#ReadSoulLit 2019 in Honor of Black History Month

February always gets me so excited about reading.  Black History Month always makes me want to delve deeper into the books written by black Americans and to learn more about my culture.  I feel that black literature, is getting more recognition these days although I still feel that more consideration is given to African Literature.  We have ways to go to get to the same level of recognition.

This is why I’m hoping that the photo challenge on Instagram and my videos this month on YouTube will give African-American authors the spotlight they so desperately need.  I’d love to be able to mention Bernice L. McFadden, Dolen Perkins-Vladez, Gayl Jones, and so many others and have everybody know who they are and what their writing is about.

As you can see in the picture above, this is just a fraction of one of my book shelves that contains quite a few books by African-American authors – 11 to be exact including the June Jordan novel that’s just at the edge of the picture on the right.  There are a few of these that I plan on reading this year that frankly I should have read many years before.  I’m looking forward to reading So Much Blue this month by Perceval Everett.  It will be my first attempt and I hope I’ll love it, having heard so many great things about this author and how he tells stories.  Another one on this shelf that is long overdue is Perfect Peace by Daniel Black.  So many people have recommended this one to me over the years and I’m not sure why I have continued to neglect picking it up.  Promise to myself and others that this one will get read this year.  Ann Petry’s The Street is another one that I’d like to finally read completely.  I had one failed attempt during a buddy read.  I didn’t finish because I didn’t like it. It was mostly because I was too busy to concentrate on it.  The classic The Wedding by Dorothy West has been on my list for ages and I finally picked up a copy 3 years ago but have been putting it off.  The Darkest Child I’ve been putting of because of its story.  I’ll definitely need a pallet cleanser after reading it. I’m sure it’s going to make me mad as hell.  So these are just a few books among many others that will continue my #readsoullit reading of African-American writers throughout the year.   I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing these as well as checking out a few new ones this year.  Happy Black History Month and reading!

#ReadSoulLit Tag

I created this tag so that people could get more recommendations of books by black authors.  I’m tagging all of you bloggers out there to do it and to add to the list of growing recommendations of African-American authors and their works this Black History Month.  Enjoy!

If you’d like to pick up a copy of any of my recommendations please consider clicking my affiliate link for The Book Depository, where shipping is free! It would be much appreciated. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing. Thank you!

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The Seal of Approval

What’s in a seal?  Prestige, praise, protection, a blessing.  Seals have existed for many centuries.  They date back to some of the world’s first civilizations.  Today we use them mostly to award prizes.  If you’re a book lover of literary prizes, then you’re used to seeing seals on winning books and runners-up.  Seals are now also showing up on new releases and back list books for book clubs.  Oprah’s Book Club, Reese’s Book Club, Emma Watson’s Book Club, even Jimmy Fallon, and the list goes on.

I hope this trend isn’t going to continue but it seems as though people are really catching the reading bug because of them .  That’s fantastic!  However the thing that annoys me about some of these celebrity book clubs is that when the book is published there has to be a giant seal printed on the front cover for the book club.  This drives me mad!  Why is it that publishing companies have to put Oprah’s seal on every book she chooses for her book club?

When the public decides to buy a book that happens to have the Oprah book club seal, it looks like we’re all joining her book club when we aren’t.  It’s great for the author who gets loads of publicity because his/her book was chosen to be discussed for the club.  Sadly for collectors, like myself,  the Oprah and Reese cover seals don’t cut it.

November 13th, 2018 Becoming by Michelle Obama was released.  I was ecstatic but when I heard that Becoming was chosen for Oprah’s book club, I hoped that there would be some pre-orders that were published without the seal.  First edition hardcover books with a book club seal on the front is just disheartening.

The 13th I looked at all of the pictures on Instagram that rolled through my feed of Becoming.  Everybody was so proud and overjoyed by the release of this book.  But there was a common feeling lurking under many of these posts. “I would have preferred that the cover didn’t contain a Oprah Book Club seal.”  Now this is a very common thought contrary to what most people would think.  It’s time that publishing companies start listening more to their customers, the avid readers and book collectors on this one.  We are all prepared to buy books but we’d prefer you omit publishing them with book club seals.

I know publishers probably think that the seal of approval encourages the public to buy more books.  Avid readers who buy a lot of books don’t need a seal of approval on a book to be convinced to buy it.  Most of us do our research and we know what we want to buy and read.  There are people who just refuse to buy any books with book club and literary prize seals on them.  In my opinion, these so-called seals of approval make the value of the first edition decrease.

Now after pre-ordering my copy of Becoming from Amazon, it arrived sadly with the dreaded Oprah seal.  So I had to hunt for a copy with no seal.  I realized that the British copies do not have any seals on them.  On the hunt for a British copy, I found and ordered a copy of Becoming from The Book Depository.  My copy came from the UK and it doesn’t contain the Oprah seal of approval.  Thank goodness was my sigh of relief once the box was finally opened.  Becoming looking perfectly beautiful.

So what can we do to try to get books to not contain seals of approval from celebrity book clubs?  I think we should all take to our computers and write letters to publishing companies, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc and urge them to stop printing book club seals on book covers or at least print only half of them with seals.  At least this way there would be a possibility for book lovers to be able to buy a book without a seal.  This could be done since now we know that they produced all of the UK copies without seals.  What’s stopping publishing houses from publishing only half the books with seals?  Comment below and let me know what you think about this.

Bye 2018. Hello 2019 Literary Goals!

I can hardly believe that 2019 has arrived so quickly.  2018 was a good reading year as a whole for me because I did complete my Goodreads goal to read 60 books.  I also read 461 more pages than last year.  However, there were quite a few things that did not go as planned that I hope to improve this year.

I didn’t get a chance to read very many Caribbean lit books. I managed to read 3 – one poetry collection Satellite City and Other Stories by  Alecia McKenzie is a wonderful short story collection that plunges the reader into the ambience of living on an island and Jamaican culture. , The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Afro-Dominican writer, is YA novel in verse that will grab your heart and won’t let it go. It’s beautifully lyrical and relatable to all ages. This is a book not to miss, and finally Slave Old Man a short literary fiction novella written to perfection by Patrick Chamoiseau.  The beautiful descriptions take you through the plush green sinister nature of Martinique to the uncertain life of an old slave who finally seeks freedom. All three are excellent books that are well worth 4.5 -5 stars. So I will definitely continue on my Caribbean journey because I still have much to discover and experience.

I also joined the #readingblackoutchanllenge(=to read only African-American writers during the year) which I did for half of the year. Of my 60 books read, 35 books were by African-American writers. This was an interesting challenge.  It got me started on reading the Easy Rawlins series by Walter Mosley.  I managed to read the first four books and they were really good.  There are a total of 13 books in the series so I’m going to try to see how many I can get through this year. Reading this series was a great reading surprise for me. I couldn’t believe how much I liked them and kept asking myself why it took me so long to start reading them.

So many books, so little time is the phrase we should all have engraved somewhere. How we torture ourselves over all of the new books coming out each year. Well I won’t be doing that this year.  I have already pre-ordered a few but I will be focusing on trying to finish reading all the books by certain authors, for example I still need to read Love and Paradise to finish all of Toni Morrison’s books.I still have books to finish by Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Colson Whitehead, even Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie and many others. My year will be devoted to backlist books (If you want to join me use #backlistbooks2019 when you post about a booul you’re reading that isn’t from this year.) and some new ones here and there.

As for reading challenges, I’ll be choosing them as I go along during the year, but I have decided to participate in the Ghana reading challenge(spearheaded by African Book Addict, go check out her blog for more info), which is to read 5 books within the year which are by a Ghanaian writer.  It turns out I have quite a few which are already on my backlist for this year. I’ll also be trying to read at least 10 big books that are 400 pages and over this year.  I do this challenge every year because it helps me not forget those huge door stops that have a tendency top be overlooked because of their size.  We have to remember that big is not always synonymous with fear.  There are some great big books pout there and I hope I’m going to put my hands on at least ten of them.

Now, I’d love to read more than 60 books but I don’t dare set my total Goodreads goal for more books. Last year the goal was set at 60 and this year I sat the goal at 50.  If I get a chance to read more I will be thrilled, but essentially I’d like to be able to choose 4 and 5 star books. I reaching for quality.

So, that’s all for the reading goals but I do have some writing goals concerning this blog and that’s to write at least 1 blog post a week and to finish each month with a recap of what I read for the month.  This means I won’t be recapping over on my YouTube channel.  I’d like to balance my time between here and YouTube. The other place where you can get bookish updates from me is Instagram and Twitter.  Click the links to follow me over there.  Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and to support the blog, my YouTube channel, and Instagram! I really appreciate it.  2019 is going to be a stellar year all around and the bookish communities seem to be gearing up  for some great reading and sharing!  Let me know below how your 2018 in reading went and what you have planned as reading goals for 2019.

 

 

Incognegro Renaissance #1

Zane Pinchback, the light-skinned reporter from the black newspaper The New Holland Herald is back!  The graphic novel Incognegro introduced us to Zane and the daring way he goes about writing stories about the lynchings that were taking place all over the south during the 1920s.

Zane continues to use this approach in a new graphic novel called Incognegro Renaissance #1.  This will be the first in a series of graphic novels featuring Zane Pinchback and continues to take place in New York during the Harlem Renaissance, giving the name to the series.

The story begins of course with a murder as most mysteries do, but soon we see that Mat Johnson the author is setting central characters, setting, but most of all social complexities of this time period for black people.  We’re in New York and Johnson shows the race division was clearly traced of where black people were allowed to be even within the famous Cotton Club of the time located in the heart of Harlem.  Zane is a determined reporter and won’t stop until he uncovers the truth.

Incognegro Renaissance #1 is a pretty straight forward mystery, with beautiful black and white artwork from Warren Pleece who also drew for Incognegro.  The graphic novel is split into 5 major chapters.  The 2 major complaints I have with Incognegro Renaissance #1 is that it’s too short and secondly the pages aren’t numbered.  I was expecting the story to be a lot more developed like Incognegro, but I guess Mat Johnson is taking his time to build this series.  Despite those two complaints, it was a very quick and enjoyable read.  I’m looking forward to seeing how Zane passing for white helps him solve the murders of black people but also affects his relationships with his friends and colleagues in future volumes.

I recommend beginning with Incognegro because it will give you more background on the character of Zane Pinchback, as well as the other minor characters surrounding him.  You’ll then be able to get into the prequel, Incognegro Renaissance #1 with a better feel of the story.  I checked to see if the following graphic novels  Incognegro #2 and Incognegro #3 have been released.  I found that they have been but sadly only in Kindle format. I’ll have to wait until they come out in paper  format and I have no idea when that will be.  If and when I hear anything I’ll let you know.  If you hear anything please let me know. 🙂

Incognegro Renaissance #1, hardcover (Berger Books)

 

 

Black History Month UK

October was designated as Black History Month in the UK by Akyaaba Addai Sebo in 1987. This was as a result to the riots of the 1980s in the UK when black Britons fought for tolerance and acceptance and their fight against racism and marginalization headlined. Black History Month was chosen to be in the month of October because it is the month when African leaders and chiefs get together to settle their differences. It also corresponds to the beginning of the school year and there was hope that it would instill pride in black children.

Since I host a month of videos, Instagram photo challenges, a readalong, and blog posts for Black History Month in February for the US, I felt like I needed to do something this year for Black History Month UK and I will continue to do things for October. I’m terribly disappointed that it is hardly mentioned in the book communities online, especially since there are many other different book activities hosted this month. So, I decided to spearhead a readalong of 26a by Diana Evans over on Goodreads.

I believe when readers are asked who is their favorite black British writer they either have a tendance to say Zadie Smith or they have no idea. I find that a little sad because there are a plethora of black British writers out there but I don’t think they are getting as much recognition and love as they should. So I decided to contribute these two extensive lists below of black British Women and Men Writers that you may not have even heard of.

Once during one of my Instalives someone asked me, «Who is your favorite British author? » I was taken aback because the only name that came to mind was Zadie Smith. It was in that moment that I realized I was lacking in reading Black British authors. There were other names I could have said that I’d read, but for some reason they weren’t coming to mind. That goes to show how important publicity is and why it’s important to not only read black writers but to talk about them and to gush about your favorites. Why is it we can name white men and women British writers’ names without hesitation? Their names are foremost in our heads because they are literally all over the net ALL THE TIME from Goodreads to YouTube to Instagram to Litsy and so on….

In order to encourage you to discover some black British writers check out my list below. I’ll highlight the authors and the titles I’ve read. I’m sure this is another literary journey I’ll attempt to go on eventually because the lists are rich. At the moment, I’m enjoying discovering literature from the Caribbean, which will overlap with these two lists. Concerning my Caribbean reading journey, the backlist has been where I’m finding the gems. The Backlist is where it’s at people. You’re chasing the new titles and missing out on the tried and true. Remember there will always be new titles coming out but the oldies are classics which stand the test of time.

Black British Women Writiers

Mojisola ADEBAYO

Helen OYEYEMI

Patience AGBABI

Joan ANIM-ADDO

Similar BEDFORD

Malorie BLACKMAN – Noughts and Crosses

Zena EDWARDS

Buchi EMECHETA

Diana EVANS – 26a

Bernadine EVARISTO

Laura FISH

Aminatta FORNAThe Memory of Love

Beryl GILROY

Jackie KAYRed Dust Road An Autobiographical Journey

Dorothy Koomson

Andrea LEVY

Sheree MACK

Dreda Say MITCHELL

Nadifa MOHAMED

Grace NICHOLS

Sharon DODUA

Winsome PINNOCK

Lou PRENDERGAST

Mary PRINCE

Joan RILEY

Mary SEACOLE

Khadijah (George) SESAY

Dorothea SMARTT

Zadie SMITHNW/On Beauty/White Teeth/Swing Time (curently reading Feel Free)

Adela SOLANKE

Su ANDI

Debbie TUCKER GREEN

Yrsa DALEY-WARDbone

Precious WILLIMAS

Oona KING

Irenosen OKOJIE

Hannah POOL

Yvette EDWARDS

Black British Men Writers:

Alex WHEATLE

Benjamin ZEPHANIAH

Caryl PHILLIPSCrossing the River

Courttia Newland The Gospel According to Cane

Diran ADEBAYO

Mike GAYLE

Paul GILROY

Ben OKRI

E. R. BRAITHWAITE

Gary YOUNGE

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jaswal

Today my book club met to discuss our second book of the 2018-2019 school year, Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows. The discussion was short but rich. There was an overall consensus that Jaswal did an excellent job depicting the complexity of the Indian community in Southall. Nikki the main character of the story is a young modern Indian origin woman looking for her correct path in life. She refuses her father’s expectations of her being lawyer halfway through the degree and winds up “teaching” English to Punjabi widows in the community hall in Southall.

In spite of the seemingly well-plotted out novel, Jaswal doesn’t deliver on making the characters meaningful. We can’t get close enough to them to like them. The story is guided mostly by Nikki and Kulwinder but neither of them are developed enough for the reader to care about them. I stopped wondering when the characters were going to become more interesting (because clearly it wasn’t going to happen) and I decided to focus mostly on the hard hitting themes and plot.

“We built Southall because we didn’t know how to be British… If you had any problems in this new country, your neighbors would rush to your side and bring you money, food, whatever you need. That’s the beauty of being surrounded by your community.” The younger women in the story view community as a prison. It can be supportive but it’s critical if you don’t comply to doing what is expected of you. It can even lead to death. However there are many different versions of this community which we compared to ourselves living here in France. As Anglophones, we adapt to French society as much as we can, while taking comfort in meeting amongst ourselves regularly. It’s our way of giving support and sharing our common culture, but we don’t pressure each other to behave or live in particular ways. The Southall community women, on the other hand, are repressed and made to believe that their lives are not successful without marriage and children. The repression isn’t just implemented by the men but also by the older women on the younger ones for the men; and that makes it all the more disturbing.

As a whole this book makes for a very good book club discussion, although it wasn’t all I expected. Lacking in character development, Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows comes off as a movie script, with wooden dialogue. As I was reading, I could actually imagine how it would look on screen. There is a lot of telling and not much showing. It’s not literary fiction because it doesn’t give you more to mentally chew on other than what is literally written on the pages. I don’t think this book will stick with me very long. Even though, I’d recommend this book to people who like community/immigrant stories and stories about Indian communities living in England. But, if you’re looking for a book that’s going to make you think deeply this isn’t the one.

Balli Kaur Jaswal was born is Singapour. Inheritance, her first novel, was published in 2013. She won the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelist Award. She has also written Sugarbread (2016) and her new release of 2019 The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, a novel about Punjabi sisters off on a pilgrimage to their homeland to lay their mother to rest.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, (Harper Collins) paperback 295 pages

Rating: ⭐️⭐️💫

https://youtu.be/brL4FZCWt2k

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin – Terrance Hayes

When I heard about the release of this American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, I knew I had to read it.  I don’t often read poetry but when I do it’s because I’m sure the collection is going to move me.  And this one did that and more.

This collection was savvy, intelligent, angry, creative, and has its pages and words on the pulse of what’s wrong with America.  How does a poet cope with the election of a new president?  Lyrical and rhythmic, Hayes let’s us know what the deal is.  So you need to be ready.  He’s angry. Every sonnet in the collection has the same title, ‘American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin’.  One of the coolest things about this collection is that there is a sonnet index at the back.  The first line of each sonnet with its page number moreover when you read each line in the index it makes another poem.

In this collection, Hayes is the assassin but so are we if we feel as angry as he does.  He makes it clear that we are all linked and that we need to realize that and act like it.  He also reiterates that we’re in the shit! He uses everything from police brutality to pop culture to express his thoughts so if you aren’t up on the news, music, literature, tv, shows, movies, etc., it might be difficult to understand the meaning behind these sonnets.  I personally found them excellent and would recommend them to everyone, especially to Americans.  I’ve already read it twice.  Finding new meaning throughout the collection and I will surely pick it up again.  We are going through a difficult and unprecedented period in the United States that needs to change for the better!  All I can say is read American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin for some consolation and most of all vote!  Check out the video below where Terrance Hayes talks about his writing and reads a few of his poems.  He’s brilliant!

“AMERICAN SONNET FOR MY PAST AND FUTURE ASSASSIN

The umpteenth thump on the rump of a badunkadunk
Stumps us. The link, the chump, the hunk of plunder.
The umpteenth horny, honky stump speech pumps
A funky rumble over air. The umpteenth slump
In our humming democracy, a bumble bureaucracy
With teeny tiny wings too small for its rumpled,
Dumpling of a body. Humpty-Dumpy. Frumpy
Suit. The umpteenth honk of hollow thunder.
The umpteenth Believe me. The umpteenth grumpy,
Jumpy retort. Chump change, casino game, tuxedo,
Teeth bleach, stump speech. Junk science. Junk bond.
Junk country, sum speech. The umpteenth boast
Stumps our toe. The umpteenth falsehood stumps
Our elbows & eyeballs, our Nos, Whoahs, wows, woes.”

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins, p. 48 – Terrance Hayes  (Penguin Books) 89 pages, paperback

Rating: 5 stars

If you’d like to pick up a copy of American Sonnets For My Past And Future Assassins or any of my other recommendations please consider clicking my affiliate link for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing. Thank you!
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No Place To Call Home – JJ Bola

JJ Bola’s, debut novel, No Place To Call Home attentively develops the themes expected in a novel about refugees surviving in a strange new country. Bola touches on language, community, parent-child relationships, specifically father-son and father-daughter relationships, expectations of first generation African children, religion, moeurs, and most of all home. All of these subjects are catalysts for developing each of the main characters.

The personable third person voice of No Place To Call Home tells the story of Papa, Mami, Jean, and Marie. The ingenuity of the narrator’s voice gently pulls us into the complex life of this family. Refugees from the Congo living in London, we follow the difficulty of Papa and Mami to survive while waiting to get their papers, which will allow them to stay in the UK legally. They are fleeing political horrors of the dictator Le Maréchal.

The story quickly focuses mostly on their family life. Jean is about 11 years old, trying to fit in and master the English language. This comes with many tests, from fitting in with the boys to making excellent grades to pleasing his exigent father. Jean’s sister Marie is the model child and student. She is younger and not the first-born boy so she doesn’t have the same expectations placed upon her as, her brother, Jean.

Bola does an excellent comparison of Papa and Jean by starting out developing Jean’s character at school in the UK and then later paralleling that with Papa’s adaptation to École Polytechinique in Brussels. They are two different ages in these scenes but it depicts similar difficulties they have, how they deal with them and how they develop and reinforce their personalities. This also depicts the way Bola has chosen to talk about African societal expectations for African men and women. The roles of men are incorporated in the story and juxtaposed with those of women. For example, there is Tonton, the lazy womanizer, Pastor Kaddi the dishonest evangelical priest, and Koko Patrice, Papa’s manipulative, elusive father, and Koko Mobali, Mami’s domineering father.

I strongly urge you to pick up No Place To Call Home.  Its touching characters and well-developed story lines will have you completely submerged.  I read this book in two sittings. I couldn’t put it down.  However the only thing that disappointed me about this book was the ending.  I was hoping for something a bit more concrete.

“JJ Bola is a Kinshasa-born, London-raised writer, poet, educator, and workshop facilitator. He has published two books of poetry, Elevate and Word, and performs regularly at shows and festivals.  In 2015-2016, Bola performed on a US poetry slam tour that took him to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Toronto, and more.  He lives in London.” (back cover of No Place To Call home)

No Place to Call Home, 286 pages, Arcade Publishing

Rating: 4 stars

Recommended to: Readers looking for interesting fiction novels about refugees in the UK

Book quote:  “If you are lucky, you will never have to remember home through your mother’s tears or the rage in your father’s voice when it shakes. Home will be somewhere you run to, never away from. It will never chase you away; a rabid dog hot on your heels with teeth like a shark, teeth so sharp you can already feel it cutting into you.” (No Place to Call Home, p. 285)

If you’d like to pick up a copy of No Place To Call Home or any of my other recommendations please consider clicking my affiliate link for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing. Thank you!
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Sag Harbor Live Discussion

Sag Harbor – Colson Whitehead, 329 pages, Anchor Books

Rating: 4,5 stars

Recommended to: Lovers of coming-of-age stories, summer read…

Particularity: Coming-of-age story by a black man

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Sag Harbor or any of my other recommendations please consider clicking my affiliate link for The Book Depository.  It would be much appreciated. It will help fund my incessant book buying, reading, and reviewing. Thank you!
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