Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book 6: "Covering: The Hidden Assault On Our Civil Rights" by Kenji Yoshino

Since I'm part of the housing staff at my college, I'm supposed to read the summer reading book that the college assigns to incoming freshmen so that I can discuss the book with the freshies when they get on campus.  

I picked the book up before school let out, and started reading it during the train ride to the beach on my last day in Southern California.  While the material was relatively interesting, I only got through the first few pages before falling asleep (credit for the doze-off goes to the groovy motion of the train, though, not the book).  

I was recently reminded of the task I had been charged with, and since I didn't have anything to read, I picked this one back up.  

Covering:  The Hidden Assault On Our Civil Rights is a memoir/essay by Kenji Yoshino on the broad subjects of identity and society.  More specifically, it's about society's demands for conformity through an act which Yoshino calls "covering".  Covering is defined as the process by which people "tone down" or de-emphasize stereotypes or stigmas associated with their racial, gender, sexual, religious, or other identities.  According to Yoshino, one can cover along the four axes of appearance (by making sure we don't look stereotypically ___), affiliation (by not associating with ____ culture), activism (by not engaging in ____ causes), and association (by keeping a distance from other ____ people).  

  Aside from addressing a very interesting and current topic, Yoshino does a great job of building  the book into a delightful cross between an expository essay and a memoir.  By using his own experiences as fodder for the discussion of covering, Yoshino builds context and provides resonant parallels between his life and the sociopolitical precedent that legitimizes covering in American society.  I found the format in which Covering was written to be very effective in not only giving readers a reason to care about the subject, but also in forcing readers to think about how they themselves capitulate to and impose covering demands.  Yoshino's style is also very appealing to me, in that he neatly balances the flourish of more formal, lyrical writing with a very frank, honest discussion of the issue and its effects.  He is also very even-handed, and seems to never make the mistake of taking himself too seriously--a quality that I respect very much in a writer.  

Professor Yoshino actually came and spoke at my college on the subject of covering, and I was pleased to find that he is as well-spoken in the flesh as on the page.  (He also dresses excellently, but that's quite besides the point)

I think Covering is one of those books that everyone should read, both for the purpose of better understanding society and to, more importantly, gain better understanding of the self.  Covering is an issue that touches everyone, and understanding it helps us know how it relates to us and influences our place in the world.  

Grade:  A
Rating:  15+; it would probably bore anyone younger
Considerations:  None.  It's appropriate for just about everyone

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