Thursday, November 19, 2015

For The Love of the Book

The National Book Awards are a yearly bibliophile's Oscar's, Emmy's, Tony's, all rolled into one.  It gives recognition and validation to those writers, authors, poets, essayists, dreamers who do the lonely job of sitting down before a blank screen, blank page, or blank notebook to extrapolitate some thought, some feeling, some moment and bring it to live on the page.

The awards include fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

It was a delight to know that political commentator and blogger, Ta-Nehisi Coates's book w,as one of those awarded. He wrote a concise emotive about the 2000 murder of his Howard University classmate. He was in a black father's body writing to his black son. His touching, sometimes painful, very revealing memory was a bit of a pinch in that there is nothing new under the sun, black male bodies have been suspect, even clean cut, nerdy college students going home. In a time before social media, smart phones, cameras to record the events and a hashtag to immortalize his name, Coates gives a tender elegy of his friend and a reminder of what is yet to be accomplished.

I was listening, and reading the list to see the place of the black woman.  She was finally present. One finalist I can't wait to read and review, Angela Flournoy's debut novel, The Turner House, one poetry winner, Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis, one prose memoir by Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light, about the loss of her mother and her life as a poet. There was a delight to see an African-American male poetry finalist, How To Be Drawn. The youth have an entry by Ilyasaah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon about Malcom X as a child X:A Novel.

While driving down the windy country roads of a back part of St. Louis County, letting the crisp sun warm my morning, dreaming of the coffee I hadn't consumed yet, the morning was a perfect time to think about that thing I love so much.

The book.

The thing that I held in  my hand last night, one published in 1930, a Modern American Short Story collection, of course filled with dead white men and a few white women, it was holding someone's thoughts from so many years ago that the power of the actual book almost sent electric waves through my hands.

We have Google Books and the love/hate relationship with Amazon, we still have the big box stores and the fledgling independent stores trying to carve out space in more than 140-characters. There are deep-discount stores like Half-Price Books now invading parts of St. Louis County that were once reserved for the independent store owners.  Barnes and Noble is the only big box left in most of the parts of the area with Books-A-Million relegated to the hinterlands of a pretty-deserted and newly auctioned off mall. The fight for the actual book continues.

I wrote yesterday about being preturbed about the offering of black books.

Today, I was somewhat validated by a white female cashier at a newly discovered local bookstore who shared my sentiment. These bookstore employees who actually read books and said, "yes, and the covers have absolutely nothing to do with the books." We chatted more and observed that the over sexualized covers were not even on the white female chick-lit books. The brief encounter left us both wanting more diversity in reading material, her with my card and links to some of my reviews, and me even more determined to keep reviewing female literature by women of color.

The brief time in comfortable little Manchester/Ellisville store, The Book Rack, did not disappoint. I walked out with a story about Louisiana, me, ever the Creole girl pining for stories about that beloved state. This one is by a Cajun author that is intriguing to me. It was an unexpected treasure. That is what one can find in a carefully apportioned bookstore with booksellers that actually read books and know about authors, not a mall employee happy to have a job with a coffee bar tucked by the magazine racks.

The day's musings and feeling of books in my hand also reminded me that to love it is to also protect it and be purposeful about it.

My books are everwhere, on tables, on shelves, on "waiting to be read piles" and in my car.  In every place, every time I walk past them, I look at them longingly, knowing I may never read everthing I ever want to read, but having them is a testimony of these aspects of my life that are important.

The National Book Award has an amazing website. It has a listing of all the finalists in each of the four categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and youth literature. The list of books is a great place to consider what to read next year. Each of the books has that little gray sticker, further letting us know that it is quality literature to consider. Delightfully, there are offerings by people of color and stories that, as James Patterson said in his acceptance speech, will get a child asking for another book.

When I listened to the award show, the NPR conversation, and read the summaries, I was warmed that the place of the actual book is still relevant. Again, quoting James Patterson when he talked about his partnership with Scholastic in providing books to school libraries, we want to have "another generation of readers, bookstores, libraries, and good healthy publishers." It is my hope that the wonderful diversity of experiences, stories, and lives will reach the written page with such vibrance and creativity that not another girl will have to wonder if there is a story for her. I hope to never see another urban genre or stereotyped cover on another 2x4 little section labeled "African American Fiction" and I hope to see more women of color to be able to expand my literary reviews.

A delightful morning spent on a long drive in an unfamiliar part of St. Louis County rewarded me with time to think, time to sit and read writers' vignettes about their favorite independent bookstores, and time in a local store that solidified my love of the book.


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