Culture > Notable Books

A Bound Man

Barack Obama appeals to white voters because he seems to transcend race. Yet, as Steele points out, Obama has consciously chosen to emphasize the black side of his identity, joining (for instance) a black nationalist church. Steele contends, "Today's politicized black identity exacts too high a price for belonging. It wants too much disregard for what is universal and human in us."

Steele, himself an African-American, writes that blacks navigate mainstream culture by bargaining or challenging, either way manipulating white guilt to black advantage. The challenge for Obama is to become his own man, not beholden to either community, but Steele doesn't think he can do it: He "can't serve the aspirations of one race without betraying those of another."

Come On People

For the past several years the authors have toured urban centers, doing call-outs to the black community. They've compiled the contents of their talks-part cheerleading, part scolding, part history, and part practical advice on parenting, health, and education-along with audience comments. Cosby: "I have seen enough to know that, no matter what people tell you, this mayhem is not a part of our culture in the way our music is. This violence is not a part of our culture the way our literature is. And this vulgarity has never been part of our culture before."

The authors acknowledge the obstacles to black achievement, but they argue that blacks have to "accept personal responsibility and embrace self-help," especially when it comes to fatherhood.

The Bond

The Three Doctors, as they call themselves, were inner-city kids from Newark, N.J., who grew up to be doctors and mentors to young fatherless boys. Each doctor recounts his childhood and the yawning void left by an absent or indifferent father and gives advice for changing the future. Jenkins writes of several friends who had an intact family: "It's like an intangible, invisible heirloom that fatherless children will never inherit." The dads also tell their stories, and it turns out they never really knew their fathers, either.

Because The Doctors recalled "how much it hurt to be a boy wishing for a dad," they've assembled a book that is practical and inspirational.

My Dearest Friend

John and Abigail Adams wrote to each other throughout separations caused by war and presidential duties. This comprehensive collection of their letters shows them to be affectionate, playful at times, concerned about both national and personal matters, and literate-although the spelling and grammar present a challenge.

Their letters often crossed. Sometimes months went by without hearing. John admonishes Abigail to economize. She worries about his health and reputation. She tells him news of the neighborhood, including the death of parents and a stillborn daughter. The letters provide a unique perspective on people and events and allow us to appreciate the great sacrifice they made in service to the country.

Spotlight

A month that offers a Presidents Day and celebrates other American notables is a good time to stock up on good biographies for children. Paperback biographies of Washington, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King published by Dorling Kindersley (DK) are colorful and well-written. The wonderful Landmark books are now available in paperback and well worth adding to your library. Simon and Schuster's Childhood of Famous Americans series comes in an early reader version, but the "Ready-to-Read" books are heavy on pictures and light on the text and charm of the originals.

Jon Scieszka, author of The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man, is the nation's first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Scieszka, a former teacher, knows something about reluctant readers, and his job is to promote children's books and literacy at a time when research shows kids reading less. His program, Guys Read (guysread.com), promotes books that appeal to boys. He will receive a $50,000 stipend for his two-year appointment, funded by Cheerios and various publishers.

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