Day 8 – Should Be a Classic:
Standing in front of my books shelves looking through trying to find a story that should be a classic was extremely difficult. I stopped and thought to myself. How can I find a book that should be a classic without thinking of what exactly designates a classic. Three words came to mind: Timeless, Universal, and Truthful. Timeless – The story should be told so that no matter what period it is read in it doesn’t feel dated. The novel is as if secured on ground breaking stuff. It’s always loved and respected through time. Universal – The novel should hold meaning and should contain emotion, information that all mankind can read, understand, and learn from. Truthful – The novel should ring true. It should teach us about a time period, a place, a condition, or even about a people’s plight. According to Wikipedia, “A classic is a book accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy, for example through an imprimatur such as being listed in a list of great books, or through a reader’s own personal opinion. Although the term is often associated with the Western canon, it can be applied to works of literature from all traditions, such as the Chinese classics or the Indian Vedas.” Yes you saw the words in the middle that are troublesome, at least they are for me, the Western canon. I really feel we should do away with this idea of holding up the Western canon as the standard for literature because not only is it limiting but it’s inaccurate since it mostly contains white men, but that’s for another blog post.
Looking at my criteria of a classic, I can always find books that fall into one or two of these categories but all three is difficult. In the end, I decided to go with Roots: The Saga of an American Family. It’s the novel that has touched the most people men, women, black, white, many nationalities and over generations. It continues to be one of the novels that people read to understand slavery. Not to mention, it did when a special Pulitzer Prize in 1977, although no Pulitzer for fiction was officially awarded that year. So, what novel today would you choose to be a classic? What’s your definition of a classic?
Day 7 – Last Novel You Read:
I received this novel as a gift just last week from the lovely Denise D. Cooper. I couldn’t wait to read it. Firstly it’s such a cute little book and beautifully published. That’s something that is very important to me about my books. I know that may sound shallow but at this point in publishing only beautifully edited books seem to get noticed. That’s a fact and in some cases it doesn’t even matter if what’s between the covers is good or not. I’ve noticed publishers often sheer lack of interest in making novels by African-American authors attractive. They are often downright unappealing! This has to change. So I’m secretly militating for pleasing to the eye covers for African-American authors and will always point out when this is the case.
So, you’re probably wondering what the name of this book is. It’s called Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a woman Who Changed a Nation by Rosa Parks and Gregory J. Reed. While reading this little book which details the thoughts, feelings, actions of Rosa Parks, I wondered if I would or could have been as strong she and others who sacrificed, boycotted, marched, and persevered for Civil Rights. The hardship of fighting back was the first step to refusing inequality and making a significant change for African-Americans. What people can do when they put the collectivity in motion! This novella is separated into twelve sections and delves deep into the realities of living and trying to survive for African-Americans through segregation. Each section begins with a quote from the Bible that describes the meaning of the section, with a picture of Rosa Parks during another important part of her life. It also puts rest to a lot of the supposed truths around what Rosa Parks was thinking and how she felt. This is a book worth picking up.
“I knew that I could have been lynched, manhandled, or beaten when the police came. I chose not to move. When I made that decision, I knew that I had the strength of my ancestors with me. There were other people on the bus whom I knew. But when I was arrested, not one of them came to my defense. I felt very much alone. One man who knew me did not even go by my house to tell my husband I had been arrested. Everyone just went on their way. In jail I felt even more alone. For a moment, as I sat in that little room with bars, before I was moved to a cell with two other women, I felt that I had been deserted. But I did not cry. I said a silent prayer and waited.” (Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman who Changed a Nation, Chapter Defiance, p. 24)
Day 5 – A historical fiction:
Historical fiction is a genre I usually enjoy reading so I thought it would be easy to choose something from my shelves. Well it really took time. In the end, I decided on Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. This controversial novel definitely got people talking. I remember reading some rich blog posts about it and those were what convinced me to read it.
Perkins-Vladez has painted a story that focuses quite closely on slavery in a way that hasn’t been explored in literary fiction before. This is mainly because of the taboo nature of the novel. She was inspired to write this book after reading the biography of W.E.B. Dubois where he mentioned slave masters taking their slave mistresses to a resort in Ohio. So, Tawawa House really existed. Although she could never find any documented specific stories about this place, she began to imagine what it would be like to be one of those slave mistresses. It’s a known fact that these unusual arrangements were existent and widespread among slave owners, but the resort adds a new facet, which allowed her to explore and focus on the slave mistresses.
“Six slaves sat in a triangle, three women, three men, the men half nestled in the sticky heat of thighs, straining their heads away from the pain of the tightly woven ropes. The six chatted softly among themselves, about the Ohio weather, about how they didn’t mind it because they all felt they were better suited to this climate. They were guarded in their speech, as if the long stretch between them and the resort property were just a Juba dance away.” (opening paragraph of Wench, p. 3)
Day 4 – Poignant (Auto) Biography:
Today the photo challenge is focussing on life. Those stories that leave us feeling moved and make us think about the difficulties of living it. I thought of so many that I’m sure you’ve already heard of, so for the sake of
introducing something new that might spark your interest in African-American memoirs, I’m recommending Buck: A memoir by MK Asante. He writes his story with a lot of passion and lyricism. It’s like reading music. If you’re interested in reading how someone who was spiralling downward manages to take control of his life through his discovery of art, music, and the desire to create, you should check this one out. It is remarkable and talented with a hip-hop flair.
“MK Asante was born in Zimbabwe to American parents: his mother a dancer, his father a revered professor. But things fell apart, and a decade later MK was in America, a teenager lost in a fog of drugs, sex, and violence on the streets of north Philadelphia.” (Dust jacket, Buck)
Day 2 – A Novel about Family:
Family is so important, but yet is so complex. It’s what supports us through difficulty and through happy events but can tear us to shreds and drive us batty through others. There are many interesting books out there where family is the focus and it seems the more dysfunctional the better the story. In my opinion, one of the novels that stood out in an African-American novel about family is If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.
Tish and Fonny are a young African-American couple in love. It’s Harlem in the 1970s and Sonny has been arrested and accused of a crime he hasn’t committed. Here’s where family comes in. Tish’s family is supportive and sacrificing because they believe in Tish and Fonny’s love, and equally in Fonny’s innocence, where Fonny’s family can’t wait for the ordeal to be over with, so that they can get on with their shallow, useless, and unsuccessful lives. They aren’t willing to do anything for Tish and unfortunately not for their son. If Beale Street Could Talk does an excellent job of depicting the fall out of family and life in the seventies for a black man unjustly accused.
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?
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?
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?