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 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! 

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

Affiliate Link
Try to Make Your Life on Amazon

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Try to Make Your Life: A Jewish Girl Hiding in Nazi Berlin by Margot Friedlander

Margot, while reading.

After reading Night, I knew I’d read another book written by a holocaust survivor. I got lucky when I found that a book launch event for Try To make Your Life by Margot Friedlander was being held in DC. I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher and I made it about halfway through the book beforehand. Margot spent a significant amount of time reading from her memoir at the start of the event. When I got back home to finish reading the second half, I could no longer do so without hearing her voice. 

Through the first forty pages or so, she recounts what many would consider an ideal childhood. But that was before the Nazis came into power. She then details how Jews were systematically demoralized. Little by little, they were stripped of their properties, their possessions, their businesses, and even their professional accreditations.  

Margot’s mother tried, desperately, to get herself and her two children out of the country.  Family and friends, even those that had already immigrated, turned their backs. When they finally caught a break, on the day they were to emigrate, Margot arrived home to find the Gestapo at her door. Her mother and brother had been taken away and Margot’s mother left her with a message: Try to make your life.

Margot decides to go into hiding. Over the course of fifteen months, sixteen strangers help her. Someone gave her a silver cross pendant to wear so that people would think she was Christian. A doctor even gave her a nose job, for free, after she was afraid of being discovered because of her “Jewish looking nose.” Eventually she finds herself in an impossible situation. When asked for papers to prove her identity, she turns herself in. And then, she was taken to a concentration camp which she ultimately describes as a "middle ground, not life,not death." 

The book ends with Friedlander describing that she could only write the book after the death of her husband. Had her husband been alive she would not have done it. He was also a survivor and wanted nothing to do with Germany. Thinking back on her mother's and her brother's last moments and wondering if her father harbored any regrets about abandoning the family are two of the things she still wonders about today. It was writing the book finally led her home to Germany. She moved back in 2009.

I'll post the event recap soon. And you'll want to stay tuned for this one.

Updated 4/17/2017: You can find the event recap here.

Affiliate Link
Try to Make Your Life on Amazon

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Don't Play in the Sun by Marita Golden

After reading Migrations of the Heart, I started searching for all kinds of information on Marita Golden. When I found out that she would be participant in an ongoing lecture series at a local university, it was a no-brainer that I’d be there. She discussed Don't Play in the Sun which was assigned to students as the official reading for English 101 at the university. The lecture series is free and open to the public. 

From the book’s back cover:
“Don't play in the sun. You’re going to have to get a light-skinned husband for the sake of your children as it is.” In these words from her mother , novelist and memoirist Marita Golden learned as a girl that she was the wrong color. Her mother had absorbed “colorism” without thinking about it. Even today, as Golden shows in this provocative book, biases based on skin color persist-and so do their long-lasting repercussions.

First in line!

After providing a brief introduction to the book, Golden opened her lecture by posing a question to the audience. “How do we institutionalize healing?” We were able to think on that while Golden expounded on topics covered in the book.

After much discussion, one attendee claimed that this concept of colorism is old news and asked what was the purpose of the book. (Colorism is discrimination based on skin color (light, medium, dark) and not the same racism.) Golden responded, “The book was written for healing; but when you write to heal you, you heal others in the process.”  

Sure enough, when I started reading this book, I thought I was in for a bit of healing that I didn’t know I needed. She was telling my story. The story of being the little girl who draped her mother’s long silk scarves on her head and held them in place with bobby pins. For me, it was cheerleading pom poms. Then she pretends that she has long flowing hair.

The story of being the little girl that hated square dance class, because that’s where partners get assigned. And she knows the other kids, that do not look like her, do not want to hold her hand. For me, it was cheerleading camp. So she ends up partnered with an adult, in a class full of children.

After the lecture.

As the book goes on, it becomes less relatable for me and starts to feel like a story that is Golden's own. She shares countless experiences when she was impacted by colorism. At times it feels like projecting, but in places, it is difficult to deny. She discusses how influential television has been in contributing to the problem. How a light-skinned friend reluctantly disclosed that she was experiencing issues relating to colorism. She even tackles the topic from a global view by discussing the experiences, that she viewed first hand, of Black people battling colorism in other countries.

Just before the lecture ended, we attempted to answer the question posed to open the session. There was agreement that it starts in the home.Golden challenged everyone in attendance to start telling dark skinned girls that they are beautiful. They don’t hear it as much as light skinned, curly hair girls do.

Affiliate Links
Don't Play in the Sun on Amazon
View all by Golden on Amazon

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Every Day Is for the Thief by Teju Cole

Every Day Is for the Thief is Teju Cole’s second book. He wrote it in 2006, after writing Open City the same year. The former was published in Nigeria in 2007, long before the March 25, 2014 release here in the U.S.  I received an Advance Reader Copy of the book via NetGalley and was able to read the book before the U.S. release.

I attended Cole’s author event on the day of the book release. He described the novel as a disenchanted love story (with Lagos). And I agree. No need to try and top his description of his own work.

I love that this book is written in first person. The main character travels from New York to Lagos, his home, after having been away for over 10 years. I felt like I was there. It was as if the narrator was carrying a video camera. I had to remind myself that I was reading fiction.

Nothing but love for Michael Eric Dyson. 

The narrator, a well rounded individual, speaks to so many aspects of Lagos upon his return. Even though much is the same, his new perspective makes things look different. He thoughtfully details the events that are unfolding before him as he makes his way around the city. Violence, corruption, politics, infrastructure, and religion are only a few of the topics that are captured. 

This was an engaging read. There were places I laughed, places I shook my head with disapproval, and places I paused in shocked. As Cole was reading from the novel, there was laughter and nods from the audience as well. 

Surely you knew Professor Dyson would have something to add!

As much as I loved this book, it did not make me want to go to Lagos. When I asked Cole what he would say to balance out this characters portrayal of the city, this was part of his response: I wouldn’t say anything to balance out the narrator’s portrayal.The problem isn’t with telling negative stories. The problem is with telling stories that are not true. Just like you said you would never want to go, someone has the opposite response. The book makes them want to experience Lagos.

As I listened to Cole’s responses to the questions that followed mine, the style of his writing all of a sudden made perfect sense; it goes with him. I was not ready for this book to end. I dove right into “Open City” after completing it in an attempt to prolong the experience. 

Affiliate Links
Every Day Is for the Thief: Fiction on Amazon
Open City: A Novel on Amazon

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Author Event and Film Screening: Half of a Yellow Sun

AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center hosted the 10th Annual New African Films Festival on March 13th - 20th. They showed 3 screenings of Half of a Yellow Sun and this was not like any screening I’ve been to. The first screening was accompanied by a reception, courtesy of Bukom Cafe, my favorite restaurant in DC. The two screenings that followed featured a Q&A and book signing with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. After the rave reviews following Half of a Yellow Sun’s 2013 Toronto Film Festival premiere, these screenings were a big deal. As confirmation, all three screenings sold out! 

From the book’s back cover:
With effortless grace, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in African history: Biafra’s struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960’s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of promise, hope, and the disappointment of war. 

The movie had me all in my feelings. The book, for me, did not elicit so much emotion. I give credit to the movie for capturing the essence of the novel in such a powerful way; it worked. The movie made the book feel less like a novel. This was a good thing since the Nigeria-Biafra war really happened.

The characters in the book were easy to envision as those individuals on the screen, for the most part. There was one individual that just wasn’t working for me. And I found him to be a distraction throughout the movie. I’m not referring to Chiwetel Ejiofor. Everything about him was right!

As can be expected when trying to turn a 541 page book into a movie, some things may be glossed over. But the movie contained gaping omissions. Even so, the impact was minimal aside from the compelling series of events that would have provided insight on one of the characters. 

The end of the movie felt incomplete to me. Although the book’s ending was essentially the same, in the movie, the ending felt much more abrupt. Fortunately, we were in for more! After the screening, Adichie took questions from the audience. The following responses are as close to what was stated as possible. But because I did not record the discussion, there is some paraphrasing: 

On being involved in the film making -
I wasn't involved at all really. I chose not to be. I look at it as cutting up your baby. You have to hope that the people involved will cut up the baby in the best way possible.   

On coming up with the story -
Most writing wasn't from the research I did, but from stories that people told me. Almost everything in the book is something that happened to someone. 

On making sure that people grasp story in its entirety (outside of it being a movie and a book)-  Tell the story the best way you can and hope that the viewers and readers are humane and intelligent. 

On taking books to publishers -
I had an editor tell me that Half of a Yellow Sun isn't sexy. Darfur is sexy. If someone doesn't want to publish the story, I’ll find someone who wants to publish it. 

On considering how people will receive your work -  
I don't think about audience when I write because….when I lecture, I tell writers don't think about audience. If you do, you’re going to censor yourself. If I thought about my father, I could not write a sex scene.

Affiliate Links
Half of a Yellow Sun on Amazon
View all by Adichie on Amazon

Monday, March 17, 2014

February 2014 Books Galore!

While reading The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates, I came across the name Pauline Hopkins. I jotted it down to do further research and I didn’t have to search long before deciding I would read at least one of her books. I ended up purchasing The Magazine Novels of Pauline Hopkins which contains three of her novels: Hagar's Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice, Winona: A Tale of Negro Life in the South and Southwest and Of One Blood: Or, the Hidden Self: The Givens Collection.

Barnes & Noble Overview: The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth- Century Black Women Writers series, under the general editorship of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has rescued the voice of an entire segment of the African-American literary tradition by offering volumes of compelling and rare works of fiction, poetry, autobiography, biography, essays, and journalism, written by nineteenth-century black women.

I purchased A Raisin in the Sun to read prior to attending the Broadway show and decided to order a few more books from my high priority list at the same time:  Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire, The Willie Lynch Letter and the Making of a Slave by Kofi Ghanaba, and Black Mamba Boy: A Novel by Nadifa Mohamed.

I received 3 books from publishers which is always fun. ‘Til the Well Runs Dry,  a debut novel by Lauren Francis-Sharma, is an Advance Reader Copy which will be released on April 22, 2014. Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole is also an Advance Reader Copy which will be released on March 25, 2015. I will attend his author event in DC on the same day of the book release. The Rat-boys of Karalabad was released in June 2013. I found something about this book synopsis very compelling. As far as I know, this is Zulfiqar Rashid’s first book.

Guess who finally has an eReader! I haven’t been compelled to read anything on it but that hasn’t stopped me from loading it up with books. It didn't take me long to realize that Amazon’s “Buy Now with 1-Click” option was not a good idea for me.

Bitch is the New Black by Helena Andrews was added back to my to-read list after attending an event in DC two weeks ago. I discovered The Man by Irving Wallace on Goodreads. It’s a novel about the first black president but it was written in 1964. The Ugly Daughter was also a Goodreads find which I was able to download for free.

Monday, March 10, 2014

One Maryland One Book 2014

Last year I discovered my state’s reading and discussion program in which the state focuses on one book annually. The 2013 selection was King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village. I got lucky and received a free copy of the book at one of countless events, organized to promote the book and the program throughout the state.

This year’s theme is ‘the American Dream.” After taking nominations submitted by the general public, the selection committee narrowed down the list to 10.

And last month, they announced the winner! The Distance Between Us: A Memoir by Reyna Grande

Several of these books are already on my to-read list and I read The Other Wes Moore last month. Since I’m fond of this theme, I’m going to add the remaining books to my list as well. Detroit: An American Autopsy has particularly caught my attention.

I’m starting to think my to-read list needs to be divided into two categories: this lifetime and next lifetime.

What do you think about the list? Will you read any of these?

Disclosure: Each book title contains my affiliate link. It will take you to the book’s Amazon page
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