Category Archives: Kindle

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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Filed under African American, African American Men, economics, Enslavement, history, Kindle, Non-fiction, Prison complex

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.

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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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Filed under African American, Alcoholism, Author Links, Kindle, The Taste of Salt

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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Filed under African American, Author Links, How To Be Black, Kindle, Multi-racial

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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Filed under African American, african american women, Fiction, Kindle, Library book, Silver Sparrow