My book club doesn't do just fiction. And thank goodness for that, because real life offers so many compelling stories, and these stories need to be told.
This month, we're reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson, and the discussion promises to be thoughtful and deep and enlightening.
Stevenson, an attorney serving the poor and underserved, has written a personal and sobering account of modern injustices of the U.S. criminal justice system. His representation of a wrongly accused death row inmate -- a black man convicted of murdering a white woman in Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama -- is the main case presented in the book.
But Stevenson weaves in other heartbreaking stories of underage, mentally ill, and other clients, all who suffered horrific injustices that likely wouldn't have occurred had they been white or had they had the resources to obtain effective counsel. The result is a compelling read that has already opened many eyes.
Why this is a good book club book?
These stories -- these lives -- personalize the statistics we hear on the news. Stevenson has painted poignant portraits of people many of us otherwise might think of as so different from ourselves. By making their stories relatable, Stevenson provides a backdrop for in-depth discussions about our greater society, decisions we make, and how we are involved in our own communities.
I'm sure everyone in book club will have read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird at one time or another, and the book will certainly come up. As I think about Mockingbird -- and even the book is black and white in my mind -- it's easy to consider the insidious racism depicted by Lee as a relic of a thankfully bygone era. But comparing Mockingbird against the modern-day Just Mercy invites a discussion not just about how far we've come, but how far we have to go and what we can do to achieve that.
Additional reading, watching, listening . . .
I'm not saying I like to go down rabbit holes, but when I'm caught up in a book, or a video, or an article that intrigues me, I like to go further. Find a new angle, an old angle, a deeper dive, or a connection that goes off in a direction I couldn't have imagined.
For Just Mercy, the rabbit hole starts with these (all of which stand alone even if you don't read Just Mercy):
To Kill a Mockingbird It's required reading in schools to this day for a reason, and it's worth another read.
"We Need to Talk About an Injustice" Bryan Stevenson gave this TED Talk in 2012. He's as personable and dynamic a man as you might expect from someone who so doggedly and compassionately pursues justice on behalf of his clients. Watch the talk here.
"We Are All Criminals" This talk by Emily Baxter has stuck with me, needling my gut, since the first time I heard it. One-quarter of Americans has a criminal record. Does that mean the remainder haven't committed crimes? No. It just means that the remainder don't suffer the consequences of their offenses. Baxter challenges us to consider how our lives would be different if we had been caught and convicted of some of the "indiscretions" we've committed (and that others have been convicted of). You can watch or listen to Baxter's talk here.