I used to run my hands along the books on the wooden bookshelves that were in the hall upstairs in my home. It contained a myriad of first edition African-American novels from Frederick Douglas to Malcolm X. Growing up I was particularly intrigued by the title Giovanni’s Room. I wondered what the story could be about. I remember reading the back cover but still not being so sure. I always heard my mother and especially my uncle persuasively explaining to me the importance of James Baldwin’s works, emphasizing Another Country (my favorite so far), Going to Meet the Man, and Go Tell it on the Mountain. I grew up having these titles in mind but Giovanni’s Room, for some reason, was always in the forefront, probably because it was the first book of his that I held in my hands.
Sadly it has taken me forty years to read one of Baldwin’s novels. I read lots of African-American authors at college for my major but Baldwin surprisingly never came up. Four years ago, I read and thoroughly enjoyed If Beale Street could Talk. The year after I read Giovanni’s Room. I’m so glad I finally got to the book that perked my interest at such a young age because of the title alone. I followed up by reading Another Country and The Fire Next Time. Both are incredible literary works that everybody should read before they die. I still have more to discover by Baldwin.
So I guess you’re wondering why I’m writing about my reading discovery of James Baldwin. Well I thought I’d let you all in on a reading project that one of my Booktube buddies, Denise D. Cooper ArtBooks Life (Awesome creative Booktuber go check her out!) will be doing next year. It’s called The Blackout for Books 2018. She’ll be reading books by African-American authors for twelve months. The rules are the following:
- Only read African-American writers
- Read 1 independent writer each month
- Read 2 African-American Women Writers each month
It’s as easy as that. I commend her for this and I’ll be joining her for January, February, and March of 2018. I can’t wait. It would be great if you all could join in too for any amount of time you’d like. So, now you know a bit more about why I started this post talking about James Baldwin. I’ll punctually be writing posts about some of my favorite African-American writers and about those that I haven’t read yet but are looking forward to read in preparation for this reading challenge. This will give you some ideas if you aren’t sure what you’d like to read. If you decide to participate, don’t forget to link your comments with #the blackoutforbooks2018 everywhere. Let me know below what you think about this reading challenge and if you’re interested in joining in. Happy reading y’all!
It was a breezy evening in Paris. Shakespeare & Co was filled with its normal charm and groups of anxious, excited bibliophile tourists. The ka-ching of the cash register couldn’t be missed from outside, which was filling up with hopefuls who wanted to catch a glimpse of or hear a few words from the illustrious Zadie Smith. This would be her second visit to the famous Shakespeare & Co. in Paris – almost exactly one year since her first visit, which I was equally lucky to attend. I waited with three friends hoping that arriving early would equate to available seating. However that wasn’t so easy since this meeting was set up by New York University(where Zadie Smith teaches creative writing) for students and staff. They paid so they got ninety percent of the seating.
All the festivities took place outside and that led to a different, noisier atmosphere. Last year it took place inside Shakespeare & Co, where the staff lined tiny little stools among all the available space inside the less than spacious bookstore. It was a tight squeeze but we all made the best of it because we were going to see Zadie.
Once all the chairs were lined up outside. We finally grabbed four available seats and just prayed nobody would ask us to give them up. Whew! 7pm came and we were still seated. By this time there was an extremely thick crowd that surrounded the seating making for an impressive turnout. Since I was in the back row i could feel people just behind my chair.
The festivities took off right on schedule. Zadie’s opening act was none other than her husband Nick Laird, Irish novelist poet. I had no idea he was going to be there. He was a nice surprise though. His rich Irish accent and his humorous, straightforward poems were refreshing. I’m looking forward to picking up one of his collections. He seemed a little nervous in the beginning but he soon warmed up to the crowd that was obviously mostly there to see his wife. His poetry got lots of laughs and smiles and was an excellent debut before Zadie Smith.
At last Zadie started to speak and the silence from the audience contrasted hugely from the cars, trucks, buses and blaring horns that seemed to surround us. Nevertheless, we all had our ears perked up for the story she read us which was a bit of the new novel she’s working on, that she called Swingtime. Love the title and adored what she read. It was about two little black girls and their meeting for the first time and recounting a birthday party they attended. It was all very Zadie Smith – race and class conscious, sensitive, a strong first person voice. It was everything I love about her books. I could see that they inspire each other. The strong first person voice is present in both their work.
After her reading quite a few pages 😀 to us the book buying recommenced and the lines for book signing lengthened quickly. It didn’t take too long before I found myself in front of Zadie again. She signed my three books that I didn’t get signed last time – The Autograph Man, On Beauty, and Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays. She was very pretty and dressed in a cute dress which looked thrifted. Her brown turban was covering her hair as usual but making her bright wide eyes stand out on her beautifully freckled face. She was smiling but not nearly as much as the first time I saw her. She seemed tired. All in all I was happy to see her for a second time and hear a bit of the new book she’s working on, which I can’t wait to read. Apparently she’s been working on a film with her husband but not sure when it’s coming out or what it’s about.
Day 22 – Set Where You Live:
I had to choose two novels for today’s theme – one that I read and loved and one that I can’t wait to read. Well if you’ve followed me on here for a while you know that I read and loved Giovanni’s Room which I picked up last year. I don’t know how I managed to get my BA in English Literature without having to read the illustrious James Baldwin. There is something seriously wrong with that. Reading Giovanni’s Room last year opened the flood gates to Baldwin’s brilliant mix of adept writing style and pertinent social commentary. What’s so amazing is how modern and relevant his work has remained. This is as good a place as any to begin reading Baldwin. It’s a short novel of only 159 pages and chock full of layers of meaning on all levels. If you decide to read the Penguin Modern Classics edition there is a very informative introduction written by Caryl Phillips that I suggest you check out after reading the book.
The second book I’m suggesting is Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood. She is a well-known contemporary African-American writer of novels, short stories, and plays. She’s been published in numerous magazines and spent some time abroad in Peace Corps and in Paris as an au pair. I hope to really make an effort to read this one this year because I’d say it could almost be a modern classic when I hear people talk about it.
“Any writer who makes a writer the protagonist of a novel is just asking for trouble. If the protagonist in question is a young African-American woman in Paris, following in the footsteps of such well-known black expatriates as Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, and James Baldwin, it’s double jeopardy. And yet in Black Girl in Paris, Shay Youngblood manages to avoid clichés even as she steers a course straight through them.”(Black Girl in Paris, Goodreads description)
After reading Warpworld, the science-fiction novel that happily surprised me, I just couldn’t decide what to pick up next. So after having a quick look over a few of my shelves, French Milk seemed to be calling my name. French Milk was written by Lucy Knisley and published in 2007. Earlier this year I read Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, which was the first novel I read from Knisley, which I reviewed favourably.
What I loved about Relish I also loved about French Milk too. French Milk recounts Lucy and her mother’s six-week stay in Paris in 2006 to highlight her mother turning 50 and Lucy turning 23. The book is a mixture of illustration and photography. Knisley has a brilliant style of illustrating that appeals to many. It’s really an excellent idea to talk about Paris in this way. She is very candid and seems to have left nothing out of her six weeks in Paris. She talks about all of their visits, what they eat, the oddities of their 5th arrondissement apartment, and the particularities of the French.
If you live in France and/or know a bit about Paris, it will make you laugh, smile and surely nod your head in agreement on quite a lot of things. Knisley has a very keen sense of observation during her brief stay in Paris. Her book definitely makes for an excellent publicity praising how scrumptious French food can be too. The entire book was making we want to go out and get some foie gras and it’s not even the moment to eat foie gras. It’s too darn hot!
Needless to say, check out French Milk it’s got the list of what to do, see, and eat when you finally get to Paris for a visit. If you already live in France it’ll make you want to re-visit some places. The only thing I disagreed with Knisley on was the milk. She made it sound as if there was no low-fat milk in France, when actually there is full-fat, half-fat, and low-fat. I guess she never saw the others, but I strongly agree that the milk tastes delicious here. It doesn’t taste a thing like what I grew up drinking in the States. Be that as it may, this is a book that is well worth the time and not bad for lounging on the beach on holiday either.
I have just started to add reading YA novels to my repertoire because some of them are pretty interesting and secondly it enables me to suggest good books to the French kids I tutor in English. I’m an English Foreign Language teacher in France and have come to the conclusion that students have difficulty writing and reading in English. I figured I’d try to find some books that would entice them into this difficult task of reading in English. That’s when I fell upon and finally finished the famous Anna and the French Kiss which is being talked about everywhere. I do feel I’m the last one to climb on this bandwagon, but frankly I’m glad I did. It’s not yet here in France but I’ll give it another six months to a year to arrive.
It’s the story of Anna, who’s been taken to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school, so that she can get “cultured”. Anna is shy, anxious, and doesn’t speak a word of French because she’s been taking Spanish for the past three years at her high school in the States. Never mind, she soon starts to make the difference between oui and si and adapting to her new school, new friends, and of course
Paree Paris. Amongst all the adaptation, there’s a cute TCK(third culture kid) guy called Etienne St. Clair (everybody calls him St. Clair) who has not only grasped the attention of Anna but of every other girl in the school. Etienne is a Franco-American raised in England, henceforth the charming English accent. He’s the cute boy with the “beautiful” hair. Like Anna says, “Every American girl is a sucker for a boy with an English accent. The story is filled with lots of teenage angst, grief, love, and shenanigans. Makes you want to be seventeen again.
Stephanie Perkins writes with amazing sensitivity. The voice of Anna is refreshing, amusing, honest and realistic. There are enough turns and twists to the story to keep you reading right through to the end. You won’t have a chance to be bored. It’s hard to put down and speaks to the bit of youth left in the hearts of adults. I was skeptical when I saw the Eiffel Tower on the front cover and feared a sappy love story for teenagers but that wasn’t the case. Perkins describes the Paris 5th arrondissement to perfection – independent cinemas, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, French bakeries, sugary voluptuous pastries, etc. The food descriptions make your mouth water. It’s all true. The French love their food and they should because it’s exceptional. So, Anna and the French Kiss is just under 400 pages but a must read for anyone that likes a good love story, with romantic Paris as the backdrop.
Stephanie Perkins writes on her website, “I write novels for teens (and for adults who aren’t afraid to admit that teen books are awesome).” That’s Anna and the French Kiss in a nutshell! Perkins released her second novel Lola and the Boy Next Door in September 2011 which is a companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss. It’s getting just as much attention too. Perkins really knows how to maintain the magic in her stories, while totally avoiding cheesy and cliché concepts. I give Anna and the French Kiss five stars. It’ll make your day and that’s basically how long it will take you to read it. Happy reading…..