2011 was a year of reading changes for me. My work-commute (where I get 98% of my reading done) went from an hour and a half to 30 minutes. I moved to Brooklyn (arguably more fun than New Jersey) and spent more time out than in. The summer sun blew away all of my desire to read – What? It was so sunny and beautiful! – and the nice weather lingered well into November. But alas, I did read a thing or two, and I’m a better bookworm for it.
Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
This is one of the few book-to-movie marriages that I fully support. The books are easy to digest and offer great opportunities for discussion about social class, Big Brother, first world order, etc. All packaged neatly in a 15-year-old girl’s perception on (puppy) love, sacrifice, defiance and her role in the world around her. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that this is a pleasant read. I finished the first two page-turners and can’t wait to finish the third (and final, boo hoo) book.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley
Phenomenal book. Five stars. Two thumbs up. One of a kind. Nothing like it. Powerful. Breathtaking. How many cliches can I squeeze into this short description? To be honest, I thought this book would have a negative effect on me and my perception on the world, because what I knew about Malcolm X was what “the books” told me. They never mentioned that Malcolm X’s journey covered a full spectrum of an enlightened man. Lost Black man –> prisoner –> The Nation of Islam –> radical views of whites and their “evil ways” –> Hajj to Mecca –> compassionate attitude towards social change –> voice for peacefully working together (a la MLK) –> assassinated. He had a very clear perception of his role in the Civil Right’s movement. He knew that people would depict him as a radical, evil man; that the lies about him would cast a shadow on the good he’s done. This book is mind blowing down the last page. I will absolutely read this book again (and I don’t do that too often).
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
I would not recommend this book. But if you’re going to do it anyway, just know that it isn’t the cohesive and profound novel you’re expecting. Think essay passages from a standardized test strung together with coincidental character overlap. Yes, it won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but I’ve received an awards for “sportsmanship” aka “losing”.
My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid & Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye by Michael Eric Dyson
I read these books at the same time. Well, I started My Brother and found it hard to get through, so I thought reading two books at a time would be like a book tag-team. Wrong. So wrong. I found it hard to get into the writing style Kincaid employs in My Brother. I always wanted more information than she offered, and eventually didn’t care anymore. Mercy, Mercy Me was not the autobiography I wanted it to be. It was a series of essays about perceptions of Gaye’s life. I would be interested to read Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye as told by David Ritz to get a better understanding of who Marvin was (according to Gaye himself).
Native Son by Richard Wright
Technically, I read this in high school. But I should be honest and tell you that Sparknotes did most of the work connecting the dots and summarizing full chapters for me. Horrible – I know, I know. This time I’m happy that I read it all the way through. It is really a book loaded with so many metaphors that two things could happen: 1) You can spend a full book club meeting talking about the tangents and metaphors, without really referencing the book. Check, this happened. 2) You question what the book was really about. Was it just about a murder? Was Wright talking about something else all together? Check, this also happened…at the book club meeting from point 1.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
This was a significant personal reading challenge. Most of my time reading The Fire Next Time was actually spent highlighting the beautiful literary bombs Baldwin dropped left and right or reflecting on the concepts. I would love to have a cup of coffee (or maybe a cocktail) with Baldwin and pick his brain. He has an acute perception on the world, the role we play, and how to use that to move forward. The details are a little fuzzy (this must’ve been a 2010 read), but I am still enthralled in his work. I read this shortly after The Autobiography of Malcolm X and enjoyed a book in the same ballpark, that offered such a contrast in content and style.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
This is a story about war, soldiers and soldiers after war. I am fond of the way O’Brien juxtaposed the physical items the soldiers carried (ammo, lovers’ photographs, bibles, etc) with the mental things they carried (fear, distrust of their white/Black comrades, longing for purpose). No matter how you calculated it, everything weighed down on the soldiers. I feel like a broken record, having described my reaction to several people, but I can’t say it enough. It’s powerful to read about these somewhat random soldiers and still be able to see my grandfather in them. I imagine Vietnam was not the hot spot during the war (or any war zone, to be exact), but there’s a certain level of isolation veterans receive when they come home. Just because they’re taken off their heavy ammo and uniforms doesn’t mean that all of the weights from the war are gone. Excellent book.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the list. It’s shorter and sweeter – promise.
With a smile,