February 28, 2017

Black History Month 2017 on Incessant Scribble

Today's the last day of February! Wherever you are I hope you found some way to celebrate our rich black history. On the 1st of February I announced that I would devote this month to reviewing novels by African Americans. It's a blog tradition that I hope to continue well into the future. I had hoped that I could review four novels but I was only able to review three. This has been a super, super busy month for me and while I couldn't reach my goal I'm super proud of my three book reviews. My fourth book pick is Ruby by Cynthia Bond. I'm almost at one-third of the book. I'll finish it up and post my review on the 7th of March. You'll find the links to all my Black History Month 2017 book picks below. ENJOY!

Book #1: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
Book #2: The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Book #3: Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

February 21, 2017

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn | Book Review

Margot works as a front desk clerk at the Palm Star Resort in Jamaica. During the day she answers the phones, welcomes guests, oversees the hotel staff and sees to it that guests are comfortable and well taken care of. At night Margot heads to the rooms of guests who earlier in the day put in orders for sex using code words like "sundae" and "ackee". She has dreams of rising past her current job post and she's doing her best to show her boss that she deserves a promotion.

Delores is Margot's mother and while Margot hustles night and day at the hotel, Delores labors under the scorching Jamaican sun selling souvenirs to tourists. She heads out to her market stall every day with her wares, lures tourists over and then exploits them. It's hard work. The Jamaican sun burns and the heat suffocates but her second daughter is the light at the end of the tunnel. She dreams of the day Thandi will become a medical doctor and rescue her from misery and penury.

Thandi is Margot's sister and Delores second daughter. She's the one who's being aggressively set up to succeed. She's the one expected to rise high and fly far. She's the basket into which Delores and Margot have put their precious eggs. Thandi is book smart and going to the best school in the area through a scholarship Margot wangled from Alphonso Wellington her boss at Palm Resort Hotel. Margot and Delores have drilled into Thandi that a good education and good grades is her only escape. It's the only thing that can elevate Thandi above this mess of a life and take her far far away from their shack. The dollars Margot and Delores stash away is used to make Thandi comfortable and see that she lacks nothing that she needs. They even let her skip household chores just so she can concentrate on getting the best grades possible to guarantee entrance into medical school. Thandi does as she's asked but she's not interested in being a doctor. She wants to be an artist and the little encouragement given to her by a schoolteacher sows a seed that threatens to undo all the effort that has been put into Thandi.

Here Comes the Sun is my 3rd book selection for Black History Month here on Incessant Scribble. I discovered this novel and my 2nd book selection, The Mothers by Brit Bennett, in the article My Year of Reading Books by Black Women written by Alisha Acquaye for Elle Magazine. Here Comes the Sun is a great book selection especially for Black History Month for many reasons one of which is that it deals with uncomfortable topics in black communities such as rape, homosexuality and colorism. It pushes the reader to confront these topics and to notice how they affect all our lives directly or indirectly. I think that makes this material more powerful and many times more arresting.

I need to discuss Delores and Margot but I'll try not to give much away. I think it's easier to tag Delores a monster and file her character away than to pay attention to everything that we know about her and acknowledge that she's the way she is because of the cards life has dealt her. She's just like the rest of us. So even though she's cold and unloving and even though she tears down her daughter's dreams and tears down their confidence. Even though she has fed her daughter to ravenous wolves on numerous occasions she's still a human being with her own demons and insecurities. Honestly there were a couple of times when I wanted someone to hug her and somehow heal her emotional wounds.

Margot is very ambitious. She may not be as book smart as her little sister, she may not have the
Formation World Tour, Houston, TX 5/7/16
education and exposure she needs to get the job she wants, and she may not have had a gentle, loving childhood but she doesn't let those things hold her back from her goals. She's ruthless in her pursuit of them tossing morals aside, sacrificing lives, breaking hearts, burning bridges and shattering homes. On page 196 she does something so savage that my eyes widened in disbelief and I put down the novel. It was already past midnight and I was still trying to recover from the shock and pain of watching Beyonce, just hours before, lose the Grammy for Album of the Year for her groundbreaking album LEMONADE, which she more than deserved. It was all just too much for one night so I went to bed. At first Margot seems better than her mother but in the end I'm not sure where to put her so to speak. She has mined the darkness of her childhood, adolescence and adulthood and used all of that to fuel her way forward. So at the end of the novel, however volatile her situation may seem to some readers, however pyrrhic her victory may seem to some readers, it's important to note that she survived. It's important to applaud that she held her head above water and went for every single thing she ever wanted. And anyone, anyone who has ever come from nothing. Anyone who grew up in poverty and lived in "shacks", and has forever known deep, deep, deep thirst for the better and nicer things in life will relate to Margot in some measure. I love this novel. I love it. I love it. I love it. You need to read it.

READ My Other Black History Month Selections!!!
Book #1: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis | Book Review
Book #2: The Mothers by Brit Bennett | Book Review

February 14, 2017

The Mothers by Brit Bennett | Book Review

The Mothers begins titillatingly with scandalous gossip. Nadia Turner, daughter and only child of Robert and Elisa, got impregnated by the pastor's son and she went to the abortion clinic downtown to rid herself of the baby. The rumor is told to us by "the mothers" a circle of wizened old women who have lived all their lives in Oceanside, a small community in California, USA. The mothers have seen it all - young feverish love, heartbreak, pregnant girls hidden from prying eyes and shipped off quickly to the home of a faraway aunt - and so even though they judge Nadia's actions their judgement seems to come from a different place. In a community as small and tight-knit as Oceanside everyone is connected and one person's actions can create a ripple that morphs into a wave and topples even the most revered community institutions.

Let me first say that this review doesn't do this novel justice (neither does the book cover art) and for that I sincerely apologize. Right from the beginning Bennett has you hooked and she keeps you enraptured until the very end. I'm amazed and so so impressed by the wisdom and depth Bennett has shown in this debut. How old is Brit Bennett? How is she so knowing? The Mothers by Brit Bennett is the spectacular arrival of a new literary voice. It's a mesmerizing accomplishment. Much kudos to Brit Bennett. You need to read this book.
This is my second book pick for my annual celebration of Black History Month here on Incessant Scribble. My first book pick was The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. My third book pick will be reviewed on the 21st. 

February 07, 2017

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis | Book Review

Hattie, her mom and her two sisters fled the south and traveled up north to Philadelphia to start life all over when Hattie was fifteen years old. The difference in racial relations is immediately evident to Hattie when she gets off the train at Broad Street Station, Philadelphia and so she vows never to return to the south. Not long after their arrival Hattie gets impregnated by August and she moves out of her mother's house to live with him. The twelve tribes referred to in the book title are her eleven kids and one granddaughter and each chapter in the book focuses on each child or in some cases two. Hattie's life has been a thorny mess partly as a result of her choices and largely because August Shepherd is an unambitious, no-good adulterer, completely unworthy of Hattie. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie begins with the birth and death of Hattie's first babies, the twins Philadelphia and Jubilee, thus setting the tone for the rest of the novel.

Ayana Mathis's prose is immediately absorbing. The first chapter is there to break our hearts and ready us for the rest of the novel. The characters are colorful, each one contributing immensely to the narrative and bringing along his or her own recollection of the same family events. I finished The Twelve Tribes of Hattie and wanted more so I continued on to the acknowledgements and drank up all of Ayana's thank-you's to those who contributed to this work. This is one of those novels that makes me question if I could ever really do this, if I could ever write anything decent enough. It's one of those novels for which I made a mental note to revisit for some sort of literary guidance once I'm ready to walk this path and tell my own stories. I love this novel a lot. You should read it.

This is my first book pick for the celebration of Black History Month here on Incessant Scribble. I plan to review four novels this month. My second post will be up on the 14th.

February Is Black History Month on Incessant Scribble

[Image via Amazon]

February 01, 2017

February Is Black History Month on Incessant Scribble

Black History Month is an annual celebration of black history and accomplishments. It's a tradition that originated from the fact that the contributions of blacks to the United States of America were being omitted in history books. It was a disturbing trend that many African Americans noted and spoke out against. Carter G. Woodson was one of those frustrated by the omissions and so with the help of Jesse E. Moorland he founded the Association for the Study of the Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History [ASALH]). That association led to the launching of a "Negro History Week" which later expanded into Black History Month and got officially recognized by U.S. President Gerald R. Ford in 1976. You can read a summarized version of this history at TIME Magazine and also on the History website.

Incessant Scribble has always been dedicated to celebrating the literary works of African authors. Over the past few years I've considered reviewing the works of other black authors on this blog but it wasn't until last year that I became immensely inspired to do so by Read Diverse Books, a literary blog I've been following for over a year. It's a gorgeous blog with great literary content and it's run by the very energetic and smart Nazahet Hernandez, a resident of Texas here in the U.S.A. For a whole month beginning from September 15th, 2016 and on till October 15th, 2016, Naz featured reviews, author interviews, guest posts from latin authors and author spotlights on his blog for the Hispanic Heritage Month. It was an entire month dedicated to celebrating and uplifting latin literary voices. I was mind blown and completely impressed with the quality of work he blogged and in awe because I know the amount of effort that goes into blogging. I was so impressed that I swore I'd pay tribute to African American authors in whatever tiny way I could come February 2017. Beginning this year and continuing every year henceforth, I will devote the entire month of February to promoting black literature that isn't from the continent of Africa. It's my goal to review at least four novels for Black History Month every year.

From the minute I became inspired by Nazahet last year, I began to compile a list of novels by African American authors that I wanted to read. My shortlist included:

1. Sula by Toni Morrison
2. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
3. Going to See the Man by James Baldwin
4. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
6. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
7. Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates

After much consideration (I used Amazon's "Look Inside" feature a lot to preview the novels) I dropped #1, #6 and  #7 from my shortlist. I already owned #2 and so I bought #3, #4 and #5. I began to read #5 but I dropped it because I found it unabsorbing. I'll give it another shot sometime in the future. On January 6th of this year one of my friends, Thank-God Eboh, shared the ELLE Magazine article My Year of Reading Books by Black Women written by Alisha Acquaye on FacebookI loved it. It was in that article that I discovered and quickly purchased The Mothers by Brit Bennett and Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn. I had been contemplating buying Ruby by Cynthia Bond for some time so once I saw it in the ELLE article I bought it. I finished reading The Twelve Tribes of Hattie in early January. I'm currently in the middle of The Mothers and I hope to get to Here Comes the Sun right after that. I'm not yet sure what my 4th book pick will be or if I'll be able to meet my goal of four novels this month. I'll do my best. Keep an eye out for my book reviews 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th of this month. Have an amazing month!

[Image via Cal Alumni Association UC Berkerley]