American Gods by Neil Gaiman, 10th Anniversary Edition, Enhanced Edition

I finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  The first book I’ve read by this author.  For me, it was an epic read.  I never thought the book would end and even after it ended, there was an interview with the author, a reading group discussion guide, and words by the author.  The first 1/3rd of the book I was leaning toward not finishing it…but a little further and I was beginning to “get it” and it had me pondering and wondering and questioning about our society and how it is structured and what drives it.  What does it mean for a country to call itself a melting pot and what happens to the cultures, beliefs, ways of life to those who melt?  It was a very visual read that created a world that engulfed me in the last half of the book.  The movie, The Book of Eli, is a good companion to this read although they are two separate worlds but the theme of faith and belief strike through both of them.

The main character, Shadow, is an ex-con recently released from prison.  His wife has died, and on the way to the funeral (which has its obstacles) a man called Mr. Wednesday keeps turning up with a lucrative job offer to be his driver and whatever else he needs…okay well enough you say.  The creepy man who keeps turning sets the story up as sci-fi but then in a following chapter, a prostitute engaged in the act with her john swallows him up with her vagina…at this point, I’m thinking bizarre and wondering what the point is of this…

Mr. Wednesday is proving to be a sleezy man and Shadow has a conversation with his dead wife who is appears in his hotel room.  Shadow is taking everything in stride although the occurrences are unexpected and new to him.  I’m still not feeling this is worth a read as I’m annoyed with Shadow but I continue on…

It is not until the gods begin to reveal themselves and the stories of how they came to be American that I get an “aha” feeling and am wanting to know more of them and wondering what will be Shadow’s revelation for this journey he is taking as a result of being employed by Mr. Wednesday.

The last half of the book had me enthralled but I still had the feelilng that the book would never end!   

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Appalachian Elegy, by bell hooks

There are 66 poems and an opening essay. The poems are titled by sequential numbers and indexed by their first lines. the poems read as one long poem transitioning through observation, mediation, incantation, and lament on the environment and history of the land, covering wild life, natural occurrences,  warfare, mountain top removal. The poems are very concise and brief and flow well from one poem to the next. Also, with this publication, my first read of Hooks’ poetry, she has added to the growing tome of Afri-lachian art and literature and African writers who write about the  environment.

Although I re-read this volume several times, I could never get inside these poems.  There was never a poem or even a phrase that struck my spirit and repeatedly felt like I was observing the ideas and even the poems themselves as if I was walking through a museum ..observe but not touching.  I didn’t like that feeling and kept trying to re-enter.  Hooks’ books, (i.e. essays, memoirs) have always caused a shift, a questioning of assumptions so I was disappointed that my autographed copy didn’t resonate.

 

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Appalachian Elegy, Poetry and Place by bell hooks, University Press of Kentucky, 2012

In light of hooks’ scathing review of Beasts of the Southern Wild, I’m perplexed by the parallel  in her discussing her own wildness growing up here in Kentucky found in the Introduction.  “They were not wanting to tame the wildness, in themselves or nature.  Living in the Kentucky hills was were I first learned the importance of being wild”, page 1.

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Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon

First, let me acknowledge how difficult this book was for me to read.  It was emotionally wrenching and Blackmon painstakingly filled each page with names and scenarios of the most cruelest brutalities…because he delved so deep into the research I found myself wanting to honor the men and women and children he had given name to by absorbing and reflecting as much as I could handle until I completed the book.

Have you ever experienced an understanding so vivid that you have difficulty even breathing?  The continuum of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (widespread physical and psychic devastion and how it collectively effects the whole group) was laid before me and how the discrepancies and injustices present in our justice system just kept running rampant in my mind.  I know we sometimes do not want to acknowledge how oppression has operated in our past and present and we want to isolate occurrences as if they have no history, and even when we do, we speak in generalized speech.  Blackmon names names and ties those name to present wealth of today’s companies.  He does so by researching legal, prison, and company documents and presenting details in a narrative form.

After making the connections to how many individuals and corporations gained wealth at the expense of unjust prison labor system that randomly subjugated Black men, women and children to enslavement and continued risk of brutal death, Blackmon even reached out to present-day corporations to enlighten them on how their companies were built on the backs and lives of unjust prison slavery that lasted well into the 20th century.

The book begins with the search for the details of the life of one person, Green Cottenham, who was killed in a prison camp while still a young man in his 20s.  The search leads the reader through the lives of others on both sides of this horrendous practice with the revelation of how widespread this practice was across the South and how later on it was sustained by industrialists of the North and how the Department of Justice handled (or not) the investigations of the practice.   He eventually takes us to his attempts to connect with Cottenham’s living descendants and personalizing his work by connecting it to his interest from when he was a 12 year-old child in Louisiana.

Amazon link to Slavery by Another Name

I was going to add The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander to my reading list, but I’m needing some firmer grounding and renewal, so I’m going to concentrate on completing Lion’s Blood and a book I started on jazz and visual arts.

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Lion’s Blood by Steven Barnes

The byline describes the tale as a story of enslavement in an alternative reality.  I’m less than 15% into the book and at first I was just plodding along and was feeling kinda sci-fi-ey futuristic about the story and then today while having brunch with my daughter and grandchildren and looking around with the underpinning thoughts about Trayvon Martin, I looked around in the comfortable and familiar environment and saw the place was filled with mostly White women appearing pleasant and relaxed and I thought “I wonder what its like to live in a world were the world’s resources are garnered all for your well being and comfort?”  I’m not blind to the fact that just by living in America that I’m a recipient, if even marginally, of some benefits, but not without extreme struggles and sacrifices of my cultural ancestors.  But how would life have been different for Africans world wide if the shoe had been on the other foot?  This is what Barnes is exploring.

The story starts in 1863 in a Gaelic village when after a night of celebrating, invaders come in the early morning dawn and raid the village for what will become the slave trade with Black people at the helm of the industry and Whites as the pawns.  It will be interesting to see how Barnes justifies the reversal.

More, later…

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Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

This was a hard book for me to read.  Each page is weighty and sometimes too raw for me and I almost gave up on it.  With each page my gut tightened with anticipation of the ending.

This is the story of a family who lives on the outskirts of a fictionalized small town called Bois Sauvage, (can’t help to wonder if the name of the town is a play with the sound Boys Savage).  Esch, the female sibling, of Skeeter, Randall, and Junior narrates the story.  Their mother died giving birth to Junior but is given a presence in the story via Esch’s memories.  The story is very testosterone driven and Esch gives the reader a great visual of the physical-ness of her brothers and moves with ease in connecting it to other aspects of her memories and surroundings and events.

Esch and Skeeter remind me of the Sankofa symbol with two crocodile heads who share one stomach.  Esch’s observations and need to be loved/seen for who she is, gives off female energy while Skeeter’s gruff, heroic deeds provide the male counterpart…both of them are unflinching.  Randall and Big Turner carry the nobility that can be found in the story and little Junior seems to be the trickster of the tale.

The main but not over-riding two backdrops to the story is it begins 12 days before hurricane Katrina and Esch’s comparison to the Greek story of Madea and the Argonauts which she is reading.  The father is an side fixture in the story and almost seems to have no body but voice only.  The most dominate physical presence is when he looses his fingers in an accident.  And is that not signifying on the loss of presence?  He shows little attention to the children as he goes about his fixation on preparing for Katrina and his beer drinking.

Ward uses the physical landscape in a way that makes me feel the humidity and heat of Mississippi in August, the swamp like conditions surrounding their home, the thick carpeted forest floor, the red dirt that gets into everything.  The shallow pit of water that surrounds their land seems so thick and murky that when they are swimming in, I could almost choke.  The book is written tight in that every page carries the heaviness of their lives but her matter of fact tone suggest the family is just living life as they know it.

amazon link

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The Taste of Salt, by Martha Southgate, Kindle Ed.

This novel revolves around immediate family members, Ray and Sarah, who are parents to Tick and Josie.  Josie is the protagonist and narrator and the other voices are seemingly narrated through her.  There are two geographical locations, Cleveland, Ohio and Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  Cleveland is the family home and Woods Hole is the place where Josie and her husband, Daniel reside and work in the field of Marine Biology, and where Josie has walled off herself from her family and history.

Josie, as a character, is unique in that she is African American woman scientist and the story makes use of this.  Josie discovered as a child how much at home she feels when in the water…it is her emotional safe space that offers new discoveries.  She holds on to this to make a career of it and meets her husband, Daniel.  The story is unique in that it addresses alcoholism and addiction in an African American family.

Josie is a very straightforward narrator and the story is laid out plain with very little mystery.  For that, I almost stopped reading, but Southgate does write tight in that she doesn’t waste words or space in the story which is why I didn’t stop reading.  Given the topic and the circumstances the characters go through, Southgate did not overly emotionalize (in fact, very little emotionalism) the story and just laid it out as a storyteller.  I appreciated her control over that which I think adds to the strength of the novel.

The drama unfolds when Josie’s wall begins to fall down.  At first by the appearance of a new colleague in her department followed by Tick’s appearance in Woods Hole.  At the end of the novel I was reminded of the song Stand by Donnie McClurkin.  Sometimes that is the only thing left to do.

Author’s website

Interview

 

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