The Book That Made My Slump Worse: Just Mercy

20342617It’s been a while since I last visited my own blog. I’ve been feeling rather depressed lately, and I just couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for reading or writing. As you can imagine, that just made me feel worse. Books are my escape from the real world, and I’ve been miserable not being able to enjoy delving into other lives and worlds. Of course this slump happened right when I desperately needed a break from this messed-up world we are living in.

My slump started back in May, right around the time I read Just Mercy for the Nonfiction Book Club hosted by Doing Dewey. Just Mercy is a book that everyone should read. I have been thinking about it a lot for the past 2 months, and I have had long discussions about it, both with others and with myself. It has had quite an impact on me.

I believe in the death penalty. On a purely theoretical level, far removed from any exposure to any kind of jail or inmate and against what my faith tells me, I believe that there are crimes that deserve to be punished by death. Yet reading this book has convinced me, finally, that the death penalty cannot exist. Unless we can guarantee that the people who are involved in death penalty trials can be just, no one should have the power to decide whether a fellow person should live or die. And how can we possibly guarantee complete impartiality?

This question did me in, because, sadly, these days, we don’t have to look far or search hard to see that justice is hardly ever the first thought in people’s minds. How easy people are to form opinions and judge—whether they know anything about a situation or a person’s circumstances or not. It is trivial when it is about a celebrity’s wardrobe choice, but it can have lasting consequences when we are judging a person’s action in or reaction to a situation we know little about and often don’t want to know about. Whatever happened to giving someone the benefit of the doubt or the concept of being innocent until proven guilty? It is easy to claim that something is done for the good of the people, but it is often even easier to realize that these are empty words, a cliché that is used because it sounds good. Then we bicker endlessly over laws and regulations that in the end are just as likely to hurt people as they are to help them.  Can’t we use our brain power more efficiently?

None of the facts presented so eloquently in this book surprised me. What a depressing and saddening realization that was! Maybe it is simply part of human nature that we can so easily be blinded by greed and personal grudges, by racism and a false sense of superiority that we see nothing wrong with prosecuting people who need help rather than condemnation. I don’t want to think like this. I want to believe that people are better than this, but I see little evidence of it on a daily basis.

In the end, one fact mentioned in the book has stood out more for me than many others: Between 1990 and 2005, a new prison was built in the United States every 10 days. Every 10 days! That’s approximately 550 prisons. Just think if those had been schools instead, or even just after-school programs. How much brighter the future could look for so many young people if they had access to a good education and something potentially useful to occupy and challenge them.… Well, I could go on and on here, but I am rather sick of being sick of society.

I am slightly encouraged by my increasing awareness that at least I am not alone in my despair over the state of humankind. I could even smile a bit about the fact that my native language, known for extra long nouns, has provided the perfect word to describe that desperate state of mind. We’ve also just had a wonderful long weekend, spent with family and friends and little time for the news. It has reminded me that people can disagree, but still be nice to each other and have a good time. How could I let myself forget that? I vow not to let that happen again.

With that being said, I hope to soon shake off this slumpy feeling that has hung over me for far too long. I am yearning to lose myself in a good book once again. Do you have any recommendations for me?

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24 comments

  1. It seems this review is a couple of months old now, but I hope now that it’s September, you’re feeling better and reading happily.
    I should add this book to my list of nonfiction books to read in the next several months. It does sound incredibly important and I would learn so much from it. Thank you for sharing how this book evolved your perspective on the death penalty.

  2. Wow! I’m glad this book made such a difference for you, but I’m sad to hear that you’ve been slumping and that this made it worse. I’m a bit behind getting to posts, so I hope you’re feeling better now and if you’re not, that you feel better soon 🙂 I don’t know if you like Liane Moriarty, but her latest book seems like it could be a good slump buster. It’s called Truly, Madly, Guilty and was a fast-paced thriller that I really enjoyed.

  3. I’m still trying to get out of my reading slump that’s been going on for MONTHS. Which also explains my lack of commenting and reading blogs. Pity this book didn’t do it for you. Onto the next then? 🙂

  4. So sorry to hear you’ve been in a slump… but very happy to see you back! I hope you continue to climb up and out. I’m thinking I might not read Just Mercy right now by the sounds of it, but maybe sometime…
    My brother had a hard time as a teen. He got into a lot of trouble, and he desperately needed to see a psychiatrist, but the wait time was huge. It wasn’t until he committed a more serious crime that he got bumped up. So the message? If you need to see the doctor, commit a crime – it’s the only way. My mother was furious and tried to do something about it, but I’m pretty sure nothing has changed. And, my brother eventually managed to pull through his teen years, in case you’re wondering. 🙂
    Nice to see you back!

    • On the one hand, it is a very timely read, but on the other hand, with everything going on at the moment, it’s very depressing. So maybe save it for later…
      In the US, they often just stick people with mental health issues into jails, with even less of a chance to get the help they need. I’m glad that didn’t happen to your brother! I’m glad there was a happier ending for him!

  5. Ok I’ve finally put this on hold. As my city faces such a huge school crisis that I don’t know where to enroll my kid you have my head spinning. What if we were focusing on schools vs. prisons?

    I second A Man Called Ove. I was recently enthralled with Sweetbitter and Dear Fang, With Love. Or I’d go totally happy and read Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster.

    • It’s a difficult read, but a good one. So sorry to hear about the school crisis where you live. I know it’s tough! I loved A Man Called Ove, but I have yet to check out the author’s other books. And I don’t know anything about Dear Fang, so I’ll check that one out. Thank you for the recommendation.

  6. So sorry to hear you’ve been going through a difficult period of late. That’s rotten – life can be very tough sometimes…

    As for book recommendations, have you read Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day? It’s the perfect pick-me-up if you’re feeling down and a little disillusioned with the world. I hope you find your mojo again soon. Wishing you all the best, J x

    • Thanks, Jacqui. I’m sure I’ll be back to normal soon enough. I have Miss Pettigrew waiting for me. Thanks for reminding me of this book! I remember how much you enjoyed reading it.

  7. You might be in a slump, but it actually sounds like you kinda needed it after that book – it seems like it was a lot to process.
    If you want something kind of happy to read, I can highly recommend ‘A Robot in the Garden’. It’s kind of cheesy but really sweet, and it made me feel happy when I finished it. I also listened to the audio version of Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ and I loved it! It’s easy to get lost in it.

  8. So glad you’re back, TJ! I was wondering where you were! I finished Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and I think it’s the kind of book that could pull anyone out of a slump, especially if you get the mass-market paperback. How I love holding mass-market paperbacks in my hands!

  9. Hugs! It’s hard to go through a shift in beliefs, but you’re very right, I think, about people being too flawed and unable to see past our biases to be able to deal out the death penalty and feel confident that it’s justice. (I’m on a further extreme — I don’t think it’s ever our place to punish another person’s crime with death, not because we are fallible but because we aren’t God and those lives aren’t ours to take away. People of good will can disagree on that, though, of course.)

    Good books — totally! I have read lots! What are you in the mood for? Eva Ibbotson’s The Morning Gift and Elinor Lipman’s The Family Man are two reliable comfort reads for me, when I’m feeling down and want to feel not-terrible about humanity.

  10. I haven’t written about this book because I didn’t know what to say. You said it better than I ever could. One thing you wrote really stuck out for me – what if all those prisons had been schools? We’ll never know.

    This book was SO HARD to read. But also, SO important. Think about if you hadn’t read it.

    But now. You need something that will heal your soul. A Man Called Ove? The Humans by Matt Haig? When Books Went to War? The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow? I hope you find something!

    • I’m definitely glad that I read the book. And now I can always point to the author as someone who is trying to make a difference and succeeding on many levels. Thanks for all your book suggestions. A trip to the library is in order (because, you know, I don’t have enough unread books at home…).

  11. Thanks for sharing this with us and being so honest about your feelings. It really does get discouraging to see the harsh judgments that are so prevalent in our society. I will have to take a look at this book.

  12. When I need an escape from the world, I turn to books I read when I was an optimistic younger person or books written for the next generation (who aren’t jaded yet). So, I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade and young adult fiction these days. I “justify” it by saying I’m vetting it for my children, but really, I’m also reading those books for myself.

    I want to read Just Mercy, but now is not the time for me to do it. I remember hearing Bryan Stevenson speak at my law school when I was a 1L. It was an event for people interested in public interest law. At the time, I had considered criminal law (defender-side), but I don’t have the strength for it.

    • If his speeches are anything like his writing, then I am sure it was an interesting event when you heard Stevenson speak. I like that despite his successful career, he still gives speeches at all different events.
      I read middle-grade fiction too, for the same reason you do. 😉 Do you know The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series? There are two books out now, and my oldest has enjoyed both of them.

      • Stevenson is an amazing speaker. He’s very inspiring, and I did end up becoming a public interest lawyer (civil side).

        The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency sounds familiar. You may have mentioned it to me before. I’ve now downloaded the ebook to read on my commute home (we’re having a horrible SEPTA issue right now, so I have hours of reading time on the platform). Thanks!

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