Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Great Thanksgiving OUTLIERS Giveaway

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie's main character shares how strange Thanksgiving is for descendants of America's only non-immigrants:
I always think it's funny when Indians celebrate Thanksgiving. I mean, sure, the Indians and Pilgrims were best friends during that First Thanksgiving, but a few years later, the Pilgrims were shooting Indians.

So I'm never quite sure why we eat turkey like everybody else.

"Hey, Dad," I said. "What do Indians have to be so thankful for?"

"We should give thanks that they didn't kill all of us."

We laughed like crazy. It was a good day. Dad was sober. Mom was getting ready to nap. Grandma was already napping.
(Source: Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children's Literature)
I love good writing that's sad and funny at once, because the combination has a unique power to inspire cultural metanoia.

Alexie's words remind us that one task of survivors is to give thanks for those who came before us. This Thanksgiving weekend, I'm reading OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell. As in BLINK, the author's superb storytelling keeps you reading, and his thesis is simple, diminishing the differences between survivors and high achievers:
Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky -- but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.
I survived to type these words on my PowerBook G4 for you to read because of my great-grandmother's arranged marriage at age nine in East Bengal to a man three times her age, a blond, blue-eyed champion ice skater who fell in love with the descendant of a Rhode Island itinerant preacher, the medicine my father received for a toxic leg wound when he was seven, a woman in a Maharashtran town who decided to carry her babies to term and bring them to an orphanage, and many other moments in history over which I had no control, but which shaped my life.

Is there a particular person or event in your past who contributed to your survival, let alone your success? Leave your gratitude in the comments, and on Monday, when I return, I'll choose five at random and give away free copies of OUTLIERS to five (offer courtesy of Miriam Parker, online publicist for Little Brown, who knows I'm a Gladwell fan).

Enjoy your thanksgiving, fellow survivors.


ProfDO said...

My gratitude goes to my grandmother who we all called Mema. She showed me what it means to have unconditional love and commitment to family - even in tough times. She endured illness, loss, divorce, and the depression and still showed us how to listen to Mozart. She showed me that even someone who is prejudice can dance with a black man on her 55th birthday and love it like she never was born in the South. That people can change, the world can triumph, and it is ok to cry. Tall order for a tiny woman.

Debra Oliver

Scott said...

I'm thankful for my junior high school english teacher. He made me realize it's O.K. to be yourself. I mean, he wore cowboy boots and coached the basketball team. But he also spoke passionately about The Grapes of Wrath and Willa Cather.
He was also really supportive of my writing, which I am hoping to make a living out of, well more of a living, soon.
And he made me want to work with teenagers and high schoolers. A lot of people steer away from this age group, you know, because they're hard to work with. But they need people like him to look up to. Who believe in them. And who make them actually want to read The Grapes of Wrath. Just kidding,

advanced.reader said...

It's pretty cliche to say "my mom," but . . . my mom. Of course all moms have contributed to our survival, but that word is particularly poignant to me because of a very vivid (and very unpleasant) memory. When I was young, I used to wake in the night practically unable to breathe. I can't remember if she would come find me or if I found her, but we would spend hours locked in the bathroom with the shower on full heat, steaming my way back to breathing. I don't know if I was ever diagnosed with anything or saw a doctor, but I remember believing in the early throes of breathlessness that if it got any worse, I would die. And she was always there to run the shower, rub my back, and make sure that I made it through the night. So, mom, thanks for giving me breath not once, but over and over.

Amie Stuart said...

Hmm there's a strange set of circumstances that went into me being where I am, so it's hard to pick just one person.

If my aunt hadn't volunteered at the maternity home where I was sent after I was born, she wouldn't be my aunt.

If the social worker hadn't told her she couldn't foster me, she never would have called my adoptive parents. And if my parent's oldest child hadn't been mentally retarded, giving my parents the skills and patience to deal with a special needs child, they might have said no to fostering me (yes I was supposed to be retarded *g*).

Tricia said...

I'm grateful to the young woman who gave me life, and gave me up, so that I might have a life she could only dream of. What a life she gave me. I only wish I could tell her.

Mitali Perkins said...

I love these tributes. Thanks for your honesty.

Kathy H said...

I'm grateful to the genes I inherited from my grandmother, who went to college and majored in math. When she died at a young age, the five children she left behind drifted and some got lost. When my mother dropped out of college to have me, she prayed that I'd be an easy child. I was. I won the math award at my high school, which meant a scholarship to a summer program, where I met a nice boy from California. I decided to go to school in California, but after we broke up I met a nice young man who I've been married to for 21 years. So if it weren't for my grandmother, my mother who kept her pregnancy, and that boy from California, my children wouldn't exist.

TadMack said...

Miss Emily was my great-great grandmother whose own mother spoke no English. Emily's mother's Atakapa and Choctaw culture made her uneasy among houses and walls, but she allowed her daughter to grow up and away from the Atchalafaya swamps and unto the roaring twenties -- where she took New Orleans by storm. I would not be here if Miss Emily hadn't saved the lives of her brothers and the future father of my grandmother by hiding weapons in a trunk by sitting on it... African Americans weren't meant to be just hanging around town owning weapons in the hang-'em-high 1920's South, and nobody remembers what mischief the weapons owners got up to now, but when the boys came running in with the law on their tails, Emily calmly told them to dump their weapons, hightail it out the back door, and she'd stall the lawmen.

They searched her house from top to bottom. It never occurred to them ask her long-legged, bosum-y self to get up from her indolent perch on that little trunk...

A funny family story that's been passed around, but certainly, people would have died if not for my great-grandmother's duplicity. She carried many of her secrets and memories to the grave, with a little half-smile that said, "wouldn't you like to know."

I know this story because my mother showed me a set of brass knuckles that Miss Emily kept for a little memento...

(I'm not really in the running for the books, but I thought I'd share this story -- and be amused and thankful for once for deceit!)

Anonymous said...

I'm grateful for my mom. I know this sounds stupid. But I was born out of wedlock, and she didn't abort me. I thank her for sparing my life, and letting me live. I think life is the most precious thing out there. Thanks again Mom! ~Katie P.

Cecil's Granddaughter said...

I owe a debt of gratitude to my late grandfather, Cecil. He and my grandmother live in a tiny 2 bedroom converted barn, with 13 sons and daughters. He was a fisherman, when he could find the work, and supported all 15 of his family on his meager salary, as my grandmother did not work.
Yet somehow, even through the loss of three children, and living with a wife who was a hypochondriac and hated him, he always had a twinkle in is eye. Whether he was playing the according, playing with his "pet" chickens and goat (they realy were pets!), or trying to stretch a loaf of bread for days.
Through my grandfather, I learned what it means to be kind, and to be happy with what you have. He was the most generous man I have ever known, and woud put a stranger before himself. I am eternally grateful to have ever known a man like my grandfather.

micaela6955 said...

I will never know who he was, but when I was about 5 I was playing in the pool when I was in Florida on vacation with my mom. Back then, in the early 70's they didn't have areas roped off or anything. The only other occupants at the hotel pool were this gentleman and his two children, a bit older than I, who could swim like fish. I SO wanted to try to be like them, and in a split second had bounced off the steps I had been playing on and was now in water over my head. I flailed a bit and the man noticed me in trouble, and jumped right in to get me. Phew! After a stern warning from mom-who'd been watching like a hawk but glanced down for a split second because a huge bug had been crawling on her leg-she signed me up for swim lessons when we got home to Maine after thanking the man profusely of course! If he hadn't been in the right place at the right time, I wouldn't have been writing this today.

beckylevine said...

I loved Blink. I think my husband would love this new one of Gladwells, so here I go. :)

25+ years ago, I started collage at UC Irvine. I picked that school, because--as an English major--I could do a concentration in Creative Writing. Over the next four years, I had many workshops with Oakley Hall, one of the founders of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Oakley was a great writing teacher, but more than that, he taught us how to critique. Every class was taught in a critique group format, and we learned hands-on, how to support and encourage other writers, how to respect the vision they had for their stories, and how to help someone work hard to take their fiction apart and put it back together, a step closer to being "done." In the years since UCI, I have kept that vision of a strong critique group as a part of my complete writing goal, and I've benefited tremendously from my relationship with writers who critique. This year, I got a contract with Writers Digest to write a book on critique groups and the critique process. This year, Oakley Hall also died. The book will be dedicated to him; I only wish I could send him a finished copy.

Michelle R. said...

I am thankful for my mother, a librarian, who taught me to read very early in life. She also taught me that books were treasures. I still scold my husband for laying his books down open-faced or for using them as a coaster. And he's a librarian! Most importantly, she taught me that I could experience anything by reading a book on the topic. Love you Mom!

Anonymous said...

OMG I'm bengali too! (not an author, a teen) I just found about you through readersgirlz. how cool.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I loved Alexie's THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN--and I enjoy his poetry. I do so admire the way he writes about sad and sometimes dark subjects with a touch of humor.

I am thankful for my maternal grandparents who came to America from Poland in the early part of the 20th century. They met in Boston, got married, and moved to Peabody, the Tanner City. Both of them worked in leather factories there. Their home was a place where my sister, cousins, and I always felt loved and accepted. My grandparents, who lost two of their four children in early adulthood, took great joy in their grandchildren. They were humble people. Family was the most important thing to them. That is something I learned from them and my mother.

sandhya said...

This is a lovely idea -- the invitation to put down in words one's debt of gratitude ... Not long after I moved to the US in grade 6, I got sick and ended up missing school for several weeks. When I went back, the trauma of illness, coupled with adjustment to a new school and country hurt my performance in school. Within two months, I went from being a student who'd always stood in the top 3 throughout my school days in India to being tracked into the "7-3" section, defined as a less than mediocre student by a school system that was unable to look past my circumstances and experience. I owe much to Mrs. Dee, my 9th grade English teacher. She spotted the writer in me and rescued me from a tracked regimen of high school classes and encouraged me to apply for the English and History Honors courses, something I never would have thought of doing because, sadly, I had begun to think of myself as less than mediocre. Applying for (and getting into) those honors classes during my sophomore year changed everything - my destiny, my direction, and my self-perception. And, it would never have been possible without Mrs. Dee, the English teacher who introduced me to the joys of Shakespeare and Siddhartha ...

Aline Pereira said...

I only saw this post today... but any time is a good time to express gratitude, right? I am thankful to you and to all children's book writers, illustrators, plublishers, literacy advocates. etc, etc. Without you all I would have never experienced the joy of doing what I do for a living. Thank you!

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