Category Archives: Our Favorites

Malca’s Favorite Books of 2010

I stepped outside of my box when it came to my book selections in 2010. I really wanted get out of the rut of reading the same types of books by the same types of authors and I think I achieved that goal. I read quite a few books last year and surprisingly my favorite books were the ones that weren’t the type that I usually read.

Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo 
When I feel like I’ve read everything there is to read I log in to Amazon to look for books that are far away from the sites recommendations and my comfort zone. After that I log in to my library search engine and place books on hold get it poppin’. This book was one of those random finds. The story centers around Mala Ramchandin, her sister, Asha, and the other inhabitants of the fictional Caribbean island of Lantanacamara. We are introduced to Mala when she is admitted to an elderly home among suspicions of her being a murderer and all out crazy. Tyler, the first male nurse in Lantanacamara is the only nurse who’ll take care of Mala and is also the narrator for the story. The story centers around their unconventional friendship, while attempting to make sense of Mala’s sordid childhood, alcoholic father and missing mother and sister.  It took me a while to get into this book because  I had no idea what was going on the first couple chapters, but, once I realized who was narrating the story and that the author refers to the character Asha by different names I couldn’t put the book down. The sights and smells were so vivid that I can still remember them months later while writing this review.
                                                                                                                                       
 
River Cross My Heart by Breena Clarke                              An Oprah’s book club recommendation; this is the story of Johnnie Mae, a young African American woman living in the Jim Crow South who must deal with the tragic loss of her younger sister Clara, for which she feels responsible, and the racist town she lives in all while trying to make it through adolescence. This is one of those stories that really doesn’t have much of a storyline but is still good because the writing is amazing…if that even makes sense. It focuses on the many impacts of racism, some that I had never even realized. And while the novel was hard for me to read at times because of the depressing subject matter, I think the death of Clara was added to the story to for the reader to ponder if the racist society they lived in inadvertently caused her death. Thanks O!
 
The Six Liter Club by Harry Kraus                                                                              The Six Liter Club is about the life of Dr. Camille Weller, the first African-American woman trauma surgeon of the Medical College of Virginia. “Six Liter Club” refers to the illustrious club for those few surgeons that are able to save a patient who has lost six liters of blood and Camille becomes a member of the club within the first few days of her residency. Camille must fight racism and sexism in her career and also struggles to fight the demons of a past that she has a hard time remembering but still manages to haunt her daily. This book was written by a white author about a African-American woman and centers around themes unfamiliar to those outside of the medical community like myself, so I wasn’t really sure about this book. I think most of us can  relate to Camille’s plight on some level, though, and if not, you should at least get a kick out of some of the drama in the novel because there is plenty from start to finish.
 
Girls Of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea
Like a Saudi Arabian Sex And The City, Girls of Riyadh follows the lives of Gamrah, Lamees, Michelle and Sadeem, four upper-class women who have more drama than a little bit. This book was a Dollar Tree find. When I picked it up, I had no idea this book was banned in Saudi Arabia because of the risqué subject matter (which would be considered tame here) about sex, love and the freedom to marry who we choose. The book is told from the perspective of a mystery woman who is familiar with all of the ladies but never reveals herself and tells stories of the ladies lives from a Yahoo chat group weekly. I love that the author was able to teach those of us on the outside about her culture while also managing to provide an entertaining read. So glad I had the chance to read this novel.

Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shange & Ifa Bayeza
I have to pat myself on the back for finishing this book. I’m a fast reader and I’ve read some big books but this book was huge. Not just huge in size but huge also in the amount of characters the reader is introduced to as well. Some Sing, Some Cry starts off on an island in South Carolina where freed slave Mah Bette and her granddaughter, Eudora, are forced from their home in the wetlands and move into the city. The story centers around Mah Bette, a freed slave and her influence on seven generations of family. The novel travels from Charleston to New York to Chicago to Paris but the second biggest theme next to Mah Bette is music and how it brings the family together, while also ripping it apart.  I enjoyed Eudora, the headstrong granddaughter of Mah Bette, who set out to start her own business as a dressmaker and was later viciously raped by white men. resulting in the birth of her daughter, Elma. I also liked Lizzie, the wild-child second daughter of Eudora who fought like hell to make her dream of becoming a star come true even at the sake of the relationship with her own daughter, Cinnamon.  Written by Ntozake Shange (For Colored Girls) and her sister Ifa Bayeza (award winning playwright), this is an epic novel in every sense of the word. The sisters take turns writing the novel with different writing styles and dialects, and along with the millions of characters, it got a little confusing. But, just breathe, give yourself about a week or two to read this book, and you’ll be glad when you finish.

The two book books I reviewed for The Page Turners, Hold Love Strong and Third Girl From the Left were also great reads that I highly recommend.

Nakia’s Favorite Reads of 2010

With the help of GoodReads.com, I recently set my 2011 reading goal at 24 books. That may not seem like a lot to some of you, but as someone who just two years ago only read five books in an entire year, and is internationally known as a lazy procrastanista, twenty four books is commendable. Let’s pray I reach my goal (I’m 4% done already lol)

I read 21 books in 2010 though, and I’d like to share a few of my favorites.

10. Bitch is the New Black by Helena Andrews (pub. June 2010):  This memoir was the June selection for my bookclub. I enjoyed it because I identified with Andrews’ shenanigans as a late-20 something Black woman, witty, smart, attractive, and still wondering why she’s single. She is hilarious and insightful when sharing her life experiences. Some of the chapters lagged when she ventured away from her dating mishaps, but Andrews’ is a wonderful writer and with Bitch is the New Black having already having been optioned for the big screen by Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy), I’m looking forward to the movie.

9 Orange Mint & Honey by Carleen Brice (pub. Feb 2008): I wouldn’t have known about this book had it not been for Jill Scott. I love me some her, and when friends got word that she would be starring in the television adaptation of Orange Mint and Honey, titled “Sins of the Mother”, I received links and emails out of the ying yang telling me to tune in. I of course picked up the book a few weeks before the movie premiered on the Lifetime Movie Network. I’m so glad I did. This story of Shay, stumbling grad student and daughter of an alcoholic who suddenly becomes sober and has another baby, was riveting. It was hard not to cry during certain parts of the book, especially when Shay agonized over the pain from her past and used that as an excuse not to forgive her mother, who did everything in her power to make it up to her . Brice handled the mother-daughter relationship superbly, and I give her two thumbs up on accurately introducing the audience to how children are affected by living in a home filled with alcoholism.

8 Jesus Boy by Allen L. Preston (pub. April 2010): Hilarious, satirical story that delves into the skeletons that clutter the closets of the leaders and most revered saints in the Black church. After his life long crush becomes pregnant and quickly marries a burgeoning minister away at Bible school, sixteen year old musical prodigy and devout Christian, Elwyn Parker, starts a risque affair with 42 year old Sister Morrisohn, the wife of his recently deceased godfather. Highly exaggerated, but still truthful to an extent, I was pleasantly entertained by how easily Allen was able to illustrate how hypocritical church members can be, without being a judgmental or condescending story teller. I can see many people in the church being offended by this story, but those who are more open minded may get a kick out of its primary theme: Nobody is perfect, no matter how much closer to God you think you are.

7 Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (pub. 2006): This was my book club’s pick for November. Even though I had to read a few hundred pages before it captured my full attention, I’m so happy I kept pushing through. Ngozi Adichie did an AMAZING job telling the story of the Biafran War of the 1960s through the eyes of Olanna, Odenigbo, Egwu, Richard, Kainene and countless other memorable, endearing characters. This story was about war, but it was also about love during a tumultuous time. I enjoyed this story immensely, and learned a huge amount of Nigerian history and the differences between ethnic groups in the process.

6 Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan (pub. 1992): Before reading “Getting to Happy”I decided to re-read Waiting to Exhale to familiarize myself with its characters and scenarios. McMillan is a hilarious writer and she is fantastic at showing the camaraderie that Black women share within their friendships. I saw a lot of the old me in Bernadine, Savannah, Gloria, and even Robin, which at some points made me sad, and at other points made me extremely happy that I’d learned my lesson at an earlier age. That is what I enjoyed most about this book. The meet ups and girls night outs definitely reminded me of how I interact with my friends. Check for my review, “Waiting to Exhale Revisited” here.

5 A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown (pub. 1993):  This is the memoir of Elaine Brown, chronicling her poverty laden childhood in Philadelphia; her migration to Los Angeles where her job in a strip club led to romantic liaisons with powerful celebrity connections; to becoming a pivotal part of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party, eventually becoming one of Huey Newton’s lovers, working tirelessly as the editor of their newspaper, abruptly becoming national president, and spawning the new, unheard of, and short lived era of female leadership within the highest ranks of the organization. My book club read this in February and I absolutely loved it, mainly because it gave me a peek into the history of my city, a first hand account of the historical significance of the Black Panther Party, and the treatment of women in such an organization.

4 Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (pub. Jan 2007): I never had any desire to read this memoir, but when it hit the movies, my book club decided to see it together after reading it in September. Words cannot express how much I loved this book! Emotional, funny, open, honest, descriptive. I feel like felt EVERYTHING that she went through while dealing with her divorce and the depression associated with her new lover. I fell in love with Italy right along with her, and I can’t wait to visit Bali after reading of the spiritual renewal, inner peace, and new love she found there. Elizabeth is definitely my kind of writer. Can’t wait to read the sequel, “Committed”.

3 Before I Forget by Leonard Pitts (pub. 2009) Found this book on a list of favorite books of 2009 on author Carleen Brice’s blog, which led me to suggest it to my book club, making it our first pick of 2010. Pitts brilliantly tells the story of Mo, former successful soul singer and recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers, who decides, before all of his memories are gone, to take a cross country road trip from Maryland to Los Angeles with his 18 year old son Trey, to visit his own dying father. Trey is headed down the wrong path fast, while Mo hasn’t talked to his own father in decades. The theme of manhood, fatherhood, and responsibility, is littered throughout this story of redemption and forgiveness. Pitts is a master at weaving layers to produce a full, powerful, and touching story. There were times when this book made my heart race (from chapter 18 until the end), when it made me angry, when I wanted to cry. Everyone in my book club LOVED it. We also felt that this is a book that all Black men should pick up, no matter their status, background, or history. The novel was multi generational, making it easy for a number of different ages to identify with the story.

2 After the Garden by DorisJean Austin (pub. 1987): What happens when Elzina Tompkins, raised and sheltered by her bible thumping and VERY judgmental grandmother, becomes pregnant and marries immediately after high school, Jesse James, from the James clan filled with boisterous, belligerent, and illegitimate alcoholics? One of the best love stories I’ve ever read. This novel chronicles the ups and downs of two completely different people who survive solely off of love, in Jersey City in the early to mid-1900s. This book was brilliant and I have no idea why it isnt a classic! Full review coming to The Page Turners soon.

1 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (pub. 2002 , Pulitzer prize for Fiction 2003): I added this book to my reading list because it was an Oprah book club pick. It was brilliant, amazing, heart wrenching, mind boggling…this story made me feel every emotion. I wrinkled my nose in disgust, laughed, cheered, and felt compassion for every character in this epic saga. Eugenides weaves the tale of how and why Calliope Stephanides lived the life of a girl well into her teenaged years, before realizing that something was biologically wrong. Starting from the mistakes made and secrets kept by her grandparents, on down to her parents, unfolds the story of an hermaphrodite who is too scared to love. Eugenides knows how to make you root for these characters, no matter the laws of love and procreation that they break. He also shares the story of immigration and the development of Detroit from a booming auto center, to a desolate ghetto. Loved every minute of it. Almost cried when I lost the book halfway through the story. Thank God I found it. If one can get past the uncomfortable thoughts that may arise, you’ll be able to ingest a wonderful story. Adding this to my list of favorite book of all time!

Honorable mentions go to Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these, or share some of your favorite reads of 2010.

-Nakia

Introducing The Page Turner: Spinks’ Niche

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. ~ Sydney J.Harris

“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” but books have served as my window to the world.  They have always been there to comfort me, one page at a time.

Who is Notorious Spinks?

I’m a Blogger, entrepreneur, public relations specialist, social media maven, certified book whore and proud aunt to seven nieces, two nephews and two great-nieces.  Of all those things I’m most proud to be an aunt.  You can usually find me spoiling holding the babies in one hand with a book in the other.

The author who influenced me the most?

Hands down, Eric Jerome Dickey.  I read my first EJD novel when I was 17-years-old, Sister, Sister.  Don’t ask me what the book was about because I can’t tell you but I remember how my heart raced as I read his bio.  EJD grew up in the same neighborhood as me and we graduated from the same high school.  His success gave me reassurance that I really could do anything I wanted to do.  He made it out and I could too…

Now my favorite author is Zora Neale Hurston.  Baby I love me some Zora.  Her gumption is unmatched.  Like Zora I don’t mind giving my two sense on any issue or injustice.  *In my Bone Crusher voice* Cuz I ain’t never scared. Sometimes you just have to speak up and out.  My favorite writing from her is a letter she wrote to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel in 1955 entitled, “Court Order Can’t Make the Races Mix.”  This work from Zora continues to fuel my fire when I speak out about issues that are unpopular.  But I’m not in this to win the popularity contest either.  Shole ain’t.

What is Spinky reading?

I’m reading Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones.  It is set in Atlanta during the child murders and told from the viewpoint of a child.  So far I love it because it’s a fresh perspective on a true event as Jones was a student in Atlanta while the murders were happening.  The review will be up soon.

So if you’re looking for the Notorious One you can find me on my soapbox over at Notorious Spinks Talks.  I’m usually talking books, brands, culture and events while doing the dougie.

Until next time Spinkys.

My Favorite Book

During the last six months of my time in Brooklyn, I met Rodney McKenzie, a fellow Brooklyn resident with one of the most inspiring life stories I’ve ever heard. An endless fountain of positivity, support, and knowledge, we became fast friends, and hung out almost daily, sharing our life experiences and motivating one another along the way. He turned me on to dozens of books, authors, and ideas. He helped me rediscover my love for Baldwin, and helped me become more confident as a writer. At the top of the list of his gifts is Self-Reliance.  My life is forever changed from my encounter with this piece of work.

Released in 1841, Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson has become one of my go-to pieces of literature. In the essay, Emerson discusses the importance of listening to your gut instinct regardless of how unconventional, strange, unique, or controversial your idea or thoughts may be. He stresses the importance of believing in YOU, without waiting for external validation and acceptance. It’s still universally applicable today. I recently pulled out my weathered copy of the book, which contains the life-changing essay along with five other powerful pieces. There are entire pages highlighted and the margins are riddled with exclamation points, and “WOW” and “Oh SH*T,” “Why didn’t I think of this?” and so on. I remember reading this book for the first time on the 4 train into Manhattan in January 2008, and having to put the book down, shaking my head, and reflecting for a minute. The words are so simple, but moving. Here are a few excerpts that touched me:

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,–that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,–and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.” -page 19

I had to put the book down after reading this for the first time:

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty…They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility…” -page 20.

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion…” – page 20

“Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will.” – page 33

…and so on.

The book altered the way I approached ideas. Whereas I may have originally dismissed potentially unpopular concepts, I try to embrace them. Hell, it may strike a chord with someone.

What book has inspired you the most??

What is your favorite book from childhood?

Every Wednesday we are going to give you readers a chance to tell us about different aspects of books and reading in your life.   One or more of the Page Turners will answer the question and then we would like to hear from you!

YAY Grover!

My favorite book growing up was “The Monster at the End of This Book,” by Jon Stone.   I had a huge bookcase when I was growing up, I have always been a big book nerd. I think the books I read as a child were probably the most applicable to adult life. Really, when it comes to life, the rules/guidelines are pretty simplistic. We just make things harder than they need to be. Here is a brief description of the book from Wikipedia

In this book, Grover is horrified to learn that there is a monster at the end of the book, and begs the reader not to finish the book, so as to avoid the monster.

Fearful of reaching the end of the book, Grover constructs a series of obstacles, such as attempting to tie pages together and laying brick walls, to prevent the reader from advancing.

Increasingly frightened (and also in awe of the reader’s strength at overcoming the obstacles), Grover pleads with the reader to stop reading as the book nears its conclusion.

However, the monster turns out to be Grover himself

This book made a profound statement, that what we are scared of in life is 9 times (plus 1) out of 10 within ourselves, or made up in our own mind.   I am realizing the monster at the end of the book, was just lil’ ol’ me (and Grover).

 

What is your favorite book from childhood?  Don’t be scared, we don’t bite!

Book Review: “The Secret History

 

The book I chose to review today, The Secret History, by Donna Tartt  is actually not in my niche, but I got so caught up in it that I had to share it with you all.  The funny thing is that I almost gave up on the book about a chapter in, but I kept dutifully on.  It had a lot of obscure references to Greek and Latin language as well as history so at first I was daunted.

First of all, I am not a Greek or Latin scholar or a student of comparative literature. Nor did I attend a fancy New England Ivy League school. I didn’t understand the occasional lines of Greek, Latin, and French in this book, and I’m not an intellectual snob (Okay, maybe I am just a little bit). But these small details don’t detract from the thoroughly enjoyable experience of reading the Secret History. If you appreciate a well-written, well-told story that entertains, has good character development, an intriguing story, and reveals more than a little about human nature, you’re going to like this book. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also a liberal dose of contempt for the rich, and who doesn’t enjoy that?! For those who’ve studied Greek, Latin, French or the classics, the story will be even more rewarding.

Tartt uses Richard, the most accessible character, to tell the story with ease and authenticity. The six main characters (all in their early twenties) live in their own insular world at a small New England upper crust college, studying the classics with one solitary professor. There’s Henry, the leader and probably the one most likely to succeed as a true scholar; Francis, the skittish hypochondriac; Charles and Camilla, the twins; Bunny, the obnoxious and ill-fated one of the bunch; and Richard, the California kid from the most humble background of all. At first, Richard can’t believe his great luck to fall in with such a gilded clique, but as usual, things are not as they appear.

Soon, the outer world intrudes (they bring this upon themselves, of course) and things fall apart. It’s the telling of the unraveling that grips you as Tartt deftly controls how much to tell and when. I marveled at her lush descriptions that rival a poet’s, her skill at narrative and dialogue, and her most revealing descriptions of human mannerisms and behavior. She repeatedly builds intrigue and tension all the way to the end of the 500+ pages of the novel. This is no easy task, but she makes it look effortless.

Don’t be put off by the setting and character types in this book. You don’t have to be a literary snob to understand or enjoy the story. It’s worth the time to read the book, and if you’re an aspiring writer, there is much here to educate and marvel at. I highly recommend the The Secret History.

 

“Leaving Atlanta” At The Movies

A few years back, I fell in love with Leaving Atlanta, a fictional novel that tackles the real life tragedies behind the Atlanta child murders that took place between 1979 and 1981. Tayari Jones tells the story of these heinous crimes through the eyes of the children most affected by the horrific turn of events.

SYNOPSIS: At the start of a new school year in 1979, we get to know three children and their families as the entire community deals with the initial reports that there is a child murderer in Atlanta. Tasha Baxter, Rodney Green, and Octavia Harrison will discover back-to-school means facing everyday challenges in a new world of safety lessons, terrified parents, and constant fear. When classmates begin disappearing and friends become headlines Tasha, Rodney and Octavia find ways to live with the fear or escape it. (source)

When I read this book, I was in college and had yet to learn of the Atlanta child murders that terrorized the Black community in Georgia, resulting in at least 30 deaths and disappearances. Jones’ novel had me glued to each word, praying for the safety of these children, wishing the horror would come to an end and the perpetrators be found immediately.

It was then that I also fell in love with her writing: poetic, subtle, with strong, resonating storylines, and characters that you can almost feel right beside you. She went on to garner many awards for this story, notably the Hurtson/Wright Award for Debut Fiction. Leaving Atlanta was also named one of the best books of 2002 by The Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

So, I was ecstatic when I found out indie filmmakers Althea Spann and Karon Om Vereen are readying Leaving Atlanta for the big screen. I usually have a disdain for movies based on books, mainly because the movie always tends to fall short, but something about this story makes me feel like it needs to be told to a larger audience. It needs to reach those of us who don’t read, or pay attention to old or current headlines. People need to be pricked in their hearts, feel compassion, hold their children a little closer, and be more aware of the dangers that can lurk right outside of our homes.

Recently, Jones tweeted a link to a teaser clip made for the project.


The duo and their crew are busy raising money and seeking backers to help this production get on the road to completion. Check out their site over at Kick Starter, which offers easy and simple ways in which everyone can help.

I truly hope this project is able to get off the ground. I also encourage everyone to pick up this book. It’s entertaining, informative, and damn good writing!

Also, stay tuned for Jones’ upcoming release, Silver Girl, scheduled for May 2011.

For more info:

Leaving Atlanta’s website: http://www.leavingatlantathemovie.com/
Tayari Jones’ blog: http://www.tayarijones.com

-Nakia

Alise Revisiting “Mama Day”

 


Mama Day

My favorite book EVER!

Hi, it’s Alise again!  Like I mentioned in my introduction, my niche is reviewing books that I read as a child/teenager and sharing how they make me feel re-reading as an adult.  So let’s get into it!

In the 11th grade I thought I hated my English teacher Mrs. Taylor.  She was an older black lady, late 50’s/early 60’s, who was the epitome of the  old-school no nonsense teacher.  She did not play!  This was secretly liberating though, being that she taught at a predominantly white school filled with bratty elitist kids.  She would straight shut those kids down.  Anyway, my love for her began when she assigned us to read “Mama Day”, by Gloria Naylor, introducing me to my favorite author.

What I loved about Mrs. Taylor was her “eff the curriculum” approach to teaching.  She had been in the teaching game for 30 years so she could care less about anyone’s opinion about the reading material she assigned.  At first I was intrigued to read a black author in school that was outside of the few very familiar authors we normally read.   I loved reading as a kid, but school books never did it for me until this book.

A story with roots in Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Ms. Taylor made that connection for us, lol), Mama Day recounts the lives of Miranda, “Mama” Day, her sister Abigail, Abigail’s grown granddaughter, Ophelia (Cocoa), and her love affair and marriage to George. Told in the voice of George (from the grave), Cocoa’s voice, and a narrator’s voice, the novel explores the tragic past of Mama Day’s forebears as well as the present in which Mama Day functions as healer and wise woman of the small community of Willow Springs  just off the coast of Georgia.

Never have I ever read a novel so richly fulfilling to the human soul, and to the human sense of what matters in life as “Mama Day.”   It  is an amazing love story, but on a different level than most. Gloria Naylor uses her normally powerful language to create a rich storyline that will captivate the readers.

In Mama Day, she combines love, magic, superstition, and sacrifice all into one cohesive plot loaded with strong, well-developed, distinct characters. She brings modern day ideas to the traditional residents of the island of Willow Springs, which makes for interesting reading.

This book brings together many extraordinary beliefs and instills the factors involved in having good strong family values. Mama Day is a wonderfully written book, mainly because you bond with the incredible characters all the way through to the amazing climax.

When first reading this book with good ol’ Ms. Taylor I entered into it resistant because I was not thrilled about reading another school book.  However, my 17 year old mind was blown after a few pages.  This book was written in a style I had not yet encountered so I was instantly drawn in.   I had never gotten so invested in characters before, they all felt familiar.  The thing I did not pick up on at such a young age was understanding why the characters made certain decisions.  My sheltered mind did not understand the deep feelings of loss, true love, or even fear.  Reading now, each character’s life choices make perfect sense to me.  The book explores the human spirit in a way that only a seasoned adult can fully grasp, hence why this had to me my first review here. I learned that even through loss there can be tremendous gain.  Also, that sometimes bad things just happen, and you just have to cope.  Both valuable lessons to learn and to read about.

 

Gloria Naylor is my favorite author EVER, be sure to check out “Linden Hills, ” “Bailey’s Cafe”, and “The Women of Brewster Place.”  You can also find me at poetry, love, & laughs

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?

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