By Juan Haines
There is a book I read, but Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did not. If they had read Brown is the New White, Steve Phillips (2016) and had taken its advice, I believe Democrats would be holding both houses of Congress and the presidency in 2017.
Phillips accurately pointed out some solid historical facts about why Progressives failed by not paying attention to who matters the most in elections–people rather than abstract issues.
One of the most striking claims in Brown is the New White are the facts it uses to show how the Democrats lost the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 and subsequently lost the Senate in 2014. Philips attributes both losses to the Democratic Party ignoring issues relevant to the New American Majority. His facts show they stayed home and did not vote, which they also did in 2016, and that pointedly affected the elections.
“America has a progressive, multiracial majority right now that has the power to elect presidents and reshape American politics, policies, and priorities for decades to come,” Philips wrote. “Progressive people of color now comprise 23 percent of all the eligible voters in America, and progressive Whites account for 28 percent of all eligible voters. Together, these constituencies make up 51 percent of the country’s citizen voting age population, and that majority is getting bigger every single day.”
Therefore, my vote for best book of 2016 is the one that, if heeded, would have changed the national picture we see today.
While the best book in 2015 was What I Wish I Knew When I was 20, Tina Seelig (2011) last year was full of enjoyable, serious and sobering reviews.
An interesting aspect of 2016 book reviews is relating the author’s plot or storyline to the experience of being imprisoned.
There were a group of books that directly addressed incarceration.
Toxic Schools, Bowen Paulle (2013) studied the interactions between at-risk children and teachers. Paulle addressed ways to keep kids in schools and out of prison. Zek: An American Prison Story, Arthur Longworth (2016) gave an honest look at what could happen to a dropout. The newsletter, Fire Inside, gave a women’s side on incarceration.
Then there were the books on war.
The politics of war was an interesting topic in Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo (1939). It took readers inside the mind of the wounded warrior. Trumbo questions a society comfortable while living in a perpetual state of war. The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane (1895) looked into war and its morality, while A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah (2007) gave a first-hand account of war’s cruelty.
Several authors, who have ventured inside this prison, have had their books reviewed by the San Quentin News. One author, Tommy Winfrey, resides here.
Winfrey won first place in a prestigious writing contest for Stray (2015). His touching story about the love between a boy and his dog shows the insight, transformation and resilience of the human soul.
Author Tobias Wolff visited San Quentin’s creative writing class. He discussed the commonalities found in his short story, The Chain. Wolff’s conversation with the inmates centered on the nature of retaliation and revenge found in The Chain that were similar to criminal thinking and its consequences.
Jennifer Richter also visited the creative writing class and shared her poetry from No Acute Distress, (2016). Julien Poirier, author of Out of Print (2016), teaches poetry at San Quentin. Rosemary Jenkins made an impact on San Quentin News readers with Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Others (2005).
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline (2011) is about the world of gamers. Incarcerated readers, who have never accessed the internet or played with social media, enjoyed Cline’s hero journey.
As I look forward to the 2017 book reviews, I believe that the lessons of Brown is the New White are still available, and if taken seriously could get Democrats back on track.