The Dead are Arising – Les Payne and Tamara Payne

The Dead are Arising – Les Payne + Tamara Payne; Winner of the National Book Award for non-fiction.
Arising gives a comprehensive view of the life of a dynamic, driven, divisive historical figure – Malcolm X. The book tells a story that spans from before Malcolm Little was born to immediately after his death. Autobiography was one of my favorite books of nonfiction and this book complemented it superbly. Arising gives an even account of the life Malcolm led before his introduction to Black Islam, his efforts in promoting that faith, his falling away, and his relentless efforts to rebuke the system of oppression that he lived in.
A few thoughts that occurred while reading this biography:
It may be easy to dismiss the faith of certain groups with beliefs different than ours, but those beliefs may not be inherently less plausible than the cornerstones of our own faith.
This figure with an imperfect, even criminal past dedicated himself to a specific cause and worked diligently to be heard and to make a difference. Through his boldness he became an icon.
When Malcolm learned specific troubling facts regarding the founder and foundations of the Nation of Islam, he moved away from the religion he had dedicated so many years of his short life to promoting. Rather than continue in that path, he made a fundamental change in his approach to both equality for black Americans and faith.
He was shot and killed on a stage right in front of his family. Only one of the five men directly involved in his murder was imprisoned. Significant evidence and accounts suggest that there was government involvement in his death and lack of prosecution of the responsible individuals. Luckily that kind of thing only happened back in the sixties and not now. 🤫🤫🤫.
The Dead are Arising is a great resource of carefully researched facts, first hand accounts, and historical documents, compiled to give a full view of the man that became an American icon.

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The Northern Reach – W.S. Winslow

I received an advance copy of The Northern Reach from @flatiron_books And I loved it! Author W.S. Winslow shares a series of stories set in coastal Maine and spanning about a century. This collection portrays several memorable characters and their love, loss, courage, and failures. The writing is rich and wonderful. Several passages seemed to open a door that I could step through and find myself on the coast in the 1930’s or 50’s or more recent decades.
My favorite story in this collection is Starvation Diet which introduces us to Lilliane, a young woman who left her home in France to marry and move to Maine. She loses her husband and finds herself a young widow and mother of two young children. She must find strength to face the cold, dark months of winter in Maine on her own.
Order a copy of The Northern Reach by W.S. Winslow now. Publication date: March 2021

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Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
I might be the last person to have read this novella. At just over 100 pages in this edition, this relatively simple story really packs a punch.
Lenny and George are hired on as laborers on a farm in California around the time of the Great Depression. The story unfolds through a series of short scenes, as if you are reading a play. Characters enter and exit each scene frequently but the reader is only ever aware of what is happening within that particular frame. George tries to steer Lenny clear of trouble, but it inevitably finds them.
What more can be said about a piece of writing that has been analyzed and studied for decades? There is a lot to unpack here… but the portion that really caught my attention was the frequent reference to a beautiful, serene place where these men would one day have everything they ever wanted. A place where they would be in charge, finally able to benefit from their hard work. A place that was ultimately an illusion.
See what I mean? Where do you go from there? Is Steinbeck trying to teach us a greater truth? Or just mocking us for believing that there might be something better out there?
New goal – Read everything by Steinbeck. Little by little though; there are too many other great books out there that I don’t want to miss. Ha!

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Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi

10/10 would recommend. Transcendent Kingdom is a monumental work of fiction that speaks to contemporary questions and issues. Yaa Gyasi tells a story of a motivated female scientist who overcomes a difficult past to make important discoveries in the laboratory and within herself. This book addresses inequality, prejudice, grief, mother-daughter relationships, suicide, neuroscience, religion, opiate addiction, seeking answers, and accepting incomplete answers.
Only a writer of Gyasi’s caliber can navigate so many topics without becoming muddled, providing perspective and provoking thought in each area.
Transcendent Kingdom deserves all the hype.

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White Noise – Don DeLillo

This was my first book by Don Delillo. White Noise starts off strong: a quirky, satirical family + an airborne toxic event + an evacuation + impending death and destruction. The first half of the book was brilliant but it took a very drastic turn down from there. The last 150 pages contained a few interesting lines on mortality and death but not much more than that. It became somewhat painful to finish.
While I will certainly read more of DeLillo’s works, I wouldn’t recommend White Noise.
Are there any books that come to mind with a strong start but you had to trudge through to finish?
Any of DeLillo’s other books that I should check out?

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Kurt Vonnegut – A Man Without a Country

Look what I found on the beach. This book is great, kind of a collection of thoughts, essays, ramblings from 82 year old Kurt Vonnegut. He survived so many things and lived through many historic moments, in this collection he says anything and everything that he is thinking. It makes me want to read more of his books. I know there are more than a few dedicated Vonnegut fans out there.
What is your favorite Vonnegut?

#kurtvonnegut #italicbookmarks #italic #vonnegut #beach #beachreads #essay #memoir #rambling #yellow #amanwithoutacountry

Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain is all about characters and atmosphere. A noble, tragic, beautiful, troubled cast is the highlight of this story, set in Glasgow in the 1980’s. An impoverished family tries to stay afloat and survive but they are constantly knocked down by circumstance, addiction, and violence. Agnes and her sons Leek and Shuggie steal the show in this book. The cover photo for the US hardback edition captures the mood and theme of this book perfectly. The highlight of Shuggie Bain is far and away the time that the boys have with their mother while she is sober (spoiler alert: it is not a very long time).

Shuggie Bain book review

I recently read the book Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. This book was published in Feb 2020 and has been on my list of books to read for some time. When I saw that it was also nominated for the Booker Prize I knew it was time. Shuggie Bain is all about characters and atmosphere. A noble, tragic, beautiful, imperfect cast is the highlight of this story, set in and around Glasgow in the 1980’s. This is an impoverished group, struggling to get ahead but continually knocked back down by circumstance, addiction, and violence. Agnes and her youngest son Shuggie steal the show here. The cover art for the US hardcover edition gives a powerful visual synopsis of the story.

And here is the actual synopsis from Google Books:

“It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest.”

Hope for the best, but expect the worst as you read this inspiring but heartbreaking story. I give it five stars out of five.

Book Recommendations For Anytime – Five Great Books

Looking for a great book recommendation? Here are five books that you can dive into, with a choice for every type of reader, chosen from my own bookshelves. These are some of the best books written over the last few years, with one from a little farther back. Whatever mood you are in, this list will help you find your next great reading adventure. Here they are (each with a brief summary from the publisher):

Best book for just about everybody: The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead (Jul 2019)

When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.


Adventure in Alaskan Wilderness with a touch of young love: The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah (Feb 2018)

Alaska, 1974. Ernt Allbright came home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes the impulsive decision to move his wife and daughter north where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Cora will do anything for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, has little choice but to go along, daring to hope this new land promises her family a better future. In a wild, remote corner of Alaska, the Allbrights find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the newcomers’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.


Epic story of identity, self-discovery, and the early AIDS epidemic: The Hearts Invisible Furies – John Boyne (Aug 2017)

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his many years, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more. In this, Boyne’s most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.

A non-fiction account of a young entrepreneur importing coffee from Yemen on the brink of civil war: Monk of Mokha – Dave Eggers and Mokhtar Alkhanshali (Jan 2018)

Mokhtar Alkhanshali is twenty-four and working as a doorman when he discovers the astonishing history of coffee and Yemen’s central place in it. He leaves San Francisco and travels deep into his ancestral homeland to tour terraced farms high in the country’s rugged mountains and meet beleaguered but determined farmers. But when war engulfs the country and Saudi bombs rain down, Mokhtar has to find a way out of Yemen without sacrificing his dreams or abandoning his people.


A gritty, bloody, punch to the face (and the brain): Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk (Aug 1996)

The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club. Chuck Palahniuk showed himself to be his generation’s most visionary satirist in this, his first book. Fight Club’s estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret after-hours boxing matches in the basements of bars. There, two men fight “as long as they have to.” This is a gloriously original work that exposes the darkness at the core of our modern world.

Colson Whitehead – Zone One

Zone One by Colson Whitehead is a fast paced journey through the streets of post-apocalyptic New York City. This book includes the jumps, scares, and carnage that you might expect from a story about zombies, but it reaches well beyond the typical limitations of the sub-genre. Zone One is set after the initial invasion of the undead, with particular focus on the efforts of the survivors who fight to reclaim the city. The main character, Mark Spitz, must survive in a dangerous place while leading a small team in their assignment of securing city blocks one by one. They make slow progress as the threats of violence and death grow ominously around their position.

Colson Whitehead has demonstrated a broad range in his talent as an author of both fiction and non-fiction. His recent novels include The Underground Railroad (2017) and The Nickel Boys (2019), each winning a Pulitzer Prize among other accolades. At the time of publication in 2011, Zone One was an early example of Whitehead’s singular ability to reach and inspire a wider audience than many authors of literary fiction. Zone One is a unique, unforgettable flavor of literary fiction. It is equal parts thriller, satire, and sociopolitical commentary thoroughly blended to a consistency that is uniquely Colson Whitehead.


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