Category Archives: What We’re Reading

Lists of books we are currently reading and include a brief explanation of our thoughts about each work. These posts are not book reviews; rather, they function as a space for us to share what is currently capturing our attention.

What She’s Reading – Warsan Shire via Lemonade

What I love about the arts is the way that one form of expression inspires another.  Music inspires dance.  Literature inspires film. And poetry, well, poetry inspires the world . . .

“Grandmother, the alchemist, you spun gold out of this hard life, conjured beauty from the things left behind.
Found healing where it did not live.
Discovered the antidote in your own kitchen.
Broke the curse with your own two hands.
You passed these instructions down to your daughter who then passed it down to her daughter.”  

– Warsan Shire

Cheers to my revival

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What She’s Reading: Between the World and Me

FullSizeRenderBetween the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coate’s visceral and highly introspective account of what it means to be a black man in America.  To Coate’s (and perhaps the millions who identify with this work, myself included), to be black in America means that your body is disposable.  Cheap.  Ripe for plunder.  Between the World and Me is Coate’s first hand account of the historic and current violence against black men perpetrated by figures of authority in America.  In this text, he forces America to take a long hard look at itself through a dirty mirror.  And it hurts.

Personally, several pieces of this book struck a cord with me.  But Coate’s take on one seemingly benign phrase that I have heard all my life, particularly floored me:

All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good”, which is to say “accept half as much.”  These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. …No one told those little white children, with their tricycles, to be twice as good.  I imagined their parents telling them to take twice as much.  It seemed to me that our own rules redoubled the plunder.

This is a must read!

 

 

 

 

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A Long Read of A Brief History . . .

marlonI started reading Marlon James’ epic novel A Brief History of Seven Killings in May 2015 and did not finish until January 2016.

I’m not a slow reader.  In the past year I’ve read lengthy novels such as The Famished Road and The Wizard of the Crow in two weeks.  I am also not averse to authors who utilize stream of consciousness, a complex technique that shifts between the interior monologues of multiple characters.  Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of my favorite novels of all time.  But A Brief History bored me to the point that, for months, I lost motivation to finish.

If you are familiar with this blog, you will know that I am a huge fan of Marlon James.  His second novel The Book of Night Women, is among the best I’ve read in recent years.   But unfortunately, A Brief History took me on a journey that was cumbersome and painfully slow.  If you don’t believe me, note that the first few pages of the introduction include a list of roughly 30 characters, some introduced only briefly to the slowly building complex plot via stream of consciousness.  Although his writing in A Brief History is highly descriptive, illustrating James’ immense talent for language, the plot crawls, at times painfully, throughout much of the 680 pages

I don’t want to talk at length about what I did not like about this book.  We Afro-Librarians prefer to leave lengthy book reviews to critics.  This post is simply to share my thoughts on this highly lauded novel since so many readers have asked (via Twitter) for our opinion.  And there were beautiful moments and applause worthy passages.  The depiction of each significant death was simply poetic, magical even.  So if you’re interested in 20th century historic fiction novel depicting Jamaica, politics and the nuance that is Bob Marley, this book will not disappoint.  But readers be warned, this novel requires patience and stamina!

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What He’s Reading: Wole Soyinka’s ‘Prisonettes’

In 1967 Wole Soyinka was imprisoned for twenty-two months, a large part of the time in isolation.  He has said that the prison is meant to “break down the human mind”, and yet, without much opportunity to write, and often having to memorize in large part, he constructed, A Shuttle in the Crypt, a book of poems which he terms ‘prisonettes’.  A ‘prisonette’ is not a poem of or about prisons, but what can come out of the prisons given that they are not the constructions in which anyone can occupy such a space.  The prison is the specific expression of the prisoner; the prison was made for the prisoner—it is the natural expression of poetics of place.

‘Prisonettes’, though, are not ontological, though, in the sense of producing a certain kind of being—”a new kind of man, a Negro”.  They are the expressions of those beings for whom prison is their ‘natural end’.  In other words, a ‘prisonette’ is the expression of what Abdul R. Jan Mohamed terms, in his description of Richard Wright, as a death-bound subject.  A ‘prisonette’ addresses the question posed by Etheridge Knight, “can there anything/good come out of/prison”

                “We sought to cleanse the faulted lodes

                To raise new dwellings pillard on crags…

                …Forge new realities, free our earth 

                Of distorting shadows cast by old

                And modern necromancers.” (Excerpt from “Conversation at Night with a Cockroach”)

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What She’s Reading: Love Is Power Or Something Like That

Its been a long time since we’ve written – sorry.  One major life update is that we got hitched!

We are back from our honeymoon and have not forgotten about our loyal readers. In fact, we read Incidence In The Life of a Slave Girl during our vacation and can’t wait to blog about it!  Yes, we read a book during our honeymoon.  We love reading almost as much as we love each other so it’s fitting that it was one of our activities 😉

Back to the matter at hand…

A. Igoni Barrett’s fascinating collection of short stories surrounding the lives of several unconnected characters living in both rural and urban Nigeria. This collection has completely captivated my attention since the new year began. The title is what initially grabbed my attention but Barrett’s prose is equally engaging.  He is outstanding in his use of witty and, at times, his devastating exploration of humanity in stories ranging from a trouble youth involved in money scams, a police officer balancing his unethical work life with his familial commitment, and an old woman struggling with isolation. These stories take you by surprise, unfolding the lives and relationships of each character masterfully.  It is clear that Barrett’s illustration that love is a dynamic force, transforming the actions of each character.

I’m in love with this collection. I highly recommend giving it a read but, as always, am interested in hearing your thoughts on Barrett’s work as well.  Share your impressions…
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What She’s Reading: Corregidora

20140802-192930-70170024.jpgHave you ever read a book that was so good you purposely delayed finishing?

Corregidora is only 184 pages, a book I could zip through on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but I have been reading as slowly as possible. My goal was to limit myself to reading only 25 pages a day but, unfortunately, I have no self control. With 20 pages to go, I will soon have to move on 😦

Let me try to explain why this novel is so captivating. Corregidora is the story of Ursa, a young woman whose ancestors were held as slaves on a Brazilian plantation and forced to work as prostitutes. Ursa was born after emancipation but her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother passed along their horrific stories in order to ensure that future generations bear witness to the harsh psychological and physiological realities of slavery.

The novel follows Ursa as she attempts to navigate the world as a black woman in the early 20th century, simultaneously living in the past (through her ancestors) and present. But this dichotomy renders her love life dysfunctional. Gayl Jones, the author, portrays Ursa as a young woman living with a form of cultural PTSD – post traumatic stress syndrome – passed down by her family’s tragic history. The impact of this trauma, brilliantly expressed in Jones’ writing, is crippling. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the impacts of inhumanity within American history.

I can’t say enough about this book (as evident by my numerous tweets on the subject) and its succinct and compelling description of slavery as a historical event as well as a long-term systematic means of dehumanizing a people. If that doesn’t tell you enough, I’ll leave you with the following reviews from a few literary greats, who were also blown away by Corregidora:

“Corregidora is the most brutally honest and painful revelation of what has occurred, and is occurring, in the souls of black men and women.” – James Baldwin

“Gayl Jones has concocted a tale as American as Mount Rushmore and as murky as the Florida swamps”– Maya Angelou

“She (Gayl Jones) lit up the dark past of slave women with klieg lights and dared to discuss both the repulsion and the fascination of these relationships.” – Toni Morrison

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What She’s Reading

Of Africa by Wole Soyinka

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To be honest, this text is a bit all over the place and Soyinka’s conclusions are not as tightly drawn as I expected.  However, in Of Africa Soyinka is attempting to tackle “Africa’s culture, religion, history, imagination, and identity” and “understand how the continent’s history is entwined with the histories of others”.  This, quite simply, is no easy task!  Soyinka ambitiously takes this on and writes as though he is having an intimate but eloquent conversation with an eager yet indivisible (and well-read… as Soyinka assumes the reader’s familiarity with World history and politics) reader sitting at his feet.  Soyinka cements himself as a treasure. This is made evident in Of Africa by Soyinka’s vast historical and cultural knowledge as well as the plethora of notable gems sprinkled throughout the text.

The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

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“Her love and duty for her children were like her chain of slavery.”

The above is a powerful quote from Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood that encapsulates the dichotomy between modernity and motherhood.  In less than 250 pages, Emecheta succeeds in scripting a tale that is both social commentary and compelling story.  Set in a small village in post colonial Nigeria and moving to the bustling capital of Lagos, this is the story of Nnu Ego and the tragedy and triumphs of childbirth.  Thus far, this is a beautiful novel and one that I will more than likely recommend for our Afro-readers.

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What She’s Reading: The Book of Night Women

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I’ll admit, this book has been sitting on my shelf since 2011.  But after writing last week’s post, “Magical Realism in Afro-literature”, I was finally motivated to dust it off and crack the binding.  What better time to pour myself into James’ haunting yet ethereal slave narrative than a month in which we celebrate magical realism and its contribution to the literary world?

Set in Jamaica, The Book of Night Women is a rare mixture of beautiful, lyrical prose and engaging narrative.  It isn’t often that I am captivated by a novel within the first few pages (or first few chapters) but The Book of Night Women had me hooked after this powerful first paragraph:

“People think blood red, but blood don’t got no colour.  Not when blood wash the floor she lying on as she scream for that son of a bitch to come, the lone baby of 1785. Not when the baby wash in crimson and squealing like it just depart heaven to come to hell, another place of red.  Not when the midwife know that the mother shed too much blood, and she who don’t reach fourteen birthday yet speak curse ‘pon the chile and the papa, and then drop down dead like old horse.  Not when blood spurt from the skin, or spring from the axe, the cat-o-nine, the whip, the cane and the blackjack and every day in slave life is a day that colour red.  It soon come to pass when red no different from white or blue or nothing.  Two black legs spread wide and a mother mouth screaming.  A weak womb done kill one life to birth another.  A black baby wiggling in blood on the floor with skin darker than midnight but the greenest eyes anybody ever done see.  I goin’ call her Lilith.  You can call her what they call her.”

Admittedly, the quote above is a bit lengthy but WOW!  I can almost hear the author’s cadence as I read and feel the character’s energy seeping from the page.  It’s no secret that I believe a strong opening is an indication of a great novel.  My theory has so far proven true with this text.  I initially planned to read only the first few paragraphs but 50 pages later, I was completely immersed in the world Marlon James created.

Needless to say, I’m pleasantly surprised with the author’s talent thus far.  I love the feeling of unexpectedly falling in love with a book . . .

http://www.huemanbookstore.com/book/9781594484360

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What She’s Reading: “Dzino – Memories of a Freedom Fighter” and “The Long Song”

Dzino

Wilfred Mhanda, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Harare last year, pens a detailed and intriguing account of the the guerrilla war in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe’s subsequent independence, the rise of the ZANU party, and the rise President Mugabe.  This is a must-read narrative containing first hand accounts of political rivalries and perhaps the most in-depth account of President Mugabe’s rise within the ZANU-PF party.

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I tagged this one as “Afro-European Lit” because Andrea Levy is perhaps one of the most well-known Afro-authors and pioneers in the United Kingdom.  However, this is an Afro-Caribbean epic about slavery and the struggle for abolition in Jamaica.  Following a young slave woman named July, The Long Song weaves in and out of history telling a story that is at times engaging and suspenseful but at other times painfully slow moving. Honestly, I’m still trying to decide whether I will read her entire body of work this year as planned as I am not completely blown away this far.  Stay tuned . . .

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What She’s Reading: The Granta Book of the African Short Story

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It’s a cold and rainy Saturday evening – the perfect time to stay indoors, curl up with a book and a warm blanket and sip giant glass wine 🙂

This week I’m cracking open my newest buy: “The Granta Book of the African Short Story”. Edited by Helon Habila, a formidable writer in his own right, this collection includes anglophone, lusophone, and francophone authors. (One of my new year’s resolutions is to read more lusophone literature so I’m feeling a bit smug ;-p about getting off to a great start). Habila describes this project as a compilation of Africa’s “post national generation” writers and includes 29 authors from 19 countries. From Leila Aboulela to Zoe Wicomb, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Alex Guma, and from Moroco to Zimbabwe; this is quite a diverse anthology of literature from the continent.

I’ll return to this post at a later date to list my favorites. In the meantime, pick up a copy at your local bookstore or online at the Hueman Bookstore by following the link below

Hueman Bookstore

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