Black Country Music

Royster, Francesca T. Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions. University of Texas, Austin, 2022.

Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing. Every once in a while I review something.
On the surface, Royster will give you musical biographies of Tina Turner, Darius Rucker, Charlie Pride, Beyonce, Valarie June, Rhiannon Giddens, and Lil Nas X. Delving deeper, Royster takes you behind the curtain and into the dark heart of country music. A place where some songs sung by white people are most likely referring to slavery, the KKK, or white supremacy. The Black country community is singing about much the same things, but from a different and more significant reality. Royster’s research in Black Country Music is thorough. She makes mention of more musicians than I have ever heard of. A near complete list is at the end of this review. The analysis of mistrel traditions was fascinating. Royster’s self-prescribed goal of writing Black Country Music was to capture the heart and emotion of Black country music and, in my opinion, she succeeded in finding that revolution for which she was listening.
In all honesty, Royster gave me more questions to ponder. As a musician, does the sound you chose to create identify you as a person? Do you have to “be” country music or heavy metal in order to perform that particular sound or can you go where the money is? Can you “be” pop if that is what sells? What about if you “cross over” or collaborate with someone outside your prescribed genre? Are you defined by the instruments you use or the tenor of your voice?

As an aside, I questioned the meaning behind the kiss between Wllie Nelson and Charlie Pride. I have never thought about Willie or Charlie in a bromance kind of way, so it was an interesting slant to question the nature of a gesture fraught with potential intimacy. Another aside: I watched the video for “Wagon Wheel” and I got a completely different take than Royster. While, yes, there is one part where Darius is kept from entering a bar, but I felt it was because he wasn’t paying the cover and the bouncer had no idea Darious was the entertainment for the night. That happens all the time. Royster also makes frequent mention of the women Darius’s videos being pale skinned. Surely she has seen his wife? The women in both “Wagon Wheel” and “If I Told You” videos look a lot like his partner, Beth.

Confessional: I have always believed the power of music can make statements, move emotions, and mobilize a revolution. I am a lyrics junkie. I love picking apart what people say in music. I am not a fan of “ooh baby, baby” or a great deal of repetition. How many times can you hear “little pink houses” in one four minute song? So, when Royston talked about Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” my eyes were opened wide to a different side of the story. Much like how for years have tried to figure out what Phil Collins was trying to say in “In the Air Tonight”, I couldn’t wrap my brain around Lynrd Skynyrd. To be fair, their music is not high on my list of pleasurable listening so it’s not like I listened closely or sought them out to solve the mystery.
Another confessional: I had never heard of the subgenre of Atlanta-based trap drums.

Playlist: Aaron Neville, Alice Randall, Amythyst Kiah’s “Black Myself” and “I’ll Fly Away”, , Al Green’s “For the Good times”, Al Jolson, Allison Russell’s “You Are Not Alone”, Anderson.Paak’s “Lockdown”, Ariana Grande, Beatles’s “Get Back”, Bela Fleck, Bessie Smith, Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons” “Sorry”, “Hold Up” “Black Parade”, and “All Night”, Billy Ocean’s “Suddenly”, Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart”, Billy Whitlock, Birds of Chicago, Blanco Brown’s “The Git Up”, Bob Dylan, Bobby Womack, Boyz to Men, Brad Paisley, Breland’s “My Trusk”, , Brittany Howard, “Brown Girl in the Ring”, “Brown Sugar”, BT’s “RM”, Cameo’s “Word Up”, and “She’s Strange”, Cardi B., Carla Thomas’s “Call Me a Fool”, Carolina Chocolate Drops’s “Leaving Eden”, “One Dollar Bill”, and “Texas Easy Street”, the Carter Family, Charlie Daniels Band, Charley Pride, Chase Rise, the Chicks’s “Long Time Gone” and “Goodbye Earl”, Childish Gambino, Chris Stapleton, Clint Black, “Country Honk”, Commodores, Cowboy Troy, “Cripple Creek”. Con Funk Shun, Crystal Gayle, Cupcake, Da Butt, Daddy Yankee, Dan Emmett, Darious Rucker’s “It Won’t Be Like This for Long”, “Wagon Wheel”, “Homegrown Honey”, “Southern Style”, “If I Told You”, “Going to Hell”, “Drinkin’ and Dialin'”, “Beer and Sunshine”, “Why Things Happen”, “History in the Making”, “Alright”, and “Don’t Think I Don’t Know About It”, DeFord Bailey’s “Fox Chase”, DeLila Black, Diana Ross, Diplo, Dolly Parton, Dom Flemons, Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, Drake, Eagles’s “Desperado”, Earth, Wind and Fire, “Electric Slide”, Elizabeth Cotten, Elvie Thomas, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, Emmett Miller, Etta Baker’s “Railroad Bill”, and “Carolina Breakdown”, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Francesco Turrisi, Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”, Garth Brooks’s “Rodeo”, Geeshie Wiley, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”, George Jones, George Wallace, Glen Campbell, Grace Jones, Gus Cannon, Hank Snow, Hank Williams’s “Lovesick Blues”, Harry Belafonte, Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Let Her Cry”, “I Just Want to Be With You”, and “Hold My Hand”, Horace Weston, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Isley Brothers’s “Shout”, Jake Blount, James Brown, James Taylor, Jay-Z, Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.”, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Jett Holden, Jim Reeve’s “This World Is Not My Home (I’m Just Passing Through)”, Jimmie Allen, Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”, Jimmie Rogers, Joe Thompson, Johnny Cash, Jump Jim Crow, Justin Bieber, Kara Kater, Kamara Thomas’s “My Kentucky”, Kansas, Kanye West’s “Spaceship”, “Keeping it on the One”, Keith Richards, Kendrick Lemar, Kenny Rogers, Khalid’s “Talk”, Kid Rock, Kris Kristopherson, the Kronos Quartet, “Lady Marmalade”, Laura Love, Leadbelly, Lewis Capaldi’s “Somebody You Loved”, Leyla Hathaway, Leyla McCalla’s “I Knew I Could Fly”, , Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”, “Monero (Call Me By Your Name)”, and “That’s What I Want”, Lil Wayne, Lilli Lewis, “The Loco Motion”, “Lil’ Liza Jane”, Linda Martell’s “Color Him Father” and “Bad Case of the Blues”, Lionel Richie’s “Stuck on You”, “Little Sally Walker”, Lizzo’s “Juice”, Lynette Williams, Lynryd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”, Ma Rainey, Mac Davis, Madonna, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear’s “Down in Mississippi”, “Mama’s Been Cryin’ Long”, Mariah Carey, Marty Robbins, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, Mason Ramsey, Master Juba, Mavis Staples, Megan Thee Stallion, Mel Tillis, Merle Haggard, “Merry Mack”, Merry Clayton, Mick Jagger, Mickey Guyton, Mills Brother’s “If I Don’t Care”, Miko Marks’s “Freeway Bound”, Miley Cyrus’s “Slide Away”, Millie Jackson, “Moon Meets the Sun”, Muddy Waters, Mumford and Sons, Nas, Neil Young’s “Southern Man”, Nelly, Nina Simone, Nine Inch Nails, Oakridge Boys’s “Elvira”, Odetta, Our Native Daughters, Parliment Funkadelic’s “Mothership Connect”, Patsy Cline, Patti Labelle, P.J. Morse’s “Bayou Song”, Phil Spector’s “River Deep – Mountain high”, Polly Johnson’s “The Three Maids”, Porter Wagoner, Prince, Queen Esther, Ray Charles, Radney Baker, Reverend Gary Davis, Rhiannon Giddens’s “Mama’s Crying Long”, Rick James, Rico Nasty, Rissi Palmer’s “Country Girl”, Rita Coolidge, RMR, Robert Johnson, “Rock Lobster”, Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”, Rolling Stones’s “Honky Tonk Women”, Ronnie Van Zant, Roy Clark, Roy Orbison, Shawn Mendez and Camilla Cabello’s “Senorita”, “Shortnin’ Bread”, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Solange Knowles’s “Almeda” and “Binz”, Star De Azlan, Stevie Wonder, Styx, Sule Greg Wilson, Swamp Dogg, Taj Mahal’s “Colored Aristocracy”, Tammy Wynett, T.I., Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits”, “Help Me Make It Through the Night”, “A Fool in Love”, “Private Dancer”, “Proud Mary”, and “Funky Worm”, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”, Tom T. Hall, Toots Thieleman, Toshi Reagan, Tracy Chapman, Valerie June’s “Shotgun”, “The No Draws Blues”. “Workin’ Woman Blues”, “Tennessee Time”, “Astral Weeks”, “Somebody to Love”, and “Organic Moonshine Riots Music”, Vince Staples, Virginia Minstrels, “Watch Me [Whip/Nae Nae]”, Waylon Jennings, Whitney Houston’s “You Give Good Love” Willie Nelson, Woody Guthrie, Yo Yo Ma, Yola, “You are My Sunshine”, “You Don’t Know Me”, Young Thug, and “Your Cheating Heart”.

Kindred

Butler, Octavia, E. Kindred. Read by Kim Staunton. Audio Books, 2007.

Reason read: The audio book for Kindred was released on September 12th, 2007. Read in honor of that event. I also needed a book with a one word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

This was a hard read. I know what Butler was trying to do and it worked almost too well. Even just reading the fact that nigger was not a derogatory term in southern Maryland in 1815 was painful. I didn’t know how I would get through the much, much, much harsher treatment of slaves, but I did. Dana, a modern woman from the 1970s, finds herself time-traveling back to pre-Civil War Maryland. At first it seems as if Dana is going back in time to protect the future of her very existence. It’s much deeper than that. There were many themes introduced in Kindred. Probably the most profound theme surrounded literacy. The ability to read was controversial in the mid 1800s. Seen as a threat to whites, cherished as a secret communication for slaves, the ability to read symbolized power and a different form of freedom. Confessional: after Dana’s first jump I was disturbed by her early acceptance of time travel. She wasn’t as freaked out about time jumping between present day Los Angeles and slave era Maryland as I thought realistic. Add in the fact she accidentally took her white husband with her and a whole other dynamic gets introduced. Another confessional: I read this so fast I can barely remember the details except to say the violence stayed with me for a very long time, even if the entire plot didn’t.

Author fact: Butler passed away in 2006.

Book trivia: I could picture this being a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl only includes Kindred in a list of books about time travel one might enjoy.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Time Travel” (p 221).

Jazz

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. Alfred A Knopf, 1992.

Reason read: while it is not accurate, I read Jazz in honor of May being music month.

Joe and Violet are in the business of beauty. Joe sells cosmetics door to door and his wife is a home-visiting hairdresser. Usually a straight up and dependable man, Joe falls in obsessive love with a teenager named Dorcas. His passion for Dorcas forces him to kill her. At her funeral, in a fit of jealous insanity Joe’s wife, Violet, attempts to slash the dead girl’s face while she lay in her coffin. Violent Violet then goes home to free all of her pet birds. Her rage makes her human. The smartest character in the book is the City. I like the way the City makes people think they can do whatever they want and get away with it. The culture is full of passions, both right and wrong. Jazz will also take you back to July 1917, a time when Grandmother True Belle (great name) was afraid of Springfield, Massachusetts. (Kind of funny since I work in that urban area and sometimes I, too, am afraid of Springfield, Massachusetts.) Morrison’s vivid descriptions of culture are breathtaking.

Lines I loved, “Can’t rival the dead for love” (p 15) and “Two dollars will get you a woman on a store-bought scooter if you want it” (p 46). I have no idea what that means.

Playlist: Wings Over Jordan

Author fact: Princeton University could boast that Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison was on their payroll.

Book trivia: Jazz is part of the Dantesque Trilogy: Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise X.

Nancy said: Pearl used the words “jazzy syncopation” to describe Jazz.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Say” (p 12).

Invisible Man

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage, 1995.

Reason read: February is National Black History Month.

Invisible Man’s nameless southern protagonist forces the reader to run the gamut of emotions: by turns we are frightened, touched, shocked, amused, even pitying and hopeful. When we first meet him, he lives on the hem of society in an unused part of the basement of a building for whites. He steals shelter and electricity like a boogeyman. He is truly invisible. There comes a point in time when he tries to reach the light by going to college only to be expelled after being accused of offending a white man. Invisible again. Through various trials and tribulations this nameless young man finally makes it to New York where he is confronted with the reality of his race. His lack of identity allows him to be mistaken for someone else. As he becomes more and more invisible, the more and more I wanted him to rage against it. The problem is, when you are a young black man trying to escape the white man’s thumb in the 1940s, rage is the last emotion you are allowed to express. Every endeavor leads him closer to destruction. Like a horror movie, I wanted to read Invisible Man with one eye closed against all the gross misunderstandings prejudice and racism can bring.

Quote to quote, “The light is the truth, and truth is the light” (p 7).

Author fact: Ellison was a literary scholar and essayist in addition to a novelist.

Book trivia: Modern Library called Invisible Man one of the top 100 novels of all time. Others have used words like monumental and epic to describe it. It won a National Book Award in 1953.

Playlist: Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue?” Dvorak’s New World Symphony, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Old Man river,”

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Invisible Man except to include it in a list of one hundred good reads.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1950s” (p 177).

Liar’s Game

Dickey, Eric Jerome. Liar’s Game. Rockland, MA: Wheel Publishing, Inc., 2000.

Reason read: Read in recognition of Black History month being in February. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Reading challenge for the category of a book written in multiple perspectives.

Vincent Calvary Browne, Jr. is a Negro Black Man trying to date after divorce. His ex-wife cheated. Adding insult to injury, she left him taking their three year old daughter out of the country. Baggage, baggage, baggage. Dana Ann Smith is a single woman trying to land on her feet in Los Angeles after leaving heavy debts and an even heavier romance in New York. Baggage, baggage, baggage. When Vince and Dana meet they are immediately attracted to one another. They seem like the perfect fit. However, in an effort to present their best selves to one another they hide their secrets under a pile of lies and more lies. Sooner or later, those lies start to reveal themselves as the couple gets more and more involved and Dana’s ex arrives from New York. Can Dana see beyond Vince’s lie about never being married or having children? Can she respect him as a father with an ex-wife? Can Vince hear Dana over the warning bells about her debt? Can he trust she is truly over her rich and hunky ex? What makes Liar’s Game so much fun is the varying perspectives of the same story. As the saying goes, there are are always three sides to every story: his side, her side, and the truth. Dickey gives us all three.
A word of warning – the writing is a little dated. In today’s society, I don’t think many people would consider a cell phone a piece of technology for players.
I have to admit even though the sex scenes were a bit cliché it was refreshing to see a condom play a major role in the hot and heavy relationships. There is even a scene when the condom gets “lost.”

Simple but great lines to quote, “Hard living and bad loving ages a man” (p 2), “A smile is the shortest distance between two people” (p 6).

Author fact: Dickey died of cancer in January of this year. Sad.

Book trivia: I could see this as a movie or a daytime soap opera.

Nancy said: Pearl mentions Liar’s Game as another good example of fiction written by an African American male.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “African American Fiction: He Say” (p 13).

Blanche on the Lam

Neely, Barbara. Blanche on the Lam. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

Reason read: January is Mystery month. Reading Blanche on the Lam in honor of the month. Additionally, for the Portland Public Library 2021 Reading Challenge, I needed a book for category of Agatha Award winner.

Blanche White is a special kind of sassy woman; not your average maid. When we first meet her in Farleigh, North Carolina, she is waiting to go to jail; convicted of writing bad checks. This is her second offense so she knows the judge is going to throw the book at her: thirty days in jail if only to set an example. When she unexpectedly finds an opportunity to slip away from the bailiff, she takes it quiet as you please. Just slips out the back door of the courthouse.
Through a series of misunderstandings Blanche ends up working as “the help” for an upper class white family: Everette, Grace, Mumsfield, and Aunt Emmeline. Luckily, Blanche has her wicked humor and uncanny intuition because from the moment she starts working for the family, she can tell something is wrong with all of them except mentally challenged Mumsfield. It wasn’t just from eavesdropping on Everett’s conversation with the sheriff, despite the sheriff’s death the very next day. It wasn’t from observing the odd behavior of alcoholic and seemingly senile Aunt Emmeline, who never leaves her room. It wasn’t from the gardener who perishes in an “accidental” house fire. It was from watching and talking with Mumsfield. From the moment they met Blanche had a special connection to the boy; he was always on her radar whether she liked it or not.
Blanche on the Lam, while humorous also carries the stark reality of sexism, racism and prejudice. Neely deftly weaves these sobering themes through an otherwise funny plot.

As an aside, I listened to an audio recording of Blanche on the Lam read by Lisa Renee Pitts. Her performance was brilliant.

Author fact: Blanche on the Lam is Barbara Neely’s first novel.

Book trivia: Blanche on the Lam won the Agatha Award in 1992.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Blanche on the Lam.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 119).

High Cotton

Johnson, Kristie Robin. High Cotton: Essays. Clearwater, Florida: Raised Voices, 2020.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, this was the July 2020 selection.

While Johnson’s book is categorized as a collection of essays, her crystal clear voice trills bright honesty and makes this a captivating memoir on multiple levels: what it means to be an African American woman in the volatile twenty-first century (in addition to being the sixth generation of a family who can be trace their ancestral past to slavery in Deep South Georgia). Adding to the cultural, economic, and societal battles, Johnson is a woman with personal strife: family addictions, histories of abuse, teenage pregnancy, and ever-constant poverty. How does one explain a manicure while buying food on welfare? Why does one even need to explain? There, in a succinct nutshell, is reality of millions. Other realities include the ever-constant reminder that racism and gender bias are alive and well in our country.
My only complaint? Because the essays were so autobiographical in nature I wanted more structure in the way of chronology.

Confessional: I read On Being Human by Jennifer Pastiloff at the same time and I have to admit, their stories were so similar that I would sometimes confuse the two.

Confessional two: No. More of a question: why does one have to be a rape “victim” in order to acknowledge the bravery of an accuser coming forward? Better yet, why would acknowledging the bravery of Cosby’s accusers force one to “unearth” one’s uncomfortable truth? Couldn’t Kristie stand on the side of women who allege they fell prey to a man of wealth and power (regardless of their (or her) skin color)?

Nervous Conditions

Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. Oxford: Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2004.

Reason read: March is African Writers Month.

Line I liked a lot, “She began to prepare me for disappointment long before I would have been forced to face up to it” (p 20).

As an adult recalling her childhood, Tambudzai remembers spending most of her formative years constantly questioning the right action to take, not only as a representative of her Rhodesian culture, but as a woman in a male dominated society. It is the 1960s and her missionary uncle has given her the opportunity to attend his school. He is the provider, the all-powerful headmaster, capable of shaping Tambu’s future or tearing it down on a whim. She recalls enduring endless lectures from him, nagging reminders of how lucky she was to be given the opportunity for mental emancipation. She wouldn’t have gotten the chance had his first choice, her brother, not died. Indeed, as soon as Tambu entered his household Tambu began to learn new things: how to hold a fork, the proper way to use a toilet, take a bath, or shut out a light. She endures a love-hate relationship with her cousin, a girl with the same restless desires to break free of societal trappings.
Favorite line, “Her seriousness changed from sweet, soft dove into something more like a wasp” (p 101).

Author fact: Dangarembga has written a great deal, but I am only reading Nervous Conditions for the Challenge. This is her first novel.

Book trivia: Nervous Conditions was Dangarembga’s first novel.

Nancy said: after Pearl wrote Book Lust people started to ask her about titles she had omitted. Nervous Conditions was one such title. Pearl called the opening line to Nervous Conditions “provocative.”

BookLust Twist: This is a popular one: from Book Lust in the chapter “African Literature in English” (p 16). Also in More Book Lust in two places, the introduction (p xi), and again in the chapter called “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).

February’s Finale

What to tell you? I spent February in a tailspin of old memories. To blame it on one singular event would be too simplistic. As they say, it’s complicated. Very. In other news I have been running! Successfully, I might add. February saw 40 miles conquered. Here are the books planned and completed:

Fiction:

  • Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez (EB & print).
  • Little Havana Blues edited by Julia Poey and Virgil Suarez (EB & print).
  • The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (EB, AB & print).
  • The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (EB & print).

Nonfiction:

  • All Deliberate Speed: reflections on the first half century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr (EB & print).
  • Barrow’s Boys by Fergus Fleming (EB & print).
  • Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark (EB & print).

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • The 21: a journey into the land of the Coptic martyrs by Martin Mosebach (just started reading).

Leisure (print only):

  • Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders: The Power of Human Migration and the Way That Walls and Bans Are No Match for Bravery and Hope by ICPBS.
  • Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock.
  • Morning Star by Nick Bantock.
  • The Museum at Purgatory by Nick Bantock.
  • Alexandria by Nick Bantock.
  • The Gryphon by Nick Bantock.

All Deliberate Speed

Ogletree, Charles. All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.

Reason read: February is the month to celebrate Civil Rights. Well, we should be proactively doing something all year long…

You could call All Deliberate Speed a history book as it is filled with didactic chapters and faculty could use it as a textbook, but I would argue it is more of a beautifully written memoir. Ogletree shares his personal reflections on the civil rights decision of Brown v. Board of Education, the conundrum of legalized racial inequality, and how the words “all deliberate speed” allowed the end of segregation to become a reality at a snail’s pace. Rest assured, this isn’t an autobiography. Ogletree doesn’t delve too deep into his personal life with the exception of how it relates to the topic at hand and his part in it. Ogletree writes, not as one who did his homework on a singular subject, as one standing outside the topic at hand, but rather as one who actually lived the history and had a tangible part of the action. “Present at the creation,” if you will. Ogletree’s narration is as much from fact as it is from memory.

The tradition of “Black Graduation” at Stanford originated as a protest of which author Ogletree had a part.

As an aside, I always love it when an author rights a wrong. Somehow there was a research error and Professor Jack Balkin was not given credit. Ogletree made a point to mention that.

Author fact: Ogletree has a strong family history connection to Brown v. Board of Education.

Book trivia: The black and white photographs in All Deliberate Speed are great.

Nancy said: Pearl called All Deliberate Speed “excellent.” Agreed.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Civil Rights and Wrongs” (p 49).

December Ends

December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:

Fiction:
Aguero Sisters  by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe


Nonfiction:
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s  by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)

Series Continuations:
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child

A Long Way From Home

Briscoe, Connie. A Long Way From Home. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

Reason read: Briscoe’s birth month is Devember. Read in her honor.

Clara starts off as a nearly eleven year old slave, owned by former president James Madison. As she grows up, she struggles to conform to the polite, obedient, and subservient ways of her mother and aunts, all house slaves in the Montpelier mansion. The inevitable and imminent death of President Madison means unclear futures for all of his slaves, field and house. Whispered questions like, ‘when he finally died would they be freed?’ ‘Could they stay on the plantation, especially if it is all they ever knew?’ scatter through hallways like runaway marbles on a tile floor. Would Madison’s slaves even have a choice? What no one saw coming was Madison’s awful stepson, Todd, taking over as Massa of Montpelier. His attraction to Clara sets off a terrible chain of events and life changes for everyone involved.
This is supposed to be the story of three generations of house slaves: Susie, Clara, and Susan. Susie is barely in the story, but Clara passes on her feisty nature to her daughter Susan. When Susan is sold away to satisfy a debt, readers follow her coming of age, growth into womanhood, and emerging sense of independence.
Aside from a great character story, A Long Way From Home is a fantastic historical fiction. Events of the Civil War described in detail color the fate of the south and give the story an interesting perspective.

Telling quotes, “These days, no one wearing a skirt at Montpelier ever slept alone when Mass Todd and his buddies were around” (p 70).

Author fact: According the back flap of A Long Way From Home Briscoe is a descendant of the slaves on the Madison family plantation. This story is her story.

Book trivia: I could see this made into a movie. It has an important story to tell so why isn’t it a movie?

Nancy said: Pearl said to consider A Long Way From Home for the reading list when considering African American fiction written by women.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Says” (p 16).

December’s Comfort

December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:

Fiction:

  • The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
  • A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.

Nonfiction:

  • A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
  • Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
  • Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.

Series Continuations:

  • Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
  • The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.

Good Night Willie Lee

Walker, Alice. Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning. SanDiego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.

Reason read: Walker’s birth month is in February.

Here’s how I read Good Night Willie Lee. I inhaled a poem, held my breath to ponder the collection of words within it, and exhaled my understanding of the connection to life. One poem at a time. Like rhythmic yoga breaths; like steady waves upon the shore, I took my time with each one of them. Each poem deserved to be fully digested as such. For when you read Walker’s poetry you get the sense she died a little with each offering. A small offering of her soul mixed with the words.

Favorite line – from the poem called Confession: “through cracks in the conversation.” What a beautiful image.

Author fact: Walker also wrote Meridian and Possessing the Secret of Joy, two novels also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: the last poem in the book explains the title. I picture her father’s funeral.

Nancy said: Pearl said that Walker is best known for her award winning novel, The Color Purple, but “readers shouldn’t miss her poetry” (Book Lust p 2).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A…My Name is Alice” (p 1).

Well-Read Black Girl

Edim, Glory, ed. Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves. New York: Ballantine Books, 2018.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, this was the November selection.

I am not a Black girl, nor am I a girl anymore. So. So what am I doing requesting to read and review Edim’s anthology, Well-Read Black Girl? I’ll tell you why. As a librarian, I want to be prepared for anyone of any color, of any age, of any self-identified gender, anyone at all to ask me for a book recommendation. Librarians, take note: Edim puts together a well-crafted and thoughtful list of books to read. Like Nancy Pearl in her Lust books, Edim compiles recommendations for all types of reading: genres like classics, fantasy, science fiction, plays and poetry; or themes like feminism, childhood, and friendship. There is a book for that. And that. That, too. Despite the wealth of information in Edim’s various lists I actually loved the essays even more. Women with varying careers and backgrounds and life experiences weigh in on what book meant the most to her or had a lasting impact while growing up. You hear from not just authors, journalists and playwrights but an activist, an actress, a producer; people outside the realm of putting pen to paper. It is a joy they share their thoughts with eloquence and grit. Their stories truly bring a deeper meaning to the books they mention. Their words make you want to go back and reread the stories with a different perspective.

Interesting overlap – I had just finished reading Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund when I got to Barbara Smith’s essay, “Go Tell It.” When talking about her own childhood Smith remembers Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Carol Denise McNair.