Reading Plan: African-American History Month

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Just as I did last year in February, I’m interested in focusing my reading on books about POCs (specifically people of African descent) and by POCs (again of African descent). So I’ve pulled together a small pile of books from my TBR (plus 1-2 from the library), and thus begins JOMP’s recognition and celebration of Black History Month.

Af-AM books

From bottom to top:

  • The Known World – Edward P. Jones (F)
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker (F)
  • Native Son – Richard Wright (F)
  • Saturday is for Funerals – Unity Dow/Max Essex (NF)
  • Kaffir Boy – Mark Mathabane (NF)
  • They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky – Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, Benjamin Ajak (with Judy A. Bernstein)
  • Bud, Not Buddy – Christopher Paul Curtis (YA F)
  • Mighty be our Powers – Lemah Gbowee (NF)

Not pictured include:

  • Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates (NF)

(And the two rectangles are titles whose authors don’t meet the criteria that I’ve set for this month. I’ll read them at some point, but just not at the moment.)

I’m excited to do this again this year, and I’m looking forward to some great reads!

 

Aya: Love in Yop City – Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (2013)

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This was another good read from Abouet and Oubrerie. (See my review of the first volume here.) Still set on the Ivory Coast in Western Africa, the story continues to follow Aya (now a young woman at university) and her small circle of friends. This Aya is a more mature character, although still young in situations, and she works her way through various issues: boyfriend problems, love and friendship issues, loyalty and other weighty subjects, all of which are handled in a realistic fashion. (Another reason that I enjoy the Aya series: she’s a female role model with problems that a lot of people worldwide can recognize regardless of where they live.)

Aya now has more grown-up challenges to deal with: sexual harassment from an authority figure, rumor and speculation, LBQT issues – and so the story is gradually woven together with several threads. Along side these, the narrative also jumps from city to village in Cote D’Ivoire but also to Paris at times. So not only does the reader have to contend with a large number of fairly random characters, the story also jumps very suddenly from an African village to the arrôndisements of Paris without much explanation.

It’s a lot to keep up with, dear reader, and I must confess that when I had finished my initial reading, I was mightily confused as to who was who and why they were doing what they were doing with whom they were doing it and where they were doing it.

(To prevent this experience, I would recommend that (a) you read Aya Volume I fairly close to reading this volume, and (b) you study the friends/family diagrams at the front of the book.)

So although I was so confused about everything and everyone in the story when I had finished, I still went back and read it through again. Why? Because my initial experience of enjoying the read of Volume I had me convinced that I was missing a lot and should read it again, hoping that the narrative would make more sense this time around. It did. In fact, it was a completely different reading experience this second time around, and I was glad I had taken the time to do that. Learning who the characters were and how they related to one another was like unlocking a code to the narrative so I highly suggest that you take the time. LFMF.

As with Aya Volume I, this was an enjoyable read about a smaller country in Africa during a time when it was fairly stable both economically and politically speaking, and where its residents enjoyed fairly normal lives with fairly average concerns and not the huge staggering problems (a la LiveAid) that one usually associates with the continent such as HIV/AIDS, hunger and drought.

I am so glad that I stayed the course and read it through that second time. Hopefully, you won’t have to do a second read, but if you do, just know that it’s worth it. Great art work as well.

 

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 109

cowboy_big_drink

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day three years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

Catch-Up Time…

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I’m still recovering from my December brain surgery, but progress is good and I’m gaining more energy and more concentration/memory every day. I occasionally have troubling finding the exact word that I’m looking for every now and then, but am learning to just pause until I can grasp the correct term. I wonder if this is my “new normal”, as they say? We will see as it is still early days (only six weeks post-surgery).

I’m also back at work (mostly) full-time and work is picking up very fast which is mostly fun and exciting.

Reading is coming back slowly but surely, but my January #s will be low as I still get distracted and/or fall asleep rather quickly. (See above paragraph re: energy levels.)

book365I did finish up a lovely read of the recently published “Village Christmas and Other Notes on the English Year” by Laurie Lee. (See my review of As I Walked out One Midsummer Morning here. My reading of “Cider with Rosie” was pre-blog but loved it. ) This volume was more of a collection of reminiscences of his rural childhood (you can tell he misses those early days) along with some pretty grumpy essays about “modern progress”. (These were mostly written in the 1950’s and Lee was clearly turning on his inner Grumpy Old Man for a number of these chapters. Not so fun to read as the others.) Overall good.

I also finished up “Oliver Twist” (Dickens) which was a lovely rambling saga. I may not have blogged about it, but that was more a question of time than of reading quality. I encourage you to read some Dickens if you can. He is a master scribe. :-)

ebwhite

Speaking of essays (linking back to Lee earlier in the post), I also finished up “The Points of my Compass,” a collection of essays by E. B. White (above illustration), a book that I had found with glee at last autumn’s FoL book sale. Similar to the Lee book above, it was a mixed batch of joyful old memories combined with essays about world politics. These were written during the heyday of the Cold War, and not being so familiar with much of that, a lot of what he wrote went way over my head as I don’t know the names etc. I skimmed most of those, but there were some good essays in between.

ladybirds

My lovely mum sent me the recent Ladybird books in the “How it Works” series: “The Wife” and “The Husband”. Sort of snarky tongue in cheek guidebooks for people in relationships, these two small books are worth tracking down as they match the old classic Ladybird illustrations with questionable advice on the habits and lifestyle of human wives and husbands (or whatever combination you’re working with). J

And outside, the weather here in Texas is starting to become rather spring-like, despite it being early February. Temperatures vacillate rather wildly from temps below freezing when we wake up to mid-70’s when we leave the office at 5p, and then falling very fast again once the sun goes down. This reminds me of being in the mountains for the sudden and rapid drop in temperatures post sunset.) So – lots of dressing in layers right now.

And then I’m preparing for a reading project to start next week in the beginning of February, which I’m rather looking forward to. (Whoops. Ending a sentence in a proposition there. Sorry.) It’s rather fun to have a themed reading series every now and then, but I’ll give you the scoop in a day or two. (Mean, aren’t I?)

Hmm. This turned into rather a longish post from the last couple of months. If you’re still reading, I applaud you and thank you. Here’s some Gatorade to help you recover.) :-)

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 109

cowboy_cowtales

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 109: Cow Tales sweeties.

 

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day three years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

We Should All be Feminists -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2012)

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A book based upon Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, this was a short but powerful read about a topic that’s been pivotal in world issues for more than a century now. Feminism remains an important subject, but why – even now – is it still an issue that needs to be discussed? You’d think that since we are now in the 21st century that equal pay for equal work, the right to vote, et al. would be old news, but the fact remains that it’s not for a large part of the world around us.

Why does it still warrant special focus for a huge part of the world’s population either through being affected by it (as women) or through being the other half of the human race?

Enough about how things still need to evolve. This title is a quick read and a good reminder of how far we’ve come in some nations (like most of the Western countries) and how far it has to go in others (such as in Nigeria, the author’s home country).

It also discusses how the term “feminism” may be viewed by different people. For some in the Millennial generation (at least in my own experience), I’ve heard it argued that we don’t “need” feminism any more and/or the old saw of being a feminist means being a men-hater braless radical stuck in the 70’s.

I am curious if perhaps some of these perspectives may stem from the “familiarity breeds contempt” philosophy in that some of these young adults have always had the right to vote, the right to have a career (or not), to control the size of their family etc.

And, interestingly enough, the book discusses the argument of “Why women’s rights? Why not human rights?” When I first read it, I was taken aback – why not human rights? But after putting some thought into this and when you parse it down, they are still two different things and it ends up comparing apples to oranges. True – there is some overlap between the two, but at the foundation, they are very separate issues. It would be brilliant if everybody across the planet had the same rights and we all lived in this perfect world.

Unfortunately, we don’t so I think that when more than half of the world’s population is affected by these challenges, it’s important. It’s also critical to remember that there are still a lot of countries wherein women don’t have even the most basic of rights: voting, property ownership, birth control, the right to not get beaten up, the right not to become actual property herself (i.e. “belong” to her father, brother, husband, cousin…)

As you can tell, this is something that I’m passionate about. My philosophy is along the lines of “If someone died to give you this right, then you should appreciate the sacrifice and engage in that right” (i.e. voting for women and disenfranchised groups etc.). And yet so many people don’t engage in that right. Everyone has an opinion on the current political candidates, and yet our city (pretty comparable to other mid-sized cities in the US) only had a 15% voter turnout last year. My own belief is that if you choose not to vote, then you have lost the credibility to gripe about our political system

We have a state university here with about 36,000 students, and yet voting figures are even lower than the community standards with only about 10% casting their ballots. College students are a weird group though – they may never had voted before (too young), they might not know how to actually vote, their friends might not vote (and this population is very focused on peer behavior), they might not feel connected to either local or state politics, it’s not important to them…

The list of excuses can be long, but how to address those excuses? It will be really interesting to see if anything’s different in the 2016 presidential elections later in the year in the US.

So, back to the book and off the soapbox. This was a provocative read and I enjoyed being challenged to think more deeply on the issues. A good read which led to more thinking – always a good thing in my book.

2015 Annual Reading Review

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Finally, I got the energy and information together to summarize what I read last year and what an interesting (and tough, if I’m honest) year it was. An interim job promotion took over the majority of the months in late Spring to mid Fall, and the totals look a little sad due to my business then. However, couldn’t help that and besides – who’s measuring totals?

So to the main figures:

  • 72 books in total
  • 35 F / 30 NF, 2 plays, 1 collection of poetry
  • 35% were books that I already owned (go, me), 29 library books, 4 e-books
  • 10 were inter-library loans (ILL): 5 graphic novels, 4 NF, 1 F
  • An even 50/50 split on male/female authors
  • 20% were POC (authors)
  • 1 DNF (but I rarely struggle too long with a potential DNF so hard to tell)
  • Average 6 books/month
  • 15,659 pages in total (av. 224 pp/month)
  • 4 from 19th century, 32 from 20th century, and 33 from 21st century
  • Shortest: 48 pp (Child’s Christmas in Wales)
  • Longest: 554 pp (Oliver Twist)

Oh, and I really enjoyed reading more by (and about) POC so will definitely be picking up more from that category. It’s a whole new world with a new perspective for me to explore and I’ve really enjoying entering it. Expect more of that in 2016!

So to the titles (in no particular order of preference or pub date):

Fiction:

  • Like One of the Family – Alice Childress
  • The Country Girls Trilogy – Edna O’Brien
  • The Diary of a Nobody – Weedon and George Grossman
  • Annie John – Jamaica Kincaid
  • The two I have read of Paule Marshall’s work – new author to me
  • Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

Non-Fiction:

  • So We Read On (about the Great Gatsby) – Maureen Corrigan
  • Readings – Michael Dirda
  • Once Upon a Quinceanera – Julie Alvarez
  • The 50’s: Women’s Oral History – Brett Harvey
  • American Notes – Charles Dickens
  • Yellow Woman and a Spirit of a Bear – Leslie Mann Silko
  • 12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northrup
  • Letters from New York – Helen Hanff (pure delight for me to read)

Classics (according to the Dictionary of Me):

  • Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens (apart from the whole plot giveaway about 2/3 in)
  • Child’s Christmas in Wales – Dylan Thomas (annual Christmas reading)
  • 12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northrup
  • Aurora Floyd – M. E. Bradden
  • So Long a Letter – Mariama
  • Diary of a Nobody – Weedon and George Grossman

Graphic Novels:

Hands-down winners were volume I and II of John Lewis’s The March about the early Civil Rights struggle in the U.S.