Last week at my job we had a wonderful Black History Presentation in which one of the participators read from Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen.” Her reading reminded me that it’s been on my to-read list the moment I learned about it and I have to purchase the book as soon as possible. Word of this “meditation on race” started circulating online like wildfire during the time two juries failed to indict cops responsible for the deaths of both Eric Garner and Michael Brown, around the time that #blacklives matter and Black twitter in general became a force to be reckoned with.
For my own contribution to the Black History presentation, I read the poem, “All Their Stanzas Look Alike, a compelling work by Thomas Sayers Ellis from his book “The Maverick Room,” which successfully indicts a system of standards by which our work, our creative expression, our bodies are measured and assimilated into soulless White washed acceptance. I discovered Ellis as a result of googling contemporary Black poets and I’m not sure why I’ve never read of him before but I was so impressed by “All Their Stanzas” that I immediately ordered his book “Skin Inc: Identity Repair Poems” published in 2013. I haven’t been this excited about discovering a poet in years. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.
“Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay by has also been strongly recommended to me by several of my female friends and although it will not be the first book I’ve read about Feminism, it shall be the first book I ever read with the word Feminist in it’s title. I’m sure that Feminists all over the country are sighing collectively. LOL!
And of course anything that Chimimanda Adiche feels like putting out this year moves swiftly to the top of that list.
As a life long book nerd, I have also been a book purist for most of my life. I like books. And by that I mean physical books. I like to hold them in my hand. I like to smell the pages, bookmark, highlight, underline, make notes in the margin, stare at the cover design. I believe in holding books. That is until I read 1Q84. Then I realized that e-readers might be on to something. Still I have never read a single book on a digital device, until now.
At any given moment in my life, there are a myriad of jumbled ideas I want to examine, stories, articles I want to read, pictures I want to take, apps to download, recipes to try and games I want to play. iBook has been one of them for some time now. I really admire the fluidity with which my best book nerd friend at Life as I Know It purchases books on her Kindle and speed reads through them in a matter of days, sometimes hours. But like I said I’ve been anti e-reader since they were released. I think she has been the one person to show me how e-readers are actually not evil. And now I think they might actual be one the best uses of technology ever. She has told me that I have to read “Americanah” by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie and usually when she recommends a book it means I need to read it.
I uploaded a sample of “Americanah” on my iBooks app last week. Perhaps one of the truest testaments of a great writer lies in their ability to transcend the format through which they are communicating. And I have to say that reading Chimimanda’s words on my iphone, I had not one care for the fact that I was not turning pages or holding her actual book in my hands. I was transported to a very familiar world through the eyes of an African woman. And I am enraptured at her brilliant and insightful observations of American, Band immigrant life among many other things. Her attention to detail, her honesty, humor, lyricism and down to earth tone are engaging and eye opening. I’m only in the first chapter still but I can already tell I’m in it until the last page.
This will be the first book by Adichie I’ve ever read but like many of us I became aware of her by way of Beyonce’s “Flawless” track. Since then I have watched and listened to her in talks and Ted X lectures and seen the film based on her book “Half of a Yellow Sun” about the lives of two upper middle class Nigerian sisters during the Biafran war at it’s debut in Lincoln Center this past Spring. I don’t say this about people in the public eye often but whenever I see Adichie, I feel as if she is someone I would love to sit down and talk with or better yet, someone I would willingly approach to engage in conversation. And I rarely feel that way about people which is why its easy for me to recognize when someone makes an impression.
I continued reading “Americanah” at lunch in an Indian place called Baluchis where I’ve only seen Black people working and Drake’s last album played over the stereo. Reading her main character’s observations about the cultural spaces she navigated in America made me more sensitive to my own and what they really mean, how they shape what I think and how I feel, what I believe about who I am and what it means to belong anywhere.
I’m only on the second chapter. LOL!
As a little Brooklyn born home-schooled vegan I was enrolled up the wazoo in extracurricular activities, from Gardening at BBG to art classes at the Brooklyn Museum to the Reading is Fundamental Book Club at the Brooklyn Public Library. I was a born bookworm. I don’t know how old I was when I learned to read but I suspect it was quick and early. I started writing poetry when I was eight.
For me, getting a card at the Brooklyn Public Library was like gaining entry to the first club ever that I ever felt I completely belonged to. I remember them typing up all the info on it, my name address, phone number and then laminating it and telling me all the rules about due dates, borrowing limits and such. Oh, it was like getting the keys to the kingdom. And I read voraciously, particularly YA, and at an age when I was neither preteen nor young adult. LOL! But if you were like me, a young brown girl with a huge reading appetite, you noticed that there was a glaring absence of Black faces in the worlds of Francine Pascal, Judy Blume, Ellen Conford, Paula Danziger, Maud Hart Lovelace and the entire Sweet Dreams series. “Rainbow Jordan” by Alice Childress stands out a lot in my mind but I was deeply irked that it was like the only book I ever saw on the shelves with a Black face on it. It appeared and reappeared but nothing else with a Brown face on it ever did. And to be honest I did try to read and just wasn’t feeling it. But there was nothing else to compare it to!
So I kept reading more authors like the ones listed above and I was an avid fan of them all. I mean like many girls White and Black alike, I came of age with these characters and they will forever remain embedded in my literary DNA with a lot of warm deluded memories. But one day while I was in line at the RIF club looking through books to take out I saw the first ever Black face I had ever seen on a Sweet Dreams paperback and I flipped out! “The Truth about me and Bobby V.” by Janetta Johns.
Oh I was soooo excited!!!! I was elated! It was about a dysfunctionally shy gangly Black girl who lived in some inner city USA. She had just adjusted to being in a new, tougher High School with the help of her tougher more outspoken BFF Bobby V. when her parents announce they will be moving the whole family to a predominantly white suburb where she dreads having to start all over again.
I read that book more times than I can remember. I’ve read it as an adult. I own a copy that I ordered on Amazon for posterity. One single Sweet Dreams book about a Black girl, Copyright 1983. Sure, she was a light skinned girl of the variety that corporations targeted for sanitary napkin commercials in the 70s and if I had to break down the whole story, I realize it doesn’t take on race relations in any radical way. But still. She was one brown face in a sea of white girls. And that was extremely important for me as a reading junkie and as a Black female and it still is now.