Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Here is another example of my "Must read something serious for this project!" trend. I had started this book earlier in my project, at this point I took the time to finish it up.

I know a lot of people who needed to read this book when they were in high school. I'm glad that didn't happen to me because I don't think I would have really appreciated Janie's journey in the same way when I was a teenager.

This book is really beautiful. Although at times I found the dialect challenging the prose just shone. I loved the small details - Janie learning to play checkers, her appreciation for the natural world around her, the way Hurston writes about Janie's hair. It also carries a deep sensuality that is never crass or cheap.

I highly recommend this one. I'm happy that it was republished. I also appreciated the foreword about the importance of this work and the afterword including a short bio on the author.

The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr
I realized that I had read forty out of fifty books and had this feeling like, "But I haven't read anything SERIOUS yet!"

No, of course that isn't actually true, but realizing I'd passed that milestone made me want to read some more literary novels and nonfiction before the end of the project. This book was toward that effort.

This book is lovely. The prose is beautiful. It's about an older Japanese man who is reflecting back on his life as a silent film star - along with undergoing some changes in the present, as a journalist wants to write about his history. I highly recommend this and I'm planning to recommend it to my mom.

Next catch-up list
I don't post every time I read a book by a PoC, but I come back here now and again and fill in.

First up is Caren Gussoff's Three Songs for Roxy, in the Aqueduct Press Conversation Pieces series. Gussoff is Roma, a severely underexplored culture in fiction, and speculative fiction. This delightful volume examines an alien left on earth and adopted by Roma, the security guard who develops an obsessive crush on her, and the alien sent to retrieve her, with forays into Roma culture, tinfoil hat alien panic, and Stevie Nicks fandom. I really enjoyed it.

I can't say enough good things about Black Against Empire: THe History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr. Props to waywardcatsfor giving me her extra copy, and to imnotandrei for recommending it initially. I figured out why it doesn't seem academic, though it is so thoroughly researched: more than 95% of the book is purely narrative, describing what happened, and providing some context, but not bringing in academic theory or even very much analysis. This (plus clear prose) makes the book very readable, and often even compelling. In the conclusion, the two authors (Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin) do bring in theory and analysis, discarding both "represssion breeds resistance" and "repression discourages insurgency" for a more complex model in which social context determines which of those two models is going to be true in the moment. Because the book was written before Occupy, and long before Black Lives Matter, the authors end on a note of "it may be a very long time before a revolutionary black movement appears in the United States." I wonder what they would say now.

I am very glad to have read Octavia's Brood, edited by adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha.  I think there's a problem with the concept, which is that stories by activists about activism are very likely to fall into the joint traps of similarity and heavy-handedness, and the anthology does suffer some from both of those problems, but it also has many readable and memorable stories. I really liked brown's own story, "The River," Mia Mingus's "Hollow," and "Little Brown Mouse" by Tunde Olaniran, among others. And I never got around to reading LeVar Burton's novel Aftermath, from the late 1990s, and I appreciated that excerpt too. Recommended, probably to read in shorter bursts than I did.

A friend gave me T'ai Chi Classics by Waysun Liao. The "t'ai chi classics" are three very short monographs, and various t'ai chi advocates have done different things to make a whole book out of them. Liao's is the first one I have tried to read (I had no idea the Classics were so short). He opens with a long essay using a lot of storyboard-type simple diagrams to explain various concepts. Then he prints the annotated classics and then he uses the same type of simple diagrams to "teach" his own version of the short form. My own t'ai chi teacher is very well versed in the various t'ai chi publications, and he said he thought this book was okay but some of the diagrams didn't make sense. I feel like I got a fair amount out of it, and would get more if I actually practiced with it to hand. Not of much interest to anyone who doesn't either practice t'ai chi or study martial arts or Chinese history.

We did a work volunteering gig at the big San Francisco Public Library booksale, and as part of my volunteering free books, I picked up A Singular Hostage by Thalassa Ali, in my ongoing habit of trying to buy something I've never heard of by a person of color. Ali is an American who has lived in Pakistan; it isn't actually clear, on examination, whether she is of Pakistani extraction herself, though she has lived in Pakistan and is a convert to Islam. At any rate, I didn't enjoy the book, which is set in 19th century India and told from various British and Indian viewpoints. The biggest problem is that it's a stereotypical romance, with exactly the kind of "plucky young" heroine that I've been bored with for decades. Also, I thought both the British and the Indians were overstereotyped, the magic was simplistic, and the writing was nothing special. Oh, well, that's a consequence of reading on spec.

How the Other Half Banks by Mehrsa Baradaran is a very specialized book on a topic I'm involved in, by an Iranian immigrant to the U.S. Like Black Against Empire, this book well-researched and with lots of references, but without that "smarter than thou" tone I associate with a lot of university press publications. Do I have to say this is a relief? Baradaran is very smart and very knowledgeable. Her platform is postal banking, with which my Strike Debt group strongly agrees, but the value in the book for me was the history and the background theory. Her basic thesis is that banks and governments are inevitably, inextricably inter-related, and the only question is not whether they are closely entwined but how. This, with detailed history, helps to illuminate why the current U.S. (but not only U.S.) attitude that banks are somehow free-market entities which should not be regulated only serves to minimize the services banks historically provide to citizens in return for the government support they always receive.

Baradaran also goes into the history of various alternatives to big banks, including many I didn't know about, such as the Freedmen's Bank for former slaves (started well, got unregulated and went nasty), the "Morris banks," and others, along with lots of information I didn't have about credit unions and other more-or-less still existing options. And then she makes a strong case for postal banking, again with lots of history and information about postal banking around the world. Probably you should only read this if it's a particular area of interest for you. But I'm extremely glad it came my way.

Finally (for this post) Ayize Jama-Everett's The Liminal War is a satisfying sequel to The Liminal People (which I reviewed the last time I did a catch-up post here). Jama-Everett is using comic-book fantasy tropes to examine the lives and troubles of his characters, primarily people of color. He does an especially good job of walking the line between serious ideas and entertaining reading. This volume takes us to 1930s Mississippi and brings in bluesman Robert Johnson, and does so very well.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi
This book is a dream blend of space opera and intersectional politics. Welcome to the world of Alana Quick - disabled, queer, working class woman of color. Her one dream is to become a starship mechanic. She sees a slim chance to live her dream by stowing away on the ship _Tangled Axon_. But how can she convince its crew that she means well? And what can she do when her feelings for the ship's captain are decidedly unprofessional?

I waited a long time to read this one because it took the library a long time to stock it. But it's a great story with a lot of deeper resonances. Recommended.

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story by Martin Luther King
Buffy - Willow
This book gave me a good overview of the Montgomery bus boycott and a solid introduction to the basic concepts of nonviolent resistance. I especially enjoyed the bits where King talked about his philosophical and theological influences. It was clearly written and very accessible.

I'm probably going to read somthing by Malcom X soon since he and King often get mentioned in the same breath. Any recommendations for where to start?

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
This is a hot new release by the author of The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo.

Women can't do magic! ... or can they? This is an interesting riff on Edwardian society, similar to the writing of white author Susanna Clarke but with female characters with a bit more agency. The system of magic was also very interesting.

I highly recommend this one. It is funny and engaging. I hope there will be sequels.

China Rich Girlfriend - Kevin Kwan
Joan Smalls, Yoncé
China Rich Girlfriend is Kevin Kwan's sequel to his extremely successful debut novel, Crazy Rich Asians. That novel was about a Singapore family of extreme ridiculous wealth (picture some staff member at a hotel being rude to you and then you buying the hotel just to fire them. That kind of wealth). The novel name dropped luxury brands like crazy but at the centre was a good old fashioned tale about a young woman who wasn't accepted by her boyfriends snobby family.

Unfortunately China Rich Girlfriend doesn't have even this simple frame to hang a story on so as a result the book doesn't work as well. China Rich Girlfriend takes place roughly 3 years after the first book. The main characters Rachel Chu (the girl from the humble background) and Nick Young (the guy from the insanely wealthy family) are finally getting married, with Nick's mother, Eleanor, banned from the proceedings as she is against the marriage fearing his grandmother will disinherit him. However by accident Eleanor makes the acquaintance of a billionaire from Hong Kong whose son looks exactly like Rachel. She figure it's Rachel's long-lost father and crashes the wedding rehearsal to tell Nick and Rachel the news and to give Nick her blessing to marry now that she's discovered Rachel is potentially China rich. The rest of the story revolves around Nick and Rachel's time in Hong Kong on their honeymoon where she bonds with her half-brother while being rejected by her father and his wife.

The ending is super rushed but it does seem like Kwan is laying the groundwork for yet another sequel (which is fine by me, I would definitely read an entire series). Hopefully will the next book Kwan will remember something that he seems to have forgotten; that it's not enough to flash fancy labels and jaw dropping amounts of money, you need to be capable of telling a story too.

The People in the Trees - Hanya Yanagihara
Jessica Alba
The People in the Trees is the first work of new hot author Yanagihara. It doesn't feel like a first novel at all though. Structured as a frame novel (a story within a story) told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator (edited by an unreliable editor!) the novels follows the life of Norton Perina, a nobel award winning scientist that a few faux news articles included in the book are quick to inform you has recently been accused and convicted of molesting his adopted children.

Despite the narrative pitting reader against subject almost immediately the great bulk of the novel is told from Perina's perspective and Yanagihara is delicate with the way she has Perina seem like any innocuous person before slowly, slowly having him expose himself for the colonialist, patronizing, sexist, racist he is.

The end result is fascinating as if Yanagihara took Lolita, the history of the Pitcairn Islands, and alzheimers and stuck it in a blender. While the subject matter is not for the faint of heart it is still a fascinating read, especially as Perina was based on a real man, Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who also won a nobel and was also accused of raping one of his children.

The Dark-Thirty by Patricia C. McKissack (author) and Brian Pinkney (illustrator)
This is a collection of folk tales from the South. Although it is technically intended for children, some of the stories are quite creepy. If you are thinking of sharing this with a child, be sure and read it through first. As an adult, however, I enjoyed the chills running down my spine.

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
So, a few months ago I read I Wish I Had a Red Dress, by the same author. I didn't realize until I'd read more than 100 pages that it was book #2 in her Idlewild series. Whoops!

Anyway, I decided to go back and read the first book, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day. I thought this book was really lovely, though I prefered IWIHaRD. If you are a stickler for reading books in order, go ahead and give this one a shot. But, if you just want to read the best of the two I feel it's the latter.

Still, they are both beautiful and meaningful reads, with lots of humor and hope.


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