Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Freedom

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"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." -- Nelson Mandela

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Cassie Premo Steele, Columnist, recommends Luis Alberto Urrea's Into the Beautiful North. "It is a riveting, funny, touching, and human story. In it, a young woman from a small town in Mexico -- where all the men have left for the US -- is sent to the north to find them and bring them back. The journey allows readers a view into American life that is not possible except when we open our hearts to the perspectives of others."

Reviews Co-Editor, Katherine J. Barrett, shares, "I'm reading Because I am a Girl, a collection of stories about the plight of girls in developing nations. The book was commissioned by Plan, a UK non-government organization that assists children in poverty-stricken countries around the world. I'm finding it a fascinating read, in part because the contributors have approached the subject from such different angles. All of the writers have spent time in the countries they describe and all have witnessed first-hand the ills they portray -- primarily lack of education, rampant sexual abuse and a vicious cycle of teenage pregnancy and poverty."

Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Co-Editor, says "I recently read Andy Couturier's book A Different Kind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance, in which the author profiles eleven individuals living simple lives in rural Japan. These men and women have learned to live lightly upon the earth, with as little money as possible, and with an abundance of time. Having time allows them to grow their own food, revel in the beauty of nature, paint, write, and contemplate the meaning of life and death, and the mysteries of the universe. By stepping off the traditional path, they have found the freedom to pursue their creative interests and intellectual passions."

Reviews Co-Editor, Vicki Forman, writes, "My research into the 60's and 70's for a novel I'm working on has returned me to Joan Didion, a favorite of mine, and this time around I'm really enjoying the artful, experimental and stunning prose of her novels, Democracy, Play It As It Lays and The Last Thing He Wanted. All three address politics and freedom -- some more directly than others -- and how politics intersects with our own personal stories. There is no escaping Didion's relentless narrative paranoias, but in these books she reminds us how clearly form follows function and how inextricable style is to story. While these aren't exactly summery beach reads, they are highly recommended to read or revisit."

Kristina Riggle, Fiction Co-Editor, says, "A Free Life by Ha Jin is about a Chinese man who came to the United States to study, and realized after Tiananmen Square that he could never go home again. Nan and Pingping Wu have to start over from the bottom in America. Nan, the poet and academic, must become the laborer. Their scrabble out of poverty, always with fear nipping at their heels, reminds native-born Americans like myself just how much we've taken for granted. True freedom is not automatically generated by simple physical presence within the United States."

Creative Nonfiction Co-Editor, Kate Haas, shares "Ursula le Guin's Four Ways to Forgiveness is my nomination. The book consists of four interconnected novellas about the planet Werel and its brutal slave colony,Yerowe, before or shortly after the slaves of Yerowe revolt. In these thoughtful, engrossing stories, Le Guin and her characters ponder the nature of freedom: sexual, political, individual and moral. What does it mean for a woman to become free if she is still oppressed by men? How can a society consider itself liberated when its models for freedom are former masters? Le Guin explores these questions through the very personal, moving stories of individuals caught up in a politically turbulent time, people who struggle to achieve a sense of dignity and meaning in life."

Columnist Heather Cori says, "The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders and illustrated by Lane Smith is essential reading for our family on long road trips. It's not a traditional picture book (though the frequent illustrations add much to the meaning) and it's not a traditional chapter book because you can probably finish it before a 200 mile trip is up. Gappers are like bright orange burrs on your sock the size of a baseball with multiple eyes, and they love goats. When they attach to goats they give off a high-pitched noise that keeps the goats from giving milk. Without milk the people of Frip have no money. So they send their children out to put the gappers in a sack and walk to the edge of the cliff and dump them in the sea, but the gappers climb from the ocean and come back three hours later. The main character, Capable, is a model of perseverance and generosity."

Katie de Iongh lives in Rye, New Hampshire with her husband and their three young children. She is a community volunteer, freelance writer and college English instructor.

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