Day 3 – Roots and Books made me start looking deeply into my shelves. Having started this year with the powerful memoir, Heavy by Kiese Laymon. I felt like roots had to be taken figuratively and literally. Combing my shelves I fell upon How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. I forgot I had that one. This is a collection of essays by Laymon where he covers race, family, coming of age in Mississippi, violence, etc. I’m sure this is going to be another powerful read that will continue on from the depth of Heavy. So if I manage to get through my hefty TBR this month I’ll be adding this one to round off my Black History Month reading. Have you read this one? Frankly I’ve seen no one talk about it. I’m so tempted to throw something off my TBR just so that I can read it. I can’t really do that because the Booktube Prize books are calling. I’ll just be watching a lot less Netflix this month, in hopes that that will give me the ample time necessary to finish this massive TBR. Check out this video with Kiese Laymon discussing How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America and Long Division.
Day 4 – Black Book Stack was easy to choose for the photograph. I grabbed all the black books I had in my reach. What did I find? Of course three Octavia E. Butler novels (Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and Fledgling), the second J. California Cooper I read A Piece of Mine, and a few others. I can solidly recommend A Piece of Mine and Water Street. If you’ve never picked up books by J. California Cooper or by Crystal Wilkinson you don’t know what you’re missing. Both of these short
story collections are soulful gems and must reads. A Piece of Mine draws on a common theme which plays on the collection’s title. You can check out my review here. Water Street is one of the extraordinary backlist short story collections from a black author writing from Appalachia. I highly recommend you check out my review here.
Buffalo Dance The Journey of York – Frank X Walker
Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime – J. California Cooper
He Never Came Home – Regina R. Robertson
Lost in the City – Edward P. Jones
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – ZZ Packer
Nowhere is a Place – Bernice L. McFadden
A Kind of Freedom – Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
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Day 17 – A Short Story Collection – I’m not usually a fan of short story collections because they always seem to leave me hanging (so that’s it?!) or wanting more. However, last year put me on the right track with getting back into them. I read Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, Blackberries, Blackberries, A Piece of Mine, and Water Street. All four collections had me captivated and made me want to explore other short story collections. So, at the end of last year I picked up Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones which I have heard no one really talk about. Jones is most known for winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Known World in 2004. I didn’t even know he’d written a short story collection. Actually he’s written two, the second collection is called All Aunt Hagar’s Children. Hopefully, I’ll make the time to explore Lost in the City this year and it will join the list of short stories that keep me captivated and leave me satisfied. How about you? Do you like reading short story collections? If so, what are some of your favorites?
“The nation’s capital that serves as the setting for the stories in Edward P. Jones’s prizewinning collection, Lost in the City, lies far from the city of historic monuments and national politicians. Jones takes the reader beyond that world into the lives of African American men and women who work against the constant threat of loss to maintain a sense of hope. From “The Girl Who Raised Pigeons” to the well-to-do career woman awakened in the night by a phone call that will take her on a journey back to the past, the characters in these stories forge bonds of community as they struggle against the limits of their city to stave off the loss of family, friends, memories, and, ultimately, themselves.
Critically acclaimed upon publication, Lost in the City introduced Jones as an undeniable talent, a writer whose unaffected style is not only evocative and forceful but also filled with insight and poignancy.” (Lost in the City, back cover description)
My copy: Lost in the City, paperback 268 pages
I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
I’m slowly but surely working my way through J. California Cooper’s work and enjoying each one. I’m marveled at her mastery to tell a story. Anyone out there who is attempting to write short stories should absolutely read her. All the ingredients in her stories are carefully chosen and used to depict well-rounded characters placed in common life situations. All of her stories have a moral. She isn’t preachy but she definitely tries to favor the positive side of life, even in the most burdensome situations.
A Piece of Mine is only 124 pages and can be read in one sitting. It contains twelve short stories, each as interesting from one to the other. They all revolve around the central theme from the catchy title, A Piece of Mine. Cooper was very good at giving her short story collections titles. All the titles are memorable puns chosen to accompany her perfect stories. Cooper’s simple yet direct writing style shines through these relevant stories. “Her stories, parables, and monologues take flight with truths about being alive, rhythm of folks at ease by the creek and the pool table, songs of love and remorse, syncopated, galloping, and beguilingly, genuine.” Ntosake Shange (back cover of Anchor Books edition) “Ms. Cooper is as down-home as Zora Neale Hurston, thank you, and blooming into as skilled a storyteller. Cooper’s characters are the folk heroes of Black culture…Tales of triumph that give you reason to keep reading.” Essence (back cover of Anchor Books edition)
If you’ve followed me on here for a while you know there are two things I’m not so keen on reading. The first one is series and the second one is short story collections. Now it seems as if I’m turning over a new leaf with the later. Water Street by Crystal Wilkinson is my third attempt at reading them and they seem to be getting better and better. I dare say I’ve been lucky or I just know how to choose a good book. Whatever it is Water Street is a short story collection you must check out.
The overall themes are about everyday feelings and problems – race, love and family relationships, mental health, getting older, coming of age, among many others. The characters in the book range from all different types and you’ll want to hear their story during the day and their inner secrets. You’ll sympathize with them even if you won’t necessarily agree with the decisions they make. The thing that made this collection stand out for me was the way these middle-class black characters are connected to each other through living in this Kentucky town called Stanford in a community around Water Street.
Wilkinson brilliantly tells each story with emotion, description, and realism. The stories don’t necessarily finish all tied up neatly and that’s because it’s real life. That feeling is what drives the book. This is the first time I haven’t felt like I needed more from a short story collection I finished. I believe a lot of it has to do with Wilkinson’s first-rate writing and her idea of linking the characters.
Crystal Wilkinson is an African-American author from Kentucky who is one of the founding members of Affrilachian Poets, which is a grassroots organization of writers of color living in the Appalachian region. She grew up on her grandparents’ farm in eastern Kentucky where they were the only black family. Wilkinson uses this as inspiration for writing her short stories. She was a 2003 Long List Finalist for The Orange Prize for Fiction with Water Street and has written other works such as: Blackberries, Blackberries (2001), and individual works like Holler (2013), My Girl Mona, Terrain, and First Sunday Dinner on the Grounds. I’ve already read Blackberries, Blackberries and Holler and liked them as well. I haven’t heard anyone talking about this author and I urge you to give her a try if you’re interested in these themes. Wilkinson is another outstanding black woman writer is going unnoticed and that’s a real shame.
Day 28 – Favorite Author:
My favorite author is extremely difficult to pin down to one person. So, I decided to site an author that I discovered last year that I’ve fallen head over heels in love with. J. California Cooper. She was an incredible storyteller and sadly she died last year. I’ve read two of the novels that are pictured here and absolutely loved them. I don’t know how this author managed to fly completely under the radar and not get the acknowledgement she deserved. If you haven’t picked up a book by Cooper I recommend checking out Family. It’s short but poignant. It will suck you in, break your heart, and leave you with lots to think about. Here are a few other titles that you might want to have a look at too: Homemade Love, Life is Short But Wide, Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime , and A Piece of Mine, among others. Nobody knows what the J stands for in J. California Cooper. She wanted it that way. Could she have not gotten noticed because she was so discrete?
Who’s your favorite author?