were another person’s property. In fact, more recently in my familial history we were the masters, not the slaves. Photo of a gray sea under a cloudy sky with the words "'Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.' - 'Beloved,' Toni Morrison."

Now I’m no more to blame for what my ancestors did than I am if you sneezed right now. (Bless you.) But I probably enjoy some benefit from being a few generations removed from owning another person.

No, not direct monetary benefits. I assure you, any money the slave-owning branch of my family once had is long gone. My parents were country kids who got married young and struggled to make ends meet. My brother and I grew up somewhere between poor and lower middle-class, on the same rural Missouri road on which my parents were raised.

And still I enjoy the benefits of my familial history. Still I enjoy the privilege of belong to a race that was never enslaved. How?

Read Beloved.


Beloved begins where American slavery ends. It’s a story about slaves turned negros before they were called African-Americans. It’s a story about how these former slaves attempted to build a life.

Of course, how do you build a life when you don’t know how to count money? And when you can’t read? When you’ve spent your entire life on a single plantation? Or when you’re used to all twenty-four hours of all your days being controlled by another person?

How do you make a family when you’ve been bred like livestock, your children sold off to the highest bidder? Or when you were never allowed to marry? When your only relationship role model was the married couple who owned you?

Suddenly, the chains come off and you are free to go wherever you want. For the first time in your life, you can receive money in exchange for your labor. Marry? Yes, you can do that. Raise children? Sure. Buy groceries? Move to another state? Yes and yes.

Yet no one is going to teach you how to do it. No one is going to counsel you, mentor you and, in most cases, many are going to do their best to hinder your progress. You have to figure out how to be a citizen in a country that largely resents your existence.

This is the story of Beloved.

It’s a story that in Morrison’s masterful hands helps you understand on a base, human level what happened when slavery ended. And how what happened then reverberates still today.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a recommended read for anyone considering race and America.

Have you read Toni Morrison’s Beloved? If so, what did you think of the book?

Beloved Book Cover Beloved
Toni Morrison
Fiction
Vintage Books
1987
321

Sethe, an escaped slave living in post-Civil War Ohio with her daughter and mother-in-law, is haunted persistently by the ghost of the dead baby girl whom she sacrificed, in a new edition of the Nobel Laureate's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Reader's Guide available. Reprint. 60,000 first printing.

How “Hero of the Empire” Is a History Book for Today

Reading Hero of the Empire triggers this question: How is writing impacted by how we today consume information?

Surely, there’s an impact. Prevailing advice for writers is to be readers. This implies reading affects writing. If true, then how we read must impact writing as well.

So what can we expect of writers in the world of shortening attention spans, hyperlinks, and social media?

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Hero of the Empire Book Cover Hero of the Empire
Candice Millard
Random House Large Print Publishing
September 20, 2016
640

From "New York Times" bestselling author of "Destiny of the Republic" and "The River of Doubt," a thrilling narrative of Winston Churchill's extraordinary and little-known exploits during the Boer War At age twenty-four, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England one day, despite the fact he had just lost his first election campaign for Parliament. He believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield. Despite deliberately putting himself in extreme danger as a British Army officer in colonial wars in India and Sudan, and as a journalistcovering a Cuban uprising against the Spanish, glory and fame had eluded him. Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, there to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner. Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape--but then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him. The story of his escape is incredible enough, but then Churchill enlisted, returned to South Africa, fought in several battles, and ultimately liberated the men with whom he had been imprisoned. Churchill would later remark that this period, "could I have seen my future, was to lay the foundations of my later life." Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery, and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters including Rudyard Kipling, Lord Kitchener, and Mohandas Gandhi with whom he would later share the world stage. But "Hero of the Empire" is more than an adventure story, for the lessons Churchill took from the Boer War would profoundly affect 20th century history. "From the Hardcover edition.""

Reviewing the pretty prose in Pride and Prejudice

When you climb Mt. St. Helens’ south side, the rocks and small boulders over which you’ve traversed give way to volcanic ash.

Attempting to progress in the ash is difficult. You place your feet ahead of you, only to have gravity and ash collude in pulling you back near where you previously stood. Every step you take seems futile, as if it’s one step forward, two steps back.

A photo of Mt. St. Helens.

Mt. St. Helens

But with perseverance and ingenuity, you find a way to advance amongst the ash. And you ascend the mountain’s final 1,000 feet.

The persistence required to overcome Mt. St. Helen’s ash field is similar to reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time. This is especially true if you’re not accustomed to reading Jane Austen or other early 19th century English books.

The language in Pride and Prejudice is verbose. Reading the book can require pausing and reading again, to ensure you understand what’s being communicated. It can be one sentence forward, two sentences back.

But you adapt. You get used to Austen’s writing. The previously difficult-to-read text becomes easier. And that’s when Pride and Prejudice sings to you.

Seeing pride and prejudice’s prose

The subject of Pride and Prejudice’s story, of a houseful of sisters clamoring to marry well, may not be something to which you’re naturally drawn.

After all, the book’s first sentence misaligns with today’s modern morals: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

You are rewarded, however, for setting aside contemporary values and endeavoring through the book’s lengthy prose. For Pride and Prejudice provides a superb review of human relationships.

Particularly through the thoughts and actions of the lead character, Elizabeth Bennett, you see reflected in written form what you often encounter in the reality of interpersonal interaction.

An example: “How earnestly did she then wish that her former opinions had been more reasonable, her expressions more moderate! It would have spared her from explanations and professions which it was exceedingly awkward to give.”

How often do we state an opinion to others and later wish we hadn’t expressed said opinion. We refer to this today as “walking something back,” an idiom often used in reference to politicians’ public statements.

Sure, the effort of saying “walking something back” is minimal. Yet it’s not a phrase which actually communicates, or it at least does not accurately communicate what’s intended.

First off, you’re not actually walking anything. Secondly, those unfamiliar with the phrase’s meaning could easily be confused. Not so with Austen’s writing above.

It’s clear and elegantly expressed how Elizabeth Bennet is feeling. You not only understand what Bennett is feeling, you know how she’s feeling. You’ve been there before. You can empathize with her.

But do you feel similar empathy when you read a public figure is “walking something back?”

How Jane Austen uses words to illustrate the actions, thoughts, and emotions of characters in Pride and Prejudice must be a large reason for the book’s continued popularity. After all, read through a modern lens the story is at its core nothing more than a teenage romance novel.Image of a garden above a quote from Pride and Prejudice that reads, "The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance."

Pride and Prejudice, though, is masterful writing reflecting for us the role misconceptions, interactions, falsehoods, and truthfulness can have in how we engage with one another. Austen shows us how primitive our relationships with each other can still be, despite how far we’ve come as a species.

The major marvel of reading Pride and Prejudice today isn’t that there once was a society in which a women’s worth is determined by whom she married. It’s the similarities between how we today and the characters in Austen’s novel engage with each other.

In the end, it’s clear that no matter how much has changed since Pride and Prejudice first published in 1813, we humans are still the same. More or less.

Pride and Prejudice Book Cover Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Fiction
Courier Corporation
January 28, 1813
262

In early nineteenth-century England, a spirited young woman copes with the suit of a snobbish gentleman, as well as the romantic entanglements of her four sisters.

2017 reading list: Time to have an accomplished year

Update: Four books have been added to the 2017 reading list. Find out what it’s included in the 38 books to read in 2017 list.

Tis the season for new endeavors and an annual reading list fits the bill. Below is my 2017 reading list.

Maybe you’ve always kept a yearly list of books you want to read. This is a first for me. Now that I’ve become more practiced about my reading, there are books I want to be sure and read.

A reading list helps. And it prevents me from forgetting a book I come across.

The 2017 reading list is organized into categories. As the reading list organization is for my purposes, you won’t find these categories in a library or on Amazon. (See “Oldies but goodies”).

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The year I got serious about reading

There were classics and there were new books. There were two weeks in China in which books about China accompanied me. There were authors newly discovered and previously read authors revisited. More than anything, 2016 was the year in which I rededicated myself to reading.

Halfway through 2016, I realized my folly. Actually, Stephen King helped me realize it.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot,” King wrote in On Writing.

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Book Review: “The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things”

“The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things” (affiliate link) by Courtney Elizabeth Mauk is about a family coping with loss.

Carol and Andrew Bauer’s adult daughter, Jennifer, is missing. She was last seen leaving a New York City club with a man. Andrew, Carol, and their other child, Ben, are coping with her disappearance.

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The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things Book Cover The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things
Courtney Elizabeth Mauk
Fiction
Little a
October 1, 2016
225

Set against a layered Manhattan landscape, The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things explores a fractured family through the alternating perspectives of the mother, father, and brother of a young woman during the aftermath of her disappearance. A year of silent but collective anguish culminates in the fateful thirty hours after a body with a striking resemblance to hers is found, and we see her buttoned-up Upper West Side family spiral in different, dangerous directions: Her mother, Carol, nearly comatose by day, comes alive at night in a vigilante-like attempt to track down her daughter's killer. Her brother, Ben, once the "good kid," adopts her bad habits along with her former friends who may have been complicit in her death. And after failing to keep his family from splitting apart, her seemingly stoic father, Drew, finally allows himself to crack. In her third novel, Courtney Elizabeth Mauk presents a nuanced character study and offers a jolting and unforgettable portrait of a family's struggle to survive.

Book Review: “The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories”

The book cover of Ernest Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories."

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Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories” (affiliate link) is a short story collection cloaked in masculinity.

The stories cover lion hunting and boxing and other “manly” activities. And if you’re looking for strong female characters, you should move along.

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories Book Cover The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories
Ernest Hemingway
Fiction
Scribner
1995
Hardcover, paperback, Kindle, audible
160

Contains ten of Hemingway's classic stories including "The snows of Kilimanjaro," "A day's wait," "Fathers and sons," "The killers," and "The short happy life of Francis Macomber."

Book Review: “The Shelf Life of Happiness”

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David Machado’s “The Shelf Life of Happiness” (affiliate link) isn’t an uplifting book. But what can you expect from a novel born out of the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis?

The story follows Daniel, a husband to Marta and father to Flor and Mateus. Daniel’s lost his job in Lisbon, Portugal. Marta and the kids moved in with her parents in another town.

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The Shelf Life of Happiness Book Cover The Shelf Life of Happiness
David Machado
AmazonCrossing
September 1, 2016
221

Ripped apart by Portugal's financial crisis, Daniel's family is struggling to adjust to circumstances beyond their control. His wife and children move out to live with family hours away, but Daniel believes against all odds that he will find a job and everything will return to normal. Even as he loses his home, suffers severe damage to his car, and finds himself living in his old, abandoned office building, Daniel fights the realization that things have changed. He's unable to see what remains among the rubble--friendship, his family's love, and people's deep desire to connect. If Daniel can let go of the past and find his true self, he just might save not only himself but also everyone that really matters to him.

Book Review: “The Underground Railroad”

Image showing the cover of Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad."

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It could be some time before I read another book as powerful as Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” (affiliate link).

Cora is a third-generation slave. She backs into fleeing Randall, the Georgia plantation where she lives. But once on the run, Cora embraces her freedom, even as it takes various forms throughout the book.

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Book Review of “Never Fall Down: A Novel”

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Patricia McCormick’s “Never Fall Down: A Novel(affiliate link) takes you through a real-life nightmare.

The book’s protagonist is Arn Chorn-Pond, an 11-year-old Cambodian boy. The story is a true one, as best as McCormick can make it based on research and in-person interviews. It’s written as a first-person novel from Arn’s perspective.

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Never Fall Down Book Cover Never Fall Down
Patricia McCormick
Historical fiction
Random House
2013
Hardcover, paperback, Kindle, audible
216

The day the soldiers arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn's life is changed for ever. Facing the brutal regime of the Rhmer Rouge and the horror of the Killing Fields, Arn must fight to survive at any cost.