A book worth standing up for

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Ruby, By Cynthia Bond is the OneBook at my college this year. If you aren’t familiar with the concept let me explain. OneBook is a project where communities, Universities, colleges, and even cities, select one book to be read by members that year. Readers get the benefit of knowing others are reading along, it provides an easy selection for individuals and book clubs and communities can create cohesive themed events relevant to the text. My college has arrange for the author to speak at an event on our campus as part of Women’s History Month in March. (I will happily give you the details if anyone is interested in attending.) I love the concept of OneBook and chose to include this one in my American Humanities class this semester.
Ruby is an Oprah Book club selection. In my experience these selections can be a bit hit or miss for my personal taste- but they frequently address larger issues of importance. I agree wholeheartedly with what others have said before me, Oprah Winfrey can be credited for getting many Americans reading.
Without a doubt, Ruby is a weighty read. Set in a fictionalized unincorporated black town in the south the novel takes place 1963-1974, In other words, during the most significant times for legal and social reforms of the American Civil rights movement.
The book all but ignores that, While crowds are flocking to New York for Martin Luther King’s most famous address the main character Ruby is headed in the opposite direction and will spend the next 11 years completely insulated from the greater discussions happening in society at the time. Although not directly addressing this one of the minor characters asserts poignantly that “livin’ in a world of sin you get tired of fighting fires with thimbles and just start tending to your own back yard”
The book focuses on the harrowing stories in the life of Ruby Bell and how she came to be, overlaid with the budding of a new romance between Ruby and her childhood acquaintance Ephram Jennings, the adult son of the towns former disgraced reverend who was lynched when Ephram was still a child. As the story reveals itself we are dragged through a horrifying recollection of ongoing trauma, rape, child sex slavery and torment at the hands of the men in the town. Connections between Ephram and Ruby seem to overlap more and more as Ephram allows Ruby to show him her reality. In the most magical scene in the book Ephram washes Ruby’s hair. He patiently and attentively untangles years of knots; as the exhausted Ruby sleeps Ephram continues and haunted memories of Ruby’s experiences are revealed to him. “So this is the life of a woman”
It isn’t often one gets called on to defend a book, despite its Onebook status in my college district I am now in the midst of having to defend my selection. The fact is, that it is often very uncomfortable to face some of the darker aspects of our world. It is much more pleasant to sink into an imaginary world where nothing bad happens. But while it might be safe for us to do so, ignoring the issues that have relevance in our society- from racism to human sex trafficking – packing them away because it is uncomfortable to deal with is a privilege you only get if you aren’t the victim. And if you are- stories like this help facilitate the types of dialogue needed for healing and restitution.

2 comments on “A book worth standing up for”

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