Monday, October 20, 2014

Letter To My Daughter by Maya Angelou

Letter To My Daughter is categorized as one of Maya Angelou’s many autobiographies. This book contains snapshots of “events and lessons that [she] found useful.” With this book being published in 2008, Angelou had a chance to reflect on nearly her entire life. Knowing that made the events that she chose to write about even more significant.

Many of you may know that Angelou had only one child, a son. But she would tell you that she had thousands of daughters. I’ve deemed this autobiography as a love letter. It's a book that says these are the lessons that you do not have to learn for yourself.

The thought of becoming a teen mother and being beaten to near death may be foreign to some people. The idea of traveling the world as a dancer and having friends like James Baldwin, Alex Haley, and Coretta Scott King may sound like something that doesn’t happen to someone like you. But even though your story may not be the same as hers, Angelou has a way of showing you yourself through her own experiences.

I finished the book in couple of hours. When I was done, I had marked something from nearly every chapter. It was certainly worth the time it took to read it. Actually, it was worth more.

“I don’t believe that we should be brutal about anything, however, it is wonderfully liberating to be honest. One does not have to tell all one knows but we should be careful what we do say is the truth.”
Letter to My Daughter

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 Letter to My Daughter on Amazon
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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Author Event with Marlon James

Marlon James is a Jamaican writer who you may remember as the author of The Book of Night Women. I have the novel but have not read it. Signings often help me determine how soon I will read an author’s book. When I learned that James was coming to town to promote his new book, I took the opportunity to learn more about his work. 

According to Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel "uses the story of the 1976 assassination attempt on Marley as a kind of trampoline, bouncing off that terrible event into a multilayered, choral inquiry into Jamaican politics and poverty, into race and class, and into the volatile relationship between the United States and the Caribbean."

Just before James started his reading from the novel, he mentioned cutting 10,000 words from the book the last minute. Even so, he still ended up with 704 pages! That seems like a lot of time to spend with characters. But considering James says there are something like 200 characters in the book, and many of them die, it seems we won’t have to spend too much time with anyone for too long. I'm still not sure if he was joking about the 200 characters, but he later mentioned needing a spreadsheet to keep track of all of them.

After he was done reading from a few places in the book, which were very comedic, James answered some questions.  Here are a few of the responses.

Responses are paraphrased.

On the origin of the book:
The book was inspired from a Timothy White article which came out approximately 15 years before my first novel.

On the toughest post of the writing process:
Figuring out what to write! It takes about 2 years to figure out what to write but once I start writing, I can breeze through. Being fair to bad guys as well as good ones is also tough.

On where his inspiration comes from while writing:
I create a reading library for the novels when I write and I read them while writing. I referred to American Tabloid by James Ellory a lot while writing this novel. By the end of A Brief History of Seven Killings, I’d probably read 40 novels. And that’s just the fiction list which doesn’t include other references I used. If you had the list of books I was reading while writing, you could probably tell what I was reading and where.

On why it’s not necessary to shut out the “noise” from other writers:
I don’t avoid other books because books are in conversation with books. Books end up in my books. Reading is also an excuse for me to not write.

I wouldn't mind seeing the list of books that ended up in this one. I find that's where many of my book recommendations have come from, other books! You can view the entire event, which was filmed by the bookstore, in the video below. 

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A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel on Amazon
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Monday, October 6, 2014

Ayiti by Roxane Gay

Photo Credit: Amazon Author Page

This is only the second collection of short stories that I’ve read. The first was Krik?Krak! by Edwidge Danticat. Between these two authors, I think I’m beginning to like short stories.

Ayiti’s stories are about the Haitian experience. They discuss life in Haiti and life in America. One of the stories,“Things I Know About Fairy Tales”, is what subsequently became a novel, An Untamed State. A significant amount of content from the remaining stories was borrowed and used in the novel as well. It’s likely that since I read An Untamed State before reading Ayiti, it curbed my enthusiasm for this book.  

That said, “A Cool Dry Place” is one of the stories that I would read if it were turned into a novel. Yves and his wife Gabi have promised each other that they will not bring a child into the world, specifically, poverty stricken Haiti. Gabi describes it as “but one more sorrow heaped onto a mountain of sorrows we share.” Yves is determined to go to America and he finally convinces Gabi to go with him on a boat to Miami.

“In the Manner of Water and Light” is a compelling story about a grandmother who is “haunted by bloody smells.” This is because the grandmother ended up in Massacre River, fortunately alive, which was not the fate of so many others. This story which is based on historical events, that I first became familiar with in Danticat’s The Farming of Bones, refers to the Parsley Massacre.  

I enjoyed several of the stories and was indifferent about others. It seems, at least from this book, that Haitians generally have an unfavorable view of Americans. It’s a theme that runs throughout. The book also addresses stereotypes. In one story, a Haitian college student  has a roommate that assumes she practices voodoo. The girl doesn’t correct her, but instead plays along.

I'm not sure what earns a book an erotica classification but this book was pushing that boundary. Since I'm not a fan of erotica, I was over it after a while. An Untamed State was filled with erotic scenes too. They were offset with extensive descriptions of brutal sexual assaults. I guess that's just something you'll get with Gay's novels. But we will have to wait and see!

I will read Bad Feminist, the third of Gay’s three published books, sometime before the end of the year. And Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri will be the next collection of short stories that I read. 

Also on Reading Has Purpose: Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay

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Ayiti on Amazon
An Untamed State on Amazon
Bad Feminist: Essays on Amazon

The Farming of Bones on Amazon
Krik? Krak! on Amazon

Interpreter of Maladies on Amazon