Recent Reads: January + February
I'm a voracious reader; always have been, always will be. For 2017, I decided that I'm going to read a minimum of 50 books. So far, I've read 4 (I know, I need to step my game up). As a means of holding myself accountable, I want to use this blog to recommend my favorites, share my thoughts, and generally let you know what I'm reading and loving. Hopefully, eventually, these will shift from blog posts to YouTube videos, but for now, this will do. So without further ado...
Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul, James McBride || 4/5.
I actually had had no intention of buying this book. I was perusing the McNally Jackson bookstore, waiting for Jeremiah to arrive (it was our 3rd date, aw!), when I picked it up because of its beautiful cover. And yet from the first paragraph, McBride had my full attention. Not your traditional biography, McBride tackles the difficult task of portraying James Brown, a brilliant showman and musician, who worked hard to avoid being intimately known by anyone. The book's title actually refers to Brown's philosophy when it came to interacting with his friends, fans, and the like - he didn't stick around after gigs or see anyone backstage, he simply performed, 'killed 'em,' and departed.
McBride writes with a unique and beautiful rhythm - the way only someone who is both a musician and writer can - and he presents a well-rounded, honest portrayal of Brown. He doesn't shy away from Brown's ugly side, and by interviewing the various folks whose lives intersected with Brown's in some way, he is able to show a side of Brown that most other James Brown biographies and films do not. Additionally, he thoroughly discusses the legal battles that plagued Brown's legacy after his death and the ways in which his legacy has been tainted because of them. It was a truly a great read that made me feel much more connected to Brown and his music.
Difficult Women, Roxane Gay || 4.5/5
My good friend, Bella, recommended this book to me, and it absolutely floored me. It is beautifully devastating, and despite the relative brevity of each story (most are under 15 pages), it took me a full week to read. I found that after each story, I often needed to pause, breathe, process the weight of the story, and often times, cry. Gay's ability to poignantly translate what women experience and survive - sexual assault, abortion, miscarriage, heartbreak, rape - is truly a gift. As a person who has experienced an abusive relationship, as well physical trauma and loss, the stories are heartbreaking, but important. Each one is uniquely mesmerizing and haunting.
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi || 4/5
I picked up this book after reading its subway book review, and I'm so glad I did: When Breath Becomes Air is an unprecedented and astounding read. The book is written by Paul Kalanithi, a distinguished neurosurgeon who comes face-to-face with his own cancer and inevitable death, and thus intimately engages with the question, "What gives our lives meaning?" Kalanithi walks us through his life: we see him as a curious and deeply philosophical college student, a neurosurgeon who confronts matters of life and death daily, and eventually, as a man transformed against his will from doctor to patient. As readers, we know that the book will end with his death, and this creates space for us to be reflective throughout the entire read; each word Kalanithi writes is pointed and purposeful. Before his death, Kalanithi and his wife decide to have a child, and this makes the book feel even more nuanced and intimate. The book asks us to be self-reflective: I found myself asking questions like, 'What does leaving a legacy of love truly look and feel like? What is my life's purpose? How do I ensure that my life has meaning?' Honestly, the top customer review on Amazon, puts my own to shame. Read it and then order this book - you won't regret it.
We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo || 3/5
In We Need New Names, we follow the story of Darling and her friends, a group of 10-year old children living in Zimbabwe in the midst of political chaos. Their seemingly mundane adventures (stealing Guavas from a neighboring town, playing make believe games, etc.) are filled with heavy political commentary, and though Darling describes her day-to-day life with a 10-year olds perspectives, her words are often jarring and deep. Bulawayo excels in writing from the perspective of a child, and the way that Darling describes and compartmentalizes her surroundings feels authentic and honest. Eventually, the book shifts gears and describes assimilating into the U.S. from an immigrant's perspective, with many poignant quotes. For example, Bulawayo writes, "Because we were not in our country, we could not use our own languages, and so when we spoke our voices came out bruised. When we talked, our tongues thrashed madly in our mouths, staggered like drunken men.” I thought it was beautifully written and would be the perfect book to read in a book club.
The Book of Night Women, Marlon James || 5/5
Marlon James goes head-to-head with Toni Morrison when it comes to my list of favorite authors. I was first introduced to him with his novel A Brief History of 7 Killings, and when I realized I was still gushing + thinking about it months afterward, I knew I needed to read another of his works. James is a master storyteller, and The Book of Night Women is no exception.
The Book of Night Women is the coming-of-age story of Lilith, a girl enslaved on an 18th century Jamaican sugar cane plantation. Entirely written in patois, this is a story that critically engages with race, the complex hierarchies amongst enslaved people, history, dark magic, agency, and the power of womanhood. In the U.S., the darkness of slavery is often glossed over (i.e., in history books, etc.), and we therefore often become desensitized to the nuances of its cruelty. Yet James does not shy away from these gruesome and horrific realities, and as a result, the book is incredibly powerful and in some ways, qualifies more as non-fiction than any other genre. What I also love about this book is that Lilith isn't a particularly likable character; I found myself continuously frustrated with her thought process and actions. And yet, that's the tell tale sign of a great storyteller - that James can weave a story in which the protagonist is equally as complex as the legacy of slavery is incredible. I'm continuously astounded by this man's writing and rhythm, and highly recommend this book. It's not only my favorite book of 2017 (so far), but has made it to the list of my favorite books of all time.
And that's it! Next on my list is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and then I'm not sure what to read next. I've heard great things about The Mothers by Brit Bennett. Any suggestions? What are you currently reading?
Though I linked to Amazon for convenience, Thriftbooks.com is one of my favorite website to get affordable books in great condition. You should definitely check it out! (This isn't a sponsored post, I just wanted to share my go-to book spot!)
P.S. You can follow me on GoodReads HERE.