Tell me an uplifting story from your life, my girlfriend asked. She is in the middle of a family drama involving rapidly declining cognitive abilities of a loved one, a tediously slow system of elder care and all that entails. It’s a drama she’s been entangled in for much longer than anyone ever imagined.
I thought about telling her about the time my car broke down and I had to hitchhike a ride to Montgomery with a crusty old codger who went by the name “Huke” and who claimed he was 2nd or 3rd cousins with Harper Lee, whom he called Nell. He bragged about the fact that he had never read To Kill A Mockingbird, which should have surprised me but didn’t. I’ve taught college students who bragged about having never ever read a book. Of course, their grades reflected their willful illiteracy.
Other than the Bible, the first novel I recall reading was A Wrinkle in Time. I wonder how many children today are reading Meg’s story. I confess I have never read a Harry Potter book. I feel guilty about that sometimes. Do you ever feel guilty about the books you haven’t read? I teach my kids that they should never feel guilty over something unless it’s a sin, but like all parents, I don’t practice what I preach. Guilt stacks up all around me, not like books on a shelf, but literally books on a shelf.
The other day I walked into a bookstore to purchase some graduation cards. I told myself I would not buy another book until I read the last book I purchased – Hamnet. But I didn’t know when I made that promise about the newly released story of The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt by Audrey Clare Farley. It’s a story I knew about from research I’ve undertaken in preparation for another writing project. So I walked out of the bookstore with graduation cards and, yes, another book, which I’ll read before I get around to Hamnet, which everyone is raving about.
I justified my purchase by noting that I had just finished reading an excellent novel, Klara and The Sun. I can’t remember if I’ve ever purchased a Sci-Fi book prior. As I’ve noted many times, I am not a Sci-Fi fan. I’ve reported on UFO circles in farmer’s fields, even had some of my articles hanging in the Roswell UFO museum or so I’ve been told. I’ve never been there myself. I made up my mind in the 1980s that aliens existed. How else to explain Jerry Falwell Sr. and the Immoral Majority? Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene are most definitely aliens. There is nothing humane about either one of them. If this were the 1920s, they would both most assuredly have been forcibly sterilized to keep them from procreating with humans.
It seems only right to follow up a Sci-Fi novel with a book of non-fiction, although, both books are ultimately a form of commentary on the human condition. Perhaps unsurprisingly the robot Klara offers more hope for the future than the humans who own her. Certainly more hope than Ms. Hewitt had for a better future despite all her riches. Ms. Hewitt would have been better off had she been raised by a robot than her greed-thirsty mother.
Anyway, I asked Huke if the other members in his famous cousin’s family had read TKAMB. He said a lot of the younger generations had because it was required reading in school, but most of the older generations hadn’t because either they couldn’t read or because they felt Nell writing all that stuff just fueled “trouble between the races.”
It was a narrative I am intimately aware of – the notion that talking about racial injustice makes Black people unhappy with their lives. As if throughout the history of this country white people haven’t given Blacks enough reason enough to be miserable. That, after all, is what this whole right-wing agenda is all about, claiming the 1619 Project will somehow stir up trouble between the races by teaching the history of this country from any other viewpoint than that of a rich white man’s perspective. God forbid we actually teach truth. No. All the Greenes and Gaetzs want is myth. That and sex with underage girls and boys, apparently.
Did you know the Tulsa massacre was actually taught as a race riot, when it was taught at all, which it mostly wasn’t. Still, it was myth, this race riot. A myth designed to make it look like Blacks had some culpability when in fact it was nothing more than form of genocide: Racists in Tulsa seeking to kill every Black in Greenwood and drive them far, far away.
How do you explain to those unwilling to listen that it’s not the stories of racial injustices that causes trouble but the actual day-to-day living out that disparity?
Anyway, I didn’t delve any further into it with Huke. I was too busy worrying about the way he kept weaving that old Datsun pick-up of his between the mustard and the mayo. Huke was unsteady on four-wheels the way a toddler is unsteady on their feet. I don’t know if Huke really was related to Nell Harper the way he claimed. I don’t even know if Huke was a real person or an alien. Who can tell these days? What with all the advancements in AI these days, for all I know Huke may have been an AF like Klara. Or maybe he wasn’t real at all.
Who can say?
All I know is that there comes a point where we cross from imagining things in a good way to imagining them a bad way, like when when white folks force a mythology that was never true upon generations of students and calling it American History.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain: A novel, Mercer University Press, and a bunch of other books. Buy them please.