#FridayReads Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill

If you were to read the summary presented on the NLS site, you would get the sense that this was all the book was about. By itself, I figured “hmmm, it could be worth the read”. But that description hardly does it justice.

As the story starts, we see the main character (I suppose her name is spelled Aminata Dialo, but that’s where audio can get me in trouble), in London toward the end of her struggle, working with the British to have slavery abolished. But then we almost immediately flash back to her residing in an African village, I think somewhere around present-day Mali, where she and her family practice Islam and farm the land. It takes on a Roots-like feel, as she is snatched, placed aboard a slave ship for the vivid ride over, and taken into a property on St. Helena Island off of the South Carolina coast.

The story continues in this vein, flashing forward to London at the beginning of each major section then back to the time that had been left off, spanning from approximately 1754-1793. She doesn’t experience the outright cruelty that is often seen in such tales, but the psychological trauma along with people’s constant betrayal of her trust are just as bad in the long run. And of course, she continues to dream of returning to Africa, which eventually happens but doesn’t turn out to be all she had hoped either.

Aminata, (called Nina by people in what would become the United States), tells the story in first person, with the amazing rhythm that comes from her initial culture, and even some snippets of the language she spoke. Interestingly, Colleen Delany the NLS narrator who reads this, reads the entire thing in an African accent. I must admit she does pretty good with this, as well as an American could be expected I suppose. Probably her American slave accents were not as good, but one really does not have issues when listening, as the power of the story itself takes you away.

I think the thing that interests me most about this piece is its presentation of a little-known portion of the history of slavery in the US, how Britain and their soon-to-be-Canadian colonists treated these individuals after they had aided in the fight against the American colonies, and even many Africans’ unwillingness to truly assist them. The latter happened in many respects because those coastal folks were being sweetened by the resources provided by their European colonizers.

I don’t know who this Lawrence Hill guy is, but I want to see if he has anymore work. Because this book, 18+ hours of audio, has me so captivated I can hardly put it down, even when I grudgingly have to at work. This woman’s life was amazing, and it does us all well to expand our views of how people lived under and rebelled against that awful institution.

Booking It With Libro, Supporting The Locals

As a blind person, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to exist in this era, where for the first time in history I can partake in printed, or recorded, words as they are revealed to the public. Books, maybe not necessarily the opiate of the masses, but the opiate of me. The only thing that makes it possible for me to slink along through this crazy life and the work needed to thrive in it.

I remember when I was first able to consume books on my own, be they in Braille or on tape. The specialized programs in our school subscribed us to our North Carolina branch of the National Library Service for the Blind (NLS), and we would receive a well-used copy of some hopefully interesting title that we needed to send back after consumption. Discovery was kind of fun though as often we had no idea what they might push to us, but in many cases we didn’t enjoy it either. And we didn’t have a whole lot of choice, aside from giant Book catalogs that would be distributed on a bimonthly basis and from which you could order, assuming your library’s branch even had it on hand.

The Braille books were bulky and often stretched across several volumes. The tapes, recorded for play in a “long-play cassette player especially designed to allow them to be slowed (or sped up, I’m not the only blind person who had tons of fun turning everyone into chipmunks) would often get lost or meet a bad end being “eaten” by the player. It was fine though, the library would usually take it on good faith if you reported a lost or destroyed item and allow you to continue . receiving new titles.

Even with that generous system, most of the time the best we could hope for was to be reading a book nearly a year after the hype had died down. But more commonly, we only had access to at most 5% of readable material, and that was better for us here in the US than in much of the world, a difference I hope is going away but which I fear still persists to some extent.

Anyhow, imagine my, our, joy when the Internet came into existence. Of course the NLS has digitized its collection, and really nowadays they get a lot of support from commercial outfits as well, which is nice because it definitely grants us more access than we’ve ever had. Then in the textual arena, there are services like Bookshare, which even further broaden our ability to grab great titles and take them in via Braille display.

On the larger stage, in the instances when commercial titles are not available via NLS, I had often purchased them from Audible. I suppose I like Audible well enough, but A it has become an Amazon company (something of a “big guy” in town, and B, I had often wondered how I might support independent booksellers. I believe these community stores do just that, enhance and keep our communities thriving. I met Rachel Simon, the wonderful author of Story of Beautiful Girl and Riding The Bus With My Sister, at Charlotte’s Parkroad books, for instance.

So, I grasped at the first opportunity I saw to merge both of those worlds, a site called Libro.FM which has Audible-like functionality (they’ve just introduced a $14.99 membership credits model), but they allow the Indies to take a cut from each purchase. You the consumer are allowed to decide which store you wish to support, and so I chose Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books because we also have a thriving writing scene in this area. Simon pegged her earlier titles while residing in the region, and my current favorite, Carla Buckley, is still putting out the good stuff while residing here as well. I want both my writer friends and the stores that in many respects support the work they do to continue to survive, even as the world turns into one big chain.

And on top of that, Libro has great customer service. Via Twitter, I pointed out, when downloading the iPhone app and taking in my first title, a few unlabeled buttons when using VoiceOver. They began working on it, and emailed me recently asking me to go back and take a look. I hadn’t had a problem with it even then, but it is still great when developers care enough to take the time to look into and fix an issue.

So I suppose that, for the time being at least, I am going to move away from the larger entity and stick with these folks for a while. If you would like a way to help the locals out in this digital age, I would invite you to do the same.

When Gentrification Arrives At Your Door

Or renovation. Rapid re-creation of a whole neighborhood. Call it what you want, the effects are the same.

We’ve all read the stories. Person, hard working, toward the lower end of the economic ladder, suddenly finds him or herself homeless. As we read this, we sit back and wonder to ourselves how this could have happened so quickly. Well I would venture to say that our current rental structure can contribute.

I have resided in my current large community here just northwest of downtown Durham for over four years. Each year, the costs have increased by about 20 to 30 dollars. Not too bad, right?

Except this year, they’re gonna hit me with the haymaker! They have been engaged in a steady process to re-design all of these older units to make them trendier, and probably more amenable to modern appliances. And let’s call it what it is, more expensive.

I get it. Located close to two medical facilities, Duke Hospital and the VA Medical Center, as well as that major university within easy walking distance, there is lots of money to be made in this area. And as guardians of the community (however all that internal stuff works), they have a responsibility to get that money flowing into their coffers if at all possible.

But what are those of us who are barely hanging on supposed to do? It’s a question I probably ask at least once a year, and every year it becomes demonstrably worse. Affordable housing is simply disappearing, and especially from places that need it the most for instance near said medical facilities and along transit lines. An example of this need? I have (had? well I think she’s still here somehow) a neighbor who moved into her apartment and lived there for 25 years so that she could have easy access to Duke Hospital in the event of somewhat regular heart emergencies. My guess is she has some kind of special dispensation that will allow her to remain there for as long as she pleases.

Certainly other than that though, I have noticed that this place has become a lot quieter. Most folks started packing up and moving out a good while ago, and my guess is it will be a while before the upper incomers start trickling in, once all of the reconstruction work has been completed.

As for me, this is not a tremendous deal. This is because I would have been moving on by January anyway, so that I can begin life as a married man. To transfer for the six or seven-month gap between now and then (I must depart by June 24th,) I have to pay these fine folks an additional $330 a month. That is a sixty (60!) percent increase, and would mean I would be living a lot closer to significant disaster due to any unexpected occurrence than I wish to experience. It seems silly though to relocate to some entirely unfamiliar venue for such a short period, and even if I decide to do that I am not sure where that would be as most of Durham, the Bull City’s prices have crept in that general direction. In any event, I have a couple of weeks to figure this out, on top of possible needs for other employment, grad school, and other general living interests. Chaotic, to say the least. But, it’ll all work out somehow because it has to. Wish me well.