#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 1

Day 1 – Strong female character:  IMG_1315

I thought a lot of about this one.  It’s not easy to choose since there are so many good ones.  In the end, I decided on Dana from Kindred.  She really was strong and went through so much, mentally and physically.  I know if it were me, I wouldn’t have survived it.  In spite of being thrown back into slavery when she is a black modern independent woman from 1976, with a white husband, she manages to survive some pretty horrific things.  Not only does she survive but she learns about her family, about slavery, and most of all about herself.  Those strong female characters go through all kinds of things and come out changed women and for the better.  Those novels with strong female characters make the most interesting reads as well.  So, who did you choose for your strong female character from an African-American novel?

#ReadSoulLit

Hello All I’m launching a photo challenge over on Twitter and Instagram in February for Black History Month.  I urge you all to take part and add to the challenge, the more the merrier.  Primarily, there will be photos of books but you can add photos of movies and other things if you prefer.  It’s going to be a chance to get more recommendations to lengthen your TBRs and spark conversation about our favorite books.  #ReadSoulLit is the tag you should use and please share it and the challenge photo everywhere, which has already started circulating over on Twitter and Instagram.  My handle on Twitter is Frenchiedee@ReadEngDee and on Instagram I’m FrenchieDeeDee.  I’m linking the photo challenge below so that you can start getting your books and photos lined up to join in the fun.  I’ll also be linking videos from fellow Booktubers, as well as my own (channel name: frenchiedee) on a variety of themes for Black History Month.  Of course there will be my usual reviews too.  Looking forward to chatting with you on here and over there.   So, what are you planning to read for Black History Month?

 

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A Special Wednesday….

Most of my Wednesdays are always the same.  I wake up early and get ready for work.  I work all morning and through lunch.  I then usually spend my afternoon preparing for my classes on the following day.  However, yesterday was special.  Instead of spending my afternoon planning lessons.  I went with a friend to Paris to La Maison de la Poésie to attend a talk with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

This was my first visit to La Maison de la Poésie and I’m sure it won’t be my last.  It’s cozy and the main theatre is comfortable and the stage is visible to all attending, not to mention they invite interesting authors regularly.  Tickets were sold on the internet, only 6€ to attend.  We arrived just before 6pm and fortunately the doors were already opened.  I don’t think we could have stood outside in the -1°C cold.  As time moved on more and more people started to show.  I met a blogger friend IMG_1277Marina from Young Gifted and Black, for the first time, as well as some other interesting bloggers.  It was thanks to her that I learned about the event.  Even though it was our first time meeting, we sat and had some passionate discussions about books and movies, while waiting to enter the theatre.  It was as if we’d been friends for years.  I hope to see he soon at some future events.

Seven pm struck, the doors to the theatre opened and the crowd started to get excited moving quickly through to try to get the best seats.  It was a full house.  My friend Amy and I were seated in the middle, towards the back with a great central view of the stage.  We sat in the dimly lit theatre for about 15 minutes, anticipation building, the time for the audience to get seated.  Finally, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stepped on stage, the room went dark and the stage lit up, and alongside her were here interpreter, the interviewer, and the second guest, Belgian French author, Marie Darrieussecq.  Darrieussecq published Il Faut Beaucoup Aimer des Hommes in 2013 and won the  Prix Médicis the same year.  I’ll definitely be picking her book up at some point.  Its storyline was very intriguing.

The talk seemed to fly by.  We sat through about one hour and a half of questions and answers between both brilliant authors.  It was remarkable to see how the themes touched on were similar in both of their books.  Adichie made some very bold, honest statements that received overall applause, like when she said racism is not just a problem in the United States but also in France.  She also spoke about how readers seem to always expect female characters to be likable, pretty, and acceptable.  She said that shouldn’t be and that it’s rarely required of male characters.  She said what would be the point of women just trying to be likable all the time.  I couldn’t agree more.  She said she wrote Ifemelu to be a character that had plenty of faults but that she thought readers would find interesting.  And interesting, she was.  Adichie also talked about feminism and mentioned how she couldn’t understand why everybody couldn’t be a feminist, since feminism is basically fighting for equality among the sexes.  Another high point of the evening was the interpreters capacity and rapidity in translating Adichie, as well as all the others on stage.  She was surprisingly quick and accurate.

IMG_1269The only disappointing thing about the evening was that Adichie didn’t read from Americanah.  The interviewer read an excerpt in French.  I felt that was really missing, for the interviewer wasn’t capable of putting the correct tone on the words.  Even though on a much brighter note, I had the pleasure of speaking with Adichie and taking a picture with her after waiting for about a half an hour in a pseudo queue. I say pseudo because there was a long line from one side and then there was a half circle surrounding Adichie that never seemed to dissipate.  Frankly, If I were her I would have felt a little claustrophobic.

In the end, I was able to get all three of my books signed, Purple Hibiscus, The thing Around Your Neck, and Americanah.  Adichie was stunning and very poised.  Most of all what amazed me was how she reacted to the crowd.  She was genuinely friendly, listening, and happy to speak with us.  She complimented my hair(that definitely made me smile) and said how much she loved the hairstyles she saw there, being that she’s a lover of natural hair.  All in all it was a very special night that I won’t forget anytime soon…

The Memory of Love

After finishing The Memory of Love late last Friday night, I was truly sad to see page 445 arrive.  It seemedIMG_1139 to come so quickly for me.  I started reading on Wednesday and read non-stop anytime I was free through to Friday.  I could have just been pushed by time since I was discussing it with my book club on Saturday, but actually I just didn’t want to do anything else besides read this book.  I really didn’t want that passionate story of memory to end.

The Memory of Love is a story that takes place in the West African country of Sierra Leone.  The main characters are Kai a brilliant surgeon, Elias an aging academic, and Adrian a British psychologist.  It’s through the relationships of these three men that we follow their personal stories and memories along with the tragic incidents from Sierra Leone’s troubled political past and growth.   The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information is one of the essential themes of the story.  The past can be so tragic that one’s only means of survival is to bury that tragedy deep within and push the little that is left of oneself forward.

“The memories come at unguarded moments, when he cannot sleep.  In the past, at the height of it, he had attended to people whose limbs had been severed.  Working with a Scottish pain expert years later, he treated some of those patients again.  They complained of feeling pain in the lost limbs, the aching ghost of a hewn hand or foot.  It was a trick of the mind,……the nerves continued to transmit signals between the brain and the ghost limb.  The pain is real, yes but it is a memory of pain.” (The Memory of Love, p.184)

This book isn’t plot driven.  It has no real beginning, middle, or end.  It’s life.  It’s survival.  This book will teach you about Sierra Leone’s history and culture.  The first one hundred pages left me a little frustrated because Forna was giving me information, but not as I was anticipating it.  I soon stopped trying to will the book into what I wanted and began to accept and appreciate the story Forna was trying to tell me.  Beautifully written and always with phrases that are exact and perfect for each situation, there are lessons to be learned through out the novel.

Forna writes the three male characters with absolute realism.  Not at any moment did I feel a feminine voice ringing through.  I would have to say that this is a book about men,  since the female characters were minor and not very vocal.  Their roles were to bring the male characters’ stories full circle.  Reading about the habits of the people in Sierra Leone was enlightening, as was unfortunately hearing about the atrocities that happened to its people.

Forna-Aminatta-e1410397047138Aminatta Forna is a Scottish-born British writer, raised between the UK and Sierra Leone.  The Devil that Danced on the Water, a memoir, was her first published book in 2003.  It discusses the imprisonment and later death of her father due to his political involvement.  Her first fiction novel is called Ancestors Stones and was published in 2006 and won her the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award in 2007.  The Memory of Love won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and others.  I’m looking forward to reading The Devil that Danced on the Water and Ancestors Stones.

Book Club reactions:

Everybody raved about it.  Some also complained about the first 100 pages being difficult because they couldn’t figure out who was speaking (story is told from multiple points of view and switches from first to third person frequently) nor could they figure out where the story was taking place specifically.  They marveled over Forna’s capacity to describe situations and places, as well as her poignant writing.  We also discussed at length her background and how Forna feels as comfortable in the UK as she does in Sierra Leone.  We all came to the conclusion that showed considerably in The Memory of Love because of the authentic descriptions of Sierra Leone but also of Adrian Lockheart and his reactions to things he saw there and descriptions of his family back home in England.  We all agreed we were interested in reading more of her books, specifically The Devil that Danced on the Water.

If you’ve read Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone you’ll probably be interested in reading The Memory of Love.

Reading Diversely?

The subject of reading diversely seems to be on the lips of many book bloggers but mostly, Booktubers on You Tube.  Diverse reading struck the Booktube community as if it was the first time anyone had ever heard of it.  For those who don’t know the meaning of the word diverse, it is best defined as “showing a great deal of variety; very different”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary Online.  The two words that jump out at me in the definition are variety and different.

Before all of this hoopla started, Booktubers wanted to read people of color and that was stated openly, but not by many.  Now everybody says they want to read diversely and that means authors of color and anybody else that isn’t white.  After a recent discussion on Twitter with Estella’s Revenge and some other bloggers, it was brought to my attention that white, male, straight authors were being used as some sort of benchmark to decide what is considered diverse reading.  People on Twitter admitted to Googling authors, as crazy as that sounds, to try to figure out if they were white or not, and to determine if they could be considered as part of their diverse list.  Some were even surprised that authors didn’t mention their race in their bios and seemed to be surprised that some authors were not easily identifiable from their pictures.

Well no, authors don’t have to mention their race in their bios, and for your information, you can be very fair-skinned and still be black. Surprise!  But let’s not get off track.  I think many writers dislike the thought of being pigeonholed.  It’s like being reduced to your race, your nationality, your sexual preference, or even to a handicap.  I have always read diversely my entire life so this has never been some issue that I felt I needed to regulate somehow or something I felt I needed to announce to everybody.  I say, if you want to read a variety of literature then stop talking about it and do it.  In the end, when you do it no one is going to give you a prize because you do.  Lumping authors all together because they aren’t white, straight, males doesn’t valorize at all the differences in authors.

Another thing that seems blatantly obvious to me is that, what is diverse to one person is not to another.  So if you’re a white, straight, male reading diversely might be reading women, black, LGBTQ writers, where if you are American, reading diversely might be reading more translated work, and so on.  Reading diversely for me means reading what is different from me.  As readers we should all be happy to discover what is different from us.  It is one way to learn more about the world.  Discovering those differences is enriching and should not be reduced to a psychological guilt trip backed up with percentages and spreadsheets.  In the end, it feels like #LetMeGetInMyRacialQuota.(a friend of mine’s clever hashtag)  Some will not be ready for this discovery through reading and that’s fine too.  That meaningful reading journey will come in time.   As for Black authors, they exist and are out there.  It’s up to the readers to want to find them, but most of all to read them.  The Black community have been and are supporting Black authors.

I wish everybody lots of pleasurable reading in 2015 and discovery of new places, people, and cultures.  Hope this doesn’t come off as to harsh, but this topic has haunted the internet for a while now and I felt the need to give my opinion.  So, what do you think about diverse reading?

Reading in the New Year 2015

We are verging on our 4th day of the new year and all my bookish buddies have made their new reading
resolutions for 2015, analyzed, and written up the statistics of their reading from 2014.  So here I am sliding in to home plate with mine.  I made some over zealous reading resolutions last year.  See here if you don’t remember.  Well I promised to read certain titles, read Australian and Russian literature and to read some unread books on my shelves.  Well it was all a fail except reading some of my unread books and readingMy gift goodies! The Good Lord Bird.  Well better something than nothing.

The good thing about last year’s reading was that I managed to choose and read a lot of very good books.  My top 10 of 2014 is full of the best of the best. (post coming soon) No complaints. Five of them received five-star ratings and for me that’s excellent, since I rarely give out five stars.  So in this fresh new year my resolutions will be few but meaningful.  I want to do a lot of pleasurable and meaningful reading, as last year, that seems to work for me.  I have no time for mediocre reading, I feel I’m too old for that.  There are a multitude of books I want to read before I die.  That wasn’t meant to sound desperate but I need to write my book for that.  Last year my page count was a miserable 13,511. Wretched! So my last and biggest goal of the year will be to increase my page count abundantly.

As for my reading stats, I read:

53 books and 7 of them were over 400 pages

13 graphic novels

27 novels by black authors

21 novels by women

32 novels by men

9 memoirs/non-fiction (4 of these were graphic novels)

from 13 different nationalities, including French, American, Indian, Nigerian, English, Scottish, Columbian, Norwegian, Dominican, Portuguese, Japanese, Canadian, and Cambodian.

The longest book I read was Americanah with 477 pages and the longest graphic novel was Habibi with 672 pages.

The shortest book I read was Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women, with 32 pages.

Having been shy of my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal by two books and short of my Big Books goal by three, I’ve decided to fix my Reading Challenge at 50 and the Big Books Challenge at 10.  Hoping that this will keep me well-rounded and reading longer books, but most importantly extremely good ones.

As you’ve probably noticed there are some big changes on the blog today.  I’ve changed the name of my blog to Brown Girl Reading and opted for a new style.  The name change has been a long time coming and I feel this one suits me better, as does the style of the blog.  I hope you enjoy and approve of the changes.  So, here’s to you for following me and to 2015 which I hope will be great for you all – in life, in love, in friendship, in health, and in reading.  Happy New Year!