[Book Review] How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others In America

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Last week I spent a good amount of time reading after a forced retreat from social media. After Day 2 of not going online feeding my addiction, I decided I needed something else to read if I couldn’t endlessly scroll the timelines of Black Twitter. What better way to do that than to read a book that had been on my list for a while? So I downloaded Kiese Laymon’s How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others In America.

Now, just a little background: Kiese Laymon also had another book, Long Division, that was released earlier this year. It was a book of fiction that I had the opportunity to read and had lots of thoughts and opinions on. It was hilarious, it was crazy, it was thoughtful, it was…a lot to process. And I don’t think I realized that having so many conflicting thoughts and feelings about Long Division was ok until I read this passage from “You Are Second Person”:

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Well damn, lol. Just for context, this is a quote from Laymon’s book agent, basically shitting on his dreams of putting out the type of book that was in his heart. I recognized myself as the bougie black woman who loved plot-defined prose about professional hijinks. But I also recognized the writer in me that empathized with not wanting to change your story for anyone, not even a black-dude-bro-book agent who acts like he is doing you a favor by shitting on your vision. This line alone made me go back and challenge the way that I read Long Division, and throughout “How To Kill Yourself” I slowly began to see how the concepts Laymon explores in his non-fiction and the fiction fit together.

In my opinion “How To Slowly Kill Yourself” tackles issues like race, class, and sexism particularly well in the essays “The Worst of White Folks”, “How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others In America”, and “Kanye West and HaLester Myers are Better at Their Jobs…”.  Reading “Hip Hop Stole My Southern Black Boy” validated how I felt about hip-hop’s identity owing some level of respect and gratitude to Southern artists. Reading “You Are Second Person” was a peek into what I might be getting myself into if I decide to go the mainstream publishing route. “Echo: Mychal, Darnell, Kiese, Kai, and Marlon” offered up insightful and varied perspectives on life as a black man in America. This book, as Laymon likes to say, “reckons with” a lot of issues that young people of color are dealing with every day and I appreciated it.

Anyway, I really dug the book. It’s funny, it’s smart, and it’s real. I think you’d dig it too. Check it out.

The Problem with HuffPo’s 30 Before 30 Book List

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On Sunday a follower on Twitter hit me up for my opinion about the Huffington Post’s list of 30 Books You Should Read Before 30. After taking a look at the article, my response was a resounding “meh.”

At first I didn’t really want to get into why the list didn’t move me, in part because it’s hard to articlulate my thoughts on Twitter without getting rant-y. However, I’m known for not being able to keep my mouth shut when it comes to offering my opinion, which was this: these types of lists are pointless, because A. there are literally too many books out there and B. whichever books they choose are not going to meet the needs of wide swaths of readers out there.

I think it would have been helpful if there was a disclaimer that ‘these are the books that would fit for this particular audience’. As a black woman and as a reader, I think the list got some of the books right, but it could have used a little bit more seasoning and representation from authors of color. I think they were on point with Toni Morrison’s Song of Soloman and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”, but if I was putting together that list, I would throw some Zora Neale Hurston in there, some of Baldwin’s essays, some Edwidge Danticat, some Langston Hughes, some Maya Angelou, some Assata Shakur, some Octavia Butler, some Edward P. Jones, some Tayari Jones, some Chinua Achebe. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I wasn’t the only person who thought the list was dry – author Junot Diaz pointed out that he felt some folks were missing from the listing in this Facebook post - and I’m not nearly as well read as he. It might seem like no big deal, but as Vida stats and this count by critic Roxane Gay point out, there is a need for literary institutions and criticism to do a better job of being inclusive to books and writers outside of the mainstream experience. As America becomes browner and more diverse it only makes sense for literature to reflect those changes.

The point is, these lists need to be clear about who they are talking to. I get that it is targeted to 20-30 somethings, but we are a vast and multicultural group with vast and multicultural tastes and lives and we deserve discussions around literature that are far more robust.

[Book Review] – Americanah

Once again, welcome Keith Francis  a.k.a. “Wu Young, of Up Here On Cloud 9 to DopeReads for his review of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.

Last year, after completing Half of a Yellow Sun I realized one thing: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie can flat-out write. Adichie writes expertly layered characters that stick with the reader. Characters crafted by Adichie manage to elicit emotions, both positive and negative, that are aided by their placement in varying environments that help them push the storyline in compelling directions.

Fortunately, for the readers of her new novel, Americanah she continues this trend by pulling her readers into the world of two young Nigerians, Ifemelu (Ifem) and Obinze who fall in love as teens. It is the relationship of Ifem and Obinze that serve as the trunk of Americanah, supporting the novel and keeping is strong while themes of race, domestic Nigerian politics, class, natural hair, mental health, and desire all serve as branches that cover three continents. Continue reading

[Book Review] Little Green + Walter Mosley in DC!

Little Green is Walter Mosley’s 12th Easy Rawlins book, and reading it is a bit like watching Scandal – it’s breathless, a little far-fetched, full of strange and unexpected sex, and totally enthralling despite all that. Or maybe because of it.”

Peep the rest of my review of Walter Mosley’s new book, Little Green, over at PostBourgie.

And if you’re in the DC area and still need a Walter Mosley fix, check him out at Politics & Prose today (6/10) at 7:00 PM. Good times.

Spring Cleaning

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So these are (some of) the books that I found while doing my spring cleaning. Most of them were trapped in the corners and crevices behind my bed, and a couple were located in weird places in my living room. For some reason my books sneak off to the oddest places.

Here’s what I’m currently reading:

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What’s on your list for the weekend?

T.

[Book Review] Project Chick II: What’s Done In The Dark

Project Chick 2: What’s Done in the Dark,” released 3/12, is many things – infuriatingly melodramatic, clunkily-plotted, downright ratchet – but the one thing that it isn’t is boring. This book begins and ends on 10. It is the literary equivalent of Meek Mill shouting through subwoofer speakers, or TYPING IN ALL CAPS. And while it can be tiring for something crazy to always be popping off, it was nice to fully immerse oneself in a book as if you were a character, however ridiculously drawn you may be. This story delivered enough action and intrigue to keep me reading until the very last line.

Take, for instance, the opening line:

“Khalil ‘Lucky’ Foster sauntered out of the Star Bright strip club at 4:13 a.m. alone. A treacherous drug entrepreneur, Lucky had quickly risen to the upper ranks of Richmond’s underworld hierarchy.”

That sentence, in a nutshell, represents everything that is right and wrong with this book. The introduction of one of the main characters as a drug entrepreneur, as if the strip club is his office and he’s leaving after a long day’s work. The frustrating use of the verb ‘to have’ in the sentences (even though that *is* how some people talk). What struck me most, though, was the setting. As a native Richmonder I was surprised to see the Cap City in print, mostly because neither my hometown nor its inhabitants are that interesting in my opinion, but this book was determined to show me the seamy underbelly of Richmond that I never knew. I had always heard that Richmond was a big drug town but never really was exposed to what that meant, outside of Biggie’s “Cases in Virginia, Body in DC” lyric. Who knew he was actually serious? Turner sets the scene early on so you know exactly what you’re getting into and what types of people you are dealing with. This ain’t the Cosby Show. Continue reading

[Book Review] Letters to a Young Poet

If you are a writer in the market for some timeless wisdom, I’d suggest Mark Harman’s translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to A Young Poet.” I came to this book at a book swap  and it was exactly what I needed to help me sort out some issues creatively. It’s a slim volume, but so full of insight on what it means to pursue an artistic life. It actually took me an astonishingly long time to finish because I found myself wanting to pore over and savor each of the letters.

This book is a collection of letters to a young writer, who wrote Rilke seeking out advice from a seasoned professional. What is revealed in these letters  is how much stays the same in creative communities from generation to generation – even after all this time, it’s still hard to commit to the work if you are scared; sometimes life gets in the way; and sometimes you need advice from the big boys and experience before it can be figured out. In addition to writing advice there are nuggets about life in general, which Rilke offered freely.

Harman’s translation is supple – it reads poetically, even though it is a group of prose letters.  And the auxiliary information (introduction, etc.) added enough context about Rilke’s life and work to really make the letters shine. If you’re a poet and you know it, or just an artist looking for a boost, pick this book up.

You can cop it at Amazon.