Monthly Archives: October 2010

Alex’s Bookshelf

The first book I can remember purchasing with my own money was Billy, by Albert French. It was a dark, gut-wrenching tale about a ten-year old boy, Billy Lee Turner, who was found guilty and executed for stabbing a young white girl in 1930’s Mississippi. I read this book in the sixth grade and its colloquial delivery and ever-present tension struck me more than any book I had read up until that point. It was heavy. Billy Lee lived in a time where Blacks were less than second class citizens, and seeing such hate directed at a child stuck with me for a long time.

Billy opened the door of my imagination. I remember being fascinated by the use of language as the dialog was true to speech used in rural, segregated South at the time. It was a powerful moment for me; I began to read not just for the story, but to absorb the language and take note of varying writing styles. That signaled the beginning of my love affair with books.

In a book I could imagine my awkward self decades, centuries in the past, light years in the future, in any place or situation imaginable or unimaginable. They offered me an escape from reality, and I sought refuge in books when my social dealings weren’t exactly satisfactory. I began accumulating books, reading anything I could get my hands on. In Miss Sexton’s seventh grade class, I was introduced to Uncle James Baldwin, with If Beale Street Could Talk. Fonny and Tish’s saga drew me completely into the world of Black literature.

Moving to New York in 2006, my collection grew. Drifting from one temporary living situation to another, my box of books got heavier with each impromptu move. New York is the perfect place for the bibliophile. Most of my reading happened underground. With the train being the preferred mode of transit, most days I had between 30 and 45 minutes of travel time in each direction to devour a new title. Above ground, I had Union Square (center of my universe) and thousands of ledges, staircases, stoops, fire escapes, cozy corners, coffee shops and bookstores to drop my bag and get away. Falling into conversation on the subway about a book I or someone was reading was the norm. It was heaven.

In New York, I also learned about bargain booksellers. Aside from the Barnes & Noble, Union Square, Strand bookstore on Broadway is easily responsible for 25% of my book collection. The sprawling $1 and $.50 book collection that covers the sidewalk outside is endless, disorganized bliss. Classics mixed in with kiddie books, mixed in with cookbooks and the occasional damaged new release makes for a great way to while the day away.

Between Strand and other book retailers, I was introduced to The Autobiography of Malcolm X As Told To Alex Haley (among my top 5 favorites), the drug-fueled magical mind of James Fry, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (finished in 3 days) and other brilliance by Walter Mosely and dozens of others. Here, I also happened across Native Son by Richard Wright, my favorite book ever.

Then I moved West, to Lost Angeles. I sent three sizable boxes home to Virginia to store at Mom and Dad’s house, and came here to rebuild my collection. I carried about nine essential books with me. Among them, Self Reliance, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which I will soon cover here. After some shady living arrangements, I felt it was time to get a proper shelf for my friends books.

I am a lover of all things second-hand, and have developed quite the keen eye for things to be potentially re-purposed. I spotted this gem on the side of the road:

…and tied that hoe to the roof of my car, brought it home, and went to work. With some spraypaint…

and some creativity (plus some wood, nails, a power drill, and aerosol fumes galore), I added five shelves and turned that discarded entertainment center into this:

A home for my books. Hooray. Since my time here felt a little more permanent that originally intended, I have had my parents gradually ship books from Virginia. Like fellow Page Turner Alise, thrift stores and many free book finds have helped contribute to the madness. Since January, my California-based collection has gone from this:

…to this:

Some people hoard teeth and backfat. My thing is books. I’ve discovered tons of new authors recently, including favorites Thomas Chatterton Williams, Junot Diaz, and Dave Eggers, two of which will be covered in future book reviews.  Mentioned in my intro, books have been there when people have fallen short. I’ve failed at several self-imposed “book-buying freezes”, but what’s the use? I see no chance of slowing down.

Look forward to the collections from the rest of the gang. How did your collection come to be?

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Introducing The Page Turners: Cashawn’s Niche

I cannot remember my life without books. I’ve been reading independently since I was about 3 or 4 years old and it has always been my favorite getaway. My mother has always been a voracious reader and made sure that my siblings and I had an endless supply of books. I grew up in a world without the Internet, uber-realistic video games and endless TV channels so books were very important to me. I was kind of little and introverted as a child, so while a lot of kids were outside rabble-rousing and being boisterous, I would be in the house reading some book. My favorite books growing up were a random book of Bible stories that my paternal grandmother gifted us one year and this huge book called “The Dictionary of Dictionaries” that appeared out of nowhere one day. It was exactly what it said it was: a book full of different dictionaries, nothing but words. Yes, I know very weird for a kid, but it has paid off.

I stopped reading kiddie books in the 8th grade when my English teacher, Ms. Cooke introduced me to Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye. From there she had me reading James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. Ms. Cooke is the second biggest influence in my life outside of my mother when it comes to my love of reading and exploring and learning about Black literary culture. I read any and everything I could get my hands on by a Black author back then and quickly fell head over heels in love with Zora Neale Hurston and she is still one of my absolute favorites. I discovered Gloria Naylor, Terri McMillian and my favorite author ever, J.California Cooper in my late teens-early 20’s. They explore in depth my favorite themes of women, family, girls, Black people, love, history and relationships. So far through my 30’s, thanks to reading “Cane River” and “Red River” by Lalita Tademy, I’ve discovered a new interest in historical fiction and science fiction. Thanks to fellow Page Turners Nakia and Malca, I discovered Tananarive Due’s black sci-fi books as well. I’ve also found a love for the work of Lolita Files, Lalita Tademy, Wally Lamb, Dorothy Allison, Sue Miller and Kenji Jasper since I turned 30. Who knows what my 40’s hold in store!

I cannot gush and swoon over authors without mentioning Bernice L. McFadden. She is my favorite author ever. I cannot describe how much her work means to me. The way she tells a story is incredible. The depth of the characters and the plot structure are absolutely sublime. She writes of family and love so well, that I have been often moved to tears. She wrote my favorite book ever “Loving Donovan” and as a Black woman who writes, if I could ever tell a story the way she does, I could leave this world feeling like I “made it”, no matter where I am in life.

I’m a mom of a 16 year-old daughter who has been a book lover since before she could actually read and a very soon to be 12 year-old boy who has finally picked up the family tradition of reading after finding a series of books that speaks to him (the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan). By trade, I’m a early childhood educator, so I’ve had more than my share of experience with children’s books.

Though my interests are widespread, I will focus mainly on Sci-Fi and Historical Fiction. The genres offer a new world of discovery and adventure, and cause one to expand their realm of possibility within literature.

Right now I’m reading Uncle Otto, by Winifred Cook, which I received as a birthday gift this year from ChrisAlexander, also of The Page Turners. I guess that will be my first review for this site. Be sure to subscribe so you won’t miss that or any other of the goodies we have in store on this blog.

I can also be found at my Lifestyle/Humor blog, “Dirty Pretty Thangs.”


~pbg

Book Review: Hold Love Strong

Written by: Malca

My family’s love was unwavering, unflappable, greater than anything presented by the Bible, the Torah, and the Qur’an combined. Where we’d go, what would occur, what we lost and gained, suffered and championed, our lives, the occasions and circumstances, were more than everything, more than forever, more than even our truth.

-Exerpt from Hold Love Strong: A Novel

A few months ago I was at Borders perusing the clearance shelf when the clerk came over and announced that all the books on the shelf I was looking at had been marked down even more than the clearance prices to $1. I could barely contain my excitement as I walked out with a large bag bulging with literary treats. Hold Love Strong was one of those treasures. I wasn’t familiar with the book and this being his first novel, I had never heard of the author Matthew Aaron Goodman either. A few weeks after my bookstore bargain day I chose Hold Love Strong from my bookshelf and discovered a book that has earned a place on my list of favorite books and in my heart.

Hold Love Strong cover

Hold Love Strong is the coming-of-age story of a young man named Abraham Singleton who grows up in Queens, New York in the Ever Park projects. The story, told from Abraham’s point of view, begins in the 1980s with his Mother giving birth to him at 13 and his 30 year old Grandmother Gloria, helping to deliver him into a world where young, unwed mothers raising babies without fathers are the norm. Abraham lives with his Mother Angela (Jelly), Grandmother Gloria, Aunt Rhonda, Uncle Roosevelt (Nice) and cousins Donell and Eric.

Wasn’t this America; wasn’t this the greatest land of all great lands of opportunity? In Ever Park, we were three things: broken, desperate to leave, or soldiers in a war so impossible to win that everything we did, even blinking our eyes, even licking our lips, might be suicide.

From the time Abraham is born, his cousin Donnell, who is just a few years older than him, takes the role as the father figure since Abraham’s own father left his mother while she was pregnant with him. In his younger years, Donnell has an eerie resemblance to Riley from the Boondocks cartoon. So picture a young man who’s father figure is a angry little boy who grows to be an angrier young man until he eventually explodes, a Grandmother who’s had her heart broken and dreams deferred so many times that she only trusts those she gave life to or were products of the life she gave. Then there’s the mother and aunt who both had children while still children, and want so desperately to be loved  that they head down a path of drugs and sex to try to fulfill those needs. And finally, an uncle who goes from being a god considered capable of walking on water to a man drowned by the reality of his shortcomings searching for authority in his own house.

Essentially, the Singleton family has Huxtable dreams with a Good Times reality. But Abraham is a fighter. He fights for his mother’s love, to protect those he loves, and ultimately, he fights not only to escape Ever Park, but to even feel worthy of making it out, since countless before him never had the chance.

Many Authors would take all these pieces of the story and present the puzzle to the reader already solved. They would have left it as a ghetto tale where the characters are either good or bad and they either make it out alive or they don’t. Thankfully Goodman chose to go a different route. Goodman doesn’t just paint a picture of a crackhead, an unwed mother or young black man incarcerated. He breathes life into his characters by providing the reader with their history, their motives, their fears and their joy, which collectively become their stories. Goodman weaves tales for his characters which fit together like patches on a quilt and all contribute to the bigger story. Life isn’t simply black against white or right against wrong and Goodman conveys this with the connected lives and stories. The novel not only centers around Abraham and his family, but the neighborhood as a whole and outside evils such as drugs and poverty both play an equally important role in shaping Abraham’s life.

Cherrie, Abraham’s mother’s best friend, who shares a piece of his absent mother with him, helps him to realize who he is. There’s Mr. Gates who has a crush on Abraham’s grandmother and provides a good male role model for the young men. Lastly, Kaya, Abraham’s girlfriend inspires everyone in the Singleton household to dream.

I was captivated by this novel. The author writes in such a way that you feel like you’re sitting on the mustard-colored couch in the living room or standing in front of their building, watching the action. There were times when I had to put the book down and take a break, particularly when Abraham spoke of his drug-addicted mother and her neglect. At one point I caught myself smiling and laughing while reading about the relationship between Abraham and his sweetheart Kaya. The central theme of Hold Love Strong is simple….love. No matter what the Singleton family experiences, their togetherness refused to be damaged.

I recommend everyone read this amazing book. It will inspire you to reach further you can see, treasure those dear to you and Hold Love Strong.

-Malca

Introducing The Page Turners: Shydel’s Niche

My love of books started very early.

I can remember being 5-years-old, sitting in front of the stereo in the living room with my picture books sprawled out across the floor.

Mom would always buy me books that came with records. That way, I could learn how to associate the way words looked with the way they sounded.

I had quite a few picture books, but the ones that I remember most are The Lady and the Tramp, Goldielocks and the Three Bears and another book that gave lessons on how to count money and cross the street.

I still remember the chorus to the song:

When it’s time to cross the street Make sure you use your eyes before you use your feet.

The older I got, the more I turned into a literary hustle man.

Mom would buy books from Scholastics and I would let folks in the neighborhood rent them for a couple of bucks. I even read most of them beforehand and would review them for my potential customers. One Scooby Doo sticker meant the booked sucked. Three Scooby Doo stickers meant it rocked!

Sadly, once I reached high school, my mind started to drift.  With so much required reading, (Malcolm X, Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby) the last thing I wanted to do was to read for fun.

Today, that has all changed!

When I walk into a bookstore, my heart flutters.  I instantly turn into the 5-year-old book worm who sung along to the records that came with his picture books.

And while it’s difficult to find time to read (I’m a nine-to-fiver, blogger, freelance writer and sometime actor) I make it my business to bury my head in a book whenever I can, even if it takes me forever to finish it.

Currently, I’m engulfed in Wally Lamb’s identical twin drama I Know This Much is True. Lamb’s casual, conversational flow is brilliant.

Although I’m a pretty slow reader, I breezed through Zoe Heller’s What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal, in eight hours flat. It’s a witty, intense drama about a teacher who starts up an affair with one of her underage students.

Suzan-Lori Parks rocked my world with her debut novel, Getting Mother’s Body, a gutsy, unconventional family drama about a pregnant teenager who goes on a quest to dig up her mother’s body in the hopes of recovering some expensive jewelry she’s alleged to be buried with.

But the first and only novel that ever really touched my heart and made me cry was Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

*Pulls out Kleenex*

Lawd! I can’t even go into details of the novel without falling out into the ugly cry.

*Waves Hand*

If you haven’t already, read it!

I also highly recommend Aliya S. King’s juicy, salacious page turner, Platinum and The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow.  Two phenomenal books, which feature Black female protagonists written by Black female authors. Dope!

You can expect me to explore the world of short stories and children’s books that tackle mature subject matter or feature a child protagonist.

I just started Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, narrated by a sixth grade, fatherless latchkey kid who’s helping her mother practice for her upcoming stint on the $25,000 Pyramid. They’ve got big plans for the money, but something tells me things are not going to go according to plan.

Stay tuned for my review to find out…

Introducing The Page Turners: Malca’s Niche

Hello! My name is Malca and I’m a proud book slore!

I love books and anything related to books. My mother was my influence in the reading game and I was taught to appreciate books and reading at an early age. I’ve always had a very vivid imagination.  Through reading I’ve been able to experience many adventures, fascinating characters and stories that a single mother living in a small town like me could only dream of experiencing in real life.

My favorite authors, or “Dealers” as I lovingly refer to them, are California J. Cooper, Diane McKinney Whetstone, E. Lynn Harris, Mary Monroe, and Terry McMillan. I would call myself an equal opportunity reader or addict. I’ll try almost any type of book. I don’t discrimate when it comes to the pursuit of the next great read or my next fix, as I like to say. I love to read about different cultures and books that take me to faraway places one day, and later, read a book where the protagonist is just up the block.

The last book I had the pleasure of reading was Actress Pam Grier’s amazing autobiography, Foxy: My Life In Three Acts. My next book will be the first book I’ll review for this blog, and that’s for me to know and you to find out. 🙂

I love the thrill of opening a new book and anticipating a new adventure from start to finish and I hope to convey that spirit in my reviews. Having the opportunity to lead someone else to the path of their next book fix or save someone the time and money by advising what not to read (and I will be honest) is so exciting and maybe…just maybe I’ll get to lead another reader down that wonderful path to being an all-out, no turning back, in anticipation ofthat next fix Book Slore!

Latas, Malca 🙂

Introducing The Page Turners: Alise’s Niche

Me!

I am Naturally Alise.  I am a poet, spoken word artist, blogger, social network junkie, budding web designer, and total  book whore.  I live in Durham, NC, aka  the “Bull City”.   I write poetry, social commentary, and foolishness over at my blog poetry, love, & laughs. Enough of all that, let’s jump into this!

I find television to be very educating.  Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.  ~Groucho Marx

I am what one would call a reader with a voracious appetite.  Yup, I read a lot.  When I say a lot I mean I read a new book every couple days, sometimes more on the weekends.    I even went without television for a large chunk of time. It is amazing what cutting back on television can do for your life….you should really try it by either getting rid of your TV or detoxing for an extended period of time, real talk…

A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end.  You live several lives while reading it. ~William Styron, interview, Writers at Work, 1958

I become so emotionally invested in the books I read.  I have even dreamed about some of them, and act like a crack fiend needing to get back to them. (i.e. the 1000+ page book I read in 2 nights).  I get sad when I am get to the last 100 pages of a book.  I am not being figurative; I really do get to feeling some kinda way.  I have even been brought to tears by some of the selections I have made lately.  Maybe it was just allergies; yeah, I am going to go with that.

If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.  ~Toni Morrison

A few of the books I read have disappointed me with their endings.  Either the endings were far fetched, or the author left no sort of conclusion that satisfied me.  This realization has kick started me to wanting to improve my writing, and be the author that writes books the way that I want to read them.   However, I have discovered this is no easy task.  So when an excellent book crosses my path I respect it on a new-found level.

A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.  ~Franz Kafka

If you do not know I am a poet and spoken word artist and reading so many books has also made me want to write more.  I have been pumping out poems left and right, usually inspired from a line or a scene in what I am reading.  My new focus on literature and art has made me a better performer, a better listener, just better…

A house without books is like a room without windows.  ~Heinrich Mann

I am not partial to any particular genre.  I read books scattered over the whole spectrum.  Sometimes I go for very serious subject matter, at times I love a good quick easy commercial “beach read”, and sometimes I love a nice suspense filled mystery.  It all depends on what day you ask me, I tend to be random in that way.  Here are some of the books I have read over the few months… if you are my friend on facebook, check out my Visual Bookshelf:

Some People, Some Other Place, J. California Cooper
The Hour I First Believed: A Novel, Wally Lamb (read this thick monster of a book in 2 days, such a page turner… this is one of the books that made me cry…)
Stalker, Faye Kellerman
Any Known Blood: A Novel, Lawerence Hill
The Book of Night Women, Marlon James
Currently Reading: One Fifth Avenue, Candace Bushnell and Betsey Brown: A Novel, Ntozake Shange
Currently Re-reading: Mama Day, Gloria Naylor (actually re-reading this for my first review for this site!)

Thrift Stores are my best friend, you can’t beat $0.25-0.50 for books (I don’t like library books, I like to own my books, because I am also a re-reader)  Speaking of re-reading my niche will be re-reading books that I read as a child/teenager (I read lots of very adult books) and giving my new found insight and critique as an adult.  Should be fun….  Welcome!

Introducing The Page Turners: Alex’s Niche

And hello.

My name is Alexander Christopher Suchandsuch, more commonly known (on these interwebs, anywho) as ChrisAlexander. I come from Planet Virginia, from a land called Hampton, where making babies and accumulating DUIs are the local pastime. Luckily, I escaped. After spending three amazing years training as a dancer and hunting Subway rats in New York City, I now reside in the land of spray tans, bad weaves and taco stands, Los Angeles. Mama, I made it.
As a full-time magical negro, I read as much as possible. You think hair grease alone produces glorious hair? (Ha!) In attempt to remain smarter than your average bear, I try to read a few books a month. Because I hope to eventually complete and publish my personal story, I enjoy mainly memoirs and any type of nonfiction. Two of my favorite writers are Richard Wright and Junot Diaz. Anything by or concerning the lives of Malcolm X or Huey Newton is also a must-have. Rather than collect shoes and cute colored babies, I am an amateur book hoarder. It’s better than drugs, yes?

Books are essential. I am an introvert. I have become even moreso since transitioning to the West Coast. I enjoy a rich interior life, and am completely fine with spending days absorbing literature. In short, books are far less disappointing than people tend to be. Here, I hope to share my passion for the written word and be exposed to more great authors and titles in the process.

Quick facts:

I am right-handed. Left-handers are dark-sided.
I am a Lupus survivor.
I have a sister. And that’s all I’ll ever say about that.
Girls who aren’t afraid to eat make the world go ’round.
Howyoudoin?
Long hair don’t care.
Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em.
Whoomp, There It Is.
And so on…

I can also be found at www.coloredboy.net.

*chris.alexander*

 

Introducing the Page Turners: Nakia’s Niche

Welcome to our little space on the internet, dedicated to the books that we read; the authors who pen them; how we feel about storylines, plots and writing styles; and how certain novels affect us. Our intention is to facilitate dialogue about literature and the role it plays in our lives.

My name is Nakia, but I go by sugaHoney in the blogging world. This blog project started from a conversation that I had with Alex, from coloredboy.net, about our current reading lists. In expressing our desire to chronicle how we feel about the books that we read, we both thought that collaborating on a blog would be a great idea. We then thought of other bloggers and friends we know through the web who also love to read, and write. So we asked Malca, who never seems to be without book in hand; Alise, voracious reader and the blogger/poet behind naturallyalise.com/blog; and Shydel, another lover of the written word and the man behind he urbaneurbanite.com.

Here we are, five bloggers ready to share our opinions, willing to let you know why we continuously turn the page, or quickly close the book. We’ll be sharing whatever books come across out paths, but we’ll also each have a specific niche or genres of literature on which we will focus.

Since I’m up first, allow me to delve into my love affair with the written word:
My mother always attributed my love of books to her consistently reading while she was pregnant with me. I started reading almost before I could talk in complete sentences. Books were the best gifts and the library was one of my favorite places. I was one of those kids who always signed up for reading programs and consistently ordered books through Scholastics. The fact that I was an only child definitely helped to foster this desire to read non stop. How else would I entertain myself when my friends weren’t available?

When I was twelve, I stumbled into the world of black literature after hearing people raving over Terry McMillan’s, Waiting to Exhale*. I remember seeing Kim walking around with it on Hillman’s campus on “A Different World”, which became my cue to ask my mom if I could read her copy. That one step opened my world right on up. Where there had once only been Madeline, James & the Giant Peach, The Babysitters Club, Ralph and the Motorcycle, and Ramona, there were now stories that reminded me of my mom and aunts, their friends, the women at church, the women in my neighborhood, the people at my school. There were books about contemporary people who looked like me! I fell in love with Terry McMillan, and eventually moved on to Toni Morrison, Bebe Moore Campbell, Tina McElroy Ansa, Gloria Naylor, Pearl Cleage, J. California Cooper, Tananarive Due, and Dianne McKinney-Whetsone.

It didn’t stop with just Black women authors, though. Walter Moseley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, Ernest Gaines’ A Gathering of Old Men, Stephen L. Carter’s The Emperor of Ocean Park , and Junot Diaz’ Drown, all won me over for life.

I eventually began looking for those who wrote of the Black experience outside of the U.S. This brought me in contact with favorites like The Seasons of Beento Blackbird by Akosua Busia, 26A by Diana Evans, Unburnable by Marie-Elena John, and two of my absolute favorites, Fruit of the Lemon and Small Island by Andrea Levy.

As I matured, I realized that I needed to step out of the box of just reading books by Black/African writers. I started with The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, followed by The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, and so and so forth. In doing so, I recognized how reading is more about how seamlessly the writer can share stories of the human experience and condition, and less about if I can identify culturally with the characters.

So I plan to be all over the place with my reviews and recommendations. I love Black authors, but overall, I love good writing. I’ll share my personal picks, along with selections that my book club, BookTini, will be reading, but my specific niche will be older books that have been in print for at least 15 years or more. Think Dorothy West, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Cade Bombara. I’ll also try to focus on books with settings in foreign lands: the West Indies, Europe, Africa, Asia, South America (I cant wait to delve into The Unaccustomed Earth, Powder Necklace, Dog War, and The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives) .

Stay tuned for introductions to our other contributors throughout the rest of this week. I definitely hope you enjoy what we have to share.

We’re here to inspire you to turn the page.