Monthly Archives: February 2012

A History of African-American People [proposed] by Strom Thurmond As Told to Percival Everett & James Kincaid

If you need to have likable, believable characters, this IS NOT the book you need to read.  If you need to have nice tidy endings with some deep revelations, this IS NOT the book!  Ridiculousness, trash-talking, and riffing is the grit that carries the year long correspondence between the whack-a-loons that make up for hilarous, slightly offensive, quirky “novel”.

Strom Thurmond actually shows up a little over half-way through the book.  The correspondences of all involved only document the PROPOSED book title as Strom is trying to “clean-up” his act has he realizes his mortality is near.  I kept thinking that the Barton Wilkes character was going to be a manifestation of Strom’s senility…was I right in thinking so?  You’ll just have to read it for yourself.  The book is good for some laugh out loud moments and may be of deeper interest if you happen to work in politics, academia, and/or publishing.   I will hold to the assertion that this book was Everett’s and Kincaid’s statement to the establishment saying “all Y’all can kiss my ass!”

Online info regarding James Kincaid who I am unfamiliar with prior to this book left me disturbed and cold.  The sexual proclivities found in the novel could be his contribution to the book.  It was my suspicion that the sexual references added shock-value and elevated the bizarre faculties of all involved and was a way to keep the characters at a distance from the reader.  After a much generalized info on Kincaid’s research interests, however, it may have to do more with Kincaid’s research assertions which are not quite clear to me and troubling enough that I don’t want to investigate further.  I might consider reading Erasure by Everett in the far-off future since somewhere online I read that it garnered him many enemies, both Black and White.

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A History of the African-American People [Proposed] by Strom Thurmond AS TOLD TO PERCIVAL EVERETT & JAMES KINCAID

This has been the most baffling (yet funny) novel I have read in a very long time.  I had to come and check in about it now that I’m just over a third-way through.  I’m recalling the novels of Ishmael Reed and poems by Sterling Brown but can’t yet say exactly why.  It has been decades since I’ve read Reed but do recall the wild unpredictable twists and turns in his novels and the humor as well.  And it is Brown’s Slim Greer in Hell that shares the tone of this novel.

It is going down through a series of letters and memos between a publishing house, academia, and political arena.  Amongst this correspondence, are personal quirky revelations along with “business matters” that so far include 6 characters, presumably.  The strangest, maybe, since they are all quite unsettled, is Wilkes, the personal assistant representing Thurmond, (so far Thurmond remains addressed in 3rd party).  Not only is he, unbeknownst to himself, an oddity and peculiar man, but he is the most condescending toward all others that make up this novel; Jim and Percival (yes the author has placed himself as novelist of the novel, both inside and outside of the actual book who represent academia; Juniper and Martin, underling and upperling at the publishing house; Wilkes and Thurmond representing the political arm of this story.

Of course I had to go digging around the net about Percival Everett, because I started to wonder if my memory had failed me and there was actually no such writer and suspecting the name was a pseudonym.  This interview shed a little light, not much, but a little for my imagination to take off.

At this point I’m feeling Everett is making a statement on what he sees as an incestuous nature between academia, politics, and publishing.  And somehow as a writer and professor, might just be saying and all yall can kiss my ass.  I’ll report back when I’m 2/3rds of the way through.  Peace.

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How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (Kindle edition)

If you’ve ever wondered what a well-adjusted, political astute, educated, happy, comedic Black man would have to say if he wrote a book…this is it!  I’ve been seeking out humor in lit for some weeks now and this satisfied!  Thurston is described as “a technology-loving comedian from the future who cares enough about the world to engage with it politically”.  So it isn’t funny for the sake of just being funny…far from it…it is funny with a purpose.

At the first chapter I was somewhat leary that it was going to be a book with an intended white audience as it’s primary focus and he would address his reader with that assumption which I associate with a slight aspect of minstrel behavior…but I stuck with it and withheld judgement and it paid off.  Thurston is addressing everyone in the room with some funny, intelligent, thoughts….part, memoir, part political/cultural essays, part humor.  Well written, straight-forward, and poignant and timely.  He covers his formative years shaped by his mother and education in the 80’s right up through Post-President Obama’s election, giving advice on how to be the black friend, how to be the black employee, to how to be the 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th Black President.

He included a panel of friends to add commentary and thus the book embraces “community”.  He writes from a pov that “blackness” is not a limiting life and makes fun (in a serious way) of all the imposed upon limitations no matter who asserts them.  Underscoring in the end of the book that it is more important to do you and in doing you, any and all things become Black.

When I enjoy an author, I first check to see if they have a Facebook page and website…Thurston has a fancy position at The Onion (one of my fave magazine), Director of Digital, so he was easy to find on the web.  Here and here  and here and here.   Click on the book image below to be taken to Amazon.com.

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Silver Sparrow…keeps it real.

One devoted man to two families, two daughters born months apart by two separate wives living in the same city.  One daughter, who is the secret, knows about the other daughter all while growing up.  Imagine that for a minute…going through all the changes and stages growing up girl and you know this story is filled with dramas…not way out there dramas for the entertainment of the community (i.e. reader or community inside the story), but deeply personal ones that show them wrestling, questioning, fumbling, seeking in earnest.

The first half of Silver Sparrow is narrated by the secret daughter Dana Lynn…whose formative years are deeply marked by the loss of a full fledged but loving father and his “other family” and her mother’s determination to ensure Dana Lynn has a better life than her “husband’s” other daughter who is only a few months younger than Dana Lynn.  The second half of the book belongs to Chaurisse…whose formative years are marked by the lack of “specialness” which she refers to as “silver” and no sense of achievement and loneliness.

This is now the 3rd book I’m reading consecutively by Jones and what I’m loving is how well she pulls back the layers on personal agonies and dramas.  She takes very few glossing overs or global leaps, opting instead to isolate circumstances, events, and thoughts into specific moments without burdening the story with a straight, flat linear style filled with unnecessary descriptions.  The story has history, rooted in the lives of the parents and their parents and what occurs even before we arrive on earth shows up as baggage in our lives.

In all three novels, there is a strong theme that the unknown is way more powerful in our lives than the known…whether it is a future we can’t foresee or the weight of living with untruths, half-stories and lies.  What also appeals to me is that the main characters grow and do not languish in some self-defacing pity.  I’ll be keeping my eye out for future work by Tayari Jones.

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The Untelling and Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Last night I completed Jones’ 2nd novel, the Untelling.  Both books, Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling, have very strong first person narrations.  For me, it was the strength of the characters voices that I found most compelling.  In Leaving Atlanta, there are 3 sections distinguished by the voices of 3 different fifth-graders in the same class, Tasha, Rodney, and Octavia…all impacted by The Atlanta Child Murders.  To my knowledge, it is the only work of fiction that draws from the travesty.  The story presents the vulnerabilities of childhood by using the language of children (very convincingly…first time I ever saw “flicktedy” in print) in creating a believable perspective on the behaviors and words of adults.   According to Jones’ Amazon page, she selected this subject to draw from for her first novel because, “This novel is my way of documenting a particular moment in history. It is a love letter to my generation and also an effort to remember my own childhood. To remind myself and my readers what it was like to been eleven and at the mercy of the world. And despite the obvious darkness of the time period, I also wanted to remember all that is sweet about girlhood, to recall all the moments that make a person smile and feel optimistic.”

The Untelling’s main character is Ariadne, who was impacted by the death of her father and youngest sister in a car accident when she was ten, and the scars and secrets that resulted in her, her mother, and older sister, survivors of the tragedy.  Ariadne seeks to offset the alienation she feels from her mother and sister by being of service in a field of social work and living vicariously through the lives of others.  After suspecting she is pregnant she becomes engaged to marry her boyfriend and deliver her baby, being consumed with this being the answer that will complete her in someway.  Through events that make her even more unsettled, she learns the power and damage of secrets and things left unsaid.  Jones’ statement on The Untelling, “The Untelling is a novel about personal history and individual and familial myth-making. These personal stories are what come together to determine the story of a community, the unoffical history of a neighborhood, of a city, of a nation.”

Because of the strength of narrative, I thought about the short stories of J. California Cooper and wondered if Jones’ novels would have been better rendered in short story format.  Even though I can’t quite describe why, I thought the unfolding of the plots was less well done to sustain in novel format.  In the Untelling, I was not drawn into the story as much as I like to be when reading a novel…as a reader, I remained outside the story, more than I did with Leaving Atlanta.  Maybe Jones’ made Ariadne’s voice to reflect her weaknesses and shortcomings, possibly her concern she showed for one of her GED students was intended to offset that aspect of her…not sure, but I remained outside of the story.  But in reflecting on Jones’ statement above, possibly my own myths keep me from engaging in a larger way with the lives of others in my community and not just someway of maintaining healthy boundaries????

With her first novel, it was definitely the language of the children and their parents that allowed me to “enter” inside the story as if I was among them versus standing outside of it.  I started Jones’ third and current novel last night, Silver Sparrow.

 

 

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Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Here are video interviews with Randall Robinson  with Amy Goodman and Morning Joe.  Click here.  He describes the overall book as a “love story of Black people for themselves, as we rediscover ourselves”.

Did I mention I love the cover art of this book!  Must investigate to find who the artist is!

Randall Robinson’s website.

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My current read is Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones.  It is narrated by fifth-grader Tasha just as the Atlanta child murders are gaining attention.  Even though I knew that going into the book, it did snatch me back in time at the point when Tasha, her younger sister, Shaun, and her mother were watching tv at the dinner table when the news of a recent child victim was announced.  It started me wondering what the sociological imprint has been on those who were children then.

This is Jones’ first novel. She has since published 2 others and my plan is to read them consecutively.  I checked all 3 from the public library via Kindle…sweet!

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Filed under African American, Author Links, Kindle, Leaving Atlanta, Library book, Makeda

Makeda, by Randall Robinson.

Makeda by Randall Robinson is my current read.  Years ago I had read The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks and The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to One Another and am a big fan of his mind and involvement in Pan-African world affairs.  What sets Makeda apart is it is a novel…and a novel with a beautiful cover (mine is a virtual one as the book is on my Kindle).   Learning to discern which books deserve to occupy hard-copy space and which should be “clouded” on the Kindle is the new challenge since I’ve gone all tablet-reader.

I’m 2/3rds through the book, but here are my thoughts thus far in random order:

1.  It is a coming of age story of a Black man written by a Black man.  Antithetical to Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas, but I couldn’t readily come up with another work of fiction that meets this criteria.

2.  The subtle snarky wit displayed by the main character, Graylon March, through his flat, controlled, and intellectualizing view of life reminds me of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (one of my absolute favorite books).

3.  I’m also imagining an aging Robinson being guided to write this book as a way to do his part to counteract any gains lost, any momentum lost in knowledge for future generations.

4.  It reminds me of Joplin’s Ghost by Tananarive Due with the imparting of knowledge while telling a complicated story.

5.  I’m also reminded of a statement by Toni Morrison in an interview…on the importance of having the presence of the elders in her stories.

Makeda is the title and also the name of Graylon’s grandmother, the single most person in his life he felt affirmed by growing up.  He has a nuclear family.  His father works in the insurance business and his mother is a housewife and his older brother is the more out-going, confident one as Graylon seems him.  The one his father is most proud of according to Graylon.

The first few chapters are a soft opening spotted with a young elementary age Graylon who sits daily with Makeda in her parlor.  It is a mutually loving relationship.  As the story unfolds, Graylon’s morose views and thoughts take hold and one time I felt like I was trapped by his self-absorption.  His goal is to be a writer and although I tired a bit of his rigorous thoughts, I am reminded of how I’ve always tended to pick an idea apart and turn it every which way inside of my own head.

The story is made heavy by Graylon’s views and his growing behavior of closing himself off from others as made complicated by the tensions, namely his father, found in his family life.

I’m currently at the point where Graylon is on the other side of his college career (so unlike Bigger Thomas’ eh?) and in Mali to find connections to Makeda’s dream-stories of past life regressions…stories she has only shared with Graylon and who Graylon hopes to write about.  Makeda and Graylon are shared spirits…Makeda is blind and can see and travel so much in her dreams and Graylon who can see and is alienated by his surroundings, cannot understand.

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