Books for the Soul

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Must Read

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was very angry and her writing in Sister Outsider is filled with this claim. She knew in order to rectify the problem, she needed to own it, declare it and confront it. Lorde accepted her anger as a part of her being, never shying away from what put such sentiments there in the first place. She was not born angry, this is an obvious fact because no one is. She was a black lesbian feminist born and raised in Harlem during the 1930’s and beyond. The environment in which she grew up in didn’t make for easy living.

Her conviction was for humanity as a whole and she maintained a very special emphasis on the black experience as both woman, man and gay in America. But that isn’t all she discussed; she writes to those who have been crippled in their silence, unconsciously limiting their own greatness out of fear. Fear of what? She chooses to provide the extreme perspective: will the fear save you from death? Everyone’s story ends the same way, why not take advantage of our voices while here?

Her voice is relevant today, as it was then. She ignited my fire.


Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary by Jasmine Guy

I didn’t begin Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary with any expectations. I had my eyes on this title for a while because of knowing her as the mother of Tupac. I didn’t know anything concrete or substantial about her other than the fact that she was a member of the Black Panther party and birthed one of hip-hop’s most intellectual rappers. It, honestly, wasn’t until after her death that the book became one that was necessary for me to tackle. I, like many others, witnessed the outpouring of love that came when her departure from earth was announced. In learning of the news, I felt empathy and provided her family with good energy.

What I learned about Afeni Shakur took me by surprise. I understood Tupac as a rapper and admired his passion, his fire, his refusal to shut up and his consistent conviction to speak to the people. I viewed him, like many others did, as someone who left way too soon; as someone the community still needed. In reading Evolution of a Revolutionary, I can now understand how “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

In the opening scenes, Afeni is sitting with Jasmine Guy and is reciting wisdom about the relevance of owning land and cultivating crops. “You can’t be spending your money on trinkets if you have to keep up your land. We plant a tree for Tupac on his birthday every year,” she said. The person we are initially introduced to is not the person who transpires as the story moves. It navigates slowly, in a dark way, revealing bits and pieces at a time. The pace is necessary because her story is heavy. Continue reading “Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary by Jasmine Guy”

If A Brief History of Seven Killings Was A Film, This Would Be Its Soundtrack

Winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize, A Brief History of Seven Killings, is a diverse body of work filled with more drama than the notorious 1983 film, “Scarface”. Marlon James, who was born in Jamaica, allowed his culture to influence the foundation of his latest novel by writing nearly 50 percent of it in Jamaican Patois. Each chapter is narrated through the voice of a different character, providing many perspectives and furnishing the sense of a broad collection of stories. Through each dialogue we are privileged to witness the experience of a dead politician’s ghost, young boys who are forced to kill before they have the opportunity to lose their virginity and men so high on cocaine that their story reads like a schizophrenic poet.

Continue reading “If A Brief History of Seven Killings Was A Film, This Would Be Its Soundtrack”

The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter

      Nell Irvin Painter‘s most recent text, The History of White People, dives deeply into the concept of race. With a solid foundation in the research, Painter attempts to find out when, why, where (and by who) humans began differentiating themselves by skin color. It felt more like a journey than anything else: Painter cuddled me into a time machine that dated back to ancient Greece where it is confirmed that human beings were (once upon a time) identified solely based off of geographical location and tribe. It is through the beginning pages that she awakens her reader, sets the pace and informs that “race is an idea, not a fact.” Utilizing this perspective (one I agree with), Painter provides her reader with the option to witness the evolution of a simple thought and how it transformed an entire civilization.

       The tone of the text isn’t angry or frustrated. Instead, Painter communicates from a place of humorous and witty wisdom. She confronts many white “scholars” and their research with an effortless ease while also laughing at the absurdity of their churned results.

       The History of White People is just that: history.

      Through the expedition, Nell Irvin Painter takes us through the rise and fall of these bad ideas, how they were encouraged and (most importantly) how they were defied. She writes about the repugnant process of social engineering and ends on a sad, familiar note: not much has changed.

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

Even after closing this book, the words are still fresh on my skin. It’s a difficult story to swallow, one of ethnic people who were taught to despise other ethnic people because of the difference in language and shade. Edwidge Danticat, in her research, ventured out to the Massacre River which flows between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in an effort to touch the piece of earth that soiled the blood of thousands. Much like Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, it is a fictional story that is based around historical facts.

It is through Amabelle, the narrator, that we bare witness to the fear, confusion, loss of love and utter loneliness during a time of running. While reading, I was surprised: for a moment, I thought I was reading a story about the Underground Railroad in America. However, I was elegantly reminded (and kept in check) through the use of both Creole and Spanish.

Ha. Jokes on me.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

This is a text that is obviously about the brief “wondrous” life of Oscar Wao. I find myself often questioning the placement of the word wondrous, which is defined as inspiring a feeling of wonder or delight; marvelous. Oscar, profoundly, instigates the opposite of the meaning for those very words. It is the kind of book that will make you scream at the pages and roll your eyes in hopes that your strained moving of the folio would spur up better judgement and decision-making by the novel’s focal point character. But, I learned the hard way: my frustrations would mean absolutely nothing.

Junot Diaz interlinks this brief [disastrous] life with rich culture, one that is dated back many years on an island that has been grimly divided due to colonization and the brain washing of self-loathing. Diaz, of Dominican lineage, picks at the unfortunate events within his culture and utilizes the moment to prove many vivid points. It is a fiction story, yes, but the historical context isn’t. Exploiting the use of footnotes, Diaz taught me many things in a voice that I could relate to. In a text that is culturally motivated through the fluency in utilizing two languages, Diaz is proof that history can be made fun.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

The timelessness of this piece of work is obvious. What more is there to say that hasn’t been said already?

Remember Your Essence by Paul Willams

I’m obviously binge reading Paul Williams. Remember Your Essence is a clear reminder, through poetry, that we are each filled with a burning light.

Coming by Paul Williams

As I suspected: Coming is deep. It is engrossed with very little words but, I feel, that’s what makes it so special. I assume the intention was for it to be a quick read, as it was. Its small word count and nearly empty pages are, I feel, precisely why it’s necessary. Paul Williams, through this poem, slowly breaks down the meditative energy that is in making love. The message and the size of its punch is relevant.

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