Colson Whitehead embarks on a double-sided exploration of 1960s Harlem in his latest work of fiction, Harlem Shuffle (Doubleday). For a Black man trying to survive and keep his furniture business afloat in tumultuous times, Ray Carney finds that street smarts are just as important as his college degree. Balancing a double life as a family man and a hustler proves to be as challenging as navigating the great promise and potential danger of New York City in the sixties and seventies. When a heist goes wrong, can Ray keep the truth from his wife and children and still come out on top?
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The first time that I read the novel 1984 was twenty years ago for high school English class. It was one of the few books that I really enjoyed at that time in my life. I just read the novel again and I found it to be fascinating for completely different reasons from when I was younger. This dystopian masterpiece holds up and gets even better with time. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the novel:
A young writer searches for the truth behind an unsolved murder on Harvard’s campus. X Not unlike reading a true crime podcast, this book includes plenty of grisly details but also focuses attention on the life and work of the young anthropology student who was killed, as well as those who were suspected to have committed this crime. X The most intriguing part of this book was the connection that the writer came to feel with the victim through the course of her research. She observes parallels and strange similarities to the girl who was killed forty years earlier.
Colson Whitehead embarks on a double-sided exploration of 1960s Harlem in his latest work of fiction, Harlem Shuffle (Doubleday). For a black man trying to survive and keep his furniture business afloat in tumultuous times, Ray Carney finds that street smarts are just as important as his college degree. Balancing a double life as a family man and a hustler proves to be as challenging as navigating the great promise and potential danger of New York City in the sixties and seventies. When a heist goes wrong, can Carney keep the truth from his wife and children and still come out on top?
Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award, Colson Whitehead’s previous titles include bestsellers The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys. His affinity for telling stories that expose deep cracks of racism in our most cherished cities and beloved freedoms has garnered him attention on a much larger scale than most contemporary writers. In recent years, he has appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine and was interviewed on the television show 60 Minutes. Whitehead is a rare example of a talented artist who has achieved both a large popular audience and critical acclaim. He continues to gain momentum with vivid storytelling and characters that live, breathe, and bleed on the page.
Author Annabel Abbs studies and retraces the paths of several trailblazing women throughout history in her book Windswept: On The Path of Trailblazing Women. Abbs achieves a level of detail in retelling each of these accounts that provides familiarity with these historic women without recreating their entire individual biographies. We learn of the important contributions of each woman to society and their art, with a focus on specific issues and challenges that they each encountered. The primary focus of this book is the role that walking played in the lives of each of these figures, as well as the author of the book. Each character embarks on a life-defining journey of great length, breaking through barriers in doing so and emerging a different person at the end. These brave women did not all reach their ultimate goal but were invariably transformed by the journey.
These are not your average, leisurely strolls around town and this is not a passively reflective chronicle of their lives. These women walked in powerful strides and made bold steps. The tone of the book is decidedly defiant and empowering. These profiles allow us to learn of these women in motion, as they moved toward freedom and resisted the confining norms of their day. The challenges, failures, and pain of these historic women are encouraging and inspirational. They kept walking, committed to putting one foot in front of the other, in some cases even sacrificing family for their passion and desire to be free. The heroines of Windswept represent women in various geographies and time periods as well as different stages of life. From young mothers to women like Clara Vyvyan who was 67 years old when she completed her historic trek along the Rhone river.
Bolla by Pajtim Statovci explores themes of love, lust, betrayal, selfishness, and memory in a completely original and unique story. Statovci blends, bends, then breaks myth, legend, and law in ways rarely represented in modern literature. In the tradition of Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert, or more recently John Boyne’s Maurice Swift, the reader witnesses love, betrayal, and penitence in the main character Arsim, an Albanian man living in Kosovo. The term protagonist is used with a grain of salt as we follow the life of this character before, then in the aftermath of war in the troubled region. Bolla is above all else, intriguing, beguiling, at times challenging. Is our narrator a man or a monster? If he seeks redemption, what form could this possibly take? Might his salvation take on a deformed appearance equally matched to his “sins”?
Bonus: Look AT THAT COVER !!! It’s a piece of art for your bookshelf.
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.
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
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. X 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. X 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. X 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? X 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! X
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. X Transcendent Kingdom deserves all the hype.