Wednesday, April 23, 2014

2014 Reading Update #1 and A Few Thoughts!

This year started with what seemed like the winter that was never going to end. But while everyone else was griping about freezing temperatures and endless snow, being tucked away in the house propelled me into some type of literary vortex. And it's been euphoric! Here is a rundown on my 2014 reading progress.

Books Finished

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates: Reading this book was a great way to start the year. It is a book that should be read by African American men and boys and I recommend it to each one that I know. It is also a book for readers. It’s difficult to explain. It’s the reason I haven’t written the review. You just have to read it.

The Wealth Choice by Dennis Kimbro

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty: This isn't a book I would've chosen but I read it because it was a book club selection. It had a bit too much going on for me. I had to draw a diagram in order to remember all of the characters. But it makes you think about how one event can cause you to question everything that happened before it. What did you miss? What did you ignore? The book was okay but it was 400 pages. I would've been good with 250. 

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga: This book is about the endurance and oppression of women. I became a fan of Tambu, the main character, immediately. She's what could be considered a rebel and I found myself cheering for her. This is a powerful story about women trying to make their way in a society that tells them to stay in their place. It deserves so much more than the few sentences I just put together so please follow-up on this one!

Migrations of the Heart by Marita Golden

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore: The review is coming!

Foreign Gods by Okey Ndibe

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie

Don't Play in the Sun by Marita Golden

Try to Make Your Life by Margot Friedlander

Redemption Song by Bertice Berry: This book is set in a bookstore. The owner prides herself on knowing what books her customers should read better than they do. It turns into a love story when a man and a woman both enter the store on the same day looking for the same book. A journey of self discovery unwinds when they start reading the book and painful family histories are revealed. They eventually learn that their fates were determined long before they were ever born. 

Currently Reading
'Til the Well Runs Dry
The Rat-boys of Karalabad

Ditched It

Open City by Teju Cole: After reading Every Day Is for the Thief and loving it, I dove right into Open City which is the first of Cole’s two novels. Fortunately I didn't read this one first or I may not have given Every Day Is for the Thief a chance. I didn't find the main character of this book interesting enough to keep reading about.

The Longest Date: Life as a Wife by Cindy Chupack - After reading The Between Boyfriends Book, I was looking forward to this one. I wasn't expecting this book to read like a memoir; I don’t believe it is classified as such. I expected the book to be an entertaining take on life as a wife, not about Chupack's life as a wife. By the time I got to page 65, I didn’t want to see Ian’s name again.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith: This book. Oh gosh. It just wasn’t working for me. I didn’t make it through the first chapter but I'm not giving up on her. I will try to read one of her other books.

Excited About

An interesting discussion on Goodreads has me paying closer attention to the number of book that I read by Black male authors. I conveniently received two novels courtesy of Atria Books just after making this declaration. Red Now and Laters:A Novel was released on March 11, 2014. Forty Acres:A Thriller will be released on July 1, 2014. Both are written by Black men.

So what have you been reading!?

Affiliate Links

The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood on Amazon

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates on Amazon

Redemption Song: A Novel on Amazon

The Husband's Secret on Amazon

Sunday, April 20, 2014

COFFEE TABLE BOOK: American Cool by Joel Dinerstein


I visited the American Cool Exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in D.C. last week. The exhibition is a collection of portraits of one hundred individuals who were chosen as “cultural icons” during their respective eras in American history. 

I enjoyed the exhibition very much, recognized nearly all of the faces, and knew a little something about the individuals as well. I was rather pleased with myself for being so familiar with the cool crowd. My excitement led me to the gift shop and where I was happy to find American Cool, the book! 

 American Cool section of the gift shop

One notable thing about the selected few is that they are all are considered celebrities. It does not include scientists, presidents, ect. I’ve singled out a few of the individuals that are relatable in the day to day dealings of Reading Has Purpose. I couldn't help but give you a preview of who you’ll find in the book! 

Frederick Douglass
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass touched me in all kinds of ways. I highly recommend the book and am somewhat disappointed with myself for not having visited his home which is now a National Historic site in Washington, D.C.

Jack Johnson
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson  has been on my to-read since I spotted it in someone’s home a couple of years ago. I finally bumped it to high priority and it should find its way to my mailbox this week. 

Bessie Smith was familiar to me because shortly before attending the exhibition, I had added Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday to my to-read list. The book was written by Angela Davis who is also an American Cool selection.

Miles Davis is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and the author of Miles, the best autobiography I’ve read to date. I never have much to say about Miles Davis. I just tell people to read his book. It’s all there. It’s all there!  I learned from American Cool, the book, that Miles Davis composed a soundtrack in honor of Jack Johnson. And it has one awesome album cover!

Malcolm X
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is high priority on my to-read list. After attending an event with the authors of A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X, I became more interested in reading it than I had previously been. I already have the autobiography in my possession.

Zora Neale Hurston wrote what is certainly one of the most beautiful love stories ever when she penned Their Eyes Were Watching God. Since reading that book, love doesn’t look the same way to me. And I thank Zora Neale Hurston for that.  

James Baldwin
I read The Fire Next Time last year and underlined nearly every sentence in the book! It is on my list of books to re-read but I will read a few of his other books first. New York Live Arts is celebrating James Baldwin who they describe as an “overlooked American writer who is arguably the most profound and imperative voice of the twentieth century.” The celebration will include a series of live events from Apr 23 - Apr 27, 2014.

If you’re on the fence regarding the value of coffee table books, sit this one out and watch it do its job in no time!  

UPDATED 6/7/2014: I finally visited the Frederick Douglass house in May 2014! 

Affiliate Links
American Cool on Amazon

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass on Amazon

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson on Amazon

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday on Amazon

View all by Angela Y Davis on Amazon

Tribute to Jack Johnson (Album) on Amazon

Miles: The Autobiography on Amazon

The Autobiography of Malcolm X on Amazon

View all by Hurston on Amazon

View all by Baldwin on Amazon

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Author Event with Margot Friedlander

I had the pleasure of attending the U.S. book launch event for Margot Friedlander's Try to Make Your Life: A Jewish Girl Hiding in Nazi Berln. The book was originally published in Germany. The first translation was done by a student, as a labor of love. This more in depth translation followed.

After being introduced to the audience, one of the first things I notice is how agile she was. She moved well, she spoke well, she didn't even wear reading glasses. She has a very spirited way about herself and even came across as feisty at times!

Margot spoke briefly before spending a significant amount of time reading from her book. One very moving moment was when she reached the section that described her discovery of the things her mother left for her. In her mother’s purse, there was an address book filled with contacts that would later be useful. And there was her mother’s amber necklace. As Margot read, she reached for the necklace; she was wearing it. 

Margot, in her mother's necklace.

When she finished reading, she stopped our applause to make a powerful statement -
When I speak to students, I tell them I came back to Germany to tell you the story of people that can't speak for themselves. It is up to you that this must never happen again. I cannot reach all of you. But if I reach a few of you, I have done good. 

When asked about how the experience impacts her ability to trust people-
I do trust people. I think people are basically good. 

When asked how she maintained hope-
I was young. I wanted to live…. I had slight hope of being [reunited] with my mother and brother again. 

When asked if she’s had a happy life-
What is happiness? I had a wonderful husband to whom I was married for 52 ½ years. We had a wonderful life together. We made great friends…..I enjoyed my work….I think it was a happy life. But it is very different for people that survive these tragedies because we are broken people. We feel we are not the same. We can’t help that. Comfortable? Yes. Happy? In a way.

Yours truly and Margot. I forgot to turn on my flash :(

I wanted to ask does it get any easier. After hearing the response to the last question, I decided that I should not. It was an event that I will remember for a lifetime.

NPR also had a representative in attendance. They posted about the event and shared an audio clip here.

I posted the review of Try to Make Your Life here

Affiliate Link
Try to Make Your Life on Amazon

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Try to Make Your Life: A Jewish Girl Hiding in Nazi Berlin by Margot Friedlander

Margot, while reading.

After reading Night, I knew I’d read another book written by a holocaust survivor. I got lucky when I found that a book launch event for Try To make Your Life by Margot Friedlander was being held in DC. I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher and I made it about halfway through the book beforehand. Margot spent a significant amount of time reading from her memoir at the start of the event. When I got back home to finish reading the second half, I could no longer do so without hearing her voice. 

Through the first forty pages or so, she recounts what many would consider an ideal childhood. But that was before the Nazis came into power. She then details how Jews were systematically demoralized. Little by little, they were stripped of their properties, their possessions, their businesses, and even their professional accreditations.  

Margot’s mother tried, desperately, to get herself and her two children out of the country.  Family and friends, even those that had already immigrated, turned their backs. When they finally caught a break, on the day they were to emigrate, Margot arrived home to find the Gestapo at her door. Her mother and brother had been taken away and Margot’s mother left her with a message: Try to make your life.

Margot decides to go into hiding. Over the course of fifteen months, sixteen strangers help her. Someone gave her a silver cross pendant to wear so that people would think she was Christian. A doctor even gave her a nose job, for free, after she was afraid of being discovered because of her “Jewish looking nose.” Eventually she finds herself in an impossible situation. When asked for papers to prove her identity, she turns herself in. And then, she was taken to a concentration camp which she ultimately describes as a "middle ground, not life,not death." 

The book ends with Friedlander describing that she could only write the book after the death of her husband. Had her husband been alive she would not have done it. He was also a survivor and wanted nothing to do with Germany. Thinking back on her mother's and her brother's last moments and wondering if her father harbored any regrets about abandoning the family are two of the things she still wonders about today. It was writing the book finally led her home to Germany. She moved back in 2009.

I'll post the event recap soon. And you'll want to stay tuned for this one.

Updated 4/17/2017: You can find the event recap here.

Affiliate Link
Try to Make Your Life on Amazon

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Don't Play in the Sun by Marita Golden

After reading Migrations of the Heart, I started searching for all kinds of information on Marita Golden. When I found out that she would be participant in an ongoing lecture series at a local university, it was a no-brainer that I’d be there. She discussed Don't Play in the Sun which was assigned to students as the official reading for English 101 at the university. The lecture series is free and open to the public. 

From the book’s back cover:
“Don't play in the sun. You’re going to have to get a light-skinned husband for the sake of your children as it is.” In these words from her mother , novelist and memoirist Marita Golden learned as a girl that she was the wrong color. Her mother had absorbed “colorism” without thinking about it. Even today, as Golden shows in this provocative book, biases based on skin color persist-and so do their long-lasting repercussions.

First in line!

After providing a brief introduction to the book, Golden opened her lecture by posing a question to the audience. “How do we institutionalize healing?” We were able to think on that while Golden expounded on topics covered in the book.

After much discussion, one attendee claimed that this concept of colorism is old news and asked what was the purpose of the book. (Colorism is discrimination based on skin color (light, medium, dark) and not the same racism.) Golden responded, “The book was written for healing; but when you write to heal you, you heal others in the process.”  

Sure enough, when I started reading this book, I thought I was in for a bit of healing that I didn’t know I needed. She was telling my story. The story of being the little girl who draped her mother’s long silk scarves on her head and held them in place with bobby pins. For me, it was cheerleading pom poms. Then she pretends that she has long flowing hair.

The story of being the little girl that hated square dance class, because that’s where partners get assigned. And she knows the other kids, that do not look like her, do not want to hold her hand. For me, it was cheerleading camp. So she ends up partnered with an adult, in a class full of children.

After the lecture.

As the book goes on, it becomes less relatable for me and starts to feel like a story that is Golden's own. She shares countless experiences when she was impacted by colorism. At times it feels like projecting, but in places, it is difficult to deny. She discusses how influential television has been in contributing to the problem. How a light-skinned friend reluctantly disclosed that she was experiencing issues relating to colorism. She even tackles the topic from a global view by discussing the experiences, that she viewed first hand, of Black people battling colorism in other countries.

Just before the lecture ended, we attempted to answer the question posed to open the session. There was agreement that it starts in the home.Golden challenged everyone in attendance to start telling dark skinned girls that they are beautiful. They don’t hear it as much as light skinned, curly hair girls do.

Affiliate Links
Don't Play in the Sun on Amazon
View all by Golden on Amazon