Tag Archives: reading

Miss Pittman

Miss Jane PittmanI read twenty-five books in 2017, another twenty-five in 2018, and another twenty-five in 2019. I share that with the pride that comes from the rarity of setting a long-term goal and sticking to it. My goal was another twenty-five in 2020 to make it an even hundred in four years, but much to my surprise I am already through twenty in just half a year, so the odds are in my favor.

It isn’t that work has even hinted at letting up. Instead, this sudden reading feast appears to be a combination of no evening events to attend, no sports to follow on television, and a persistent need to escape the present circumstances. I am reading constantly.

Book number twenty was The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Years ago, while living in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, my friend, Bruno, gave me a copy of A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, one of those novels that crawls into your heart and builds a nest. Last Christmas, while stocking up on used books at McKays with my family, I couldn’t pass up a copy of Gaines’s Miss Pittman. However, it sat in a stack for the first several months of 2020, but as enduring racism claimed global attention alongside the raging pandemic, it seemed like the time to read this particular story.

The stunning plotline of the novel is the reflection of a 100+ year old woman whose life stretched from the 1860s to the 1960s, from birth into slavery through a life of unrelenting white supremacy and into the pain of the Civil Rights era. Alice Walker described it as “grand, robust, a rich and very big novel,” to which I add a humble Amen.

As I read the frustrating, humiliating, yet strong and courageous journey of the novel’s heroine, given the time in which I was reading I thought of decade after decade of so many thinking that the American Civil War ended something that it did not. And one does not even have to try very hard to connect the dots and recognize that the American Civil Rights Movement was not a finish line either.

It is shameful that we had to argue over such an innocuous phrase, Black Lives Matter. I guess that shows how deep-seated racism actually is.

Miss Jane Pittman is technically a fictional character, but of course she was oh so real. It occurred to me that many more Miss Pittmans were born in the 1960s and are now over halfway through another century’s journey. I wish their story was less painful than it is, but I have seen them on the television mourning the loss of their children, too.

I am thankful to Mr. Gaines for introducing me to Miss Pittman and teaching me that even being shown and told that one does not fully matter for over a hundred years is impotent compared to the capacity of the human spirit. May such extraordinary fortitude be rewarded in the lives of real people.

Reading List (2019)

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“I guess there are never enough books.” – John Steinbeck

I am happy to report that I read twenty-five books for the third year in a row in spite of a crazy cross-country move. I have every intention of keeping up this particular discipline as the 2020s roll in. Here are a few observations from 2019:

#1: Five of the books were authored by friends: I sure have talented friends.
#2: It feels like Reimagining the Student Experience: Formative Practices for Changing Times was written just for my new job.
#3: I’m still enamored with Jesmyn Ward but am embarrassed that it took me this long to read beautiful novels from literary giants like James Baldwin, James Joyce, and Toni Morrison.
#4: Educated by Tara Westover blew my mind
#5: All in all, The Children by David Halberstam was my Book of the Year.

Here is my overall list for 2019:

Novels (6 this year—6 in 2018, 3 in 2017)
* Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
* Bowling Avenue by Ann Shayne
* Your Killin’ Heart by Peggy O’Neal Peden
* Dubliners by James Joyce
* Sula by Toni Morrison
* Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Books written by friends (5 this year—1 in 2018, 6 in 2017)
* White Jesus: The Architecture of Racism in Religion and Education by Allison Ash; Christopher Collins; Tabatha Jones Jolivet; and Alexander Jun
* Kingdom Come by John Mark Hicks & Bobby Valentine
* Colonel Jonathan: An American Story by John Francis Wilson
* Ten Frames at the Galaxy Bowl by Kyle Dickerson
* Letterville: The Town That God Built by Aaron Sain

Theology/Church (4 this year—8 in 2018, 6 in 2017)
* Conversations with Will D. Campbell, edited by Tom Royals
* Homosexuality and the Christian by Mark A. Yarhouse
* (Re-read) Falling Upward by Richard Rohr
* (Re-read) Law and the Bible: Justice, Mercy, and Legal Institutions, edited by Robert F. Cochran, Jr. and David VanDrunen

Leadership/Politics/Sociology (3 this year—0 in 2018, 0 in 2017)
* Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele
* Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl
* Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

Biography/Memoir (2 this year—3 in 2018, 5 in 2017)
* Educated by Tara Westover
* Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash

Education (2 this year—0 in 2018, 0 in 2017)
* Roaring Lambs: A Gentle Plan to Radically Change Your World by Bob Briner
* Reimagining the Student Experience: Formative Practices for Changing Times, edited by Brian Jensen and Sarah Visser

History (2 this year—1 in 2018, 1 in 2017)
* How Nashville Became Music City U.S.A.: 50 Years of Music Row by Michael Kosser
* The Children by David Halberstam

Poetry/Essays (1 this year—1 in 2018, 1 in 2017)
* The Farm by Wendell Berry

Sports (0 this year—3 in 2018, 3 in 2017)
Writing (0 this year—1 in 2018, 0 in 2017)
Crime (0 this year—1 in 2018, 0 in 2017)