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review 2020-08-25 19:44
Heavy by Kiese Laymon
Heavy: An American Memoir - Kiese Laymon

This is a well-written short memoir about the author’s family, body, and experiences as a black boy and man in America. Kiese Laymon is an English professor from Mississippi, and this memoir starts when he was 11 and continues through his 40s, though of course covering so many years in 241 pages means we skip over a lot. The memoir is addressed to his mother, who is one of those mothers people are especially driven to write memoirs about: brilliant, loving, and abusive. He also writes a lot about his body issues, going from obesity to what looks like anorexia and an exercise obsession, and then back.

So there’s a lot packed into this book, and it’s highly readable although often “heavy” material. The sections about how Laymon saw black college students being harshly disciplined for minor infractions while white students got off with a slap on the wrist for much more serious crimes (or in one case, even pawned off their own culpability on unknown but totally scary people of color) was particularly hard-hitting to me. There’s a lot in the book that’s very raw, though told in an artful way by an author skilled at rhetoric. Much of it won’t be surprising to anyone who’s read much about race in America, but the author’s perspective makes a lot of sense.

It isn’t my favorite book of the year, perhaps because it isn’t written “for” me—Laymon writes about wanting to write for black people, which makes sense. Sometimes I found it a little confusing. At times in small ways: like many memoirists, Laymon leans heavily on brand names, which can be confusing if you don’t share the author’s pop-cultural background. And also in larger ways: the author seems to imply that his mother sexually abused him, but never explicitly says so even while he writes a lot about the need for radical honesty within his family, which tends to bury everything. In the end I wasn’t sure whether he was being cagey or I was reading in something that wasn’t there.

At any rate, this is a good book and well worth reading for anyone looking to read about race in America, or just looking for a good memoir.

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text 2020-06-02 14:13
Kindred - Octavia E. Butler
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - Michelle Alexander
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream - Barack Obama
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration - Isabel Wilkerson
If Beale Street Could Talk - James Baldwin
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Wisehouse Classics Edition) - Frederick Douglass
African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850�1920 - Rosalyn Terborg-Penn
Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Here are some books by African American authors you may want to read:


Kindred by Octavia Butler: The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given...


Beloved by Toni Morrison: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past. Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad, yet she is still held captive by memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Meanwhile Sethe’s house has long been troubled by the angry, destructive ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander: "Jarvious Cotton's great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole." 
As the United States celebrates the nation's "triumph over race" with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status--much like their grandparents before them.



The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
by Barack Obama: The Audacity of Hope is Barack Obama's call for a new kind of politics—a politics that builds upon those shared understandings that pull us together as Americans. Lucid in his vision of America's place in the world, refreshingly candid about his family life and his time in the Senate, Obama here sets out his political convictions and inspires us to trust in the dogged optimism that has long defined us and that is our best hope going forward.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
by Isabel Wilkerson: n this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin: In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin's story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions-affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (The Autobiographies #1) by Frederick Douglass. Autobiography of Frederick Douglass. 
African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920
by Rosalyn Terborg-Penn: Drawing from original documents, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn constructs a comprehensive portrait of the African American women who fought for the right to vote. She analyzes the women's own stories of why they joined and how they participated in the U.S. women's suffrage movement. Not all African American women suffragists were from elite circles. Terborg-Penn finds working-class and professional women from across the nation participating in the movement. Some employed radical, others conservative means to gain the right to vote. But Black women were unified in working to use the ballot to improve both their own status and the lives of Black people in their communities.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: The #1 New York Times Bestseller. Set amid the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as ‘Human Computers’, calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts, these ‘coloured computers’ used pencil and paper to write the equations that would launch rockets and astronauts, into space. Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War and the women’s rights movement, ‘Hidden Figures’ interweaves a rich history of mankind’s greatest adventure with the intimate stories of five courageous women whose work forever changed the world. 
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates: "We were eight years in power" was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. Now Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America's "first white president."
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review 2020-03-11 16:48
The Color Purple
The Color Purple (The Color Purple Collection) - Alice Walker

Wow. "The Color Purple" definitely holds up. I loved the movie when I saw it as a kid and I read the book for the first time in college. At the time I remember being shocked that it was a book. My professor at the time called Stephen Speilberg a coward for not depicting Shug and Ms. Celie's relationship on the screen the way the book did. I didn't get it at the time, but definitely did at the end of the book.


Walker does a great job of showing us Celie and her growing awareness of her own sexuality and how her acceptance or I guess her being forced to be subservient to Mr. drove a lot of things she said and did. When we get to Celie growing into her own and realizing that she doesn't have to stay in a life that she never wanted, it was glorious. Walker goes back and forth between Celie writing to "God" and then her sister Nettie. And then we get to read Nettie's letters to Celie. 


Walker does a wonderful job of showing how black women were not only ground down by the patriarchal and racist society in America, but how they were ground down by other black women and men. 


We get to see a lot of women portrayed in this book besides Shug, Ms. Celie, and Nettie. I loved the story-line following Squeak (Mary Agnes) as well as Sophia.


I also shook my head at how Walker showed the hypocrisy of those white people who are racist to your face, and those who consider themselves allies (like the young girl that Sophie raised) . Walker showing that many black men and black women in this book knew about their white relatives, i.e. many of them were sons and daughters of men who raped their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters. And we get the aftermath of a rape and the understanding that Ms. Celie was raped repeatedly as a child and that was something that everyone knew and just accepted. 

This book is exceptional and it definitely speaks to me. 


Image result for the color purple gif

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review 2019-10-22 01:12
African American Troops in World War II - Alexander Bielakowski,Raffaele Ruggeri

This is a comprehensive, concise, well-written history of the roles played by African American men and women in the U.S. military during the Second World War.

During the war, the role of African Americans in a segregated U.S. Army expanded considerably. Besides quartermaster and service units, African Americans served honorably as infantrymen, combat engineers, artillerists, and tankers in a number of tank destroyer and tank battalions in Europe. Also, for the first time, African Americans were given the opportunities to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps (later United States Army Air Force = USAAF) as fighter pilots first with the 99th Fighter Squadron and later with the 332nd Fighter Group, establishing a fine combat record in Europe. Furthermore, African American soldiers also served in Asia and the Pacific.

The book also highlights the roles performed by African Americans in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, and the U.S. Merchant Marine.

Anyone interested in learning about a still largely unheralded saga in U.S. history will gain much knowledge from reading this book.

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review 2019-06-21 21:47
The Crooked Path by Irma Joubert
The Crooked Path - Irma Joubert

Lettie has always felt different from and overshadowed by the women around her– this friend is richer, that friend is more beautiful, those friends are closer. Still, she doesn’t let this hold her back. She works hard to apply her mind, trying to compensate for her perceived lack of beauty with diligent academic work and a successful career as a doctor. She learns to treasure her friendships, but she still wonders if any man will ever return her interest. Marco’s experience in the second world war have robbed him of love and health. When winters in his native Italy prove dangerous to his health even after the war has ended, he moves to South Africa to be with his brother, husband to one of Lettie’s best friends. Marco is Lettie’s first patient, and their relationship grows as she aids him on the road back to restored health. In the company of beloved characters from The Child of the River, Marco and Lettie find a happiness that neither of them thought possible. With that joy comes pain and loss, but Lettie learns that life—while perhaps a crooked path—is always a journey worth taking. 





As a child, Lettie Louw struggles with the beauty and success of so many women around her, close friends included, leaving her with a distinct feeling of being "less than". With her thick glasses and overweight frame working against her, Lettie can't seem to catch the eye of her secret crush, De Wet Fourier, who also happens to be the older brother of Lettie's good friend Klara. 


After having her heart crushed the night Lettie spots De Wet making out with another of Lettie's friends, Annabel, she makes the choice to just take her mind off men altogether. The rest of her high school years, she dedicates herself to her studies. As the years of WW2 approach, Lettie watches her circle of friends go off to jump into wartime experiences while she hangs back to follow in the footsteps of her father and attend medical school. During her time in college, Lettie occassionally tries going on dates, but often re-experiences the sensation of being passed over by guys who see the better opportunity girl down the lane. Once again, she finds comfort in burying herself in studies. 


Henceforth, she decided, men would be colleagues, maybe friends. Nothing more. Because men cause pain, intense pain -- especially handsome, friendly men.


From there the story breaks away from Lettie's world to introduce the reader to the story of Marco and Rachel. Marco Romanelli is an Italian Catholic who meets Russian Jew Rachel Rozenfeld when her family moves to his town in Italy. Despite their religious differences, Marco wins Rachel's heart only to face possibly being separated and imprisoned with the invasion of the Nazi Party. Marco survives the war years but takes with him a chronic lung condition that will plague him the rest of his life. Struggling to maintain his health in his native Italy, it's decided he would benefit from a move to the drier climate of South Africa, where one of his brothers has already settled into a relationship with one of Lettie's friends. This novel may have a rather circuitous feel to the reader, but consider the main theme of the novel: "Even a crooked path leads somewhere."  Joubert make take the long way 'round at times but I promise, it's all interconnected. 


By the time Marco arrives in South Africa, Lettie is a full-fledged doctor fresh out of school. Marco becomes her first official patient.


SIDE RANT: Can I have just a minute to say how AGGRAVATING it was how hung up this town was on her "awkward" period? The girl keeps her nose to the grindstone, pushes herself through med school, becomes the town's first female doctor. Once she starts making some money, she wants to treat herself a bit, get herself some nice dresses, get her hair done now and then.... and what happens whenever she goes into the shops? "Hey, remember when you used to be such a weird, ugly fat kid? Lookatcha now! But seriously, you were so awkward back in the day...." ALL THE TIME WITH THIS. I guess maybe this bugged me because I go through something similar whenever I visit my hometown lol... You just want to scream, hey thanks for bringing up one of the most painfully long periods of my life... repeatedly... get over it! People grow up! Okay, anyway.... 


A slow but deep bond grows between them. Marco realizes that while he thought he had found love before, there's a distinct difference between first rushed love and an honest soulmate who just truly "gets" you. When you find that person where you never have to explain or make excuses for anything about yourself, that's not something to be taken lightly! Lettie, though she doesn't disagree, takes a little more convincing to push past her concerns of the need of professional distance. But life eventually sorts itself out and we're carried through a number of years until the next big upset of Lettie's life. More tragedy, more heartbreak to navigate, before Lettie's own crooked path eventually leads her back to Marco's hometown in Italy. Though it only starts out as a vacation with friends, this trip will reveal a new life path to her she could've never anticipated. 


Following Lettie from girlhood to retirement years, it's  quite the whirlwind of relatable emotions the reader travels through with this one! Not only through Lettie, but also the stories of the other ladies as they grow up together --- Annabel, Klara, Christine --- through all of them combined it's a powerful reading experience, seeing how relationships develop, grow, even change as we age... sometimes forcing us to face the reality that the adult / older version of a friend may not live up to the warmth the memory of their childhood version instilled in us. How far does one take a friendship before one or both parties might have to admit defeat and say the relationship is irreparable? As Lettie comes to find out for herself, from time to time that process could include the lesson that what may feel like a dead-end or some other sort of stagnation in life might actually be just a preparatory pause for the next big thing! 


If you read and enjoyed Joubert's previous novel, Child of the River, showcasing the relationship development of Persomi and Boelie, more of their story is offered up (in the background plot) here in The Crooked Path


FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 






*Note: Though some of the characters carry over between books, the connections are loose enough that these stories can be read as stand-alones. 





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