Sunday, July 25, 2021

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

 Open Water  

Open Water is a beautiful, soulful, intimate story about two young, British-Ghanaian people falling slowly in love as they strive to survive and thrive in a world that is often hostile to people in Black bodies. This is a book to savor slowly. I absolutely loved this. I borrowed Open Water from the library but I’m need to but it because I need own my own copy and be able to reread it again and again. In the meantime here are a few of my favorite passages.

“You came here to speak of shame and its relation to desire. There should be no shame in open saying, I want this.” There should be no shame in not knowing what one wants. – page 2

“You are safe here, you said. You are seen here. You can live here. We are all hurting, you said. We are all trying to live, to breather, and find ourselves stopped by that which is out of our control. We find ourselves unseen. We find ourselves unheard. We find ourselves mislabeled. We who are loud and angry, we who are bold and brash. We who are Black. We find ourselves not saying it how it is. We find ourselves scare.” – page. 34

“You’re looking forward to forgetting, albeit briefly, the existential dread which plagues you, which tightens your chest, which pains your left side. You’re looking forward to forgetting that, leaving the house, you might not return intact.” – page 69

“Let’s home in for a moment, on the boy, who you glimpsed sitting on the wall, cuffed, surrounded by police officers. With his beautiful dreaded hair framing his face like open curtains, and how he wanted to be seen and heard. What led him here? What led him to outlet his anger into another? That anger which is the result of things unspoken from and now and then, of unresolved grief, large and small, of others assuming that he, beautiful Black person in gorgeous Black Body, was born violent and dangerous; this assumption, impossible to hide, manifesting in every word and glance and action, and every word and glance and action ingested and internalized, and it’s unfair and unjust, this sort of death – being asked to live so constrained is a death of sorts – so you don’t blame him for the anger, buy why did his anger have to find a home in another who looked just like him?” – page 76

“…you were scared, that walking home in the night worried you sometimes, because you didn’t know which fate would meet you, the one who looked like you or the one who couldn’t see you, or couldn’t see you as you were meant to be seen, or whether you would arrive home without incident, and live to fear another day.” – page 76

“To be you is to apologize and often that apology comes in the form of suppression and that suppression is indiscriminate. Except here you must unfold your arms and from your chest say, you are tired…You begin to choke and gulp for air as tears stream down your cheeks…You must be heard. You think you are alone in this until you realize, she is with you too….You do not need to apologize here. When she asks, are you OK, do not fear the truth. Besides, she knows before you speak. There’s no solace in the shade. Let yourself be heard and hear her words…There’s no solace in the shade. Let yourself be heard and hea her words. Have faith.” – page 76

“Faith is turning off the light and trusting the other person will not murder you in your sleep.” – page 106

“You want to tell her there are some things you won’t heal from, and there is no shame in your hurt.” – page 130

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Dewey's Read-a-Thon

 It's that time of year again...time for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon. What is it about read-a-thons that draws people in? For me I think it is the dedicated reading of time. I try to read everyday, even if only a page or two. But on read-a-thon days there is a shift in my mind and the whole day, or a least a significant part of it, becomes devoted to this particular activity.


I started with a walk while listening to Octavia's Parables, a podcast about Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower (which I read recently) and Parable of the Talents.

Parableof the Sower


Later I switched to Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries by Guy Winch, Ph.D. and read chapter 2 on loneliness.

Early afternoon:

Read-a-thons are great for catching up on comics. I read two that have been sitting around in my unread pile for a long while:

  • The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong, Vol. 1: In the Bag
  • The Adventures of Archer and Armstrong, Vol. 2: Romance and Road Trips


Ended the evening with a steamy romance: Sin & Ink by Naima Simone. Don't you just love this cover!

Sin and Ink (Sweetest Taboo, #1)

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

That Kind of Guy by Talia Hibbert

That Kind of Guy (Ravenswood #3) Rae is Ravenswood's newest misfit. She's 40, divorced, and has a big scar on her face. Twenty-eight-year-old Zach is Mr. Helpful. He goes out of his way to make others feel comfortable and helps whenever he can, whether the person needs an orgasm or a car to be fixed. Rae and Zach have a flirty friendship. When Rae needs to attend an awards ceremony that her cheating ex-husband will also be attending, naturally Zach offers to be her pretend boyfriend.

That Kind of Guy is sweet and sexy romance. The attraction between Rae and Zach is clear from page one. The highlight of Zach's day is when Rae stops by on her dog walks to say hello. The issues separating them are their various insecurities. Rae likes being single and is wary of trusting her heart with anyone again. Zach is tired of being used and of contorting himself to make other other people feel comfortable. It takes time, but not too much, for both to admit they have real feelings for one another.

I very much enjoyed this. I don't know why it took so long for me to read this.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin

 The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin   It’s difficult to explain the plot of The City We Became. It starts with a homeless kid. He’s New York, as in the city of New York – and he needs help. There are five avatars who are supposed to help him, but first they have to find him.

A man arrives in New York City and suddenly collapses. He doesn’t remember who is or where he’s from, but he knows he is Manhattan. A woman in Queens watches in horror as a couple neighbor kids are about to be swallowed by their pool and she realizes she has to help them and stop what’s happening and, in that moment, she realizes she is Queens. Women in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island have similar experiences. The world suddenly shifts and they realize that they are the personification of their boroughs of their city.

I loved this. I loved it so much that I’m mad that I have to wait for the next book in the series. I loved the personification of the boroughs. Bronca, the Bronx avatar, is a queer Lenape woman who runs an art center. As a Lenape woman in the oldest of the NYC’s boroughs, she possesses the knowledge of and history of the city and what’s happening to it. Brooklyn is a rapper turned politician. She hears the city. Padmini, a Tamil immigrant graduate student, is the avatar of Queens, the borough of a starting over. Manhattan’s avatar, Manny, is a racially ambiguous new transplant to New York. He can’t remember his past and not sure if he wants to. He reflects the borough’s mix of cultures and edginess. Aislyn is the avatar of Staten Island. She never leaves her borough; her abusive father having impressed upon on her how the city is not for people like her. Of all the avatars, Aislyn is the most susceptible to the villain’s machinations.

Speaking of the villain, in old westerns the good guy wears a white hat and the bad guy a black hat. The white = good and black = bad is a trope that has been repeated ad nauseam. Jemisin flips this around, making the “woman in white” the villain. When the woman infects someone or something, white tendrils start growing out of them or it and you know no good will come of it.

I had no idea what to expect when I picked up this book. It did take a minute to get into it, but once I understood what was happening, I was all in. I really hope book 2 comes out soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Educated by Tara Westover


In Educated Tara Westover recounts her isolated childhood in rural Idaho and how she later decided to leave that life and pursue her education and a mind of her own. It wasn’t quite what I expected. If you are at all triggered by stories of abuse, brace yourself before picking this up.

Educated is divided into three parts. The first part of the book focuses on Tara’s childhood. Tara’s family reminded me a little of the Waltons (in a good way), a show I started watching during the pandemic when there were few new shows on. The Westovers weren’t rich but they had enough food to fill their bellies, a roof over their heads, and family around the table every night and in that way, they were fine. There was also plenty that wasn’t fine. The kids didn’t go to school and were working jobs at far too young an age. Tara’s father was convinced the either the end times were coming soon or that the family would be attacked by the government, so he made his family prepare. Somewhere in the mountain where Tara grew up there are stockpiles of food and guns buried in the ground.

One thing that I kept thinking as I read this book is how lucky the seven Westover children are to have made it to adulthood alive with all body parts still attached. There were so many accidents – two very serious car accidents, a motorcycle accident, and various workplace accidents at Tara father’s junkyard, including a fire and an explosion. What made it all worse is that Tara’s parents didn’t trust western medicine. They chose instead to place their faith in God and in Tara’s mother’s healing herbs and essential oils. Somehow none of them died.

Along with not trusting doctors and hospitals, the Westovers also didn’t trust the government or anything remotely associated with the government including public education. When Tara applied to Brigham Young University (BYU) she told them she had been homeschooled but that implies there was a systematic method of teaching in the home and that doesn’t seem to have been the case for Tara and her younger siblings. (Some of the older kids apparently received some formal education but not much.) The ACT Tara took as part of her college application was the first test she ever took. The first time she set foot in a classroom was when she enrolled at BYU.

It must be said that there are somethings that don’t quite add up in terms of Tara’s education journey. The way it reads Tara (and the two brothers that also went on to earn doctorates) are geniuses that can learn anything in a few months. Despite not having any kind of formal or informal education, Tara somehow taught herself enough math to pass her college entry exam. She failed an art history exam because it didn’t occur to her that she was supposed to read the textbook and not just look at the pictures, but by the end of the semester she had all As and Bs.

The second part of Educated recounts Tara’s college years and it is during this time that Tara begins to realize the gulf that exists between her family and childhood and the way other people live. BYU is a Mormon institution so it’s not like Tara was suddenly thrust into a totally foreign, secular world and yet so much was foreign to her. She is shocked when her roommate goes grocery shopping on the sabbath and cannot believe women are walking around campus in skirts that don’t go down to their ankles.

In part three Educated turns into a memoir of abuse and survival. This part I was not prepared for. Throughout Educated Tara’s parents (especially her father) are shown at times to be neglectful and controlling but the real danger is Tara’s older brother Shawn. Tara gives multiple examples of Shawn physically abusing and manipulating her and other women in his life. As much as Educated is about Tara not attending school for the first 17 years of her life and going on to earn a doctorate, it is also about her coming to recognize the abuse for what it was and the wrongness of it. Unfortunately, much of her family doesn’t see it that way.

Educated was definitely interesting. It took a while for me to get into but once I was in, I was all in. I even kind of what to read Tara’s doctorate. Fortunately, I work at an academic institution so finding a copy might be possible.



Saturday, January 16, 2021

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

 Lovecraft Country 

This took a toll. That's not to say it wasn't good, it was. But as a Black person, it took a toll on me to read this.

Awhile back I was listening to a podcast and one of hosts said that Toni Morrison's Beloved was her favorite horror story. That horror part of that statement struck me as odd at first but then the host talked about the horror of slavery combined with the ghost baby and it all made sense. Lovecraft Country is horror in the same way Beloved is and more so. There's the horror in the form of violence and threats of violence against Black bodies and horror in the form of magical things of unknown origin.

Rather than one story as expected, Lovecraft Country is actually a set of interconnected stories set in the Jim Crow era. The first story has Atticus Turner, a Korean War vet, driving from the southern half of the United States to north. He hollers for joy upon crossing the Mason-Dixon line even though he knows Jim Crow is alive and well in the north too. Atticus relies on The Safe Negro Travel Guide published by his uncle to make his way safely home. Of course, he is never truly safe. Upon reaching home he finds out that his father is missing. Atticus, his Uncle George, and their friend Letitia set out to find Atticus's father. They eventually find him being held captive by the Braithwhite family. The Braithwhite family is one of several White families that hope to harness their supernatural powers and Atticus just happens to be a useful tool, not a person just a tool, in the pursuit. The remaining stories all connect back to the Braithwhite’s quest for power.

Throughout the stories Atticus and family friends have to deal with ordinary racism, which often threatens to get them beaten or killed, as well as ghosts, malevolent spirits, and other supernatural happenings beyond their control. Spoiler, the everyday racism is way scarier than anything supernatural.

There were two short passages that really stuck a chord with me. The first involved books. Atticus is a reader and he especially loves science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Atticus remembers how he and his father used to argue over Atticus’s book selection. The books Atticus tended to pick at best had no non-white characters, or worse had stereotypical racist characters, or maybe it was the author who was known to be a bigot. Atticus realizes this but he likes what he likes and I totally get it. One, it be hard to separate the artist from the work. (It is always a blow to learn that an author you loved as a kid, like say Roald Dahl, was massively anti-Semitic.) Two, things are different now but when I was a kid most of the books that were available to me didn’t have characters that looked like me. As a kid I realized this but just took it at face value. As an adult I can look back and think authors and publishers could have and should have done better, but at the same time I can’t say I dislike all the books I read as a kid. I still like them, although it is hard to recommend some of the books I liked as a kid to kids today.

The second passage involved Ruby and her realization the power she holds as a White woman. Ruby is actually Black but a potion allows her to turn temporarily into a White woman. One day she is upset and a police officer asks her what’s wrong. A little ways away there happen to be some Black teenage boys minding their own business and the police officer asks if the problem is them. Ruby realizes that all it would take for the police hassle those boys (or much worse) is her saying they bothered her. In fact, the officer is ready to go after them before she says anything at all and Ruby has to persuade him that the boys did nothing to her. It’s scary to know that Ruby was right in knowing how vulnerable those boys were.

Bottom line – good read, but a difficult read.