Make Me Whole

These songs remind me of dorm days, MySpace and friends who encircled music and formed bonds with the melodies. They bring back memories of confusion, heartbreak, bright hope and epiphany. They recall a yearning for love, an attempt to learn love.

Your eyes are the windows to heaven,
Your smile could heal a million souls.
Your love completes my existence.
You’re the other half that makes me whole.
You’re the only other half that makes me whole.

~ Amel Larrieux, “Make Me Whole”

Now, they communicate what I can’t, remind me of what I’ve learned and what I now cherish.

We have both been broken
Bent into painful shapes
We almost let those old fears
Carry over and get in our way
But every struggle just makes
Our love get stronger than it was yesterday

~ Amel Larrieux, “No One Else”

I Fell Down a Hole: In the Heat of the Night

I am currently sitting, eyes closed in a hole I created by playing the television show In the Heat of the Night in the background while writing something completely unrelated. It started, as most things do in my life, with the theme song, particularly the part of the song I’m used to hearing at the opening of an episode:

In the heat of the night
I’ve got trouble wall to wall
Oh yes I have
I repeat in the night
Must be an ending to it all
But hold on, it won’t be long
Just you be strong
And it’ll be all right
In the heat of the night

This inevitably led to me to the original film score Quincy Jones composed and Ray Charles’ recording of the same song:

Next, I found myself reading John Ridley’s foreword to the Penguin Classics 50th Anniversary Edition of John Ball’s novel, In the Heat of the Night. In it, Ridley describes the main character Virgil Tibbs as a “black man more carefully constructed than fully realized, an approximation of life designed to thwart a common enemy but to be of no threat to its originator.” My curiosity has been inflamed, to say the least. Now I want to know more. How did this book lead to an Oscar-winning movie starring Sidney Poitier and a television series that was certainly a familiar presence in my home? Maybe reading the book will offer some insight. I don’t know. For now I’m still in the hole, digging deeper.

All These Kinds of Things…

We often assign music one task—to move us. We want it to make us sad, make us cry, make us happy, make us dance. In my opinion, the best songs ever written are the ones that give me what my heart wants, but also meet me where my head is.

And where is my head right now?

There’s always someone tryin’ to take someone’s power away.
The history of the world is violent. Will it ever change?
Now we’re livin’ in a time where you just can’t hide
There’s a camera in every hand
It’s not elusive. Even when they treat you like you’re useless,
We know what the truth is.

India.Arie, “Breathe”

My head is burdened by thoughts I’m very tired of thinking. It’s almost impossible to understand how a people could deem themselves so superior that they would enslave another. Or how after decades of fights for freedom, we somehow still need to explain that we aren’t yet free and stand aside while the powerful, the wealthy, the white trivialize this perpetual war.

The Constitution
A noble piece of paper
With free society
Struggled but it died in vain
And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner
Hoping for some rain
Looks like it’s hoping
Hoping for some rain…

Gil Scott-Heron, “Winter in America”

In an effort to be kind, I’ll admit it is different now. We don’t walk around with our chains visible. But they’re there. A lot of us are bound by poverty and an inability to sustain ourselves financially, a state rooted in a system of slavery and racism conceived long before we were. Most of us are wondering why, so many years later, we even have to have a conversation about representation. Among these and many others, all of us are wondering why the mandate for an encounter with a black person is to shoot first and ask questions later.

Black human packages tied in subsistence
Having to justify your very existence
Try if you must, but you can’t have my soul
Black rage is made by ungodly control…

Lauryn Hill, “Black Rage”

2018 The Year of Challenges?

I am not usually one to do challenges. I don’t follow rules well. I’ve tried the “bookstagram” photo challenges and just managed to scrape through and complete all of the prompts. But it wasn’t really fun. It was taxing even. And the prompts served no real purpose for me. Ok, so I put up a few extra pictures. For thirty days straight I was actually consistent. And sure, maybe I learned some cool photography techniques in the process, but it didn’t do anything at all for my reading life. That doesn’t seem to be the point. The point is to take and post pictures of all the lovely books you own. I certainly didn’t need an excuse to buy more books.  So I stopped doing those challenges.

But when this year started, I wanted to push myself and attempt to read outside of my comfort zone. So, I turned to challenges. Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge had always been something I’d thought of doing, so I figured it’d be a good place to start. The structure of the challenge does, in part, what I was looking to do. There are 24 prompts, each designed to make you dig into something very different from the last. This challenge would definitely force me to read outside of my comfort zone, but there was still something  missing.

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I needed to make space for authors of color. I spent most of 2016 and 2017 working as a bookseller. It was a job I loved, but it was through that job that I realized how white my reading had become—and how hard it was to change that. It wasn’t always that way. I grew up with a mother for an English teacher. My mother taught August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson every year and I have read every single thing Maya Angelou has ever written. While I certainly read other things, works by black authors were the core of my reading life growing up, the works I really remember. Book Riot’s challenge allowed for some exploration of works by authors of color and there was certainly nothing stopping me from making all of my choices works by people of color. But I felt like I needed to do more.

So I decided to create my own challenge. Months ago, I happened upon this concept of an A to Z title challenge. The idea is to make a list of titles representing each letter of the alphabet. I decided to do this challenge and make all 26 of my books works by people of color. And this was certainly a challenge. First I had to dig for books by people of color, but then finding those that would fit the letters of the alphabet added to that initial challenge. But I did it, I finished it. I even posted the list. And almost immediately things began to change.

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I realized that I had changed. I don’t know if it was working in a bookstore where I constantly failed at finding books by authors of color other than the typical ones every store will carry. I don’t know if it was the current state of our union. I don’t know if it was living in Nashville and realizing just how much this city lacks diversity. It may have been all of these things coalescing. But I realized that I was naturally uninterested in works that weren’t diverse. I didn’t care anymore about the stories white authors had to tell. I found myself just exploring and discovering books on my own that were directly in line with the thoughts I was having about my world. I didn’t seem to need the lists or challenges to get there.

So will this be the year of challenges? I’m not sure. My only challenge to myself is to  continue down this road of self discovery and exploration. We’ll see where it leads me.

National Book Award Finalists 2017

National Book Award Finalists 2017

On October 4, 2017, the National Book Foundation released the list of finalists for their annual National Book Award. I have chosen a few to add to my TBR. This list includes a few fiction titles, young people’s literature, and a book of poems:

FICTION

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward

fic-ward-sing-unburied-sing

About the Book (From the Publisher):

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

The Leavers – Lisa Ko

fic-ko-the-leaversAbout the Book (From the Publisher):

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon—and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.
Told from the perspective of both Daniel—as he grows into a directionless young man—and Polly, Ko’s novel gives us one of fiction’s most singular mothers. Loving and selfish, determined and frightened, Polly is forced to make one heartwrenching choice after another.
Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.

Pachinko – Min Jin Lee

fic-lee-pachinkoAbout the Book (From the Publisher):

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant-and that her lover is married-she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters-strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis-survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE

American Street – Ibi Zoboi

ypl-zoboi-american-streetAbout the Book (From the Publisher):

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter – Erika L. Sánchez

ypl-sanchez-i-am-not-your-perfect-mexican-daughterAbout the Book (From the Publisher):

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.

Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.

But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?

POETRY

In the Language of My Captor – Shane McCrae

poet-mccrae-in-the-language-of-my-captorsAbout the Book (From the Publisher):

Acclaimed poet Shane McCrae’s latest collection is a book about freedom told through stories of captivity. Historical persona poems and a prose memoir at the center of the book address the illusory freedom of both black and white Americans. In the book’s three sequences, McCrae explores the role mass entertainment plays in oppression, he confronts the myth that freedom can be based upon the power to dominate others, and, in poems about the mixed-race child adopted by Jefferson Davis in the last year of the Civil War, he interrogates the infrequently examined connections between racism and love.