What I Just Read: Impulse, by Steven Gould
This is the third book in the series that started with Jumper (1992) and continued with Reflex (2004). The first book is basically a coming of age novel about a teenager who escapes from an abusive home life with the remarkable ability to "jump" from one place to another instantaneously. The second book has a second person develop this ability, and is pretty much thoroughly an adventure/thriller, and the third book revolves around their daughter, who has had an odd sort of both socially isolated and particularly global childhood. Through the whole series there is some sort of evil hands-in-many-pockets powerful organization that wants to either control the jumpers or eliminate them as a threat.
Impulse is a page-turner, no doubt about it. I might have finished it in one day (the same day it arrived in the mail), except that Brian sweetly asked me to stop reading and turn the light off just before midnight last night. As the father of two daughters, the eldest of which just had her first year of college, Gould has a really good grasp on the father-daughter relationship and some of the particular issues faced by a 16-year-old girl who is trying to develop her social life. I'm assuming the quirks caused by how her unique family is being stalked by terrorists is a situation he had to project himself into a little more, but it all works. And his young protagonist (who is delightfully geeky in the areas of math and science) also explores a fascinating new potential for the "jumping" skill by experimenting with the question of velocity. The snowboarding sequences are fun too.
What I'm Reading Now: The Measure of a Man; a spiritual autobiography, by Sidney Poitier
Generally this book strikes me as more philosophical than spiritual, but either way, it is definitely thoughtful and interesting. I've seen only a few of Poitier's films ("Look who's Coming to Dinner", "To Sir, With Love", and "Sneakers"), but I hope to take in more of them in not too long. For the most part, this was not a review of his Hollywood stardom (which is apparently covered in detail in his 1980 autobiography, This Life), but rather an exploration of his childhood roots in the Bahamas and how that start to life and the lessons he learned from his family and along the way made him who he is.
Poitier's straight-forward language, including occasional swearing, is refreshing and forthright. His lists of influences and thought-provoking contemporaries is giving me further directions for my reading into African-American history. And his discussion of which lessons he thought were most important from his childhood, contrasted with the experiences of childhood he observes in modern times, gave me important things to think about in terms of how we are raising Rosie, dovetailing well with other reading I've done, such as the book Simplicity Parenting.
It was also interesting to read this and contemplate the early successes of Caribbean-born Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte just a short while after reading Malcolm Gladwell's essay "Black Like Them", which suggests that black people who immigrate to America in modern times and are not descended from American slaves (or otherwise seem or can be seen as different from the established local populations) are more employable and more easily successful here.
The chapter "Why do White People Love Sidney Poitier So?" discusses some similar issues, as well as the criticism Poitier received for not being angry and defiant, both personally and in his roles. I think his descriptions of experiences that did make him very angry as well as his discussion as to what he did and did not do with that anger were very interesting -- how anger is a destructive force that can be channeled into positive energy. He felt the most important aspect of his work was to depict real, full human beings -- in part to help people who at the time had limited experiences be able to recognize the humanity of others different from them, and instead see the similarities and connectedness between people.
Some quotes I thought were worth pulling out about seeking change:
Wherever there's a configuration in which there are the powerful and the powerless, the powerful, by and large, aren't going to feel much of anything about this imbalance. After a while the powerful become accustomed to experiencing the power to their benefit in ways that are painless. It's the air they breathe, the water they swim in.
However much prodding they get from the powerless or the disenfranchised or the slaves, those in power just aren't inclined toward introspection or remorse.
When you're addressing power, don't expect it to crumble willingly. If you're going to say, "Hey now, look you guys, please look at what you did and look at yourselves and punish yourselves and at least try to square this thing, right?" --well, you'll make slower progress than you would expect. I mean, even the most modest expectations are going to be unfulfilled.
I hope to write more later about how this caused me to reflect on the reactions of established sf fans to efforts to increase the diversity of fandom.
He also talks about how the script of "In the Heat of the Night" had his character, a Philadelphia police detective working a murder investigation in the Deep South, get slapped across the face by a local bigshot who is offended by his inquiries. According to Poitier, in the original script "I looked at him with great disdain and, wrapped in my strong ideals, walked out." Poitier could not play it that way and insisted the director change it. Instead, "without a nanosecond of hesitation, I whack him right back across the face with a backhand slap."
This reminds me of an interview I read where Quentin Tarantino was talking about Django Unchained, and how Hollywood for a long time was afraid of showing vengeance by a black man, and he didn't want to continue that pattern. He was not about to have his black protagonist do the supposedly noble "being a better man" thing and walk away with no retribution. Instead, Jamie Foxx's character "beats the white off" the slaveowner who has abused his wife in ways that were so violent and twisted that Kerry Washington said Leonardo DiCaprio repeatedly checked with her during breaks in filming to make sure she was okay, because what his character was doing to hers was so vile.
I am not surprised to see in this interview that Tarantino went out to dinner with Sidney Poitier after finishing the Django script, and when he told him he was so anxious about directing the slavery scenes that he was thinking of shooting them abroad, Poitier told him not to do that, saying "If you're going to tell this story, you need to not be afraid of it. You need to do it. Everyone gets it. Everyone knows what's going on. We're making a movie. They get it."
In The Measure of a Man, Poitier goes on to say,
From the way it was in my early days in America, to the point at which I was playing a senior detective representing the Philadelphia Police Department, solving a murder mystery in rural Mississippi -- that was movement. But the true progress it represented didn't come from unbridled rage any more than it came from polite submission. Progress then and now comes from the collision of powerful forces within the hearts of those who strive for it. Anger and charity, love and hate, pride and shame, broken down and reassembled in an igneous process that yields a fierce resolve.
May we all experience a resolve that is suitably fierce for what we need to do.