NEW: Share the joy of books, reading in “Off the Shelf”

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Welcome to our new book review feature, “Off the Shelf.” Open to any book reader who wants to share your thoughts on how you’re affected by what you read, Off the Shelf is also led by decades-long voracious reader and personal reading activist Cathy Chavez, who will provide a monthly review. Take a look at Chavez’s first review, on an award-winning book from July 2019.

I watched an episode of “60 Minutes,” and one of the feature stories was about Colson Whitehead.  He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning author, and he was being featured during Black History Month.  I was so enthralled by what he had to say that I immediately bought two of his books and read this one.

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Colson Whitehead’s latest book “The Nickel Boys” was released in July 2019.

This is a really well-written book.  It’s so well-written that I feel like I’ve just witnessed a horrifying accident and don’t know how to react. I feel numb.

But I’m also very grateful that this book was written and that I chose to read it. People like me (meaning white, but also middle-class) need to read these types of books to understand how others have been treated, and to see the world from a different perspective. 

This book is not pleasant to read. It brings up a lot of feelings of guilt, sadness, rage and helplessness. But there is also a feeling of hope mixed in. One of the main characters doesn’t give up his hope of a better world, no matter what he goes through.

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Colson Whitehead is the author of “The Nickel Boys.” (photo courtesy Colon Whitehead)

Here’s a quote from the book: “… But they had been denied even the simple pleasure of being ordinary.  Hobbled and handicapped before the race even began, never figuring out how to be normal.”  I don’t think I’m a particularly naïve person who believes everyone in our country has been given the same chances in life. 

I know that there are people with advantages that make life easier (i.e. skin color, money, etc).  This quote stuck with me, though.  I’ve always taken “ordinary” for granted.  But this book made me realize how many people (particularly those in poverty and POC) have not been given that luxury.

Introducing “Off the Shelf:” TRM’s new Book Reviews

Hello, Readers!

I have the luxury of sharing with you my joy of books and reading, every month.

First though, a bit about myself. I currently live in Iowa City with my husband of 30 years.  We have two kids, both of whom are older than 20 (which, I guess, makes them adults).  I have three siblings – one brother and two sisters – and I’m the oldest child in our family. 

My family and I moved five times before I was in second grade, and I spent the majority of my young life in a rural setting in northern Iowa.  I rode the bus over an hour to get to school every day. 

Luckily for me, I loved to read and could spend that time completely absorbed in the lives and worlds of others.  I learned that:

  • • The world was full of people who were different from me in many ways.
  • • People don’t need to look the same, or live in the same country, to have similar struggles.
  • • There are struggles I would never experience in my own personal life but were important to be aware of
  • • No matter how difficult I might have thought my life was at the time, there were other scenarios that would have been worse — as well as those that might have been better.
  • • Love is love, and there are different kinds of love – romantic and platonic, love of a friend and love of family, love of pets, love of art, love of animals, and love of self.

And then, there’s the dark side of human nature, and I read about that.  Some books were disturbing, some were scary, and some were lighthearted and fun.  All were valuable and helped shape me into the person I am.

Over the years, I’ve continued to read as often as possible.  I always have a book with me, yet I have about 90 unread books sitting on my shelves right now. 

Books as constant companions

Books have been my constant companions throughout life.  I’m never alone or bored when I have a book with me. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you each month. Also, I hope you’ll take advantage of the book review template we’re providing here on The Real MainStream, so that you can share the books you read, too.

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Author Cathy Chavez is a lifelong reader, longtime book club member, and administrator with the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinic’s medical degree program. You can reach her at reachus@therealmainstream.com.

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