Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2013 Book List

Habari Gani! It is the first day of Kwanzaa, Umoja, and in a time of unity of the culture, race, and nation, I am thinking about what I've been doing here the last few years - reading and reviewing black female literature.

It is also the day after Christmas when many reviewers are either listing their best books of 2012 or preparing their 2013 list of must-read-books.

I am doing the same.

I am still determined to give light and voice to the words written by black female authors or those about black female authors.  But I have also decided to expand my repertoire a bit this year by including literary works by my sisters in writing.

Two books I am excited to read in 2013 include Shattered Illusions by my young Jewish friend - Leigh Hershkovich.  Her book is listed on Goodreads and you can find out more about her through  her blog.

The other one I am excited to read is by my cousin.  It is still a manuscript, but will be a moving story about the interracial love story that is her parents.  Our Creole family is by nature a mixed heritage family, her story is set in California during the time of the Civil Rights Era and what it was like growing up being biracial in a time that so desperately wanted to identify as one or the other.

In addition to these two works, I am planning to read and review the following

1. Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash - a story about the women and people in the Gullah Islands

2. The Book of Night Women by Marlon James - a story about a woman born on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century (ode to a black man telling the story of black women!)

3. Kindred by Octavia Butler - she is a classic and must be included in any review of black female literary works, this story is set somewhat contemporary times - 1976 - and has a bit of an out-of-body time travel back to slavery time - going back in order to go forward.

4. Colin Channer: The Girl with the Golden Shoes - a novella by Russell Banks - interesting WWII setting in the West Indies about a fourteen year old who is set on changing her destiny

5. Miss Ophelia by Mary Burnett Smith - another coming-of-age novel about how one young girl remembers a rural Virginia summer.

6. The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna - set in contemporary Sierra Leone, this book is written by an African sister about a country at war and a quest to rebuild love and life.

7. Texaco  by Patrick Chamoiseu - a story about the one hundred and fifty years of Caribbean history and the mix of slavery told through the voice of an older daughter of a freed slave.

8. More by Austin Clarke - a story of a Barbadoian immigrant living abroad and feeling the emotional tug between two worlds.

9. Boundaries by Elizabeth Nunez - set in modern times in the midst of reality TV, this is a story about a Caribbean immigrant and the world of publishing African American works, how can an immigrant understand the story?

10. Rising From The Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class by Larry Tye - an non-fiction ode to my late grandfather who was a member of the Sleeping Car Porters, this book is an exception to my literary work on this site but right in line with what I read in my book clubs.

11. Stranger At The Gates by Tracy Sugarman is a classic non-fiction recount in writing and drawing about the deep south during Freedom Summer, the summer of my birth.

12. Love in the Driest Season: A Family Memoir by Neely Tucker will round out my planned year with a loving and moving story about a foreign correspondent in 1997 Zimbabwe, the world of AIDS, and the orphans left behind.

I read a variety of books with my CFUH Book Club - fiction and non - that are not often reviewed on this site but are deeply moving in the learning and discussion of how the two dominant races can move forward in my little suburban community.  We read together 10 months of the year, taking time off for Spring Break and for our annual pot-luck where we present, debate, and decide on the next years' reading list.

In my Ladies Over Forty Book Club, we read a variety of works by male and female authors, primarily works with a black protagonist.  We enjoyed reading and discussing together monthly.

If you are deciding what to do differently in 2013, consider reading a really good book.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Lesson Before Dying

I am taking a brief step away from my black female literary reviews to discuss a book I read as part of my CFUH Book Club.

We have met each month since the summer of 2008 to read books across genres that have helped us facilitate discussions on race, class, ethnicity, and diversity in our little community that was struck by an unspeakable tragedy.

It is that tragedy that was a part of our minds and my depression yesterday.

A Lesson Before Dying is not a happy book.  It is deeply human in the emotions evoked by the haunting prose of Ernest Gaines.  He took us back in time to 1946-47 rural Louisiana, the back country where the plantations were still supreme.  We all thought Ernest Gaines was channeling his own experience as a young man in the form of Grant Wiggins, the one room school house teacher whose aunt basically guilted him into "making a man" out of Jefferson who was sentenced to die.

I appreciated Gaines' form and the short chapters, it would have been too much to take had the prose been longer than a few pages, the 31 chapters were short and sweet.  I hurt for Grant's dilemma of being stuck and Jefferson's emotional state of being stuck.

Hate and injustice was what put them both in that situation and in some ways, still fills the air we breathe in 2012.

I was just so exhausted from it all when I walked into book club last night.  When is it enough!

The powers-that-be, the lucky ones that my husband told me last night was no such thing, were the ones who sat on that jury of twelve white men and condemned an innocent man to death because a white man died at the hands of other white men, but someone had to pay.

Why do they hate us so much?  The underlying question of issues of race and class.  Why can't we all just live and exist? Why do they want to destroy our esteem and sense of being?  Why was constantly being grappled with throughout the book and throughout history.  Why?

Ernest Gaines expertly did what all good writers hope to do - strike a chord with readers and leave them thinking about the work long after they closed the book.

A Lesson Before Dying is ultimately a lesson in living, we strive on and keep on and hope on and eventually live on.

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