Sunday, July 20, 2014

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon

Photo Credits:

In this book of essays, which are a reflection on Laymon’s life, nothing is off limits. There are some essays that a broad audience can relate to but since his writing is so personal, there are many things that are not expressly stated. Several essays require some cultural awareness before you can digest them. Without it statements like,”We felt pride in knowing that the greatest producer alive was an uncle from Compton and the most anticipated emcee in the history of hip-hop was a lanky brother from Long Beach.” will leave you scratching your head.

The essays deal heavily with race in America. Those that think we don't have far to go may question that notion. Then there are some that may think this author is beating a dead horse. This is the type of book that starts those discussions.  

The writing is funny and it’s melancholy. It’s always forthright, to the point that it sometimes makes you uncomfortable - like you know something that you shouldn’t. Laymon makes assertions that challenge the status quo. Some I agree with, others not so much. And then there are times I asked myself why would he write such a thing.

There is a particular audience that would love this author and I wonder if they know about him. I thought the same when I read Laymon’s first book, Long Division. Thirty-somethings will get it his writing. Thirty-somethings from the South will feel it.

Agate Publishing is allowing free downloads of Long Division ( updated on July 20, 2014).

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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America on Amazon
View all by Laymon on Amazon

Thursday, July 17, 2014

No Summer Vacation? Let These 5 Books Take You Away!

The Farming of Bones was my introduction to my dearest, Edwidge Danticat. Definitely one of the best books I’ve ever randomly selected, it affirmed my adoration for historical fiction. I’m reminded of this book every time I pick up parsley. Not sure what I mean? Do a quick search on the Parsley Massacre. 

Nervous Conditions introduced me to a character that I remember better than most that I’ve read about. I really liked Tambu and truly cared about her journey. In this story about women and equality, I think you may find yourself cheering for her as well. I didn’t write a review on this book but Bilphena Yahwon sums it up beautifully here. The sequel, The Book of Not, is on my to-read list

I cannot recall reading many books that made me feel like I was there instead of me having to imagine I was there. But Everyday Is For the Thief got it spot-on. It’s a book that can be read in a day and you will surely feel like you have been somewhere when you're done reading this one.

I couldn’t get enough of this book and after rereading my review, I’m falling for it all over again. The Memory of Love is a book that requires you to pay attention but I think it’s safe to say that won’t be a problem. A beautiful title and a beautiful cover, this story is indeed about love.

Released earlier this year, ‘Til the Well Runs Dry is Sharma’s debut novel. It’s a book that has major events transpiring one after another. And it's a book that’s filled with excitement. I would qualify it as a beach read if you do manage to squeeze in that vacation!

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Few Bookish Updates!

You may remember me raving about Miles:The Autobiography. Well I’ve been a hardcore fan since finishing the book. So I had to tell everybody once I found out that  Don Cheadle has launched a crowdsource campaign to bring Miles’ story to the big screen! I found out about this several weeks ago and I’m still excited. To learn about the project and donate to the campaign, visit the Indiegogo page.

When I learned that my dearest Edwidge Danticat was on board to have one of her short stories turned into a film, my heart begin to sing. And then, I felt like I had lost something when I received an email stating that the project had not reached its funding goals. I’m not sure how well it was publicized considering the only place that I saw it was on Edwidge’s Facebook page. But fortunately, the director of the project is not giving up yet! You can find out more information on the project and where to donate by visiting the  Kickstarter page.

Danticat and the film director
Photo Credit: Facebook Caroline's Wedding

Today is the day; Forty Acres has been released! I received an advance reader copy of the book courtesy of the publisher and I’ve been recommending it since I finished reading it. I enjoyed the book but I think it’s worth recommending because it is a book that you will want to talk to people about, whether you like it or not. If you missed the review, you can find it here

The New York Times posted an interesting article, New Wave of African Writers With an Internationalist Bent. They mention several authors that have been covered right here on Reading Has Purpose: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Aminatta Forna, Chinua Achebe, and Marita Golden. Reviews and author events for each of these authors can be found under the Reading Has Purpose "Bookish Life" or “Book By Author” tabs. So please do share blog posts that you like and keep coming back because this is where you can find the good stuff!!!!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith

This book gets right down to it: At your core, who are you? That’s the question Martin Grey is faced with when he is welcomed into the inner circle of a small group of uber-successful black men. All “titans of industry,” married, and wealthy, these men think that Martin has what it takes to join their ranks.

Damon Darrell, super star attorney, decides to have Martin meet the group of friends when he is defeated by Martin in a case that no one expected Martin to win. After inviting Martin and his wife to a dinner party with all of the couples in attendance, Damon later extends an invitation for Martin to attend the men’s upcoming rafting getaway.

Once Martin is on Damon’s private jet along with the rest of the group, he starts having suspicions. They land on an isolated landing strip after which they drive several miles into the woods before arriving at their destination: Forty Acres, a plantation. At Forty Acres, all of the slaves are white and the descendants of former slave owners. Under the guidance of the men’s mentor, Dr. Kashim, Martin’s submersion into this culture begins.

Dr. Kashim believes that by seeking this form of justice for former slaves, black men will be able to release the constant burden dwelling in their subconscious, allowing them to reach their full potential. Damon and friends, along with other small groups of men that visit the plantation from around the country, are proof of this concept.

As Dr. Kashim puts Martin through his mental initiation, Damon and friends arrange his physical initiations. A  horrific final test leads the men to believe that Martin is finally one of them. But all along, Martin has been plotting his escape, going along with it all in order to make it off of the plantation alive. Whew! I’m getting anxious just writing about it.

I didn’t care for the wives and am not sure they added much to the story. With the exception of Martin’s wife, they are women whose primary interests revolve around spending the money that their husbands earn. They couldn’t care less what their husbands are doing, as long as it’s kept under wraps if it’s foul. And of course, as long as the checks keep rolling in.

This book absolutely positively will leave you feeling like you need to talk about it. The ending leads one to believe that there will be a sequel. And I think it's screaming for a movie.

Forty Acres will be released on July 01, 2014. It is currently available for pre-order.

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Forty Acres: A Thriller on Amazon

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. As with all reviews posted, views expressed are genuine and are in no way influenced by external sources. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Breathing Room by Patricia Elam

I recently discovered DC By the Book which is a project that “explores the richness of non-Federal civic life in Washington and its character as a city, as brought to life by fiction.” After spending some time on their website, I marked three books as high priority reads. Breathing Room is the one that I chose to read first since it was a featured book at the time that I visited the site.

Set entirely in Washington, DC, Breathing Room is told by Norma, her best friend Moxie, and Moxie’s daughter, Zadi. Norma, owner of an up and coming photography business, begins having an extramarital affair after the remnants of a tragic event slowly eat away at what was once a fairytale relationship. After telling Moxie about the affair, their friendship begins to fall apart because of Moxie’s disapproval. To complicate matters even more, Norma begins questioning her worth as a mother when she starts to have challenges loving her toddler son.   

Meanwhile, Moxie is navigating her way through the challenges of co-parenting a teenage daughter. She is a probation officer who struggles to keep from caring too much about her clients. Deemed as being afrocentric, Moxie’s black consciousness becomes burdensome for both her best friend and her daughter. As Moxie begins to understand that her mother’s moods, and subsequently her death, during Moxie’s childhood were due to mental illness, she’s afraid of what will happen after Zadi makes a decision that sends Moxie spiraling into depression.

I enjoyed Zadi’s story the most.  It’s surely because I was around the same age as Zadi at the time this book was published. Her story is shared through her diary and it was an unexpected walk down memory lane for me. As I suspect is the case with most teenagers, Zadi has to balance doing what is right, according to her mother, with her own heart’s desires. We watch her make decisions about everything from losing her virginity, to deciding who is worthy of her friendship.  When she begins secretly dating one of her mother’s clients, thing get interesting.

Even though it sounds like a lot, it was a balanced look at the lives of two women and a teenager and the things they encounter on a day to day basis. I actually considered it to be so-so, because it was too every day, so to speak.  A few major developments occur well over half way into the book which made it seem more like a novel and a lot more exciting.

In the end, this book illustrates how there are two sides to every story. And they can both be right. I don't feel strongly either way about the book but  Amazon and Goodreads reviewers love it! Although I do adore the cover. It made it to the Reading Has Purpose Cover Lovin' Page.

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Breathing Room on Amazon

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Rat-boys of Karalabad by Zulfiqar Rashid

Has someone ever told you about something that was so disturbing or upsetting that you start to feel unwell? It took me a little longer than usual to read this book because that’s the problem I was having.

I really enjoyed the book in the beginning. That was before the details of an unscrupulous covert system of hierarchy, abuse, and exploitation is revealed. It’s not a knock on the book. This was just a topic that got to me.   

The Rat-boys of Karalabad is a detailed fictional account of how religion can be used to take advantage of the poor. It also sheds light on the intentional creation of mentally and physically challenged individuals, some being children as young as two years old. After being deformed, these individuals are sent out into the community as beggars with the expectation that their handicaps will cause people to give them more money.

The story revolves around Omar who is chosen to be successor to the shrine. The inner workings of the shrine are revealed as Omar is prepped for his role. He is brought up by being taught “when to be holy and when to be worldly”  because the shrine is a “business.”

Omar’s mentor, Abdul Ji, is a man of sound principle whose own presence in the shrine is a result of threats of violence to his family. In addition to unwillingly teaching Omar how to be the next successor, he teaches him to never lose track of his moral compass. These teachings ultimately have deadly consequences for all involved.

I was saddened by the way the shrine works. The poor and uneducated are pawns in the elaborate scheme to control wealth. They come to the shrine willing to give all of their possessions and even their children to have their prayers answered. With the government being complicit in the scheme, it is easy to see how the target population are unable to liberate themselves or even recognize what is happening to them. I guess it’s all so disconcerting to me because you really have to wonder how far it may have been from the truth after removing religion from the centerpiece.

At the end of the novel, the author provides brief insight on the organized beggary that is discussed in the novel stating that it is “a deep-rooted part of society in South East Asia.” He goes on to describe the “practice of turning children into ‘Rat-boys’ involves binding small children’s heads and limbs so they develop in an abnormal way, making their faces look like that of a rat and leaving their brains under-developed.“ Disgusting behavior, to say the least.

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The Rat-Boys of Karalabad on Amazon

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. As with all reviews posted, views expressed are genuine and are in no way influenced by external sources

Friday, May 2, 2014

'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

If you like a book that’s go, go, go, you’ll want this one. After only a few chapters, things really took off. I was concerned that with 379 pages to fill, the pace would drop off. That couldn’t have been further from the truth!

The story begins 1943, in Trinidad, where we meet a teenage girl, Marcia Garcia, and a slightly older Farouk Karam. Farouk, a police officer and ladies man, is determined to win Marcia’s heart. So much so that he solicits the help of an obeah. But Marcia, a seamstress with custody of twin boys, is focused on her career and providing the best life possible for the children.

Farouk and Marcia eventually marry but the relationship is borne out of what appears to be a horrible tragedy and subsequently falls apart because of a family secret. Even through a troubled relationship, the couple has four children who ultimately become the catalysts for a tumultuous series of events that play out over the next twenty years.

Marcia experiences more heartache than anyone should bear in a lifetime. Although it could be said that she brought it on herself, she is admirable in many ways. After finally realizing that she is in a no win situation in Trinidad, she leaves her children and heads for the United States. As with the previous twists and turns in this novel, events develop that the reader will never see coming.

Farouk is an individual of many flaws. He never really confronts his domineering parents. They will not acknowledge and even try to have him disown his wife and children. With his philandering ways continuing even while he is married, he is easy to dislike. But he has redeeming qualities that lead one to believe that a good man is somewhere inside of him.

Even with all of this, incest, political corruption, and murder unfold between the pages of this novel. With most books, you can find a stopping place. With this one, not hardly. This author has written a book that will have you sneaking out of the office to read a few more pages. And I didn’t even tell you about the children.

“You never miss the water ’til the well runs dry,” she said. Plenty people t’ink they’ll be fine until the person they need does be gone.“ Til the Well Runs Dry

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'Til the Well Runs Dry: A Novel on Amazon

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. As with all reviews posted, views expressed are genuine and are in no way influenced by external sources.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

2014 Reading Update #1 and A Few Thoughts!

This year started with what seemed like the winter that was never going to end. But while everyone else was griping about freezing temperatures and endless snow, being tucked away in the house propelled me into some type of literary vortex. And it's been euphoric! Here is a rundown on my 2014 reading progress.

Books Finished

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates: Reading this book was a great way to start the year. It is a book that should be read by African American men and boys and I recommend it to each one that I know. It is also a book for readers. It’s difficult to explain. It’s the reason I haven’t written the review. You just have to read it.

The Wealth Choice by Dennis Kimbro

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty: This isn't a book I would've chosen but I read it because it was a book club selection. It had a bit too much going on for me. I had to draw a diagram in order to remember all of the characters. But it makes you think about how one event can cause you to question everything that happened before it. What did you miss? What did you ignore? The book was okay but it was 400 pages. I would've been good with 250. 

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga: This book is about the endurance and oppression of women. I became a fan of Tambu, the main character, immediately. She's what could be considered a rebel and I found myself cheering for her. This is a powerful story about women trying to make their way in a society that tells them to stay in their place. It deserves so much more than the few sentences I just put together so please follow-up on this one!

Migrations of the Heart by Marita Golden

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore: The review is coming!

Foreign Gods by Okey Ndibe

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie

Don't Play in the Sun by Marita Golden

Try to Make Your Life by Margot Friedlander

Redemption Song by Bertice Berry: This book is set in a bookstore. The owner prides herself on knowing what books her customers should read better than they do. It turns into a love story when a man and a woman both enter the store on the same day looking for the same book. A journey of self discovery unwinds when they start reading the book and painful family histories are revealed. They eventually learn that their fates were determined long before they were ever born. 

Currently Reading
'Til the Well Runs Dry
The Rat-boys of Karalabad

Ditched It

Open City by Teju Cole: After reading Every Day Is for the Thief and loving it, I dove right into Open City which is the first of Cole’s two novels. Fortunately I didn't read this one first or I may not have given Every Day Is for the Thief a chance. I didn't find the main character of this book interesting enough to keep reading about.

The Longest Date: Life as a Wife by Cindy Chupack - After reading The Between Boyfriends Book, I was looking forward to this one. I wasn't expecting this book to read like a memoir; I don’t believe it is classified as such. I expected the book to be an entertaining take on life as a wife, not about Chupack's life as a wife. By the time I got to page 65, I didn’t want to see Ian’s name again.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith: This book. Oh gosh. It just wasn’t working for me. I didn’t make it through the first chapter but I'm not giving up on her. I will try to read one of her other books.

Excited About

An interesting discussion on Goodreads has me paying closer attention to the number of book that I read by Black male authors. I conveniently received two novels courtesy of Atria Books just after making this declaration. Red Now and Laters:A Novel was released on March 11, 2014. Forty Acres:A Thriller will be released on July 1, 2014. Both are written by Black men.

So what have you been reading!?

Affiliate Links

The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood on Amazon

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates on Amazon

Redemption Song: A Novel on Amazon

The Husband's Secret on Amazon

Sunday, April 20, 2014

COFFEE TABLE BOOK: American Cool by Joel Dinerstein


I visited the American Cool Exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in D.C. last week. The exhibition is a collection of portraits of one hundred individuals who were chosen as “cultural icons” during their respective eras in American history. 

I enjoyed the exhibition very much, recognized nearly all of the faces, and knew a little something about the individuals as well. I was rather pleased with myself for being so familiar with the cool crowd. My excitement led me to the gift shop and where I was happy to find American Cool, the book! 

 American Cool section of the gift shop

One notable thing about the selected few is that they are all are considered celebrities. It does not include scientists, presidents, ect. I’ve singled out a few of the individuals that are relatable in the day to day dealings of Reading Has Purpose. I couldn't help but give you a preview of who you’ll find in the book! 

Frederick Douglass
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass touched me in all kinds of ways. I highly recommend the book and am somewhat disappointed with myself for not having visited his home which is now a National Historic site in Washington, D.C.

Jack Johnson
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson  has been on my to-read since I spotted it in someone’s home a couple of years ago. I finally bumped it to high priority and it should find its way to my mailbox this week. 

Bessie Smith was familiar to me because shortly before attending the exhibition, I had added Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday to my to-read list. The book was written by Angela Davis who is also an American Cool selection.

Miles Davis is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and the author of Miles, the best autobiography I’ve read to date. I never have much to say about Miles Davis. I just tell people to read his book. It’s all there. It’s all there!  I learned from American Cool, the book, that Miles Davis composed a soundtrack in honor of Jack Johnson. And it has one awesome album cover!

Malcolm X
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is high priority on my to-read list. After attending an event with the authors of A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X, I became more interested in reading it than I had previously been. I already have the autobiography in my possession.

Zora Neale Hurston wrote what is certainly one of the most beautiful love stories ever when she penned Their Eyes Were Watching God. Since reading that book, love doesn’t look the same way to me. And I thank Zora Neale Hurston for that.  

James Baldwin
I read The Fire Next Time last year and underlined nearly every sentence in the book! It is on my list of books to re-read but I will read a few of his other books first. New York Live Arts is celebrating James Baldwin who they describe as an “overlooked American writer who is arguably the most profound and imperative voice of the twentieth century.” The celebration will include a series of live events from Apr 23 - Apr 27, 2014.

If you’re on the fence regarding the value of coffee table books, sit this one out and watch it do its job in no time!  

UPDATED 6/7/2014: I finally visited the Frederick Douglass house in May 2014! 

Affiliate Links
American Cool on Amazon

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass on Amazon

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson on Amazon

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday on Amazon

View all by Angela Y Davis on Amazon

Tribute to Jack Johnson (Album) on Amazon

Miles: The Autobiography on Amazon

The Autobiography of Malcolm X on Amazon

View all by Hurston on Amazon

View all by Baldwin on Amazon

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Author Event with Margot Friedlander

I had the pleasure of attending the U.S. book launch event for Margot Friedlander's Try to Make Your Life: A Jewish Girl Hiding in Nazi Berln. The book was originally published in Germany. The first translation was done by a student, as a labor of love. This more in depth translation followed.

After being introduced to the audience, one of the first things I notice is how agile she was. She moved well, she spoke well, she didn't even wear reading glasses. She has a very spirited way about herself and even came across as feisty at times!

Margot spoke briefly before spending a significant amount of time reading from her book. One very moving moment was when she reached the section that described her discovery of the things her mother left for her. In her mother’s purse, there was an address book filled with contacts that would later be useful. And there was her mother’s amber necklace. As Margot read, she reached for the necklace; she was wearing it. 

Margot, in her mother's necklace.

When she finished reading, she stopped our applause to make a powerful statement -
When I speak to students, I tell them I came back to Germany to tell you the story of people that can't speak for themselves. It is up to you that this must never happen again. I cannot reach all of you. But if I reach a few of you, I have done good. 

When asked about how the experience impacts her ability to trust people-
I do trust people. I think people are basically good. 

When asked how she maintained hope-
I was young. I wanted to live…. I had slight hope of being [reunited] with my mother and brother again. 

When asked if she’s had a happy life-
What is happiness? I had a wonderful husband to whom I was married for 52 ½ years. We had a wonderful life together. We made great friends…..I enjoyed my work….I think it was a happy life. But it is very different for people that survive these tragedies because we are broken people. We feel we are not the same. We can’t help that. Comfortable? Yes. Happy? In a way.

Yours truly and Margot. I forgot to turn on my flash :(

I wanted to ask does it get any easier. After hearing the response to the last question, I decided that I should not. It was an event that I will remember for a lifetime.

NPR also had a representative in attendance. They posted about the event and shared an audio clip here.

I posted the review of Try to Make Your Life here

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Try to Make Your Life on Amazon

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