Monday, November 08, 2010

The Grace of Silence: A Memoir by Michele Norris

The parade of books from National Public Radio is long and impressive. Beginning with Susan Stamberg, Bob Edwards, and Scott Simon, and continuing with a host of foreign and national correspondents, news analysts, science editors, and even librarians, many from the NPR staff have written books that have been received well by the critics and the book-reading public. Last year my library stocked one of its monthly book displays with titles by NPR journalists. I especially liked how we brought together a great variety of subjects, including some fiction and memoirs as well as the expected books spun off from reporting on current events. With many NPR listeners among our cardholders, author name recognition was high, and the books circulated well.

All Things Considered cohost Michele Norris has now added to the list by writing The Grace of Silence, a thoughtful memoir about her family being the first blacks in a Minneapolis suburban neighborhood. In it, she tells about how her father and mother hid many of their bad racial experiences from her, wanting her to grow up without prejudice or fear. They strove to be average Americans enjoying the prosperity and freedom that the 1960s and 1970s offered and rarely let down their guards to show any irritation at slights and insults. In the 1960s, they tried with enthusiasm to outdo whites at being good neighbors: clearing their sidewalks of snow first, keeping their yard immaculate, and driving nice (but not flashy) cars. In the 1970s, they took on some of the symbols of black pride. Norris tells a particularly interesting story about her mother insisting she get an Afro.

Without the skills of a journalist, Norris might never have discovered that her very proper grandmother once portrayed Aunt Jemima for Quaker Oats and that her father was shot by police in Birmingham, Alabama just weeks after returning from World War II. Getting to the roots of these stories and measuring their effects on her family took Norris years of research and interviewing family, friends, and foes. The result of her efforts is a family story that reflects on the history of our country. Entertaining and with only 174 pages of text, The Grace of Silence would make an excellent choice for book discussions. Teens might also enjoy the coming of age aspects of the memoir.

Norris, Michele. The Grace of Silence: A Memoir. Pantheon Books, 2010. ISBN 9780307378767.

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