Sunday, August 31, 2014

Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

Author Image:Amazon author page

“Moments after Lisbeth is born, she’s taken from her mother and handed over to an enslaved wet nurse, Mattie, a young mother separated from her own infant son in order to care for her tiny charge. Thus begins an intense relationship that will shape both of their lives for decades to come. Though Lisbeth leads a life of privilege, she finds nothing but loneliness in the company of her overwhelmed mother and her distant, slave-owning father. As she grows older, Mattie becomes more like family to Lisbeth than her own kin and the girl’s visits to the slaves’ quarters—and their lively and loving community—bring them closer together than ever. But can two women in such disparate circumstances form a bond like theirs without consequence? This deeply moving tale of unlikely love traces the journey of these very different women as each searches for freedom and dignity.”

Sounds captivating right? Unfortunately, I had problems with this book from the beginning. The dialect wasn’t quite right and even when present, it didn’t feel authentic. The story didn’t feel like it was written of that time. The verbiage felt like is was from today. I had come to this conclusion even before one character used the words “laugh out loud” to describe her amusement. And that brings me to the simplicity.

Major spoiler follows!

There is a particularly fascinating series of events in which Mattie takes her child and runs away from the plantation. After reuniting with her husband and son, the author writes, “She had done it. They got away. And now they were together.”  This happened often, a tendency to state the obvious, and in a mundane way.

In the second half of the book, Lisabeth and Mattie’s stories separate but only Lisabeth’s story is told. The synopsis is misleading in this regard. Nearly the entire second half of the book is about Lisabeth and her road to becoming an abolitionist.

There were some parts of the book that I enjoyed. Unlike everything I've read where it's impossible to empathize with the slave owners, Lisabeth's internal conflict was critical to the story and I felt for the child. I do believe that the premise for the book was good. But with so many things working against the story, it was a challenge for me to like it.

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Yellow Crocus on Amazon

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. As with all reviews posted, views expressed are genuine and are in no way influenced by external sources. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Part One - 10 Books That I'm Determined to Read Before the Year Ends

Author Image:
A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes 
(Harlem Cycle Detective series Book 1)

After reading about Chester Himes for the first time on Mosaic Literary Magazine's website, I added him to my high priority list. According to the article, Himes started his literary career while serving a seven and a half year prison sentence. I read his first novel If He Hollers Let Him Go which was published in the 1940’s  and immediately knew that I would read more of his work. I have not yet complete an entire book series. Maybe the Harlem Cycle Detective series will be the first. 


Author Image:  Amazon author page

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I have no idea what this book is about. But when I read in an article somewhere that the main character is an introvert, I was sold. Well that plus the fact that I enjoyed This Is How You Lose Her, Diaz’s first book. Fortunately I found a copy at one of my favorite used book stores, so it’s at my fingertips. 

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An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is all up in my Facebook news feed these days. I’m not usually one that’s inclined to read what everyone else is reading but I at least had to see what all of the excitement was about. When I read the synopsis on this book and realized it was set in Haiti, it was a done deal.  But Gay has my dearest, Edwidge Danticat, to thank for that. Danticat has me fascinated with all things Haitian. 

Profiles in Courage by John F Kennedy
I was watching a documentary on JFK, when it was mentioned that this book won a Pulitzer Prize. I searched for it for a while and I finally found it at another one of my used bookstore escapes. Hopefully reading Profiles in Courage will remove the horrific image of his assassination which immediately comes to mind when I hear his name. I wish I had never seen the video. 

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Anything else by James Baldwin
I’ve only read one book by James Baldwin. Shameful. In light of the situation in Ferguson, many have used his words to express how they feel. After reading The Fire Next Time and nearly underlining the entire book, I decided that it would be worth a re-read. But I think I’ll pick up another of his works first. I own several. 

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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A Rage in Harlem on Amazon
All by Himes on Amazon

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on Amazon
View all by Diaz on Amazon
An Untamed State on Amazon
All by Gay on Amazon

Profiles in Courage on Amazon
All by Kennedy on Amazon

View all by Baldwin on Amazon

Sunday, August 17, 2014

5 Memorable Memoirs That You May Have Missed

I love memoirs and autobiographies. I once heard someone say, “Our history is in those stories.” And it’s true. There are some memoirs that capture so much more than the life of person telling the story. I’ve decided to highlight a few books that do exactly that. Here are five memorable memoirs that you may have missed.

Photo Credit:
Brothers (& me) encompasses a range of events that any number of people will relate to. Countless black women will find their own experiences in Britt’s story and an equal number of black men will begin to understand where the “expectations” come from.  Follow the link to find my review on this memoir that beautifully lays out that no matter how painful, love equals giving. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Donna Britt’s older brother was shot to death by police in Gary, Indiana.

Photo Credit: Amazon Author Page
This was my first read of 2014 and I still haven’t been able to pull together the words to tell you why you should read this book. It was recommended to me last summer by Derrick Young, Co-Founder of Mahogany Books. I’ve received more book recommendations than I can even remember. But with the way that Derrick spoke about this book, I knew I’d actually read it.  

The Beautiful Struggle is one of those books that keeps you up past your bedtime. It’s about a young man growing up in Baltimore, his parents willing to do anything to keep him from becoming a statistic. This book, I adored it. And I now recommend it to every black man that I know. Although Coates has not written another book, he did not become a statistic (at least not a negative one), and he is still writing must-read work like his recently published article, The Case for Reparations.

You haven’t read anything like this. Janet Mock is a trans woman who knew from a very early age that even though she was born male, a boy, she was not. This is not a sob story. She tells her journey in the most compelling and entertaining way. When asked what is the mark she hopes to leave on the world? She responds, “To liberate young poor trans girls of color.” This book is a beautiful start and I was glad to hear that she is writing another. Follow the link to find my review of Redefining Realness.

Bill T. Jones Photo Credit: Stephanie Berger
The first time I recall seeing Bill T. Jones is when I came across his portrait in an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. He was one of several individuals whose image I saw there that I wanted to learn more about. After reading The Last Night on Earth, I concluded that Bill T. Jones is a man of much depth. He has lived such a full life and his memoir validates this well known affirmation: It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Dancer, choreographer, and co-founder of the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Bill T Jones is a living legend.

Aishah Rahman Photo Credit: Broadway Play Publishing Inc
Aishah Rahman, born Virginia Hughes, writes about growing up in Harlem in the 40’s and 50’s. Rahman spends her childhood in the care of an abusive foster mother and lives a life that no child should experience. In addition to exposing the failures of the foster care system, reading Chewed Water was like receiving a mini history lesson. Her memoir captures the contention between black Americans and blacks from other countries, rent parties, colorism, the Great Migration, and so much more. Rahman is currently a Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University.

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Brothers (and Me) on Amazon

The Beautiful Struggle on Amazon

Redefining Realness on Amazon

Last Night on Earth on Amazon

Chewed Water: A Memoir on Amazon

Sunday, August 10, 2014

This Is the Day: The March on Washington by Leonard Freed

I received an electronic copy of this book courtesy of Getty Publications via NetGalley. I requested it because I’ve been paying more attention to what I call Coffee Table Books. This is a photo-essay book covering the 1963 March on Washington featuring photography by Leonard Freed. 

In the book’s foreword, Julian Bond gives insight about the purpose of the march (which changed after a speech by President Kennedy), choosing an organizer, and disagreement over words in John Lewis’s speech. He goes on to discuss the massive security detail that was put in place in Washington, D.C. to ensure a peaceful demonstration. This ultimately turned out to be a waste of resources. 

In Dyson’s essay which follows, he touches on quite a bit in only a few pages. A parallel is drawn between the death’s of Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till in only one paragraph. One paragraph more and he is on to discussing efforts to address fair employment. Not much further and Dyson identifies individuals with “hurt egos” because they would not get to speak at the march. I considered this a gateway essay which  identified starting points should decided to read more about the events leading up to the march.

The afterword begins with Paul Farber discussing Leonard Freed's arrival in Washington on the day of the march. Farber  gives a beautifully written and captivating recount of Freed's day and is somehow able to reveal the intimacy between Freed and his photography. I enjoyed reading this more than the previous sections an wonder, given the type of book this is, if this should've been expanded to cover the book's narration.

This photo-essay includes seventy-five photographs. A hardcover copy of This Is the Day would fit well into the Coffee Table Book category. It’s a great way to start the conversation about this historical event that is not talked about often these days. 

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This Is the Day: The March on Washington on Amazon

Monday, August 4, 2014

Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home by Sheri Booker

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I heard about this book because it was a Hurston Wright Foundation (brainchild of one of my favorites, Marita Golden) Legacy Awards nominee for 2014. As noted on the website, “the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award is an annual fundraising gala that honors and celebrates excellence in Black literature.”

In Nine Years Under, Booker recounts her nine years spent working under the mentorship of Albert Philip Wylie in Wylie Funeral Home. From the day she talked herself into the job at age fifteen, to the day she knew that it was time to move on, this book reveals the things that you never thought you’d know about what goes on behind the scenes one of the least glamorous professions.

When teenage parents of a deceased infant wanted Wylie Funeral Home to arrange the service, Booker learned from Wylie that sometimes you just have to do the right thing. The parents could only come up with $100 to pay for the service but Mr. Wylie agree to take what they could pay and cover the rest himself.

Although it may be apparent when an illness has caused changes in and individual’s weight before death, it’s not always something that a grieving family considers when choosing an outfit for burial. In the cases where clothes do not fit, Booker reveals tricks used by Wylie to fit the bodies into the clothes. I’m not sure if this is an industry standard but I found it thoughtful that Wylie does this to eliminate what could be an additional burden on the families.

Hair is not something that crosses my mind when I think burial but Wylie Funeral Home has rarely buried a woman whose hair didn’t need to be done. For hair that Wylie couldn’t manage himself, there was an on-call stylist.

In addition to the look inside the life of a funeral home director, I liked the tidbits about entrepreneurship and am glad Booker made that a part of her story. Even with what she learned, her experience seemingly had no impact on her career path. This was one of the things that I thought didn’t come to any resolution in the book.

I was also left wondering what happened to Booker’s mother who she mentioned received a cancer diagnosis. I felt some storylines seemed odd for this book and the recounts seemed insensitive in places (too many places) but hilarious in others. By the time I finished the book, I felt so-so about it. I’ll be watching to see what she writes next. 

“I would later learn that death smiles are man-made, a minor technique of skin adjustment.” 
Nine Years Under

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Nine Years Under on Amazon

View all by Booker on Amazon