Monday, December 1, 2014

5 MORE Authors That I Hope Are Writing Another Book

On Friday I named five authors that I hope are writing another book. But those aren’t the only authors I’m keeping an eye on. Here are five more authors that I hope publish books soon!

Kiese Laymon
I attended Laymon’s local tour stop for his novel, Long Division. The turnout was disappointing, but with the crowd being so small, it led to an unconventional event. Laymon decided to treat the event like a get-together. You know, something you’d do with a group of friends, at someone’s house.  And you know what happens when you’re chatting with friends, at someone’s house. People say all sorts of things. It was awesome! He was so genuine, and it was so refreshing. What I realized after reading both of his books, Long Division and How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others In America, is that he is also forthcoming in his writing.

Lola Shoneyin
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives was a fun read. The story has five main characters and each of them have a voice in this novel. I appreciated reading about the experience from the aspect of the wives, how they found themselves there, and how they experienced the emotions that anyone would when your significant other is in a relationship with someone else. Baba Segi did not intend to have four wives at the start of it all. And it seems he took one wife too many when his fourth wife causes all of their lives to unravel. The book got a little slow in the middle but the last several chapters swept me away. There is something about the nature of her writing that makes me want more. 

Ta-Nehesi Coates
The Beautiful Struggle is the book I refer to as the book for readers. His father, Paul Coates, founded Black Classic Press publishing in 1978. And the influence of books on Ta-Nehisi’s life is obvious in his memoir, which I plan to read again. Ta-Nehisi is considered a thought leader of our time. I’ve been a fan of his since I discovered his home run article, Caring for Your Introvert, which he wrote in 2003. Many would say that his most recent display of brilliance is demonstrated in his article The Case for Reparations.

Donna Britt
I won a copy of Brothers (& me) from the publisher. It was delightful. I also stopped by her book tour and the event was well attended. But there may have been one other person my age in attendance, which is disappointing considering content in her memoir. As with the writing of Marita Golden, Britt’s writing resonates with me. They are the type of women I want in my sister-circle.

Roxane Gay
Surely you expected to see this name again! I don’t usually buy into the hype surrounding books or authors. But with Roxane Gay, people were almost in a state of hysteria! I just had to know what all of this was about. I bought An Untamed State and it’s the first time I’ve ever read a 370 page book in two days. Then I bought her book of short stories, Ayiti, and I realized that her success wasn’t by chance. So I felt like I had to read her third and most recent publication, Bad Feminist. Even though I didn’t love it, it made me love her as an author.  

You can find a list of the first 5 authors here.

Friday, November 28, 2014

5 Authors That I Hope Are Writing Another Book

When people ask me to recommend authors, I usually tell them I don’t follow anyone in particular; I just love a good book. But then I realized that there are a few authors that I really hope are writing another book. I guess this means I’m following them. So here are 5 authors that I’m keeping an eye on.

Maggie Anderson 

Our Black Year: Our Family's Quest to Buy Black In America's Racially Divided Economy made me change my consumer habits. Since reading the book in 2012, I make intentional decisions about what businesses I patronize. I decided to take it a step further and in addition to shopping with black owned businesses, I give priority to companies and business owners in my neighborhood, county, and state, in that order whenever possible.  
Dwayne Alexander Smith

Forty Acres: A Thriller is a book that I couldn’t post a review on fast enough. In fact, I posted the review an entire month before the book was even released! I loaned this book to 2 people and you know I never loan my books. But I just wanted people to read it. I needed to talk about it with someone... anyone... everyone! The end of this book leaves the opportunity for a sequel. But Forty Acres was certainly enough! I hope he comes back with a new topic.  

Isabel Wilkerson 

I will always refer to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration as the book that I never wanted to end. So why wouldn’t I want the author of one of the best books ever written to write another? The Warmth of Other Suns was nothing short of brilliant and it was definitely epic. I sometimes wonder if she could write anything that would measure up to it. I hope she's trying!

Okey Ndibe
After reading Ndibe’s second book, Foreign Gods, Inc., earlier this year, I decided that I would definitely read his first novel, Arrows of Rain, and I finished it last month.  I love his writing style. His stories make me laugh, and the fable-like nature allows me to take something away. 

Heidi Durrow
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is one of the most adorable books I’ve ever read. I had been reading only nonfiction for years. After finishing this book, I dove back into fiction and haven’t thought about abandoning it again since.

Who are you waiting for to write another book? 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bad Feminist:Essays by Roxane Gay

Photo Credit:Amazon Author Page

I recently posted a rave review on An Untamed State and a less stellar but favorable review on Ayiti. Bad Feminist is Roxane Gay’s third and most recent book, published a few months ago. And after reading this one, it’s safe to say that I’ll read whatever book Gay publishes next.

That said, I didn’t love this book. But only because I don't follow pop culture. Gay is apparently a pop culture maven and in more than a few essays, I had no interest in or idea what she was talking about. For that reason, I wasn’t able to read straight through. But where this book was good, it was really good, like - why are you all in my head - good!

Music, movies, reality television, politics, books, race...she touches on, what seems like, everything! She doesn't overlook her own bias and even shares some of the most traumatic experiences of her life which gives insight on her perspective. One of the things I like about her writing is that she comes from a place of - this is what I think, you should feel free to use your own brain.

We get an idea of what to expect from her work in the future when she writes, ”I have no problem with darkness, sorrow, pain, or unhappiness. I have no intention of straying from these themes in my writing.” So it doesn’t sound like we should expect any fluffy stuff whenever her next book does come out.  

Just before I finished Bad Feminist, someone posted something that I think sums up this book -

"Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.” Nelson Mandela

On second thought, I think that sums up feminism.

“I can’t debate the artistic merits of Django Unchained because the palms of my hands are burning with the desire to slap Tarantino in the face until my arms grow tired.”
Roxane Gay

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Bad Feminist: Essays on Amazon
View all by Gay on Amazon

Monday, October 20, 2014

Letter To My Daughter by Maya Angelou

Letter To My Daughter is categorized as one of Maya Angelou’s many autobiographies. This book contains snapshots of “events and lessons that [she] found useful.” With this book being published in 2008, Angelou had a chance to reflect on nearly her entire life. Knowing that made the events that she chose to write about even more significant.

Many of you may know that Angelou had only one child, a son. But she would tell you that she had thousands of daughters. I’ve deemed this autobiography as a love letter. It's a book that says these are the lessons that you do not have to learn for yourself.

The thought of becoming a teen mother and being beaten to near death may be foreign to some people. The idea of traveling the world as a dancer and having friends like James Baldwin, Alex Haley, and Coretta Scott King may sound like something that doesn’t happen to someone like you. But even though your story may not be the same as hers, Angelou has a way of showing you yourself through her own experiences.

I finished the book in couple of hours. When I was done, I had marked something from nearly every chapter. It was certainly worth the time it took to read it. Actually, it was worth more.

“I don’t believe that we should be brutal about anything, however, it is wonderfully liberating to be honest. One does not have to tell all one knows but we should be careful what we do say is the truth.”
Letter to My Daughter

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 Letter to My Daughter on Amazon
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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Author Event with Marlon James

Marlon James is a Jamaican writer who you may remember as the author of The Book of Night Women. I have the novel but have not read it. Signings often help me determine how soon I will read an author’s book. When I learned that James was coming to town to promote his new book, I took the opportunity to learn more about his work. 

According to Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times, A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel "uses the story of the 1976 assassination attempt on Marley as a kind of trampoline, bouncing off that terrible event into a multilayered, choral inquiry into Jamaican politics and poverty, into race and class, and into the volatile relationship between the United States and the Caribbean."

Just before James started his reading from the novel, he mentioned cutting 10,000 words from the book the last minute. Even so, he still ended up with 704 pages! That seems like a lot of time to spend with characters. But considering James says there are something like 200 characters in the book, and many of them die, it seems we won’t have to spend too much time with anyone for too long. I'm still not sure if he was joking about the 200 characters, but he later mentioned needing a spreadsheet to keep track of all of them.

After he was done reading from a few places in the book, which were very comedic, James answered some questions.  Here are a few of the responses.

Responses are paraphrased.

On the origin of the book:
The book was inspired from a Timothy White article which came out approximately 15 years before my first novel.

On the toughest post of the writing process:
Figuring out what to write! It takes about 2 years to figure out what to write but once I start writing, I can breeze through. Being fair to bad guys as well as good ones is also tough.

On where his inspiration comes from while writing:
I create a reading library for the novels when I write and I read them while writing. I referred to American Tabloid by James Ellory a lot while writing this novel. By the end of A Brief History of Seven Killings, I’d probably read 40 novels. And that’s just the fiction list which doesn’t include other references I used. If you had the list of books I was reading while writing, you could probably tell what I was reading and where.

On why it’s not necessary to shut out the “noise” from other writers:
I don’t avoid other books because books are in conversation with books. Books end up in my books. Reading is also an excuse for me to not write.

I wouldn't mind seeing the list of books that ended up in this one. I find that's where many of my book recommendations have come from, other books! You can view the entire event, which was filmed by the bookstore, in the video below. 

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A Brief History of Seven Killings: A Novel on Amazon
View all by James on Amazon

Monday, October 6, 2014

Ayiti by Roxane Gay

Photo Credit: Amazon Author Page

This is only the second collection of short stories that I’ve read. The first was Krik?Krak! by Edwidge Danticat. Between these two authors, I think I’m beginning to like short stories.

Ayiti’s stories are about the Haitian experience. They discuss life in Haiti and life in America. One of the stories,“Things I Know About Fairy Tales”, is what subsequently became a novel, An Untamed State. A significant amount of content from the remaining stories was borrowed and used in the novel as well. It’s likely that since I read An Untamed State before reading Ayiti, it curbed my enthusiasm for this book.  

That said, “A Cool Dry Place” is one of the stories that I would read if it were turned into a novel. Yves and his wife Gabi have promised each other that they will not bring a child into the world, specifically, poverty stricken Haiti. Gabi describes it as “but one more sorrow heaped onto a mountain of sorrows we share.” Yves is determined to go to America and he finally convinces Gabi to go with him on a boat to Miami.

“In the Manner of Water and Light” is a compelling story about a grandmother who is “haunted by bloody smells.” This is because the grandmother ended up in Massacre River, fortunately alive, which was not the fate of so many others. This story which is based on historical events, that I first became familiar with in Danticat’s The Farming of Bones, refers to the Parsley Massacre.  

I enjoyed several of the stories and was indifferent about others. It seems, at least from this book, that Haitians generally have an unfavorable view of Americans. It’s a theme that runs throughout. The book also addresses stereotypes. In one story, a Haitian college student  has a roommate that assumes she practices voodoo. The girl doesn’t correct her, but instead plays along.

I'm not sure what earns a book an erotica classification but this book was pushing that boundary. Since I'm not a fan of erotica, I was over it after a while. An Untamed State was filled with erotic scenes too. They were offset with extensive descriptions of brutal sexual assaults. I guess that's just something you'll get with Gay's novels. But we will have to wait and see!

I will read Bad Feminist, the third of Gay’s three published books, sometime before the end of the year. And Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri will be the next collection of short stories that I read. 

Also on Reading Has Purpose: Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay

Purchase through affiliate links to support Reading Has Purpose
Ayiti on Amazon
An Untamed State on Amazon
Bad Feminist: Essays on Amazon

The Farming of Bones on Amazon
Krik? Krak! on Amazon

Interpreter of Maladies on Amazon

Monday, September 29, 2014

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Photo Credit:Amazon Author Page

From the inside flap: “Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate.

Whoa! This book is 370 pages and I read it in two days. It is relentless from paragraph one. I woke up at 8:30 a.m. and reached for it, only to remember that I had finished it just after 1:30 a.m. the same morning. Even if only for a weekend, this book ran my life. But it is not for the faint of heart.

The book opens with the kidnapping. Mireille describes the experience in detail. Throughout the book she recounts the brutality she experiences at the hands of her captors. Between these scenes, we learn about “the before.” Mireille’s “fairy tale” life with Michael is a love story being told amidst the horror of her current situation.

After only a few days in captivity, she realizes that if she continues to fight the men who are abusing her, they will beat and torture her to death. In order to return to her “fairy tale,” she reduces herself to “no one.” For thirteen days, she endures rapes and beatings. Mireille, a daddy’s girl, slowly loses love for her father who refuses to pay the ransom.

Sebastian, Mireille's father, started his own construction company in Port au Prince after working years in America, being the best at what he does, but getting less than he deserved. Her parents now live in Haiti where they built a home behind a secure wall, and under the protection of armed guards. Their wealth is the reason Mireille is a target.

This author stays focused. We aren’t introduced to random characters, and storylines don’t fall by the wayside. They are instead amplified by numerous parallels. Mireille gets her tenacity, strength, and stubbornness from her father. His tenacity, strength, and stubbornness are the reason she remains in captivity. Mirelle could never imagine living her life on the farm where her husband was raised. But after her release, it is where she begins to pull her life back together. 

I now know why the literary world has been going crazy about Roxane Gay. She’s won me over too. Immediately after finishing it, I read Ayiti, a collection of short stories by Gay. I’ve discovered that An Untamed State was one of the stories. I’m in awe of how authors can turn a few pages into an entire novel, but I guess every story is short when it begins. I will post the review on Ayiti soon.

"I lied because that lie cost me less than the truth would have cost him." 
An Untamed State

Also on Reading Has Purpose: Bad Feminist: Essays  and Ayiti by Roxane Gay

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sketches of a Small Town Circa 1940: A Memoir by Clifton K Meador, MD

Photo Credit:

I received a notification that review copies of this book were available. I saw that it was about a small town in Alabama, much like The Most They Ever Had by Rick Bragg. I requested it immediately and the author sent me a free copy for review.  

The author writes about growing up in segregated Greenville, Alabama in the 1930s and 1940s. Formerly a cotton farming town, Greenville is about 130 miles south of Birmingham. Generally, the books I read about this era are written by and/or about blacks. I opened this book knowing that Dr. Meador’s experiences would be much, much different than those of the individuals I’ve previously read about.

I expected to read some things I didn't care for but I almost quit this book at page 2 when the author writes, “In spring, there were aromas of fertilizer, of seeds, of metallic smells of plows and new rope and the peculiar odor of newly plowed dirt mixed with leather, and the distinctive odors of laboring black men.” 

So laboring black men have a distinctive odor? Which is different from fragrant laboring white men I suppose. Even little kids smell weird when they’ve been running around in the hot sun all evening. And to include this description of black men in a list of inanimate objects..... I proceeded, but with the side-eye.

Things get better when Meador begins to discuss the community churches and the different denominations. The Southern colloquialism begin to flow as he reminisces about Sunday dinners. Reading what happened “after the chicken got to frying good,” and how his friend Billy “cut [toy guns] out of wooden crates he found out back of the grocery store” made me smile. 

But part of the story just always seemed to be missing. Meador recalls how syphilis testing was mandatory for everyone in the state. To mention this with no mention of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment seemed like a glaring omission.  

I felt the same when the author writes, “The force of a fire hose is tremendous. It takes three men to control the nozzle. The water at full pressure will knock down a large man and spin him along the ground.”  I thought surely that this was foreshadowing. What followed was a comical series of events involving a well known member of the community. And it was funny. But there never was mention of those hoses being turned on individuals, which would come many years later. 

And then there is the part where the author writes, “In the 12 years I lived in Greenville, there were no shootings, no murders and no robberies, at least not in the white section of town. There were rumors of knife fights in the black sections, but I never heard of a murder, black or white.”
Facepalm Hand Gesture

It's not necessary to mention rumored fights in the black section of town, especially after gloating about the absence of shootings, murders, and robberies in the white section of town. 

Again, things got better. I loved the story of Miss B. A sickly woman who became a permanent addition to the church’s prayer list. Her condition vacillated between “just fine,” “wore out,” and “having a bad day” all conditions that I’ve been diagnosed having grown up in the South. In my family the prescription was usually to either “go lay down” or “go outside.” 

I could go on and on pointing out my likes and dislikes about this book. It has left me conflicted. But at the end of the day, Dr. Meador told his story for his children, grandchildren, and great granddaughter. And it reinforces the need for African Americans to tell our stories. Our history is in the stories. 

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Sketches of a Small Town Circa 1940:A Memoir on Amazon
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Monday, September 8, 2014

Author Event with Lauren Francis-Sharma

After missing three of her local book signings, I finally made it out to see Lauren Francis-Sharma discuss her debut novel, ‘Til the Well Runs Dry. I was glad that so many people came out and after the reading, there was no shortage of questions.

I managed to get in the first question and asked about the book’s pace. As I wrote in the review, this book is go,go, go. I wondered if this was intentional or if the book kind of took off after the writing started. She says it was intentional. She found herself picking up the pace when she thought things were slowing down. And she also took into consideration the type of book she’d want to read.

I’m usually hesitant to even ask questions. It must’ve been the Pumpkin Spice Latte I was drinking that had me feeling good enough to ask another. This time, I wanted a little insight into the editing process. We learned that the book was over 600 pages when Lauren handed it over to the editor. After about nine months, they got it down to the current 400 pages. She did have to tweak the ending a bit and change one of the book’s twists but in the end, this is pretty much the story she started with.

Lauren’s experience with her editor was quite different than the one Kiese Laymon described with his. Remembering the discussion at Laymon’s author event is what actually prompted me to ask the question. He felt like his editor wanted him to tell a different story, to make the story attractive to a more “mainstream” audience. He elaborated on that quite a bit, but back to Lauren……

From the time she started writing, it took nearly four years to get the book to the shelf. Creating a social media presence to help promote the book has been one of the most rewarding parts of the entire experience. The encouragement she’s received from fans has really kept her energized. I’m glad she said that because I don’t interact much with authors on social media. I’ll have to start doing that, especially for those whose books I’m recommending to anyone that will listen!

For the audio book lovers, it’s coming! Since much of the book is written in the local dialect, she wants to make sure that she chooses an individual that gets it right. She’s making a conscious effort to avoid offending Trinidadians. I wish people would have the same awareness when they select individuals to copy Southern dialect.

Of course any book can be read at anytime but, to me, something just screams summer read about this one. So if you’re looking to squeeze in one more book before the end of summer, you should at least check out the synopsis of ‘Til the Well Runs Dry before making your final selection!

Yours truly and Lauren

And I can’t end this post without saying that Lauren took a moment in the middle of her event to give Reading Has Purpose a shout out! It was completely unexpected and very much appreciated. 

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'Til the Well Runs Dry: A Novel on Amazon

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

Author Image:Amazon author page

“Moments after Lisbeth is born, she’s taken from her mother and handed over to an enslaved wet nurse, Mattie, a young mother separated from her own infant son in order to care for her tiny charge. Thus begins an intense relationship that will shape both of their lives for decades to come. Though Lisbeth leads a life of privilege, she finds nothing but loneliness in the company of her overwhelmed mother and her distant, slave-owning father. As she grows older, Mattie becomes more like family to Lisbeth than her own kin and the girl’s visits to the slaves’ quarters—and their lively and loving community—bring them closer together than ever. But can two women in such disparate circumstances form a bond like theirs without consequence? This deeply moving tale of unlikely love traces the journey of these very different women as each searches for freedom and dignity.”

Sounds captivating right? Unfortunately, I had problems with this book from the beginning. The dialect wasn’t quite right and even when present, it didn’t feel authentic. The story didn’t feel like it was written of that time. The verbiage felt like is was from today. I had come to this conclusion even before one character used the words “laugh out loud” to describe her amusement. And that brings me to the simplicity.

Major spoiler follows!

There is a particularly fascinating series of events in which Mattie takes her child and runs away from the plantation. After reuniting with her husband and son, the author writes, “She had done it. They got away. And now they were together.”  This happened often, a tendency to state the obvious, and in a mundane way.

In the second half of the book, Lisabeth and Mattie’s stories separate but only Lisabeth’s story is told. The synopsis is misleading in this regard. Nearly the entire second half of the book is about Lisabeth and her road to becoming an abolitionist.

There were some parts of the book that I enjoyed. Unlike everything I've read where it's impossible to empathize with the slave owners, Lisabeth's internal conflict was critical to the story and I felt for the child. I do believe that the premise for the book was good. But with so many things working against the story, it was a challenge for me to like it.

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Yellow Crocus 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. 

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