Small changes


For some time now I've mulled over some much needed blog renovations. I needed to give my book blog it's proper space again. So, join me at You can also access BookSpeak by clicking the book tab above. Please note that current subscribers will need to re-subscribe to receive updates and I hope that you will. If you've joined my challenge for 2011 or plan to, I've moved the signup post there as well.This site will still be active and with a facelift and slight shift in focus as well. Thanks for your readership!

Happy holidays!
UPDATE: Please check out this post's new home HERE.
uncharacteristic, atypical, offbeat, quirky...

This challenge was inspired by a blog post on New Model Minority. The post talked about the hyper-marginalization of Black fiction and included a short but intriguing list of books. That list, or at least the authors on it, were begging to be part of a reading challenge. So, I bring you the Quirky Brown Reading Challenge. This challenge is more than about finishing a certain number of books, but about challenging the overly subscribed to depictions of the so-called “Black experience”. I hope participants also discover some of our lesser known contributions to American literature.

This will not be a numbers heavy challenge as there will be a book selected to be read by challenge participants for a discussion around the halfway point (i.e. summer). Those who join the challenge before January 1, 2011 will be able to vote. The poll is in the sidebar. This challenge will run from January 1, 2011 until December 31, 2011. I'm supplying a list of authors and titles here but, these are merely suggestions. The only requirement is that they are Black authors depicting an offbeat Black experience. Feel free to leave recs in the comments of this post and I'll add them to the list.

I: 2 books
II: 3 books
III: 4 books
IV: 5+ books

Sign Up Here!

Here's a button! Please copy and save to your server and don't forget to hyperlink it back to this post.

…because this is Africa, and Africa can be like this.

Precocious and empathetic, Anna Hibiscus is your typical little girl living a relatively privileged life in an unspecific African nation.  She loves playing with her many cousins and  her twin brothers, Double and Trouble. She likes to climb into a mango tree to eat its sweet fruit. And, she wants desperately to see snow. Her stories present a number of issues from the light-hearted look at stage fright or the visiting aunt who now lives in America to the heavier, but age-appropriate treatment of poverty, hunger, and disability.

I really appreciate the author’s affinity to family. In the opening story of the first collection, Anna Hibiscus, her immediate family goes on holiday to the beach. Away from their extended family who are back in their compound, loneliness sets in and soon they find themselves summoning a host of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to join them. 

Traditional African women and girls braid and weave their hair. That is how such thick and curly hair stays shiny and  beautiful and neat, with no chemicals whatsoever.

My absolute favorite story is from the second collection, Hooray for Anna Hibiscus. Anna Hibiscus dislikes the pulling and tugging routine of the “Saturday weaving aunties” (hair braiders) but her grandmother lets her learn the hard way that it’s necessary to keep her hair healthy.

Anna Hibiscus is a fun, sweet character to fall in love with and one I certainly wish I could have gotten to know in my own childhood. Her Africa is one that Nigerian born author, Atinuke, gives permission to be beautiful, sweet, picturesque, lovely.

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
112 pp
Kane Miller EDC Publishing
September 1, 2010
Children's fiction
ISBN: 9781935279730

Hooray for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
112 pp
Kane Miller EDC Publishing
September 1, 2010
Children's fiction
ISBN: 9781935279747

Many thanks to the publishers for sharing the first two collections of Anna Hibiscus with me.

African Diaspora
POC Reading
Dinaw Mengestu's 2007 debut novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears gives a thoughtful yet, melancholic look at the isolated life of an Ethiopian immigrant running a fledgling neighborhood grocery in D.C. Sepha Stephanos fled Ethiopia nearly twenty years prior to escape the Ethiopian revolution. He struggles with his ceaseless desire to return to his home country and his indifferent existence in America. His rundown store also serves as meeting place for him and two fellow African immigrants who pass the time naming coups and dictators of the various African nations. Things appear to be on an upswing as his neighborhood is in the beginnings of gentrification. The first home to be renovated, which he describes as "a beautiful, tragic wreck of a building," is purchased by Judith, a white woman who's an academic and has a biracial 11 year old daughter. Sepha and Judith engage in this awkward flirtation while he forms a bond with her daughter as they read Dostoevsky in his store.  Even his budding friendship with Judith's daughter falls into a formulaic routine. Sepha's observations of the lunchtime crowd in and around his neighborhood make their daily routine appear as monotonous as his. His fellow immigrant friends have similarly vacant existences. One is stuck waiting tables as they all once did in the same hotel all those years later and the other has "made it" as a well paid engineer but even he cannot let go of his past and works constantly to ignore his present. None of them are really present in their current lives in America. Mengestu often uses the word "beautiful" to describe things that are not necessarily so as Sepha does to appease his friend about a newly acquired used Saab which is anything but beautiful. To the friend, it was his; he earned the money to buy it and that made it beautiful. As the title suggests, which comes from a line in Dante's Inferno, Sepha will eventually emerge from his own hell and discover the beautiful things that heaven bears. While it has spots that lull, there are also spots that are moving and spots that are heartbreaking. Mengestu's novel is very quiet and subtle in its approach and I actually enjoyed that. This was a strong debut from a skillful writer. I'm e that he's a voice for my generation.

POC Reading
African Diaspora

Update the final...
Sunday, 11:27 am CST

I crashed and burned around 1:30 this morning. I thought I might nap and come back the last two or three hours but, that didn't happen. This was just not a good readathon for me. I was tired and stressed and had my impending school work on my mind. I'll have it together like previous readathons the next go 'round.  On the positive, I enjoyed everything I read.

Total books read: 3
Total pages read: 454
Hours spent reading: about 12

Update the first...
8:30 pm CST

So, I started with Anna Hibiscus and adored it. I went to my literary fiction choice next and things slowed down. The book was a great read, but I just can't zoom through literary fiction and The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears deserved a thorough reading. Yes, reviews are indeed pending.

I was also disrupted by the Mr. and his sometimes nonsensical shananigans which cost me two hours. I will not go into detail because I'm peeved and it's ruining my groove. Anywho, on to Hooray for Anna Hibiscus then Catching Fire.

Books read: 2
Pages read: 338
Hours spent reading: about 10

It's that time again for some serious reading. I know, I usually proclaiming it's time to read "hardcore" but, I have some family time obligations that might distract me some today. Anyway, I will not be completely deterred from reading throughout the day. My updates may be inconsistent here but, I'll also chatter a bit on Twitter (@browngirlspeaks). So
far, here's what I plan to read:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Colins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
Hooray for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

I've got my eggs boiling to get my protein and I have a green smoothie ready. I hope that'll give me some energy because I'm quite tired. Off I go...

Happy readathon!
For those participating in the African Diaspora Reading Challenge, this is where you can link to your fourth quarter (October-December) reviews. If you don't have a blog, you can add reviews to LibraryThing as it permalinks each member's review. This is how we'll format links: enter link title as your blog name (book title), i.e. BrownGirl BookSpeak (The Wife of His Youth). 

This is the last leg of the challenge everyone! As promised, I'll have a prize for a randomly selected participant sometime in December. I'll choose in time for a little holiday happy.

Challenge Sign Up
Book Suggestions
First Quarter
Second Quarter
Third Quarter
Does an academic librarian with cats and a Kindle scream book blogger? Could be but my BBAW interview partner, Susan of Pages Turned, would definitely call herself a book journaler. I was delighted to interview Susan so, let's see what she has to say...

Please share a bit about you and your blog.

Let's see. I work in an academic library and in the past I've been both a reporter and a teacher. I've two grown kids, a husband of almost 29 years, a couple cats. I used to write fiction and I've a friend who's been encouraging me to join her in that bad habit once again. She read
Ulysses with me this year so I kind of owe her.

I've always intended my blog as more of a reading journal, a commonplace book, than a book review site, which pretty much makes me a commie slacker by community standards. Sometimes, though, I make an effort to take it a bit more seriously and write a legitimate review.

Have you always been an avid reader and how did you get started as a book blogger?

I've always been obsessed with reading, to the extent that it could annoy other people--particularly my mother. I can remember when I was nine and a cousin came over from Ireland to stay with us for the summer, and there were also several other cousins living next door. Our dads bought us ponies and horses and we all ran amuck and broke our bones and had the most glorious times. But for months afterwards, my mother kept unearthing books my cousin had stashed in out-of-the-way places because I was somehow managing to sneak in too much reading on the side to suit her.

Now, as for blogging, my daughter was an exchange student back in '03, and before she went to Germany for a year she made sure everyone she knew had an online journal, including me, so that we could easily follow along on her adventures and she could keep up with our lives. Because I was not out having exciting adventures, I had nothing to write about on a regular basis but my reading, and a bit of political snarking, so that's what I did. I'd also started to read a few book blogs by then. Once I realized Blogger worked with the photo program my husband had installed on our computer, I wanted to see if I could set up a blog without any outside help. I had a few free minutes before I had to work the Sunday evening shift at the library back in October '04 (my birthday, actually), and before I knew it, I had a book blog.

Do you have any particular genres you stick to or do you keep yourself to several? How do you find the books you read and review?

I consider myself an eclectic reader, but I mostly read contemporary literary fiction. I like short stories, 20th century classics, and lately Anthony Trollope and George Gissing for my Victorians. I read a bit of science fiction and a few character-driven mysteries. I like to peruse lists for titles (Rose City Reader and Speaking Confidentially are the best at working their way through 'em), read blogs and message boards. I find myself buying a lot from the NYRB imprint. I like to read more obscure works, but I'm also awfully swayed by what others are reading. I don't accept a lot of review copies, because I hate feeling obligated to write about them.

Are you solely into physical books or do use e-readers or audio books? Why?

I don't do well with audio books. I zone in and out, can't follow anything unless it has a very simple sentence structure, which usually means it isn't anything I'm interested in anyway. I'd rather listen to music.

I have a Kindle, though, and I think it's very cool, but I also think it's a niche product. I don't experience motion sickness reading on a Kindle in a car; I wish I'd had one as a child when I could have used one. But unless you travel a lot,or have an inordinate interest in classics, or need a larger font to see, or need a device to read pdfs on, you probably don't need one.

I still read papers books much more than electronic ones.

If you could work in the book industry, what would be your dream job?

My dream job would be writing novels and short story collections for the book industry to publish and promote, but if I had to work in the industry itself, I'd want to be an editor.

What classic literary character have you found you identify so well with that you thought you might be a reincarnate?

Hmmmm. Got to be Hamlet. I have angsty soliloquies inside my head all the time.

What modern literary character so closely resembles you that you thought the author stole your life's story?

That sounds kinda meta. I think Clyde Edgerton nailed the milieu that I grew up in in
Raney and Jill McCorkle got the high school environment of that time right in The Cheer Leader--despite the fact that they were writing about eastern North Carolina and I lived across state in the foothills. I haven't run across myself in fiction, though. I'll have to keep looking.

How and where do you read? For example, do you have set reading time each day or just any free moment? Do you have a designated area or just wherever? Any certain snacks involved?

I usually read an hour or two before bedtime. Sometimes I get in some reading in the early morning, and that's really my favorite time, because my mind's sharp then. I read a bit on the bus on the way to work, and sometimes while I'm at work, out at the public service desk, although I usually just glance at blogs and political sites then. If I'm home, I usually read in my chair in the living room. Way too often, a snack may be involved, and almost always, coffee.

Nervous Conditions explores the coming of age of Tambu, a girl growing up in 1960s Rhodesia in the midst of British colonialism. Tambu is determined to break free of the oppressive and impoverished world she lives in and knows that education is her means to an end. After some set backs, she's offered a grand opportunity from an uncle who has become ell educated and the headmaster of a school that could take Tambu farther than the little school in her village. Tambu also tries to reckon with the cousin, Nyasha, she was once close to when very young girls but has been highly affected by her British education and overtly challenges her status as a young woman in a rigid patriarchal society.

Dangarembga opens the novel diving immediately into a feminist agenda by having the main character, Tambudzai (Tambu) proclaim that while her journey stems from the death of her older brother, her “story is not after all about death, but about [her] escape...; about [her] mother's and Maiguru's entrapment; and about Nyasha's rebellion.” Nervous Conditions is a story of women succumbing to and struggling against a society that devalues women. While women worked in the fields seeding and harvesting crops for consumption alongside male family members in the domestic sphere, many of them achieved some public autonomy by tending their own small plots, often passed on from their mothers, from which they would go to bus terminals to sell to white tourists their harvests. Tambu attempts to do this on a small portion of her mother's garden in order to raise money for school fees or else she will have to discontinue her studies. Studies that her older brother and her father believes are a waste of time on her. They have a traditional, marginalized view of women that dictates that their goal is to secure a husband as her father suggests questioning and heeding: “Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables.” 
Tambu's successful uncle returns to Rhodesia after several years in England attaining a Master's degree in hopes of helping the rest of his family rise from poverty through education. After the mysterious death of her brother who was chosen to be his family's academic savior, Tambu's uncle still wanted to make good on his mission. However, his deciding to take Tambu back to his school and to live with his family was treated more like a consolation prize than a gift. Tambu never let the negative attitudes of the men in her family deter her sober attitude towards getting an education.
Tambu's cousin and her uncle's daughter, Nyasha, represents the female challenging gender roles as well the traditional dynamics of parent child relationships that typically demand a high degree of respect from children for their parents. Tambu tries to reconcile her feelings for the now “Anglicised cousin” whose behavior she classifies as “embarrassing” and “disrespectful.” Yet, she sees the weight which Nyasha is rumbling under as she unsuccessfully teeters between the British manners and language she had become attached to and her traditional Rhodesian family life. As one of a number of times, the issue of menstruation and sexuality comes up when Nyasha offers Tambu a tampon because she becomes wary of the use of the more cumbersome menses rags. While this also ushers in the shift towards a more western mindset regarding odors and cleanliness for Tambu, the repeated idea of menstruation as “nastiness” and Nyasha's mother, Maiguru's belief that “tampons are offensive” and that “nice girls didn't use them” is a testament to the trivialization of female sexuality and reproduction.

Maiguru, Tambu's aunt, is the ultimate representation of the trapped woman as she keeps quiet that she has attained the same level of education as her husband. What she does do is dote on him and their daughter as expected of a wife. Much of Nyasha's angst and rebellion comes from the from the fact that her mother has been socialized to a stereotypical gender role even after she achieved a high level of education in spite of her family's chagrin. 

Tambu's journey into young womanhood and towards freedom are very much shaped by the women in her family who are at various places and stages with their statuses as women in a patriarchal society.  

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Reading Africa
POC Reading
African Diaspora
Women Unbound
Riverhead Books set my mailbox ablaze a few days ago with three ARCs set to be released over the next three months. It didn't occur to me until I got my package that Riverhead boasts a mean number of literary fiction by authors of color on including two of my new faves Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok and The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. 
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self
Danielle Evans
Hardcover, 240 pages
ISBN13: 9781594487699
ISBN: 1594487693

September 23, 2010
This electric debut story collection focuses on African-American and mixed-race teens, women, and men struggling to find their place. Striking in their emotional immediacy, the tales are based in a world where insecurities of adolescence and young adulthood, and the tensions within family are the biggest complicating forces in one's sense of identity and the choices one makes.

How to Read the Air
Dinaw Mengestu
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN13: 9781594487705
ISBN: 1594487707
October 14, 2010

From the prizewinning international literary star: the searing and powerful story of one man's search for redemption. Dinaw Mengestu's first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, earned the young writer comparisons to Bellow, Fitzgerald, and Naipaul, and garnered ecstatic critical praise and awards around the world for its haunting depiction of the immigrant experience. Now Mengestu enriches the themes that defined his debut with a heartbreaking literary masterwork about love, family, and the power of imagination, which confirms his reputation as one of the brightest talents of his generation. One early September afternoon, Yosef and Mariam, young Ethiopian immigrants who have spent all but their first year of marriage apart, set off on a road trip from their new home in Peoria, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee, in search of a new identity as an American couple. Soon, their son, Jonas, will be born in Illinois. Thirty years later, Yosef has died, and Jonas needs to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. How can he envision his future without knowing what has come before? Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, Jonas sets out to retrace his mother and father's trip and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn Ethiopia of his parents' youth to his life in the America of today, a story-real or invented- that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey
Walter Mosley
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN13: 9781594487729
ISBN: 1594487723
November 11, 2010

A masterful, moving novel about age, memory, and family from one of the true literary icons of our time. Ptolemy Grey is ninety-one years old and has been all but forgotten-by his family, his friends, even himself-as he sinks into a lonely dementia. His grand-nephew, Ptolemy's only connection to the outside world, was recently killed in a drive-by shooting, and Ptolemy is too suspicious of anyone else to allow them into his life. until he meets Robyn, his niece's seventeen-year-old lodger and the only one willing to take care of an old man at his grandnephew's funeral. But Robyn will not tolerate Ptolemy's hermitlike existence. She challenges him to interact more with the world around him, and he grasps more firmly onto his disappearing consciousness. However, this new activity pushes Ptolemy into the fold of a doctor touting an experimental drug that guarantees Ptolemy won't live to see age ninety- two but that he'll spend his last days in feverish vigor and clarity. With his mind clear, what Ptolemy finds-in his own past, in his own apartment, and in the circumstances surrounding his grand-nephew's death-is shocking enough to spur an old man to action, and to ensure a legacy that no one will forget. In The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, Mosley captures the compromised state of his protagonist's mind with profound sensitivity and insight, and creates an unforgettable pair of characters at the center of a novel that is sure to become a true contemporary classic.

Lady Q: The Making of a Latin Queen (paperback)
(Chicago Review Press)
By Reymundo Sanchez and Sonia Rodriguez
ISBN: 1556527225
ISBN13: 9781556527225
288 pages

Offering a rarely seen female perspective on gang life, this raw and powerful memoir tells not only of one woman’s struggle to survive the streets but also of her ascent to the top ranks of the new mafia, where the only people more dangerous than rival gangs were members of her own. At age 5, Sonia Rodriguez’s stepfather began to abuse her; at 10, she was molested by her uncle and beaten by her mother when she told on him; and by 13, her home had become a hangout for the Latin Kings and Queens who were friends with her older sister. Threatened by rival gang members at school, Sonia turned away from her education and extracurricular activities in favor of a world of drugs and violence. The Latin Kings, one of the largest and most notorious street gangs in America, became her refuge, but its violence cost her friends, freedom, self-respect, and nearly her life. As a Latin Queen, she experienced the exhilarating highs and unbelievable lows of gang life. From being shot at by her own gang and kicked out at age 18 with an infant daughter to rejoining the gang and distinguishing herself as a leader, her legacy as Lady Q was cemented both for her willingness to commit violence and for her role as a drug mule.

"To this day I wonder what my life would be like if my mother told me she loved me, held me, took my side once or twice in an argument. She made me think the whole world was against me so I had to fight for everything. I've learned that's not the  way things have to be."

While Lady Q presents a solid, engaging narrative, it is not a story to be read for literary value. Instead this is a tale of epic sociological proportions that should be used as a tool to save lives. There are implications of gender, class, and race/ethnicity. Sonia's story is one that is not told enough as girls are just as susceptible to the lure of a false family and false love that gangs pervade. This is the kind of story that should be required reading for every parent, educator, child care provider, social worker, etc. Anyone who cares for or works with children on a daily basis should take this tale to heart and use it to either remedy this generational family dysfunction or take proactive measures to prevent its inception. At the onset of the story, there is that all too familiar glimmer of the hope of education as Sonia's salvation but, in typical fashion, a lack of nurturing quickly diffuses that hope. Looking at the quote I shared above, the love and concern for her well being she sought did not have to come from her mother. Often anyone showing a genuine interest in a young person's success will suffice.

"On more than one occasion during my work with Sonia, I became upset with her over her refusal to           understand the damage she was doing to her son. I tried to get through to her head that she needed to think   about leaving the 'hood and try to give her son, who is an honor roll student, a better life. I reminded her that she herself had been an honor roll student whose  mother's carelessness allowed her to get lost."

Reymundo's criticism is a bit harsh considering Sonia has not good parenting examples. However, I do understand the place from which he comes. He knows Sonia wants better for her children and he just wants her to fight harder. What I take from his criticism, though, is that he's saying "Give a damn!" It's hard when you not only don't know any other way but when the means are not available for you to even attempt a different lifestyle. On a personal note: I grew up in a working class, single parent home. I could have been subjected to the same world from which Sonia came but, my mother sacrificed for us to live in a decent neighborhood with a decent school and just to be surrounded by those with ambition. In essence, she gave a damn and this story gives me an infinite amount of gratitude that she did.

Thanks to Condor Book Tours and the publisher for providing this book.