Reading

Centering Authors of Color – Essays and Memoirs

During my two years of writerly silence, my life and thoughts were frequently focused on increasing diversity, inclusion, and equity, and, because my soul is built around bookish thoughts, much of that translated into bookish action. In my own reading, I continue to make it a greater and more intentional part of my lens to center authors of color. There is no way I can possibly shoulder the expectation (self-imposed or otherwise) of writing full reviews of some of the gems I have explored in the past two years, but I would like to at least call them to mention here. Let this series of posts serve as strong recommendations.

Essays and Memoirs Edition

the-book-of-delightsThe Book of Delights by Ross Gay
Gay is a poet by nature as well as training, now writing short essayettes (did I make that word up?) about everyday delights. Just what the doctor ordered in times of existential dread.

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom05bookbroom1-superJumbo
The author writes the story of her family by telling the story of their New Orleans East home. It is a multigenerational story of love of place, of familial pride, and of a New Orleans the world often tries to ignore.

dreamhouse-greywolf-1In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Machado eviscerates with her writing in this memoir that is its own form – part free verse, part dramatic monologue, part late night confession. Carmen Maria Machado speaks of her experience as a queer Latinx who finds herself in an abusive relationship and how the intersectionality of her identities inform her sense of self.

The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton91mEkEEMRCL
Anthony Ray Hinton was one of the extraordinary beneficiaries of the work of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. Wrongly accused and languishing on death row for years, Hinton writes the story of his life and learnings, experiences most of us will thankfully never have but from which all of us should learn.

714AHFDDeDLOne Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
Scaachi Koul might make you pee a little with laughter – I feel it is my duty as a fellow human to warn you. With acerbic wit, Koul tells of her experiences as a brown woman in Canada, always feeling a little out of place and simultaneously invisible and all-too-visible.

Reading

Halfway Through the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist – Many Thoughts, Mini Reviews

It has been an extended hiatus for me here at Chronic Bib – not from reading, but from writing and sharing my bibliophilic musings. But the tug of the Women’s Prize is too much to resist, and talking to myself and my faithful cats about the books I am reading has crossed the hazy border of charming folly into something more sinister. Add “social distancing” to that mix, and it’s time to venture back into the interwebs to talk books. And so…

This year’s longlist has returned to form with 16 nominees – novels written by women, in English, and published in the U.K. between April 1 and March 31. Here are my thoughts on the the first half of those nominees.

01Evaristo2-articleLargeGirl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Co-winner of the 2019 MAN Booker Prize, Evaristo’s eighth novel is an absolute treasure. Written in free verse, the stories of multiple black women are interwoven into a novel of intergenerational, queer, feminist delight. Evaristo’s writing is often raw and yet other times highly polished. This book is a wonder and rightful contender for the Women’s Prize.

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Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
“Queenie” is an empathy-arousing and compelling story of a black woman in her twenties in London, struggling to find her place in this world. The point of view was fresh and felt ‘authentic’, but the structure, concept, and writing were all a bit too

‘everyday’, too familiar, to claim a spot on Women’s Prize list, in my opinion.

71Mqq9O4T2LRed at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
This book is lovingly crafted by Jacqueline Woodson, and that it is reason enough to read it. Woodson, who always manages to bare the souls of black girls in a way that makes me wonder how she knows so many lives so intimately, tells the story both of 16 year old Melody, but also of her birth to parents of the same age. It is a complicated and thoughtful look at race, coming of age, gentrification, individualism, and struggle at every level. And it is pure, heartbreaking beauty.

Dominicana by Angie Cruz 7167iiDUeAL
Though the setting (1960s New York City) and the themes – poverty, political strife, and immigration – were quite familiar, the voice of “Dominicana” was fresh, her particular perspective as yet rarely told. This child bride, essentially sold by her family as their anchor to a better life in the US, shows the reader a baffling and complicated world, a life full of false doors, dead ends, and traps and also a girl who shows herself to be a woman of endless heart and strength and cunning.

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Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
It has been quite some time since I read this book, and I have to say I was the most surprised by its appearance on the longlist, so much so that I had to go back to confirm that it had, in fact, been written by a woman. This fascinating story of the simultaneous breakdown of a heterosexual couple in the midst of parenting, in which both sides are (eventually) explored, was allegedly a feminist gem, but I found it too centered on the male main character and too trope-fillled to be a useful critique of much of anything. More of a summer read than a prize-worthy treasure.

Weather by Jenny Offill 91PyLaqW5VL
Jenny Offill is a goddamn genius. This contemporary story of life and chaos and the maddening voices in society and in our heads is Offill at her finest. The tightness of her writing, her story advanced by beautifully placed jewels, temptations along a forgotten path, make a story that should feel staccato and off-putting but is fluid and sumptuous.

81kohIlv0xL Girl by Edna O’Brien
While the writing is beautiful and the impact is visceral – this book contains some of the most painful rape scenes I’ve ever encountered – I was never able to get right with the book itself. I was (and still am) questioning the author’s right to tell this story as a privileged, upper class white woman from the UK. I respect the efforts O’Brien made to research her subject, but at the end of the day, it feels transgressive, appropriative, colonial, and inexcusable. I found it telling that all of the blurbs on the book’s jacket were from other white authors despite the veritable treasure trove of black African female writers having a critical tour de force moment on the world literary stage.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett 91TscA6252L
When it comes to Ann Patchett, I’ll admit to being a completionist, just as I will admit that not all Ann Patchett novels are equal. “The Dutch House”, by my account, is one of her best. The story of two deeply enmeshed siblings, cast off their rapidly decaying familial estate by their stepmother, this book is such a clever rendering of fairy tale motifs, with acerbic wit, cutting dialogue, and beautiful spaces.

In the next installment:

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
Actress by Anne Enright
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Any one else reading through the Women’s Prize Longlist (partially or fully)? Thoughts on any of these titles?