Books: Levittown

October 14, 2017

As I have nearly finished the 2017 Reading Challenge (I still have to decide on a book with more than 800 pages, and find one from a genre/subgenre I’ve never heard of), I decided to add a few of my own ideas. The first was to read a book that was set in a town/city where I have lived.

I wasn’t sure just what I’d be able to find, at least for the towns I’ve lived in this country. (I know I’d have no trouble finding books set in Valencia or Madrid, the two cities in Spain where I lived while getting my B.A. and M.A. in Spanish.) But in addition to several books about the pearl button industry in Muscatine, Iowa and a murder mystery set in Houghton Lake, Michigan, I found Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Suburb.

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Books: While the World Watched

August 9, 2014

When I saw While the World Watched on the Tyndale Summer Reading list, I decided this would be a good opportunity to learn a piece of history that had never been covered in any classes in school. When I was growing up, the Civil Rights Movement was too recent to be in our history books, but by the time I was in middle school (and had actual history classes instead of just an occasional social studies lesson), it was no longer part of current events. I remember seeing a picture of Governor George Wallace in a wheelchair, when I was in seventh grade (the year after he was shot), but I had no idea of the history behind that.

At church I occasionally heard references to the importance of race relations, but I had no context for understanding what they were talking about. My parents were friends with a black family, as well as with the black janitor at church, but that was about the extent of my experiences with people of other races. I was only a baby when the church bombing in Birmingham took place, and in first grade when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I knew vaguely that there were places where whites and blacks didn’t get along but gave it little if any thought.

Reading the firsthand account of Carolyn Maull’s experiences growing up in Birmingham gave me a new perspective on the whole subject. I had, over the years, picked up some general knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement, but seeing it through the eyes of a child who lived through it gave it a vividness and emotional immediacy that whatever I had read previously lacked. It’s one thing to read about the fact of atrocities committed decades ago. It’s another to feel her anxieties as she tries to cope with the violent death of her friends.

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