Now that I’ve slipped the bonds of corporate life, I have lots of time to read what I want, not what I need to. So my reading choices of late are totally idiosyncratic. I just read whatever strikes my fancy as I stumble upon various and sundry book titles referenced in articles posted on the internet. I use the cockroach approach to book selections, which leads me to reading the pages of all sorts of literature at odd hours of the night
I just finished two books that could not be more different. They have as much in common as, say, Al Sharpton and Ann Coulter, if you get my drift. The first is titled The House Behind the Cedars by Charles Chestnutt and published at the turn of the 20th century. It’s the hackneyed tragic mulatto story of a beautiful black woman who passes for white (with the aid of her successful lawyer brother who is also passing) in Reconstruction-era South Carolina and , as you no doubt already have guessed, falls in love with a white man to the manor well born. So, the plot is nothing to blog about, but Chestnutt’s lyrical, erudite writing style does make for an engaging read.
Check out the book’s opening paragraph: ”Time touches all things with destroying hand; and if he seem now and then to to bestow the bloom of youth, the sap of spring, it is but a brief mockery, to be surely and swiftly followed by the wrinkles of old age, the dry leaves and bare branches of winter. And yet there are places where Time seems to linger lovingly long after youth has departed, and to which he seems loath to bring the evil day. Who has not known some even-tempered old man or woman who seemed to have drunk of the fountain of youth? Who has not seen somewhere an old town that, having long since ceased to grow, yet held its own without perceptible decline?”
Good stuff, huh? Chestnutt won the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1928 for distinguished literary achievement in 1928.
Copies of The House Behind the Cedars are available at your local library. Go grab a copy, and tell your friends, too.
The second book I recently finished is The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy by William Strauss and Neil Lowe. I loved this nonfiction because its premise is quite persuasive. The authors first argue that time is cyclical, not linear, and therefore the old adage about history repeating itself is fact, not fiction. They further argue that the cycle of history is about 80 years, the approximate length of the average healthy American’s lifespan. They make their case by looking back over the last 500 years to show that a distinct pattern of history that moves in High (growth), Awakening (maturation), Unraveling (crumbling institutions), and Crisis (perilous) stages, each stage lasting about 20 years and each stage always unfolds in the same order listed above. What’s more, there nothing much we humans can do to change the cycle—short of self-annihilation, something we are clearly now fully capable of doing.
Now here is the kicker: The book was published in 1997, at which time the authors predicted a period of Crisis beginning about 2005. They weren’t that far off, given the Great Recession hit America hard beginning in September 2008. If Strauss and Lowe are right, now that we’re four years into the current Crisis period, the next High period can only be 16 years away. I’ll do my best to wait for it.
Factoid: The authors explain why they believe the faces of the four presidents on Mt. Rushmore are not carved in chronological order of the dates each man served in office; Lincoln’s face is last, looking from left to right.
I’m now reading Crash Course, a book about the rise, fall, and rise again of the American auto industry, which definitely has gone through the cycle of history laid out by Strauss and Lowe. More on that one later.