April was a successful month of reading. Why, you ask? Duh, I read a five-star book! The last book I finished in April was read on the 28th and it really rocked my literary fiction world. Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau is 152 pages of pure literary genius. It’s a must read for all of you lovers of literary fiction. Having only read excerpts of Texaco in French, another great book by Chamoiseau, I’m anxious to buddy read it this month with Claire from Word by Word and Leslie from Folklore & Literacy. I’m excited to extend my journey through Caribbean literature with two awesome reading buddies.
Slave Old Man explores the escape of a slave. He escapes as if it’s something he was always planning to do. There was no inner struggle, no people in particular left behind, and no fear. He just decides one day that that’s the day and he walks calmly right off the plantation and is gone for quite a bit before anyone notices.
Quickly, savage nature impresses him as it does to the master and the mastiff that are searching with much difficulty for the old slave man’s trail. I suggest you pick up this well written novel filled with beautiful descriptions. You won’t want to miss this novella which was newly released on May 1st by The New Press. As for the other books I read, I’m going to start from the four-star books and work my way down to the two-stars ones.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was the book club pick for April. It was a re-read for me. Two years later and I still felt the same way about it. It was a powerful generational story of slavery and how it affects families. Each characters’ story was interesting however, I wish we could have learned more about the characters. Gyasi is brilliant with writing male characters because they seemed to be more memorable than some of the female characters. I’d say this book felt like reading a linked short story collection more than a real novel. The characters have to share the pages since the voice changes every twenty or so pages. I still found myself having to look back at the family tree to remember the names. This being said it is well worth the read and sparked some passionate conversation at my book club. We could all agree that we could see how she was trying to make the family history go round 360° to give it depth and more historical meaning.
The next four-star book I read was a poetry collection by Nicole Sealey called Ordinary Beast. I don’t read poetry as much as I should but this collection was a real surprise. Sealey’s poems are odes to life the real things we’re feeling and won’t necessarily want to say aloud. Her poems are unapologetically real, from the words chosen to how they are printed on the page. She’s telling us about race, gender, beauty, death and more. It may not be the best collection for debuting poetry readers, being that it’s slightly experimental in its wording and structure, but for those who love poetry that touches you deeply and makes you think, Ordinary Beast is ideal.
I’ll be counting Ordinary Beast as part of my Caribbean literature challenge since Nicole Sealey was born in St. Thomas, although she was raised in Florida. Just so you can get a taste of her poetry here’s one of my favorites:
Handle this body. Spoil
it with oils. Let the
residue corrode, ruin it.
I have no finish, no
fragile edge. (On what
scrap of me have we
not made desire paths,
so tried as to bury
ourselves therein?) I
beg: spare me gloved
hands, monuments to
nothing. I mean to die a
relief against every wall.
Nicole Sealey, Ordinary Beast, p. 58
Black Betty is Walter Mosley’s fourth book in the Easy Rawlins series. I won’t be able to talk much about it because I don’t want to give anything away if you’re reading it too. I rated it three stars because It wasn’t as good as Devil in a Blue Dress and White Butterfly but it was surely better than A Red Death. Black Betty is great with setting the scene and story because it’s 1961 and Easy has some changes to his household. Mouse and Mofass are back and of course there is a wide range of new characters. There are a few new twists and turns to the novel but not enough happens to warrant it more stars unfortunately. I’m still enjoying this series and can’t wait to pick up A Little Yellow Dog this month.
The next two books were both rated two stars. Oh well everything you read can’t be wonderful. Vernon Subutex by Virgine Despentes has been nominated on the shortlist of the Man Book International prize. So, I decided to pick it up knowing already a bit about Despentes and what she likes to write about. I also looked at it as a chance to try something new but also to read at least one of the books on the Man Booker International shortlist before the winner is announced. I even read this one in French. Now I’m curious to read a bit of the English version to see how the translator made out with all the French slang. As for the story it wasn’t really for me. The first 150 pages had me engaged with its critical, pessimistic view on society, the economy, and everything else having to do with adulting and living in the world. Vernon Subutex is ignoble, lazy, and misogynous. He used to own a record store called Revolver that went out of business. So in the beginning of the book he is being evicted from his apartment. He has to accept some generosity from past friends and eventually winds up having to live on the streets of Paris. Since he was a good friend with a famous rock star called Alex Bleach and possesses a last recording from him, everyone is trying to get their hands on it. Sounds intriguing right? However, past page 200 I checked out mentally and became bored with the all of the off the wall characters and the incessant rants (Virginie Descents’ rants). Vernon Subtext could win the prize though. It has all the right characteristics – being different from what’s expected, it critiques society heavily, and its divisiveness. There are 3 other books in the Vernon Subutex series and that idea alone tires me out just thinking about it.
Lastly, I read Bad Men and Wicked Women by Eric Jerome Dickey to review for Dutton Books. I’m always willing to try out a new Eric Jerome Dickey novel because I have fond memories of reading his earlier works. I didn’t love this one. I feel like he’s abandoned the good story writing he used to do in exchange for trying to impress millennials to read his books these days. Bad Men and Wicked Women contains a ton of bad Men and only one true “wicked” woman. So the title needs to be reviewed.
Ken Swift is the main character and he is a strong-arm for a big gangster called San Bernadino. Swift makes his money roughing up customers to get them to pay up. At the beginning of the novel, Swift has a meeting with his daughter who he hasn’t seen since she was a child. This storyline is supposed to depict the more sensitive side and family life that he had in the past. Then Swift and his partner are sent off to rough up somebody that owes money to San Bernadino and from that incident the story begins. Problems? Yes. Nothing really happens during the first three-quarters of the book. The dialogue doesn’t come off naturally and all of the action takes place within the last quarter of the novel. The action can best be described as Tarantinoesque. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a die hard fan of Eric Jerome Dickey and don’t mind the lack of plot.
So, as a whole reading in April turned out to be unexceptional, except for Slave Old Man. My month’s reading was an overall average rating of three stars. I read 6 books which at least keeps me on track for my goal of reading 60 books by the end of the year. In fact, I’m ahead of schedule by five books. Unfortunately, I’ve only read 1,690 pages this month. I was hoping to read over 2,000 pages. I’m going to have to step up on reading bigger books because I’m already behind on the Big Book Challenge by 2 books. I pledged to read 12 books over 400+ pages this year and I’ve actually only read two. But, I’m going to end this on a positive note. I’m keeping up with my reviewing and that’s great and I’m basically reading what I want to while not being too influenced by what others are reading. So, how did reading go for you in the month of April? Are you hitting your reading goals?