Loathe as I am to admit to such a level of procrastination, I confess–I finished Civil Rights Childhood sometime in November, and I’m just now getting to its review. How bad is that? It’d be worse, of course, if I hadn’t taken time off for the holidays, but still. Two months? Seriously?
The thing is, I did have a few reasons. It felt like a more complicated review to write, partly because of the book itself and partly because of its format. The two months’ wait will, of necessity, simplify the review, but it’s still not an entirely easy one. I put off reading the book itself for a year because of the font size, because OH. MY. GOSH. My eyes may not be young anymore, but I have friends who wouldn’t have wanted to read that font in high school–it’s evilly small. When I took a good look at the publisher, however, I realized that the font and the general format were likely functions of being put out by a university press. My dad was a professor at RIC for decades, and I remember some of the travails he went through to get his book published. He ended up going through a university press as well, and I especially recall him lamenting the size of the maps.
Format aside, I thoroughly enjoyed most of the book. Jordana Shakoor had a fascinating childhood, and the contrast between her mother’s and her father’s families and situations give her book balance. I learned things I hadn’t known and gained additional perspective on the issue of race in this country, which I imagine was part of her purpose. My only real problems with the book are the title and the ending. Civil Rights Childhood is an acceptable title for a research paper, but for a published book, it’s clunky. (I tried to think of a better one and couldn’t, but I’m terrible at coming up with titles.) It’s also not entirely accurate, because while the balance of the book is about Shakoor’s childhood (and the relevant aspects of her parents’ before her), the last 20 or 30 pages morph into something else. When the Jordan family (Shakoor changed her name as an adult) moved to Ohio, their lives diverged from the main stage of the civil rights movement; her own life becomes more generic (so to speak). The very end of the book, moreover, reads like a biography of the author’s father, and while his Ohio teaching career and later family life aren’t un-interesting, they belie the title. Ultimately, though, this was a worthwhile read. In an ideal world, it would be picked up by a major publisher and Shakoor would work with an editor to make the book a tighter finished product; in this world, however, its good points still outnumber its imperfections. Get yourself some reading glasses and give it a try!