Tag Archives: alcoholism

The Education of Kevin Powell by Kevin Powell

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Ever choose a book to read based only on its cover? This was one of those. I was shelving holds and came across this adorable little boy (look at that outfit!) and wanted to read his story, even though I had never heard of Kevin Powell and had no idea why I should. Now that I’ve finished the book, I can tell you that the reason to read this book is that he’s a human, and he has something to say, and he is in a constant process of learning from his own mistakes, which makes him interesting.

Anyway, now I know who Kevin Powell is (I can’t believe I didn’t, but then I went through a period in my life where I didn’t watch TV, listen to new music, or read magazines much). He is a writer, a political organizer, a reality TV star, and a (so far) failed state congressional candidate. Most famously, he wrote for Vibe magazine and was one of the first people to write about Tupac Shakur. But the details of his life (which reads like a who’s who of American pop culture at times – this guy knows everybody) are less important than the insight he provides into a generation of African-American men who were steered strongly by their parents to get a good education and a better life, but simultaneously pulled away from that goal by circumstance, random choices, and the culture of their schools/ neighborhoods. Powell’s life story reminded me somewhat of both Wes Moores (The Other Wes Moore – reviewed earlier) – each of these men wanted badly to succeed, but each was constantly tempted down other paths or manipulated by systems in our society that many people don’t even see. For all of those people out there who don’t think that society is skewed to discriminate against people of color and poor people of all colors, this book (and The Other Wes Moore) will make it obvious that poor young people of color suffer a great deal more than their white, middle-class counterparts when a setback occurs. One poor choice, one bad grade, one random accident that a more affluent young person could overcome easily can completely derail a young person who has no safety net.

Warning: you might not actually like Kevin Powell at a few points. He is learning to manage his anger, and learning to let down his guard a little, but there’s no denying that for most of the book he is a very angry, defensive man who doesn’t like himself very much. He has some definite misogynistic leanings, and doesn’t like white people very much either. But what redeems him is that he knows these things about himself, and he’s working on it.  You can’t ask for more than that.

 

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: a Novel by Rachel Joyce

Jacket

I just looked this book up in our library catalog to find a picture of the cover and saw that its genre link was “humorous stories”. I wonder if the cataloger read the same book I did? This book is many things – sweet, sad, nostalgic, heartbreaking are all words that instantly come to mind – but humorous is NOT a word that I’d throw in, no matter how long I thought of words to describe it. There is humor in there, certainly, but it’s the dry, understated stiff-upper-lipped British kind. Anyway. Harold is an old man with many regrets. He and his wife Maureen barely communicate at all, and he feels as if he cannot exist without annoying her. He receives a goodbye letter from Queenie, a woman he used to work with years ago who is dying in hospice. He decides to send her a letter back, but as he is walking to mail the letter, he decides on the spur of the moment that he needs to go to see her in person. On foot. So despite the fact that he’s wearing a light jacket and boat shoes, and that it’s 600 miles, he does.

As he walks, he thinks. And as he thinks, we learn how Harold got to this point in his life, and the events that shaped his marriage into the prison it has become. We learn who Queenie was and why she was important to Harold. We learn about Harold and Maureen’s son. And as he meets person after person outside of his normal circle, Harold learns more about himself and somehow manages to put his life into perspective. After a lifetime of keeping to himself, he learns to ask for help, and how to give it to others. And as she sits home alone, Maureen thinks and learns as well, developing a friendship with her widower neighbor and rediscovering an old hobby. And that’s the joy of this story, that this older couple with so many hurts saved up over the years can finally realize that all of the things they have been blaming one another for are either their own damn fault or nobody’s fault at all, and it makes no difference which.

I won’t spoil the reveals for you, but many of them triggered a few tears. But despite the fact that the book made me sad, I liked it anyway. It reminds me of Kaye Gibbons’ books (Ellen Foster, A Virtuous Woman) that way. A good hurt.

Now that I think about it, there are some humorous parts in the book, such as when Harold’s pilgrimage becomes “news” and he gains a following sort of like Forrest Gump does. So many people show up to walk with him that he dreams of sneaking away in the night, but how he does finally lose them is pretty funny, looking back at it.