Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Last book post of 2015......

As I was looking at the lineup for the BOCAS lit festival in Trinidad, I ran across an image of Marlon James, and I was intrigued by the picture below:

In this image, Marlon looks like a serious brother who has a lot on his mind, and I just had to give his writings a chance, and so I read A Brief History of Seven Killings. In this novel he tells a fictional account of the killing of Bob Marley, and I was completely captivated by his ability to have so many characters and each character’s voice is clear, unique, and clearly developed.

Recently, a friend sent me a text about The Book of Night Women, and she thought that I had recommended it to her. However, upon reading this completely, fascinating novel, I am sure that I have NEVER read it before; there is no way that I could forget a book like this.

In The Book of Night Women, Marlon tells the story of enslaved Africans who were brought to Jamaica. The novel has a mystery element with the main character, Lilith, having a ‘dark side.’ There are a group of women who are planning a slave revolt, and the women want Lilith to be apart of their plan. However, because of the complexity of Lilith’s situation, she poses a few problems.

The cleverness of Marlon’s writing in this novel is that he is able pull the reader in and really make the reader think about love between a slave and a master, and can there ever be love present between two people when one owns the other one?... Well, the answer was pretty obvious to me until I read this book.

What I loved the most about this book is the portrayal of the women, and Marlon’s ability to create suspense....

The women are shown as being strong and in control of their destinies even while being enslaved; I was pulling for them and was on edge as they planned and implemented their revolt. This novel is totally unpredictable, and I could not even imagine what would happen next; it was suspenseful all the way until the very last page.

This book is a clear indicator that Marlon is a seriously, thinking man and a gifted writer!

Marlon James is ‘The Man'....

Read this book!

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Book Riot and The Read Harder Challenge!

If you love books and authors, then the DC area is the place to be; there are always literary events going on!

I took some time to look over the books that I read in 2015, and I realized that I did some heavy reading. While I loved most of the books that I read, I've decided that in 2016 I would broaden my horizons some.

So, I heard about a book club meeting that was being held at Upshur bookstore in DC. (President Obama recently visited this bookstore with his girls.) Once I realized that this was a casual book meeting where people would casually sit around and  talk about books, I decided to give this book group a try, and I am so happy that I did.

There were seven people in attendance besides myself, and I realized that this book club is part of the online book group called Book Riot which is a huge book review website and so much more. (Never heard of Book Riot, but now I know.) Book Riot has Read Harder book groups in different cities, and the book club meeting that I attended was one of the Read Harder book groups.

The Reader Harder book groups offers a challenge, and the challenge is to read harder. The way that they want people to read harder is that they give a list of genres of books such as horror, essays, book in a series by a person of color, a food memoir, a play etc. The reader will fill out the challenge sheet as they read books in the genres that are listed, and by the end of the year, a person would have read all types of book. What a good way to get people to read out of their comfort zone!

The Read Harder Challenge sheet, and I even got a few suggestions last night!

I enjoyed the group so much; they talked about books and writers that I have never heard of before, and it was great to get recommendations. Needless to say, I will be going back to meet with this group the third Sunday of each month to talk and learn about books.

In 2016, I am going to Read Harder. 

Read about Read Harder book groups here.
Read about Book Riot here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Books for Christmas 2015!

This year I have written forty-four blogs about books, and I ain’t finished yet......

Last year, my niece, Kayla, thought that it would be a great idea for me to write a blog recommending books that I thought would be great Christmas presents. So, I went through this entire blog and found books that I really, really loved, and I wrote a list of my top ten. (Here is my Books for Christmas 2014 list.)

However, this year, I decided that I would list my top ten books that I read in 2015, and I hope that you will select one or all of them and share them with people whom you love.

My People, my readings this year have been both liberating and stimulating. This highly, racially charged world in which we are currently living in had me frantically reading trying to understand race, myself, and my place in this world. (I am a changed person because of my readings.) 

I definitely read books that spoke to my heart, but I also purposefully read books that created a lot of buzz so that when someone runs across this blog one hundred years from now, he/she can get a feel for the times in which we are living and the impact that the times had on me.

So, here are my TOP 10 Books of 2015:

#10 The Power of the Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy! Joseph is proposing that we can use the power of the subconscious mind to heal our bodies and our relationships; attract wealth, success and healthy people into our lives; be young forever; to rest at night; to be happy; to forgive; to remove fear. He is basically proposing what so many other books such as The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyers proposes: "If you change your thoughts, you can change your life.” I have been practicing being very conscious of my thoughts, and it definitely has not been easy, but I know that changing my thoughts has changed my life for the better. (Read about it here.)

#9 Bicycle Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni! If you read this blog often, you know that I love Nikki Giovanni and her writings. This little book of poetry is so delightful and fun to read. I keep this little book near, and when I want to feel love, I read a poem from this book. Everybody needs a book of poetry in his/her house. (Read about it here.)

#8 Sacred Search by Gary Thomas! This is a book that I know that I was led to by God, really! This book helped me to put all of my relationships in perspective, and this is one of those books that I will read and reread and reread. (Read about it here.)

#7 Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez! With this novel, one of the themes that Dolen deals with is “Letting go of the s#$t that’s holding us back” as stated by Toni Morrison in Song of Solomon. All three characters had to deal with their past in order to fly. And, once they made peace with their past, everything was all right. This is just a great read! (Read about it here.)

Me and Dolen!
#6 The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill! With this book, Lawrence is able to bring the horrors of slavery alive, and he does it in a way that is engaging and with an incredible storyline. At the time that I read this book, I did not know much about Africans fighting during the American Revolutionary War, and I felt liberated knowing that we have been fighting for our freedom since the day that we were forced here. (Read about it here.)

#5 If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin! I read quite a bit of James Baldwin this year, and my reading of Baldwin has me rethinking my thoughts about race. If Beale Street Could Talk is one of Baldwin’s fictional pieces that left me speechless, and to be honest, quite upset. My people, sometimes we need to be upset, and anything by James Baldwin will rattle you just a bit. (Read about it here.)

#4 Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward! This book is Jesmyn’s autobiography that I literally have been thinking about just about everyday since I’ve read it. Her truth is raw and should be read over and over and over. We can not forget the folks who are living in the deep South, and with this book, Jesmyn gives our Southern brothers and sisters voices. (Read about it here.)

Me and Jesmyn

#3 The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs! Much like Men We Reaped, this is one of those books that I just can not stop thinking about it. I am constantly trying to figure out who failed Robert Peace? (Read about it here.)

#2 Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson! This is not a feel good book at all, but it is one that must be read. Our criminal justice system is being discussed heavily today, and we all need to pay close attention. This is a book that gives great insight into the justice system, but it reads like a novel. You will not be disappointed. (Read about it here.)

Me and Bryan!

#1 Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates! This book has been making headlines this year, and it is not just hype. This is an incredible book that will be around and discussed for years to come. Coates beautifully strings words together, and I couldn’t help but to fall in love with his writing style. As a country, I think that we need to have some honest, raw conversations about race, and this book is honest and raw and should be added to our conversations. When Toni Morrison says that this book is “required reading,” then it is required reading. (Read about it here.)

Now, there are many books that I read and absolutely loved this year that did not make this list, and so I am also highly recommending God Help the Child by Toni Morrison, Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique, Losing My Cool by Thomas Williams, and Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin.

Give the gift that keeps on giving: BOOKS!

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading.....

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The stories that are being written today from Jesmyn Ward to Kiese Laymon to Robert Peace to Ta-Nehisis Coates are exposing to the world that not all Black people are the same. And, as much as people want to put us in a box, the stories that are being written today are exposing that Black folks are not all the same.

Reading Coates coming of age novel, The Beautiful Struggle, I thought a lot about my own coming of age, and I wish my coming of age was as fascinating at Coates, but it wasn’t....

Coates was raised by a father who was a member of The Black Panther Party and a “practicing facist” who did not allow his children to eat meat, participate in any type of holiday or religion, a man who did not spare his children the rod, he thought that Ghandhi was absurd and praised John Brown, he started doing the work of restoring Black scholar's work that had been lost, and he filled his family's house with books like Black Boy, Manchild in the Promised Land, and Another Country. 

His mom was an educated woman who was “conscious” like her husband: “She went natural in high school... at college she was arrested for protesting," and it seemed inevitable that she would marry a man like Coates’ father who was also “conscious,” and they would put their children in programs like Upward Bound and send their kids to The Mecca: Howard University.

Coates tell his story of trying to find his way while being raised in a household where it appears that his parents expected him to be tough, but he couldn’t always hold his own on the streets; a household where having good grades was valued, but he had a difficult time “getting" school, but he read the books that his father had in the house and became “conscious.” Coates eventually graduated from high school and ventured off to The Mecca, Howard University, and the rest is history!

Reading this books, and seeing how Coates' life unfolds, I couldn’t help but to think about the idea that parents are constantly changing and evolving as they are raising children. The children are at the whim of whatever their parents think is important and it appears that Coates’s parent, much like my parents and your parents, were trying to find themselves and their place in the world, while also trying to shape the lives of their children. So, it seems that all of this growing and changing makes parenting an imperfect art.

I am learning that growing into your own takes a very long time and change is the only thing that is constant... We may have to give our parents a little break on some of the decisions that they made that many of us may see as mistakes. Coates quotes that “Even after I got conscious, I felt robbed of time, that I had been isolated from a series of great childhood events. In my father’s house, values ripped us from the crowd. Dad called it enlightenment. But to me it just felt lonely.” I wonder what his Dad thinks of this quote?

So, I guess Coates, and most of us who are of age, are now critically thinking about our childhoods and may be teaching our children a few different values than what we were taught. However, we will never know how any of this will play out until our children closely examine their own lives.

Now, if you have read Between the World and Me by Coates, this book will give great insight into why he thinks the way that he does. If you have not read Between the World and Me, you must.

This book confirms that we are all the sum of our experiences....

READ this lyrical novel to hear another perspective of coming of age while Black in America.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson and me!

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
                  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

My friend, Alicia, recommended Bryan Stevenson’s book to me, and I put it on my list. Then one of the members of my book club, Katie, sent me a warm message about Bryan Stevenson. I googled him and was completed fascinated by his work with the people many of us literally turn our backs on: the incarcerated. During my research on Bryan Stevenson, I came across his TED talk, and My People, I was moved to uncontrollable tears, and I have been thinking constantly about identity and what defines who we are. During my research, I also found out that he would be in DC to speak on prison reform, and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet this incredible man face to face. His presence, spirit, and passion were all over this packed church, and he had the ability to make me sit on the edge of my seat and silently cry as he spoke about people whom he has met on his journey for justice. 

After my research on Bryan Stevenson, I approached his book, Just Mercy, with high hopes, and it did not disappoint.

I just love the writing style of this book. Stevenson goes back and forth in this novel by telling his personal story of navigating the justice system to telling the unbelievable story about one of his clients, Walter McMillian, who was framed for a murder that it was apparent that he did not commit, and he was sentenced to death. 

Now, Bryan’s story of how he came to work with the justice system and his experiences with the justice system are quite moving and powerful, but Walter McMillan’s story had me frantically reading wanting to desperately believe that his story just could not be true. If Bryan had not followed his calling and had not gone to Alabama to start The Equal Justice Initiative, I believe, with my whole heart, that Walter McMillian would have been executed for a crime that he did not commit. (Our purpose is always connected to helping others.) 

Reading this book the word empathy, empathy, empathy, empathy..... would not leave my mind. I believe that our purposes are all about helping other people and especially those who may not have a voice of their own including the young, old, and poor. I truly believe that in order to fully empathize with people, we must find it in our hearts to be able to “rejoice when others rejoice, and weep when others weep.”

Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard educated lawyer, and I am sure that he had and have lots of career options. However, he chose to go to Alabama and work for the incarcerated; people whom many of us never think about. Bryan works relentlessly and tirelessly for people whose names we may never know, and at the beginning of his career, there was very little financial reward. Now, I know that many of us have read the poem about the servant leader, and reading this book and being in the presence of Bryan, there is no doubt that he is a servant leader....

 The Paradoxes of Being a Servant Leader 

Strong enough to be weak
Successful enough to fail
Busy enough to make time
Wise enough to say "I don't know"
Serious enough to laugh
Rich enough to be poor
Right enough to say "I'm wrong"
Compassionate enough to discipline
Mature enough to be childlike
Important enough to be last
Planned enough to be spontaneous
Controlled enough to be flexible
Free enough to endure captivity
Knowledgeable enough to ask questions
Loving enough to be angry
Great enough to be anonymous
Responsible enough to play
Assured enough to be rejected
Victorious enough to lose
Industrious enough to relax
Leading enough to serve

Poem by Brewer --- as cited by Hansel, in Holy Sweat, Dallas Texas, Word, 1987. (p29)

This book is one of those books that I want every person in the world to read in order to learn about the US criminal justice system, to pay closer attention to what’s going on with the justice system, to act within our circles of influence, and to feel a little empathy for others and definitely those who are considered to be the least amongst us.

This is not a feel good book, but I do think that this a book that will cause a person to rethink his life, ideas, and purpose. READ THIS BOOK!

Bryan Stevenson is on tour, and if you happen to see your city on his travel list, it may be worth your time to hear what this guy has to say.

I will leave you with the words of Bryan Stevenson: “We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.” 

I feel inspired to run on to see what the end is gonna be.......

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mule Bone by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston

Before I even start to pen this blog, let me just warn you that I am bias towards Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes; two of my favorite writers of all time. This blog is even named after Langston’s autobiography The Big Sea. So, on this blog, Zora and Langston can do no wrong.

I read Mule Bone again in preparation for the Food and Folklore series at Eatonville restaurant in Washington DC, and My People, I must admit that I laughed out loud while reading certain parts of this short but mighty play.

The writing of this play caused Langston and Zora, who were very close friends, to die without speaking to each other. The version of the play that I read tries to make some sense of the Mule Bone controversy by adding excerpts from the biographies of both Langston and Zora and the many letters that were passed around about the play. (Boy did I enjoy those letter!) You know how you may be friends with someone and many little things may transpire that may not sit right with you, and you never address those issues? Then, this one thing happens that's really not that big of a deal, but it allows a whole bunch of other stuff to come up? Well, this is what I think happened with Mule Bone. The Mule Bone controversy was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

If you have read Their Eyes Were Watching God, then you know about this character Joe Clarke who was the mayor of an all Black incorporated city in that novel. Well, that town and Joe Clarke are in Mule Bone as well the southern dialect that is in lots of Zora’s writings. A man has hurt another man by hitting him with a mule bone, and they take him to court to see if they can put a guy out of town for hitting another guy with a mule bone. And, My People, the silliness of it all is quite comical.

What I absolutely love about the writings of Langston and Zora is their commitment to telling the stories and feelings of ordinary people. So, I just love the idea that this play is simply called Mule Bone, and I love that it is about common, everyday people. This is a play that I wish that they could have continued to work on and even completed, but things work out the way they are suppose to.

At the discussion of this book at Eatonville restaurant, besides myself, there were five other women, which included the scholar who led the discussion, one man, and plenty of good food. We laughed and talked and ate and discussed Zora and Langston’s Mule Bone and so many other topics. It was so good for my soul to be with other people who love Zora and Langston and wanted to spend the evening talking about and appreciating them.

You know that I love to take care of my body, but I have learned that taking care of my soul is just as important, and the Food and Folklore series at Eatonville restaurant is all about the soul....

My People, when you need a good laugh, try Mule Bone; it might be the food that your soul is craving.

Happy Saturday!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

I read The Red Tent many years back, and I fell completely in love with it; I just love hearing the voices of the women in the Bible even though they are totally fictional.

My book club decided that The Red Tent would be our book club book for the month of December, and I jumped at the opportunity to read it again.

This time around, I was just as moved as I was the first time.....

This story is told from the perspective of Dinah, the only daughter of Leah and Jacob. Dinah is only mentioned briefly in the Bible, just like most women of the Bible. However, Anita gives Dinah and many of the other women voices and caused me to give the women of the Bible a lot more thought.

For instance, Leah, the mother of Dinah, and Rachel were sisters who were married to the same man. When I read their story, the Bible does not speak of any conflict between these two women, but I can not imagine that these women were not different than most women, and there had to be some type of conflict. Anita, with The Red Tent, helps to make this situation real. (Can’t imagine sharing a husband with any of my sisters or any woman for that matter; I know that we would be showing out for sure.)

What really struck me in this novel is Anita’s description of childbirth. My mind had to wrap around the idea of giving birth without technology and a hospital. Yea, I know that women have been giving birth naturally since the beginning of time, but WOW! No way to see if the baby is breached, no pain medication, no surgeon.....And, these women would have multiples babies and many of the women and the babies died during birth. Anita paints the picture of many of these women suffering tremendously before they died.

If there is any truth to the stories that Anita tells in The Red Tent, My People, the women of the Bible deserve so much more praise and attention than what we give to them.

For two years, I read the One Year Bible, and the One Year Bible gives the reader scriptures to read everyday and by the end of the year, a person would have read the entire bible. The Red Tent has made me think seriously about reading the One Year Bible again, paying close attention to the women.

This is a well-written, entertaining book that I think most readers would enjoy whether a person believes in the Bible or not.

Give this book a try, and let me know what you think....

Off to read Mule Bone by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

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