Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Smarty Pants Book Club: "I Am Malala"
Guest Blog Post by Leah Ujda

In my pre-Design Concepts work life, I was a librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of my favorite experiences there was serving multiple years on the book selection committee for Go Big Read, the campus-wide common book program.
Sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor in partnership with the Center for First-Year Experience, and many other units of the university, the goal of Go Big Read is to “engage members of the campus community and beyond in a shared, academically focused reading experience.” This fall, our very own Smarty Pants Book Club joined thousands of others in the Madison community in reading "I Am Malala" by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.
“I Am Malala” is the true story of a girl in Pakistan who, along with her father, is a vocal advocate for girls’ right to an education in spite of the restrictions imposed by the Taliban. Malala’s father is a school owner who encouraged her to speak out, write and attend school from an early age. As a young student her story caught the attention of Western journalists and media. Malala’s (then anonymous) blog detailing daily life under the Taliban was picked up by the BBC when she was 11 years old and she was profiled in the New York Times in 2009. She became quite well known both internationally and in her home in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, and her outspoken views gained the attention of the Taliban. In October 2012, Malala was shot at point blank range by masked Taliban soldiers while riding the bus home from school.

One of the things we talked a lot about at book club was Malala’s perception of herself and her life – as Chad put it, “until she was shot in the head she didn't think she was particularly incendiary or special.” To the members of our book club – educated, employed, comfortable Americans – Malala and the people in her village often seemed to be dealing with life close to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. Their basic safety and security was not a given. Regardless of the dangerous environment she and her family lived in, Malala wrote about love, respect, independence and betterment.

By reading the same book and coming together to talk about it, we take an individual activity and make it social.

Related to this idea of perception, we talked a bit about Malala’s idealism and optimism. At the risk of being cynical and jaded, we wondered how much of her story and the presentation of it was coached. Christina Lamb, an award-winning British journalist, co-wrote the book with Malala and book club members agreed that it was very obvious that this story was being presented to a Western audience. Ultimately, our discussion wound around to the conclusion that it really didn’t matter how coached, edited or polished the story may have been. Stories like Malala’s pull people out of blindness and illustrate the powerful and destructive nature of ignorance.

There were moments in the book that revealed how broken the political system of Pakistan under the Taliban really is. For example, after she was shot Malala was transported to a hospital in England for treatment and it took two weeks for Malala’s family to gain the necessary paperwork to join her there. Corin noted that a system that prioritizes political favors and self-interest over the family of a critically wounded 15-year-old girl has stepped completely outside of human empathy. But this is not a “Pakistan thing” or even a “Taliban thing.” It is a human thing. Corruption can thrive anywhere with right set of circumstances, timing and luck.

We wrapped up our discussion with some reflection on common reading programs such as Go Big Read and the experience of participating in a book club. By reading the same book and coming together to talk about it, we take an individual activity and make it social. Corin participated in a campus-wide common book program during her freshman year at Virginia Tech, and both Roshelle and I previously took part in the Chicago Public Library’s “One City, One Book” initiative. Even our little office book club provides a forum for shared experiences that foster connections among people and push us to pick up books we might not have otherwise selected. All of us agreed that having a shared experience at the same time is rare and precious. “I Am Malala” filled the Smarty Pants Book Club with feelings of gratitude and connection just in time for the holiday season… and it made us feel a lot smarter while we watch “Homeland.”

Leah Ujda
Research Specialist
Design Concepts

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Anonymous Personnel said...

Great book, great courage.

December 31, 2014 at 1:09 PM  
Anonymous Serena said...

Such an inspiring read

January 9, 2015 at 3:30 PM  

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