Herí za Kwanzaa, readers! I hope your holiday season is ending well.
Welcome to the second day of Kwanzaa! If you haven’t already, check out the giveaway from the first day of Kwanzaa on yesterday’s post.
Today we celebrate the principle of Kujichagulia or self-determination!
On this day, our goal is “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.”
The Adinkra symbol for Kujichagulia is an Ashanti stool of royalty. This symbol calls for us to exercise, individually and collectively, the diligence and determination required to make ourselves the royal authority for the shaping of our lives and destiny.
“I am my best work - a series of road maps, reports, recipes, doodles, and prayers from the front lines.”
― Audre Lorde
This is slightly childish, but there’s something fun about saying the name of today’s Kwanzaa principle. It’s a throwback to elementary school when we learned the Kwanzaa Song, and any multisyllabic word got a good chuckle from us kids. So, saying Ku-ji-cha-gu-lia never fails to give me a good chuckle even to this day.
From an adult standpoint, though, the ability to carry out self-defining or self-fashioning traits is a bit tougher on the sensibilities.
In a world where everything seems to be carried out as mere performance and based on trends, it’s hard to know what you want or be your authentic self sometimes. It almost seems as if we’re all scrambling to stay “on brand” and caping for likes from a silent audience.
In 2021, I found myself taking several much-needed social media breaks due to life circumstances and out of a general feeling of exhaustion.
My intention for 2022 is to take more time to focus on life outside of my screens.
In the moments where I delete my apps and spend time face-to-face with family or researching and catching up on my school/work, I feel that same type of awe that I did as a kid at how much the little things like a song can amaze me and buoy my spirits. There’s almost a nostalgic quality that comes in those moments.
Going offline also brings about a clear distinction for me about my reason for doing things. In those times, I’m not worried about if what I’m reading is “on trend” or if it counts toward my yearly Goodreads challenges, I’m just indulging in a hobby I love.
This feeling of freedom is something that feels refreshing now that I’ve been online for a decade as a social media user, being influenced and posting as a micro-“influencer.”
Cheers to 2022 being a year of self-discovery and self-fulfillment!
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The Sunday Post is hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer and Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb @Readerbuzz. Check Deb’s pages out for more information about this bookish memes!
Bookish peeps! I’ve missed you all and this space!
Today is the start of my favorite holiday – Kwanzaa!
Kwanzaa is a Pan-African holiday that Dr. Maulana Karenga started in 1966 after the Watts riots in LA. This holiday is built around multiple African harvest or “first fruit” celebrations, including cultural festivals from the Ashanti and Zulu people.
Kwanzaa can be celebrated alongside other Winter holidays. It lasts for a week from December 26 to January 1 and can be celebrated in whatever way you and your family and friends decide.
All that’s required is that you honor the Nguzo Saba, which are the seven principles of Kwanzaa, one for each night.
Our goal for Umoja is “to strive for a principled and harmonious togetherness in the family, community, nation, and across the African Diasporic community.”
The Adinkra symbol for Umoja is the Kramo Bone. The Kramo Bone translates to “The bad make it difficult for the good to be noticed.” This Adinkra symbol symbolizes “warning against deception and hypocrisy.”
To promote unity, we must be aware and guard against those who are not actively seeking to do good for the race as a whole and make sure all our goals actively align to have the greatest impact for the majority opposed to the minority of the race in our fight against oppression.
Mederais’ story is a children’s book set in Ghana that tells the story of seven brothers who are tasked with making gold out of seven spools of thread to gain their inheritance from their father.
Seven Spools of Thread is a great representation of what Umoja means. Working alongside the people you love working through your differences, and building up your community to be even stronger than you initially found is a hallmark of Kwanzaa.
A person is a person through other persons.
None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings.We need other human beings in order to be human.
I am because other people are.
A person is entitled to a stable community life, and the first of these communities is the family.”
― Desmond Tutu
Born on the Water is a reminder of the strength of being born Black in America. We are a people who were given nothing but took those meager scraps and built a rich heritage that is often imitated but rarely duplicated.
Hannah-Jones and Watson’s book reminds me of the proverb that the Kramo Bone’s meaning stems from, is built off of, even though all the “the bad” African-Americans have been through in this country, Kwanzaa is a time where we can sit up and reflect on how those “difficult” times helped us notice how “the good.”
Regardless of your race or where you are in the world, I hope you’re able to celebrate something good in your life today amongst people you love.
I know we’re all still in this pandemic, and some people struggle to make it through. But, in this coming year, I hope you all can lean on your communities or find people who help you build back even stronger than you were in this pre-Covid era.
I hope you all will join me for this weeklong celebration of Kwanzaa.
To enter today’s giveaway for a copy of Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story and Born on the Water, tell me what your favorite holiday memory or book is in the comment section below.
Then, like this post and subscribe to the newsletter to get the heads up about tomorrow’s giveaway!
The giveaway is open to all subscribers worldwide if the Book Depository or Bookshop.org delivers to your country.
Checkout the first part of the list here and my playlist over on Spotify for my favorite songs from my 20s.
This second part covers the years I was a caretaker for my grandmother and father when they fell ill in the latter part of my 20s.
The Lost Years
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will always remind me of the road trip I took to get home after grad school with my mom and two strangers in the middle of a tornado when Southwest dumped us in Branson, Missouri. This road trip was unplanned and was so bananas, every time I look at my worn copy of Americanah, I think about that wild ride and the grace of God that kept us from being blown away like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz during that storm.
After graduate school, I spent a lot of time drifting while trying to adjust to life outside of school and to have to help take care of my grandmother and father. While I had always seen my mother taking care of one of my loved ones, I never realized just how much went into caring for people who were ill as a caretaker.
Dealing with the stress of caretaking is what led me to the Bookternet.
When the Bookternet was young and the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Movement was starting out in 2014, I was one of the leaders of a book club on Goodreads called The Writers of Color Book. The primary purpose of the WCBC was to get people on BookTube and elsewhere focused on reading diverse authors that weren’t cookie-cutter selections.
Ozeki’s book follows three different timelines: Nao, a sixteen-year-old Japanese teen who her peers are mercilesslybullying, Nao’s grandmother, a hundred-year-old Buddhist nun, and Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island in the Pacific that’s just retrieved a Hello Kitty lunchbox after the 2011 Japanese tsunami and earthquake that killed over 20,000 people. Ozeki’s work shines in the way that it tells such a visceral and heartbreaking story.
Almost a decade later, I’m still thinking about A Tale For the Time Being because of the way it reminded me during my caretaking years that death is inevitable. But, the way you live your life determines how you’ll be remembered.
After graduate school, I spent a lot of time drifting while trying to adjust to life outside of school and to have to help take care of my grandmother and father. While I had always seen my mother taking care of one of my loved ones, I never realized just how much went into caring for people who were ill as a caretaker. Dealing with the stress of caretaking is what led me to the Bookternet.
My favorite author during my 20s were Jhumpa Lahiri. The Namesake is one of my favorite books of all time and the first book I ever did a live show for on YouTube. My favorite short story collection was The Interpreter of Maladies, which was also another WCBC pick.
When I was on night watch with my grandmother and father or going to appointments, I would read short stories to pass the time in the waiting room or until the sun came up.
Outside of Alice Walker, Jhumpa Lahiri has to be one of my favorite short storieswriters for her to do with just a few pages. Walker and Lahiri get to the crux of the matter in mere lines when other authors use up hundreds of pages to tell a story. I highly recommend these authors’ short story collections.
For the most part, Bodger’s book was a leftover read from the YA Dystopian era takeover. However, at the time, I remember thinking about how interesting the plot was from other books in the genre.
In 5 to 1, women choose their husbands from five men who vie for their attention in a trial of the woman’s choosing. Bodger tells The Handmaid’s Tale writing about a matriarchal society with the men being hunted if they dare run away from their wives.
My first audiobooks were The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker, and The Bees by Laline Paull. And as intricate as each of these three books was with their cast of characters, I loved them for keeping me company during this time in my life.
The Night Circus was probably the best possible choice to start my love of audiobooks alongside The Golem and the Jinni because of how imaginative both books were. The Night Circus covers a fierce battle between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. These magicians are given the task by their teachers of dueling each other by creating wondrous feats at Le Cirque des Rêves, a continuous night circus that runs throughout the book.
The Bees was equal parts whimsical and sad as Paull told the anthropomorphic tale of Flora 717, a sanitation bee in a hive where the Queen bee is ill. Flora 717 is a bee with unique talents that none of her kin share. Due to this, she’s seen as a threat to her beloved Queen, to who she only wants to dedicate her life.
Like The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker, who I’ve interviewed and reviewed on my blog, Paull and Morgenstern’s books helped get me through long waits at doctor’s offices, and hospital stays when caretaking. These books taught me that even in those dark moments when everything looks bleak, the sun eventually comes out, and you live to fight another day.
When Life Gives You Lemons…
Sometimes the sun does not shine how you want it to. There are no television miracles or solemn moments where your loved one pops back up for a last “hoorah.”
Sometimes the doctor comes in and tells you the person is in a coma, and you have to say your goodbyes while praying all along that maybe God will do you this solid just this one time even though you know it’d be better for your loved ones not to suffer anymore.
When that moment came for me in my late 20s, I wasn’t ready. But, The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat eased the blows. Both memoirs talk about death and the changes that come with growing up in such a beautiful way. I cried while reading each, and whenever I look at my copies, I remember the time I had to say goodbye to my grandmother and father.
Favorite Books of the Decades
These last few books are stories that connect to events and memories in my 20s that I hold dear.
The first advanced reader copy I ever received was All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor’s Logan Family Saga is a series I’ve been reading since I was a little girl, and I reread all ten books, including the novellas, in order every few years from start to finish to recapture some of that magic. It’s the best book, in my opinion, for you to read if you want an authentic glimpse of the African-American experience in America.
I’m on a personal mission to see all of August Wilson’s Century Cycle performed in person. Fences, the sixth book in the Cycle, was the first play I saw performed live in the West End while studying abroad. Like the Logan Family Saga, Wilson’s Century Cycle is required reading for anyone who wants to peek behind the veil of the African-American heritage.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz and The Namesake were WCBC picks that introduced me to amazing authors who used language in unique and breathtaking ways. Díaz, in particular, had me thinking about how closely language mirrors traditions and is used by Black, Indigenous, and other writers of color to tell our stories and preserve our histories.
I read Moore’s book while looking after my father when he first got his diagnosis on our front porch. Moore’s whimsical story gave me laughter when I needed it the most. And Acevedo’s story kept me company when my mother and I took our first solo trip without my father to Atlanta the Winter after he died. Acevedo’s novel of confronting pain through poetry brought me comfort when I felt anything but.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith was the first classic that I truly loved. After years of reading, I never felt any connection to the classical novels in the white American canon. But, Smith’s book so clearly lays down how it feels to fall in love with reading, I instantly fell in love.
Timebound by Rysa Walker was one of the first books that taught me to love e-books. Walker’s Chronos Files is a YA time-traveling series is one I devoured in almost a week after saying I would never read with an e-reader. If you’re a fan of Marvel’s current phase about the multiverse, this indie Kindle original may interest you.
What are the books that got you through your last decade?
Comment below and tell me some books that got you through your last decade!
As always, please don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe. #AllOfTheThings
She assigns each Tuesday a topic and then posts her top ten list that fits that topic. You’re more than welcome to join her and create your own top ten (or 2, 5, 20, etc.) list as well. Feel free to put a unique spin on the topic to make it work for you! Please link back to That Artsy Reader Girl in your own post so that others know where to find more information.
Happy Tuesday, bookish peeps!
I didn’t come to you on Sunday for our weekly chat thanks to recovering from being ill, trying to finish my weekly homework, and keeping one eye on the Emmy’s.
This may sound strange, but after the disaster that was 2020, I honestly felt as if American television got some of the best screenwriting and acting that I’ve seen in a long time. So, I was looking forward to the Emmy’s this year.
I had so many hopeful wins for the awards, but fate had other plans.
To hold on to the Television and “Red Carpet” Magic a little longer, I put together a possibility pile for my Fall TBR list based on my favorite looks from the Emmy’s red carpet.
Have a peek!
Did you watch the Emmy’s?
Host of “Nailed It!” and Comedian, writer, and actress, Nicole Byer, wore Christian Siriano and looked stunning from head to toe! This was by far my favorite look of the night.
Byer’s look has been paired with Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera. Lopera’s novel recently won a Lambda Literary Award in 2021. This novel is a bildungsroman about a Columbian teenager uprooted from Bogotá to Miami and has a sexual awakening while also dealing with mental health issues and questioning her faith.
I paired Fagbenle’s outfit with Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark, a historical fiction horror novella that rewrites the history of the Ku Klux Klan, adding a supernatural twist. It’s perfect for the spooky season and giving a giant middle finger toracism. Clark’s novel is peppered with awards, such as the Locus and Nebula Award for Best Novella in 2021 and a nominee for the Hugo and Shirley Jackson Award in 2021 and 2020, respectively.
Taraji P. Henson
My favorite auntie in my head, Taraji P. Henson, wore a showstopping black & white sheer number from one of my favorite designers, Elie Saab.
The next two stars had my favorite color palettes of the night. Awkwafina looked stunning in her deep-V neck Turquoise Monique Lhuilier dress while presenting at the Emmys. Michaela Jaé “Mj” Rodriguez (who was robbed of her Lead Actress in a Drama Series) wowed in a one-shoulder light turquoise Atelier Versace dress.
Write the tale that scares you, that makes you feel uncertain, that isn’t comfortable. I dare you — in a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success — do not be afraid to disappear from it, from us for a while, and see what comes to you in the silence. ... I dedicate this story to every single survivor of sexual assault. - Michaela Coel, Acceptance Speech
I can’t even express how much care Coel and her cast and crew took with I May Destroy You. It tells the story of sexual trauma about a group of Millennial friends in the UK who are combatting the aftermath of being in sexual relationships that have left them scarred. Spanning a range of emotions, Coel’s limited series should be watched in small doses if you want to protect your feelings. This is like Marlon James’ first novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, which also has a rich and diverse cast of characters.
Winner of the 2015 Booker Prize and American Book Award, A Brief History of Seven Killings spans several decades from the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, in the 1970s to New York in the 1980s and back to Jamaica. Like Coel, James is a visionary and deserves all the accolades he’s been given. So, read this book pronto.
Jon Batiste & Leon Bridges
Honestly, I’m really just here for the multi-talented musician Jon Batiste’s suit, which was custom-made and had images from the horrific 2005 storm, Hurricane Katrina, in a mosaic. This is a moment in history I’ll never forget as a resident of the Gulf states.
Batiste and fellow musician Leon Bridges sang “River” as a part of the “In Memoriam” tribute at the Emmy’s. Bridges is one of my favorite singers because of the silkiness of his voice. Check out his new album, Gold-Diggers Sound!
To mirror Batiste’s suit, I chose a mosaic book cover of Jagua Nana by Cyprian Ekwensi. Ekwensi’s story speaks to the aging of the title character as she starts to enter her twilight years in Lagos even though she is still bent on having a good time.
Robin Thede is the best part of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show with her transformation from “homegirl” to a “zombie” to the being a member of a financially literate gang. Whatever her character, you best believe she keeps me laughing. Thede exchanged her comedic duds for this showstopping seafoam green Jason Wu dress.
Much like the newly released mysteryDead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia, Thede’s dress’ silhouette is giving me just a hint of drama while staying classic, and I adore it!
Dan Levy’s royal blue Valentino Haute Couture suit made me stop and question where he was going in this ensemble. The lines! The draping! The color! Fashion-wise, Levy is giving a lot more than most of the men at the Emmy’s gave for me. So, he made this list by default.
I also love that this cover so effortlessly matches Dream Country by Ashaye Brown. Brown’s story about the feuding siblings who also happen to be the gods of sleep, dreams, and nightmares is a top TBR pick for me. As we’ve already established, fantasy novels are my jam. But, Brown’s blend of Kenyan, Brazilian, Caribbean, and Grecian cultural references is just calling me to pick up this book sooner rather than later.
Yara Shahidi wore an emerald green Dior Haute Couture dress in a classic off-the-shoulder silhouette, and I lived! It’s rare, though, that her stylist, Jason Bolden, ever gets her looks wrong. Of course, because this look is so iconic and effortless, I had to pull a book off my shelves that could match it tit for tat.
This book is Minutes Of Glory and Other Stories by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong ’o. Thiong’o is a master memoirist, novelist, and playwright from Kenya. This writer’s short story collection spans from “the period of British colonial rule and resistance in Kenya to the bittersweet experience of independence.” If you love getting a story in short bits that pack a punch, get this collection!\
Do you see any books or looks you like?
Don’t forget to comment, like, and subscribe! #AllOfTheThings
I raved about Aaronovitch’s series two weeks ago in my last WWW Wednesday and have since purchased almost all of the books in the series secondhand.
My top requirement for fantasy novels is that they must have a top-notch cast of characters with loads of personality and a well thought out magical system/world-building. These things make it easier to sit through the chunkers that dominate this genre.
Aaronovitch’s series delivers on all fronts!
From the setting of London to the characters, the author holds no punches (literally in the case of the villain) in this series opener. The book follows probationary constable Peter Grant, who meets the ghost, Mr. Punch, while staking out the scene of a mysteriously gruesome murder on a late-night assignment.
Up until then, Grant has lived an ordinary life up. So, getting thrust into the company of Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving “magic and other manifestations of the uncanny,” is a bit of a shock. What’s more, having dealings with gods and goddesses and the other creatures in Nightingale’s world keeps Grant on his toes.
There’s so much to love in Aaronovitch’s series.
Aaronovitch is one of the few white authors who seems to understand what it means to write characters of color in a way that gives them depth and brings them to life as human beings instead of to being caricatures. In Peter Grant, readers find an amateur detective who all most anyone can relate to if they’ve ever felt set adrift in life while everyone around them is succeeding.
Like most 20-something year old’s, Peter is trying to find his “thing.” Once a great science student, he has a knack for seeing the finer details in situations. Yet, he fails to grasp the bigger picture all too often, leaving him two steps behind the mass murderer who is terrorizing the citizens of London. This is the least of his worries because Father and Mama Thames are at war, and all hell is about to break lose if Grant can’t figure something out.
Even though The Rivers of London series takes place in modern-day London, the addition of magical beings and the supernatural adds a solidelement of world-building to the mix. In this series opener, readers see Aaronovitch setting the stage using elements of world religions, such as the Yoruba’s Orishas and European Paganism, alongside magical spells that blend modern science with the uncanny. These all work well and make it the series’ setting believable that this “version” of London could exist counter to the world that readers may know.
In addition to excellent setting and character development, Aaronovitch’s series has really good dialogue and banter between the characters. This makes it a must for those who love audiobooks. Ghanaian-British actor, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who does a phenomenal job distinguishing each of the characters’ voices in The Rivers of London series.
If you’re a lover of Neil Gaiman or multi-layered books, read this book!
While Zentner’s book has an extensive cast of characters and is rich in background lore about lobster fishing on a Canadian island, it falls short in every other department.
The drama of this novel is set around the Kings’ family, who live and fish for lobster on Loosewood Island. This story is through the eyes of Cordelia, the first female “lobster king” in her family, as she fights to be seen as the legitimate heir to her family’s empire.
Zentner takes his cues from Shakespeare’s King Lear. However, he jumbles so much of the Bard’s original intention in his interpretation that I, as a reader, was left simultaneously under and overwhelmed.
For starters, the author has too many timelines happening at once.
Cordelia, the main character of The Lobster Kings, bounces between being her present-day reality, her tumultuous childhood, a random side plot about an artist who lived on Loosewood Island in the past and who could’ve been one of her distant relatives, and a weird magical realist subplot about selkies. Cordelia’s character is monotonous in her narration. This means that even with things that might have been interesting, like the tortured artist and magical selkies subplots, it all becomes boring.
Even extensive world-building doesn’t save Zentner’s book. Nor does the promise of feuding drug lords and Loosewood’s fishing community.
At times, it feels like Zentner over seasoned The Lobster Kings by trying to be too literal with referencing his source material.
Where Shakespeare understood how to meter out his gloomy and depressing story, Zetner leans too heavily into it and makes a mess. Topics, like death by suicide, death by drowning, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse, infidelity, and animal violence, are rife in The Lobster Kings. It eventually got to a point where I found myself wondering what the point of any of this violence was. Furthermore, I wondered why Cordelia would even want to run the fishing empire when it seems to be mired in painful memories for her.
Needless to say, I didn’t love The Lobster Kings, and I can’t say I’d recommend this book at all.
Portrait of A Scotsman is the third in Dunmore’s A League of Extraordinary Women series. I’m currently taking a Women’s Studies course for my Master of Social Work degree, and we’ve gotten to the suffragette period in our module, so this read paired nicely with my lesson.
Dunmore’s book hinges on the “marriage of convenience” trope with two main characters from vastly different social standings who have paired together thanks to a breach in social etiquette. Hattie, a young artistic socialite with dyslexia, finds herself married off to the rich but scrappy Lucian as a tradeoff to help bolster her family’s wealth. Lucian, though rough around the edges, needs an “in” with polite society and settles on marriage to Hattie as a way to get revenge on the rich men who once terrorized his community in his youth.
My favorite romance trope is the marriage of convenience novels, so I’m enjoying Portrait of A Scotsman so far.
I’m also enjoying the YA contemporary romance,I Wanna Be Where You Are. Similar to Dunmore’s book, the idea of “convenience” is present in this road trip-themed book. But, Forest also has elements of the “friend to lover” trope with her romance about Chloe, a teenage ballerina, and Eli, a budding artist, who are trying to beat the clock to get to North Carolina for an audition and college tour before they’re parents notice their gone.
Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong with these warring friends does go wrong. Nevertheless, Forest will keep you turning the page to find out what trouble her young pair and Eli’s dog, Geezer, get into.
What will you read next?
As a mood reader, I can’t say what I’ll read next.
Drop down below and tell me what you’re reading! And like, comment, and subscribe. #AllOfTheThings
Bookish peeps, I hope life and your TBR Lists treat you well as you finish out your week.
It’s been a week since we spoke last, and I’ve got to say that I missed you all.
I hope you’ve all been doing well and enjoying your current reads.
Since we last chatted, I’ve been in a tiny bit of a reading slump. And you know what that means 🤗 television time!
In addition to watching the Paralympics, I’ve been catching up on my Netflix queue. If you’re into academic dramedies, I highly recommend The Chair. For fans of Grey’s Anatomy, Sandra Oh is back as The Chair’s leading lady.
For those of you who haven’t ever seen Oh in action on Grey’s Anatomy as the brillant and fiery Christina Yang, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.S, watching it is an excellent way to get over a reading slump. Thanks to the show being just as chaotic and engrossing as any book you’ll find on the market now.
In fact, watching Grey’s Anatomy is how I ended up with todays’ Sunday Chat topic.
What does Grey’s Anatomy have to do with reading?
Grey’s Anatomy is the original show that put Shonda Rhimes on the map in 2005. Afterward, Rhimes made shows like Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder and, now, Bridgeton from her production company Shondaland TV.
On Rhimes’ original show, a group of medical professionals is followed as they go through their workday at Seattle Grace Hospital.
Here, affairs happen. Marriages fall apart. LVAC wires get cut. And, at the end of each season, like clockwork, a huge disaster occurs, and I’m left wondering why nobody ever issues a class-action medical malpractice suit against the doctors at this hospital.
Watching Grey’s Anatomy is a perfect example of how reading has screwed up my ability to be shocked by the plot twist in most storylines.
Do you all ever feel like you’ve read so many books that very little surprises you when you’re reading or watching television?
I’ve been an avid reader for nearly 25 years, and I’ve started to come to the conclusion that very few stories can surprise me now.
Like with Grey’s Anatomy, I’ll be watching a television show or reading a book and instantly start picking out tropes within the first few episodes or pages and guess how it ends. When this happens, it’s rare that I don’t get at least one guess right.
Even though the guessing can be fun, I can’t help but wonder if reading is making me immune to being as engrossed in stories as I once was before I became an avid reader.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
– Ecclesiastes 1:9
Silly, I know. But, nowadays, I feel as if I’m watching stories appear on loop just with interchangeable characters and settings – I’ll know where the characters are going to end up even if I don’t know how they always get there.
I instantly get excited when I happen upon an author writing from a fresh perspective and telling a story that feels new to me.
If I’m being honest, sometimes I feel like I’m chasing the magic that came about when I first learned to read at this stage in my reading journey. That feeling of wonder that arose from opening a new book and escaping into a fictional world never ceased to amaze me back then.
However, with the vast amounts of retellings, fairytale adaptations, and spins on the same plot points, I miss the joy of being genuinely shocked when I read an original new story, which is why I love fantasy novels and romance books so much. This mostly has to do with the creativity of authors from this genres to get their characters from point A to B while keeping me guessing. Even a simple love story can see an author getting creative to build a connection between their leads.
That being said, while I’ll always love reading, I do get the feeling at times that my hobby has left me feeling like very few things can shock me when it comes to the art of storytelling. But, I love when it does happen.
This week’s vibes are songs I’ve had in my playlist rotation for almost two weeks. The music videos for each song have a “plot twist” I didn’t see coming based on the song. Due to some trigger warnings, I won’t link the videos, though. You can click on the YouTube link to watch when you get a chance.
Songs: “Foreign Things” by Amber Mark & “Questions (feat. Don Jazzy)” by Burna Boy
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Boisis a bit of a chunker at 816 pages. However, if you love a novel that chronicles the journey of a single family, Jeffers’ book is for you.
It looks at a mixed-race family from the beginning of colonial times of American Chattel Slavery through the Civil War up until present day times in America. The story centers around Ailey Pearl Garfield’s journey to establishing her identity, but it also has a full cast of characters from her family tree.
Jeffers’ novel is perfect for audiobook lovers and readers who love a family saga or atmospheric read.
However, if you’re a reader who bulks at feeling too many emotions when reading a book, this book may not be the one for you.The Age of Phillis is a poetry collection that has made me really focus on reading it and googling notes about what Jeffers is talking about. So, here’s to another week with Phyllis!
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen was becoming an uphill battle for me, so I put it down for a minute.
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
Finally, I started a “comfort fantasy read” this past weekend to keep me busy as we waited out Hurricane Ida. (check out this week’s “Sunday Chat” to read more about one of my favorite comfort read books and my mixed feelings about it now.) The book I chose to ride out the storm was Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.
Aaronovitch’s book is the first in a series about the probationary constable, Peter Grant, who starts to see ghosts on a late-night assignment. Afterward, he’s thrust into a “world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.”
Rivers of London is hi-la-ri-ous! It blends comedy, fantasy, and mystery so well, and I’m so glad there are more books in the series to look forward to.
What will you read next?
Because I’m a mood reader, you all already know the drill by now.
I of course have no clue what I’ll read next outside of just continuing to read Jeffers and Aaronnnovitch’s novels.
Drop them in the comment section and tell me what you’re currently reading!
For instance, one of my favorite books from my middle school reading list was Shabanu, Daughter of the Windby Suzanne Fisher Staples. In the book, Fisher, a retired white news reporter and editor for the United Press International, tells the story of Shabanu, the second daughter of desert nomads in Pakistan. After an incident with wealthy landowners occurs, Shabanu, who is twelve-year-olds at the start of the series, is married off as a child bride to keep the peace.
Along with Haveli, the second novel in the series, Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind was my go-to book as a tween. The idea of getting to read about other cultures and seeing how other people around the world lived was something I’ve always craved as a reader.
At the time, I interpreted Shabanu’s story to simply be about a free-spirited girl who was able to explore the Cholistan Desert, a place I’d never heard of until I read the book. I relished her ability to be free to seek out adventure up until the point that she was forced to marry.
Being able to see life through Shabanu’s eye was eye opening as a kid. And it was why I cherished the book king after I outgrew it.
The authenticity of the story and author’s right to tell that particular story is something I never thought of until I entered high school and had a Pakistani classmate bring into question the authenticity of Shabanu’s story.
The only problem was who was telling Shabanu’s story.
Staples was a white woman from Philadelphia who had only visited Pakistan as a reporter and editor. Her writing was limited to the knowledge of what her host family told her, which means that Staples was effectively telling Shabanu’s story through a secondhand lens.
So, when my classmate told me that she wished Staples hadn’t made her culture look so bad (I’m paraphrasing since a particular cuss word was used and I have older readers I want to be respectful of), a little of the luster went out of the book for me.
Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind and Haveli are both feminist stories at their core. And they told a story that during the 1980s and mid- 2000s wasn’t largely being told about Islamic women.
But, did Staples have the right to tell these stories?
Based on a quote in Publisher’s Weekly from 2000, Staples claims that all her books “are made up of real stories about real people.” Staples even had a picture she showed the interviewer of the thirteen-year-old girl that Shabanu was modeled after.
This unnamed girl’s story and many other Pakistani women were collected as Staples worked with a women’s literacy project in the country until she returned to work for the Washington Post. The women’s stories were kept in journals and used as the source material for Shabanu’s story, which won Staples the Newbury Honor award in 1990.
The accolades and book deals (Staples wrote six books with only one being written set in America) Staples acquired telling someone else’s story, who she openly admits lacked agency and free will to tell their own story in the Publisher Weekly interview once again drives home why #WeNeedDiverseBooks is so important.
It also left me wondering why did Staples not ever allow the young women from the literacy project she was a part of the chance to tell their own stories?
Also, would a BIPOC author have been showered with the same praise and idolization as Staples received for Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind if they’d released a similar book?
“It is a pleasure to read a book that explores a way of life profoundly different from our own, and that does so with such sensitivity, admiration and verisimilitude. Ms. Staples, who was a U.P.I. correspondent in Asia and has worked for The Washington Post, has surely accomplished a small miracle in the unfolding of her touching and powerful story. She has managed to present to her readers an engaging and convincing portrait of an adolescent girl who is alternately bewildered and exhilarated by her changing mind and body; at the same time, the author offers rich and provocative insights into a culture so distanced from rock videos and designer jeans as to seem extraplanetary. I hope her readers will gain from it a renewed sense of self and a deep respect for what is other.”
Differencewhat a BIPOC author gets to write vs. What white authors get to write
Too often, the publishing industry wants BIPOC stories from authors who are white and not from an author of color or Indigenous background.
A white author can have a stamp in their passport, a degree on their wall, and the matching pedigree, or just have gone on vacation and gotten “inspired,” and voilà, they’ll be given the green light to become an expert on someone else’s culture.
A BIPOC author can have firsthand knowledge about who they are and their culture and be told they need to change their story to fit what a publisher thinks their audience wants in an #OwnVoices book.
And this differentiation of who gets to tell what stories, along with my classmate’s belief that her culture was done a disservice, is what keeps my tattered copies of Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind and Haveli shut tight on my shelves.
While the books hold a special place in my heart when I read them as a kid, I have iffy feelings about trying to read them now.
Do you all have any books like this on your shelves?
The theme for this week’s mini review wrap-up is foody books and characters who cook.
Books about characters who cook are my all-time favorite type of reads. Coming from a family that enjoys food and trying new recipes, reading about characters that share this passion is always enjoyable.
Food is not only an extension of one’s culture, but it also gives the authors the ability to express a character’s identity and to have them work through complex topics without weighing their book down too much.
A Pho LoveStory
For example, Loan Le does a great job expressing his characters’ desires and showing the tension between the rival families in A Pho LoveStory through the Vietnamese culture.
Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai are teenagers whose parents both run rival pho restaurants on the same street that are struggling. Both characters are set to graduate from high school soon and struggle to figure out their lives’ path.
Bao is unsure what his “thing” is and worries that time is running out to figure his next step out. On the other hand, Linh loves art and secretly dreams of being an artist like her aunt. However, she gets her dreams crushed trying to live up to the expectations of her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. It’s not until the pair are sent on assignment for their school’s newspaper to review local restaurants that they can realize their individual dreams, sort out their feelings for each other, and unearth why their parents hate each other so much.
Initially, I went into this book expecting a Vietnamese Romeo & Juliet. However, the story hinges less on being a romance built around teenager angst and instead hinges upon the theme of self-discovery and combating the expectations of being born a first-generation child to parents who have migrated from another country. Through Le’s description of the food, readers can see the Ngyuens and Mais’ pride in their food preparation. Each family honors the pho dish in their preparation and its role in their immigration tale.
My favorite part of the story is the “reconnaissance missions” Bao’s father takes the family to collect intel on other restaurants in the area. In these scenes, Le pays particular attention to detail for how Bao’s father studies the menu, orders their meal, and then evaluates each dish. Le also shows Linh’s parents meticulously preparing to leave for work at their restaurants in detail each night, which shows how labor-intensive the food service industry is. These scenes also show how the Ngyuens and Mais take the utmost pride in their dishes and ability to use their cultural dishes to provide for their children.
If you’re a foodie and love hearing about family secrets and food preparation, read this book! However, have a snack next to you. Le’s descriptions of food in this book were so descriptive and lush that I found myself getting hungry just listening to the audiobook.
The same advice goes for Zea Kemp’s book, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet; snacks are a must!
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet
Where Le’s story is PG/PG-13, Zea Kemp’s book is a bit more mature since it deals with mental illness, self-harm, abandonment, and violence.
Zea Kemp’s book revolves around Penelope Prado and Xander Amaro, who are young adults of Mexican heritage working at Penelope’s father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. Penelope dreams of working with her father to improve their family restaurant’s menu. Her father, however, has other dreams for her. To him and his wife, having a a college-educated daughter is much more important. So, when they learn that Penelope has been lying about being registered for nursing school and attending classes, they flip, and Penelope is pushed out on her own to discover her dreams.
As for Xander, he dreams of having someone like Penelope’s parents to dote on him and look after him. Abandoned by his father as a child in Mexico, Xander was forced to make the trek to America on his own. He now lives with his paternal grandfather and secretly longs to know what became of his father all those years ago when he left Xander and his mom behind to immigrate to America. For Xander, as an undocumented immigrant, working at Nacho’s is one of the few times where he feels as if he is a part of a loving family and not going it alone. Unfortunately, for Penelope and Xander, things take a turn for the worse when Nacho’s is threatened by the local loan shark.
Like Le, Zea Kemp uses food in her novel to show the depths of community and tradition in her story and build Nacho’s Tacos into a community staple.
Nacho’s provide a meal and protection for its community and acts as a source of comfort and family for Penelope, Xander, and other characters. In this way, Zea Kemp does a good job of tending to her novel’s setting and building it into its own character that compliments Penelope and Xander’s desires without having the happenings of the restaurant overshadow these two characters’ development.
For instance, Penelope’s love for cooking and baking is strong because she uses this hobby as a lifeline when she experiences mental health issues. Zea Kemp’s positioning of Penelope in the restaurant reveals her character traits little by little. Here, readers will get to see Penelope explore the question of what happens when your proximity to community changes and your only coping mechanism/safe space is torn away from you.
On the other hand, Xander is forced into understanding how to build community ties for the first time in his life after being abandoned for so long. His growth as a character hinges on learning how to embrace a new way of life as he becomes a part of the restaurant family and finds his place in his new community.
While A Pho Love Story is a somewhat sweet and simple YA novel with some family drama thrown in, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a novel that feels very “New Adult” without the possessive love story. Penelope and Xander do have a sweet romance that gradually builds, but it is not the main point of the story. Instead, finding and holding onto community is at the center of Zea Kemp’s book. Be warned, though, this novel deals with several difficult topics, such as depression, self-harm, anxiety, loss of a parent, and police brutality, amongst other things. Due to this, I’d say read it at your own peril.
What are you currently reading?
Just like last week, I’m still reading the poetry collection, The Age of Phyllis, for the #SealeyChallenge and the novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, both of which are by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. If you haven’t already picked up Jeffers’ novel, it came out yesterday. I would definitely recommend picking up a copy!
I’ve also been reading are Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin.
I previously reviewed Jalaluddin’s 2018 book, Ayesha at Last, as one of my top books of 2020, and Hana Khan Carries On is right up there with its hijinks and laugh-out-loud moments. Jaluddin’s writing is fun to read because she gives readers an eye to Muslim culture without having her books feel like “guidebooks” on Muslim living. Instead, these characters just exist and struggle to find love, job fulfilment, and keep their families together just like everyone else around them.
Hana, for example, is a woman who wants to break into broadcast journalism while also helping her mom and sister who run the restaurant, Three Sisters Biryani Poutine. As a hobby, Hana runs a podcast while also working at the local radio station and fighting off a shiesty coworker and a white feminist boss who’s fluent in microaggressions in the workplace.
The one bright spot is that Hana has a mystery listener who she chats within the comment section and occasionally flirts with. Things change when she seeks the mystery guy’s help in finding the approaching opening of a rival Halal restaurant owned by the infuriating Aydin and his cranky father.
I highly recommend Jalludin’s novel.
What will you read next?
Of course, you all already know that I’m a mood reader, so I don’t have a clue what I’ll read next. More than likely, I will be continuing Jeffers and Jalludin’s novels and trying to finish She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen.
If you all have any recommendations, drop them in the comment section or just tell me what you’re currently reading!
Don’t forget to like, comment, share, and subscribe! #AllTheThings
Welcome to another Sunday on the Bookternet, friends! I hope you’re having a wonderful day!
Today is the last day of Summer Break for me, and I’m feeling a little sad about it.
Come Monday, I’ll be back on my grind, balancing work, school, and reading. Even though I’m excited since I love my job and going to school, I can’t lie and say it’s not all just a little bit overwhelming for me.
Majorly because this is my first semester back in-person for school since the COVID-19 Pandemic hit in March of 2020, and I’m attending school in the state of Florida (insert a deadpan stare into the camera here). While my school is requires masks to attend, this level of tackling the unknown in a state where people love to be rebels against reason at the risk of themselves and others is putting me on pins and needles.
On the other hand, I’m a little saddened that my leisure time for reading is coming to an end.
In last week’s Sunday Chat post, I discussed the constraints of time for readers when deciding what to read and inevitably DNFing or unhauling our books. And some of your responses across social media pushed me to think even more about how much of a taxing hobby reading is.
Society often paints reading as this calm hobby where you’re sitting in a comfy chair with your book and drifting off to exotic mental landscapes.
A consistent trend, though, was that the rich and white demographic of people were still able to read more than their BIPOC and economically impoverished counterparts thanks to increased free-time.
For example, people “earning less than or equal to the 25th percentile” of “full-time wage and salary” dropped in their free-time for reading from “0.15” in 2019 to “0.11” for the average hours per day they read. While people “earning in the50th to 75th percentile” had the greatest leap in their averaged reading time from “0.16” to “0.37” hours per day and those in the “25th to 50th percentiles” also had a slight adjustment in their average from “0.13 to 0.17.” Those earning greater than the 75th percentile stayed the same with an average of a “0.20” for both years.
African-Americans saw the most significant leap in free-time for reading with a “.14” average from 2019 to 2020 average increase putting them at “0.24” average hours of reading time per day. But, they still trailed way behind white readers who clock in at “0.37” average hours and slightly behind Asian readers who are at “0.25” for their leisure reading time. Hispanic and Latinx readers are dwarfed by all parties at a steady average of “0.10” hours for both years. Unfortunately, there was no data I could find on Indigenous and Native American readers.
Looking at this data from the Department of Labor’s American Time Use Survey made it clear that even in a year as stressful as 2020, the idea that we’re all on an equal playing field when it comes to reading isn’t necessarily true.
How much do Americans spend on reading a year?
As a working-class student, whenever I see a #BookHaul or stack of books on the Bookternet, I immediately feel myself tallying up the cost.
According to the SLJ, the average Adult Hardcover in 2021 is projected at $27.45 for fiction and $28.49 for non-fiction. Trade paperbacks are going to run you about $21.04 for non-fiction and $17.89 for fiction.
Young Adult books cost slightly less at approximately $19.13 for a hardcover fiction copy and $21.15 for non-fiction. This genre’s trade paperback are slightly less than adults, though, at roughly $12.66 for fiction and $17.25 for non-fiction.
And all this is before the discounts hit and you find that sweet coupon code or worn copy in your charity shop.
If you’re an e-reader, you’re going to have to factor in the cost of internet services and a compatible electronic device to hold your e-books.
In short, for some people who lack access to a public library and are short on funds, reading requires a lot of hidden costs to feed their reading habits.
While reading is a type of self-care, I never forget that it’s a privilege that not everyone has at their disposal.
I’m blessed to have access, but I know the average cost for a reader adds up real quick.
So, I never take my love of this hobby for granted.
Enjoy your week, bookish peeps!
Let me know what you think is the driving force behind your reading hobby.