2017 Reading Challenge Update: First Five Books
Hey All! I hope you are doing well. If you've been following along with my 2017 Book Challenge where I read 50 books by 50 Women of Color authors this year, you probably know that it hasn't been going as smoothly as I had planned. I definitely overestimated the speed reading abilities I had gained as an English major in my undergraduate years where there were points that I was required to read three or four books simultaneously a week for my different English classes! I definitely feel to properly get the most out of what I'm reading, I can't rush through it and need a few days to process some of the often heavy themes these different books carry. I'm embarrassed to admit it but I am actually SIX books behind schedule! I am determined though to read as many books as possible this year! Here are my thoughts on the first five books I read for the challenge. I gave the books ratings which are based on my own opinion, I am obviously not a book critic!
Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness by Rebecca Walker: This book features a collection of essays by some of the most prominent thinkers and black artists of our time including Mat Johnson, Tricia Rose, bell hooks, Kara Walker, Dream Hampton, Hank Willis Thomas, Michaela Angela Davis, and many more. The book explores the idea of "black cool", what it means, how it is expressed by black people, and consumed by people of other races. While reading this book, it was interesting for me to think about my own black identity and how I've come to understand and express it. I definitely don't think I grew up being "cool" or that I'm a "cool" adult now. I remember being asked repeatedly while growing up in the suburbs, why I talked and acted "white". In fact in high school as an alternative music listening, Hollister wearing teenager, I remember a white friend once claiming she was more "black" than me, because she knew more hip-hop and rap songs. There is another side to the idea of the coolness black culture possess and in an interview with NPR, Walker articulates it well. She states that she wanted the name 'black cool' "...specifically because I think that the more it's appropriated, assimilated, commodified, the more distant ... the cultural contribution to global discourse becomes from actual black people. If blackness is separated from this aesthetic of cool that comes out of our culture ... we lose the understanding of how much we are actually giving to this world."
I gave this book a review of 4/5 stars simply because some of the essays didn't really hold my attention which to be fair, I prefer fiction and probably choosing a book of essays wasn't the best way to start off the challenge.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor: Binti is a science fiction novel that begins with the protagonist, Binti, a young woman from the Himba ethnic group, first of her people to be offered admittance to the prestigious intergalactic Oomza Uni, leaving Earth for the first time to begin her studies. The novel explores what it's like to be "alien" both within your own culture as well as when you leave it. Okorafor also examines the concept of learning to communicate and express who you are, and the values you hold dear. I really love this genre of science-fiction, Afrofuturism/Black Science Fiction, a concept in which science, technology, and science-fiction are used as ways of looking at the black experience. The science-fiction trope of being a foreigner/alien in a strange land is something that people of African descent/within the diaspora understand all too well. The novella is short; under 100 pages and tells a powerful story.
This is the first novel within the Binti series. I gave this book a 4/5 because due to the length some concepts were not as fleshed out as they could have been, and some parts felt rushed. Overall though I enjoyed Okorafor's style of writing and I'm excited to read more of Binti's story!
Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay - I had pretty high hopes for this collection of essays by Haitian-American writer Roxanne Gay, after hearing an interview with her on one of my favorite podcasts Another Round. She is funny, witty, smart and overall just really fun to listen to. However I ended up not really loving her book. Again this may be my own issue with non-fiction/essays. I just couldn't really get lost in her writing the way I expect to when a book really grips my attention. However I loved how she explores what feminism means to her and why she may not fit the mold of a "perfect feminist", something I can identify with (I actually really enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey AND The Twilight Series;both the books and movies! 🙈 ). The essay that blew me away the most though was 'What We Hunger For', in which she examines the meaning and cost of representations of female strength, through the lens of The Hunger Games trilogy. I rated Bad Feminist 3/5.
Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa was one of the most amazing books I have ever read. I love stories that explore multi-generational relationships between women, as well as magical realism ( examples of similar books, The House of the Spirits, Cane River). The novel explores slavery in Puerto Rico, a lineage of women who possess other-worldly abilities and the magical stone that unites them. Starting with Fela, in the mid-1800s who is taken from Africa, all the way to her great-granddaughter Carisa, in the late 20th century who is trying to form her full identity as a black, Puerto-Rican. I loved that the author brought in the Yoruba religion and I enjoyed learning about the history of black Puerto-Ricans. The antebellum era always been a period of time that has fascinated me, and the whole institution of slavery is something that I continually explore. It's hard to articulate because I don't believe it's fascinating in a way that it is enjoyable, but rather I try to understand how the system came to be and the consequences and realities we all live with in terms of institutional and other forms of racism and oppression. I rated this book 5/5 because I could not put it down!
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a collection of short stories by one of my favorite authors. Adichie's story-telling abilities are are matched by few people in my opinion. She understands how to really flesh out people and situations and this ability is showcased well within these short stories, where she gives you all the necessary details and relationship dynamics between characters, in just a few pages. She really captures the experience of being a woman in society where you are devalued and men and boys are favored. If you haven't read any of Adichie's other work you need to get on it! You can find her other books here (Purple Hibiscus: A Novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, Americanah, We Should All Be Feminists, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions). I gave this book 5/5 because again I couldn't put it down and each story left me wanting to know more about the characters and what happened to them after it was done!
What book(s) are you currently reading? i'd love to hear your thoughts, if you've read any of the books in this post of that are part of my 2017 WOC Book Challenge! You can comment below or find me on Facebook, Instagram or email. Look out for the review of the next five books soon! Happy Reading!