brown girl dreaming

#blacklivesmatter is everywhere these days, and seemingly everyone has an opinion about it. And the fight is ugly. If you had asked me even 2 years ago if I thought we would be living in the 60s again, I would have laughed and thought you meant fashion or the MidCentury Mod furniture design craze.

But nothing about this is funny. People aren’t just getting emotionally wounded, people are dying. And they aren’t just being killed by Joe Blow off the street, but by those sworn to protect us. No matter what side of the fence you’re on…that’s a very scary thing to think about.

As a white woman in America, I mostly keep my mouth shut. While I support #blacklivesmatter, this isn’t my time to speak. My voice is not the one that needs to be heard.

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Adult Booklr chose Jacqueline Woodson’s brown girl dreaming for our August Book Club and it could not be more poignant. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it, since it is a story written in poems instead of prose, but it ended up being incredibly beautiful. It is also a perfect book to release right now. It not only speaks to Black Culture, but it did a lot of good to me as well.

The rest of my review is written, obviously, from a white woman’s perspective. I have not been in the fight. I cannot understand what you are going through. I would love to hear your feelings on this beautiful book, and I hope you will share them with me.

brown girl dreaming is essentially Woodson’s memoir, written from the viewpoint of her as a child in the 1960s. Through her vivid poetry, she talks about growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York, and the differences between prejudices and struggles in each location. She also lays out the foundation of learning to write, her family life, and just growing up as a whole.

Even though the words were spoken with a child’s voice, the wisdom in them was so pronounced. This was a child who saw the world through her pencil–every moment was a word waiting to be written. Her composition notebook was her tool to sort, file, organize the world around her and try to make sense of everything that was happening. For the reader, that notebook, in turn, helps us understand what is happening in our similar world today.

I couldn’t relate to everything she wrote. I grew up in a privileged home, with both parents, in the same house until the end of high school. I very much understand what people mean when they talk about White Privilege now. I can’t say I have never struggled…they are just different struggles.

There were, however, some poems that made my heart expand until I thought it was going to explode. Some made me want to weep. The ones about reading and writing, especially–not knowing how to use those gifts as a kid but just knowing they were there and she had to use them somehow.

Then there were the poems that really spoke to me on a human level. Those shook me. They are the reason I’m writing the review this way–because I really wasn’t sure how I was going to approach it. One of the last poems in the book was this one, called “how to listen #10”:

 

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I think that is the most important thing as a white person in America right now, because we are privileged, whether we can see it or not. It’s a hard thing to admit sometimes–pride is a hard thing to let go of. But we just have to shut up and listen.

 

Buy Here:

People Who Eat Darkness

Note to Self:  Don’t read true crime on Mondays.

Mondays are hard enough to get through in one piece anyway, and then I added one of the darkest books in recent memory to my it. Good job, Haley. National Day of Laziness, what?

I could give you a trigger warning list, here, but it would be really really long. Suffice it to say–if you are easily triggered…don’t read this book. Seriously, just don’t.

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21 year old Lucie Blackman–tall, blonde, beautiful–travels to Japan with her best friend Louise. The girls are looking to earn quick, easy money to pay off debts, so they take jobs as foreign “hostesses”–a type of waitress that lure wealthy businessmen in to clubs. These clubs charge exorbitant fees by the hour (not to mention the hefty bottle fees too), so the more friendly and captivating a hostess is, the better her bonus. Sounds like great money to the two outgoing girls, but the trip turns dark when Lucie goes on a dohan (a sort of sponsored date with one of the clientele) and does not return.

Richard Lloyd Parry tells the story of Lucie’s terrifying case–the search conducted by her friend and family, the frustration with a foreign police force, a profile on the suspect, and the resulting trial.

I found People Who Eat Darkness intriguing. I had found this book a while back on a “If you like Hannibal” shelf, and while I don’t normally read true crime (mostly because it can sometimes read like a report instead of a story), this one was very well written. Parry keeps a plot-like story line going throughout, so it doesn’t get too mundane. As I mentioned at the beginning, though, it is EXTREMELY dark, and it never recovers. There is no happy ending. I had to take breaks every chapter to read brown girl dreaming just so it did not consume me.

My other major note on this book is that there does seem to be a pretty heavy bias against Japanese culture, and not just against the rapist. I am unsure if Parry is just trying to convey the disdain that the family had against the situation Lucie was in, or if it was an overall bias against the culture itself. But the whole time I was reading, I almost felt like there was a nose-crinkling subtext. To be fair, Lucie was not in a great neighborhood or situation, maybe that’s all it was. She herself called her living situation “The Shithole.” The narration just felt a little off to me, that’s all.

While I am critical of that last part, and while the book was very dark, it was a captivating story. I can’t call the people characters, because they are real. However, Parry has given us such a illuminating picture of each that we almost know them. Even some of the “good guys” aren’t all that good, but the bad guy, you will need a shower after meeting him. He positively drips with slime.

I will agree with the bookstore–if you are a fan of Hannibal, add this one to your list. Just proceed with caution. And maybe have something a little mellow standing by that you can easily pick up between chapters. Or maybe Tumblr. It’s easy to get caught up turning pages here, but you will need a break. Otherwise, the darkness might just eat you, instead.

 

Buy it Here:

1066: The Year of the Conquest

Another late afternoon post. Hopefully next week I’ll be back on track!

Today’s book was a quick read, but an intriguing one if you like history. I needed a simple palatte cleanser after Les Mis and had this one left over from my last batch of library books. It was only 200ish pages, so I figured it would do the trick.

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David Howarth’s 1066 is a short little history on the battle of the Anglo-Saxons vs the Normans. I hadn’t heard this story before–this portion of English history isn’t a piece I’ve studied–so it was interesting to me. Just another bit to file away in my mind palace.

I like Howarth’s writing. It’s informative, but engaging. He’s a great storyteller, which is something you don’t see often in nonfiction history. I’ll have to look up other things he’s written!

Short and sweet for today. Thanks for being patient with me this week! Have a great weekend everyone!

The Demon-Haunted World

Reading nonfiction presents a challenge that I have not completely mastered yet. Most of the nonfiction I read is history, so it’s usually cut and dry, factual, without much opinion. Those I don’t have much trouble with. I either like them or I don’t.

But some nonfiction are written on a bias, or from a perspective I’ve never heard or thought of before, or just written by someone way smarter than I am.

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The Demon-Haunted World is all three of those things. Carl Sagan is one of the great scientists of our age, or at least one of the most famous. So he is definitely smarter than I am. His book is basically about skepticism vs theism/religion/people’s beliefs in what exists in our universe.

I say basically, because the perspective was a little hard for me to grasp at times. This book is probably a little over my education level, and out of my normal realm of interest. I think what he was getting at is that we as a society should strive to be educated as much as possible and base our thoughts and ideas in science and education, rather than blind faith. Which, as a book written by a scientist, makes sense.

It seemed to be a book written in response to the millions of fan letters he has received over the years. Much of it was tongue-in-cheek. He asks at one point for submissions for “Top 10 Questions to Ask an Alien.” He discusses a lot of topics–UFOs, ancient religions, Greek/Roman history, modern education, nuclear war, conspiracy theories.

It was an intriguing read, but again, I didn’t understand everything he said, nor did I agree with everything he said. However, he doesn’t really ask the reader to. All he wants is for you to ask questions, and look for the answers yourself. Don’t just take everything at face value. And that is the most important thing, in my opinion.

Empire of Sin

As a sophomore in college, I visited New Orleans for a week during Spring Break. Our church group went the year after Katrina to help with flood relief–which at that point meant tearing down moldy drywall, pulling up carpets…really breaking the sodden houses down to their studs so the families could rebuild. As a pretty sheltered white girl from small-town Indiana, it was a pretty eye-opening experience. Not only had I really never been to a city that big, I hadn’t ever seen devastation like that either.

But, day after day that week, we ripped apart people’s homes…and when we came out, they would hug us with gratitude, and there would be prayer circles and Creole (or Cajun, I apologize, my 19 year old self did not know the difference at the time) blessings. It was all so beautiful and unexpected. Everyone was so resilient and strong and lovely and I just fell in love with the city.

And then I got to the French Quarter, and found the food and the music and well…the rest is just history.

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Since then I’ve added quite a bit of New Orleans-themed books to my TBR, and every once in awhile one will pop up. Recently, Blogging for Books had Empire of Sin as one of their choices, and I grabbed it.

Gary Kirst’s latest book is a history of New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, right before Prohibition, when sex, jazz and alcohol fueled the town. There’s so much dark, fascinating stuff here, I don’t know where to start!

I guess, first off, let me be frank. This is a book about the south in the late 1800s. That means this is a book filled with racism. There’s just no way around it. To say I struggled with parts of it is to put it mildly. It’s not even just black racism either–though that is a huge part of it.

One of the major themes in Krist’s book is the civil war between the three peoples of New Orleans:  the white politicians/police, the blacks, and the Italians. There were constant battles between the groups, and often the blacks seemed to take a lot of the blame–with one of the riots ending with any black man out on the street being shot by a group of vigilantes.

Another theme we see repeated is the battle for power in Storyville–the prostitution district. I got a little confused over some of the politics in this area–who was on what side–but the fight for respectability was an interesting thing to read about, when I am so used to reading about prostitution as a negative profession.

Lastly, there was the music. And that was my favorite part of the book. I’ve been a fan of the blues for years (probably since I went to New Orleans, to be honest), so to hear about some of the old greats and how they got their start was fascinating. We get to hear about Little Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, and all the struggles they went through to just play their hearts out.

New Orleans is one of those cities that you just have to touch. And when you do, it gets inside of you and never lets go. I can’t wait to go back someday, as an adult, when I can really appreciate it. Empire of Sin shows some of those dark corners that all cities have, but it also gives us the great things that comes out of those dark corners.

Oh, and if you pick this up, make sure you read past the bibliography and index in the back. Kirst has included both a pretty epic blues/jazz playlist with all the great albums and a New Orleans fiction list!

 

Blogging for Books provided this book for an unbiased review. Released on June 16th.

My Stroke of Insight

The brain fascinates me. Everybody’s neurons fire in such different ways and it’s amazing to me how it all works. When things go wrong, the brain reacts in some seriously interesting ways to compensate and heal.

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Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor was a successful neurological expert at Harvard, with a focus in schizophrenia (and some other things that were far above my intellectual level). One morning, she was getting ready for work when she was struck with crazy waves of euphoria and pain. Her left brain, where our analytical side (and thus, all her neurological study knowledge) resides, was screaming at her that something was wrong. Unfortunately, that side was quickly becoming overwhelmed with a hemorrhage due to stroke. And so, her right side was taking over to compensate. She could see the “bigger picture” but mostly she was overcome with an inner peace, hence the euphoria feeling.

Thankfully, she was able to get help, and thus began an 8 year period of recovery, from a unique perspective of someone who understood the brain. Taylor has written a book of her journey, My Stroke of Insight. She shares the terrifying moments of the day of her stroke, her struggle to regain control of her mind and body, and what life is like now. She also gives a lot of advice for caregivers of stroke patients, since most of us know someone who has had a stroke–but it’s so hard for us to reach them to know what they need or want.

My favorite part about this book is the last few chapters where she talks about how the right brain functions, and how it affected her perspective on life. Because the stroke was in her left side, she spent a great deal of time functioning in her right brain–the “big picture” side. This is the side that gives us meditation, creativity, beauty. She talks a great deal about finding your deep inner peace. For someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, these sections were extremely inspiring to me.

Dr. Bolte Taylor is an extremely courageous woman. I can’t imagine the amount of pain she’s gone through to get to where she is today. My Stroke of Insight is so inspiring, and I would recommend it to anyone who needs to be moved. This will be my meditation for the week, for sure.

She also gave a Ted Talk about her stroke, you can watch it HERE. It’s a really great addition to the book, hear her up close and personal about her experience through her stroke. It’s very emotional, and really shows just how strong and courageous she is.

Oscar Wilde

June is Pride Month, and so to celebrate, I added some specific books to my TBR. The Empty Family had several gay narrators. I’m listening to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe on audiobook on my walks, so I’ll review that one when I am finished. And Under the Lights was a bit of a surprise that I’m not revealing, but that one turned out perfect for the theme too!

I wish there were more books out there with LGBT characters, and my library has been posting a lot of recommendations, many of which I have added to my TBR. If you have some good ones, shoot them my way!

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The book I was most excited to read for Pride was about one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde. Written as part of a series called Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians, Jeff Nunokawa gives us a short but informative piece on Wilde’s struggle to be a prominent gentleman in 19th century England, while living his life the way he needed to.

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed. Obviously, you can’t fit that much life into 100 pages. The information was there, it just wasn’t that grandeur you expect when reading about Oscar Wilde. It was very “This happened on this date.”

And ok, I can live with that. What really got to me though was that here we have a book about a gay man in the 19th century, at the height of Victorian censorship. His very name stood for persecution.

And then in the book written ABOUT this man…this happens:

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Now, I am sure it was a publishing error, but still. There was about 10 pages missing, randomly in the middle of the book. And in a 100 page book, that’s a lot of information.

Just kind of makes you wonder, huh? It IS a library copy.

Anyway. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I skipped to the end, past the snow white pages, and read about the trial and sad end to this brilliant man’s career.

Time to read something a little less sad.

What are you reading for Pride? I hope all my LGBT friends are having a fantastic month!