Negroland

51RxUJxkrdL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Just last week I finished reading Negroland, I had started reading it a couple of weeks ago and though it took me some time to finish, I really enjoyed it.  Just in time for the last day of February, Black History Month, I wanted to share the book.  The book is great, and probably hasn’t gotten the attention and recognition it deserves.  It was thoughtful, thought-provoking, and fascinating.  Margo Jefferson, a child who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, explores many topics, both from her own life, and those that seem common in her community.  Her father was a doctor, she grew up in an elite black community – the upper class.  Within the city of Chicago, she and her sister had a unique childhood.

With this privilege, came a certain responsibility, and certain expectations.  This seems to be one of the main topics of the book, and something that shaped her early life.  They existed somewhere between and black and white, and this was a very delicate balance.  Her family separated themselves from the rest of the black community; she even describes this as the “third race”.

She raises interesting questions about how race should be represented.  As a member of this elite black community,  she was judged not only by race, class, and education, but also by manners and speech.  She also describes in detail the proper, acceptable appearance of young black women, the standards of which were incredibly stringent and inflexible.  This experience was something that most of her community felt, that there was constant pressure to live up to expectations.  For some, the expectations were too high.  Here, she describes the way in which African Americans are judged:

“Too many Negroes, it was said, showed off the wrong things: their loud voices, their brash and garish ways; their gift for popular music and dance, for sports rather than the humanities and sciences. Most white people were on the lookout, we were told, for what they called these basic racial traits. But most white people were also on the lookout for a too-bold display by us of their kind of accomplishments, their privilege and plenty, what they considered their racial traits. You were never to act undignified in their presence, but neither were you to act flamboyant.”

This book was definitely an eye-opener for me, exposing me to the special standards placed on black women.  It changed and challenged what I thought I knew.  They are unfair standards, certainly, but unfortunately I don’t think those standards will relax any time soon. Despite the special scrutiny she experienced, she excelled. It was what was expected of her. And her success is so emblematic of black success, that she rise within her own community (though she certainly transcended that). She was expected to not challenge the status quo, and to not challenge expectations.  Miss Jefferson has had a long writing career, and is even a Pulitzer Prize winner.  I hope she continues to write, and to enlighten, and to challenge expectations and prejudice.

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11/22/63

9781451627299_p0_v2_s192x300This mini-series that recently debuted on Hulu is based on the Stephen King book of the same name, which came out in 2011. It is one of the best King books, one of my favorites – and one of my favorite books ever. When I heard that the book was to be made into a miniseries, I was super excited.  I have to admit that I signed up for Hulu just to watch the show – and it was totally worth it. When I started watching it, all of the details of the book came back, it had been a while since I had read the book – though now am considering re-reading it.

The first episode “The Rabbit Hole” describes just what a mind trip this book, this miniseries is. There was actually a Lost episode with this same title, and obviously references Alice in Wonderland.  The story starts with an old-fashioned diner in Maine, so quintessential New England, and so quintessential King. Jake, a high school English teacher, is the main character of the story. It’s through a friend he makes at the diner that he is able to find a time portal. Of course, it takes some time to get his head around this, and with the guidance of Al, the diner’s owner who had originally discovered the portal, is determined to go back in time and try to prevent the assassination of JFK. He learns that he was only shown this portal because of Al’s cancer, and because he couldn’t complete his mission of stopping Lee Harvey Oswald.

There’s one important thing about this time portal – it only allows them to go back to one certain day in 1958.  From there, they can stay as long as they like, come back to the present day, and only two minutes will have passed.  If they chose to return again to the past, they will return to that exact same day.  If you could go back in time, to just one day in history, to make the greatest impact ot possibly change the future, or change the world, what would that one day be??  That something that Al has contemplated, and decides the most important thing he can do is to try and stop the JFK assassination.

So, James Franco was announced a while ago to be playing the lead character, Jake Epping. I think he’s great for the role – and I loved him in the role. I’m not quite sure who I was picturing when I first read the book, definitely not him.  I was really surprised to see Josh Duhamel playing Frank Dunning – who really can be no one’s favorite character.

The first two episodes are available on Hulu, and really enjoyed watching both.  The Under the Dome series was so disappointing and I stopped watching after just two episodes.  11/22/63 seems more promising – and I can’t wait for the next episode that comes out Sunday!

 

 

Resolution check-in

unnamed-1Time for some accountability. How many of you last month made New Years resolutions?  Of those resolutions, have you been able to keep up??  I mentioned before that I really don’t believe in resolutions, but I did set goals for myself for in 2016.  This year, my goals were to read more (reading challenge), create more, and do more more yoga.  Two of my goals I’m happy to say I’m keeping up with – of course it’s only February though.  I’m squeezing in more time to read whenever possible – though I have been super busy with work, and my daughter has been waking up super early, so I don’t have quite as much time as I’d like.  Staying up reading at night is still a challenge, but I use any spare time I have to devote to reading. I’m currently reading Career of Evil – which I love, and it’s so hard to put down!  On my iPod, I’ve been listening to 2am in the Cat’s Pajamas – which is also good.

unnamedOne think I am keeping up with is my goal to include yoga in my daily routine.  It’s actually the only exercise I’ve been able to do.  Last month I fell down the stairs in my house and I haven’t been able to run.  It’s actually killing me – running is such a part of my life, and not being able to do it is really hard.  I’ve been using the yoga app, and whenever I do yoga in our living room there’s always a crowd.  What I love about the app is that there are a variety of yoga workouts – depending on what time I have, and my ability level.  My cats find it so intriguing when I use the app on my phone, placing it down next to me on the floor.  They love to knock over the iPad, tap on the screen (which pauses the workout).  Yesterday I was doing a bridge pose, and my daughter was walking back and forth underneath me – which she thought was super fun!

I’ve been working on a few projects at home – so I’m trying to “create” more.  My husband and I have been working on redoing our kitchen, and just refinished our kitchen table.  Not as easy as we thought it would be (is it ever though??).  I think that counts as “creating”?  This goal is a challenge though – free time is hard to come by.  I’m trying though!  What about you?  Are you surviving winter?  Are you as ready for Spring as I am?  Are you keeping up with your goals/resolutions??

Someone

51N9JLFozAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I really like Alice McDermott, I’ve read a few of her books – and this latest one of hers is a good one.  Having read this book, and really enjoying it, I’m still not sure about the title. I’m not sure who the Someone was supposed to be. The story chronicles a woman’s life, told in a series of events. Marie grew up in Brooklyn, and the story begins in the 1930s. Living in an immigrant neighborhood, she is surrounded by interesting characters – with different backgrounds, and interesting stories.  I think I was about halfway through the book before I figured what time period this was supposed to be. There were parts of the story in the beginning that hinted at the early 20th century, but it was kind of bugging me for a while that I didn’t know when the story was supposed to be taken place.

Although I liked the story – it wasn’t always easy to keep up with the flash backs or flash forwards. The story starts when she’s very young, and the middle of the book ranges until she is very old – she’s at a doctor’s office with her daughter (who has kids of her own), waiting for cataract surgery. She has an older brother Gabriel, to whom she is always compared. He is a bright child, always the favorite of their parents, or at least that’s what she believes. They are first generation Americans – children of Irish immigrants. This experience greatly shapes who they will become. He at once a Catholic priest, then experiences a loss of faith.  She, a wife and mother, struggles to understand him.

The small moments for Marie add up to her life story.  She and her brother are rooted in Brooklyn, and the way it is portrayed (in this and other books) it seems like a small town, in the shadow of Manhattan.  One thing she says about her life that really struck me, is the importance of the hospital in all of their lives – versus the church or the home. The important events of their lives have happened there – the births of her children, a major surgery (at one point she has an eye condition which renders her blind for almost a week). This is so poignant, so true, and something I’ve never really acknowledged before.

I really loved this book, the simplicity in telling the story of someone who wasn’t necessarily notable or accomplished, but whose life was important nonetheless. Again, I’m not quite sure about the title – I just can’t connect it with anything in the book. I don’t know why that bothers me – but somehow it does. In something so beautifully written, and whose characters are so memorable, it deserves a more memorable title.

New Fiction Friday: Love May Fail

9780062285560_p0_v3_s192x300I first read Silver Linings Playbook shortly after I saw the movie – and I absolutely loved them both. Matthew Quick is back with Love May Fail, and I love this book too. The feeling is somewhat similar, it was an emotional book – following the fallout of Portia Kane’s divorce, and her return to her hometown in New Jersey – just outside of Philadelphia. The city itself is familiar territory, and is also the scene for Playbook. Quick is actually from the Philadelphia area, but now lives in North Carolina, along the Outer Banks.  His stories themselves are somewhat odes to the city itself, with its locations and teams both featured.

Portia married her husband after a troubled childhood, living alone with her mother, who is a hoarder and mentally ill. She never really knew her father. So in high school, when she meet Mr Vernon, a popular English teacher, he makes quite an impression. Most of us have had a teacher at some point in our lives who have inspired us, he is that teacher for her. As she faces crisis in her life, she remembers him and all the encouragement he gave, and faith he showed her. In the beginning of the story she leaves her husband, leaving behind the life of luxury she knew with him in Florida, and returns to her mother’s home in New Jersey.

She is broken, and has lost faith in all good things. She clings to the memory of Mr. Vernon, and upon her return to Jersey, she realizes what an impact he had on the lives of so many of his students. He was the one who made a difference – inside and outside of the classroom. I know teachers like this, and want to be a teacher like this. He inspired her – and I can only dream being that inspiring. On one of her first days back in town, she runs into an old classmate and friend, and one of the first things she does is ask about Mr Vernon.

This is the part of the story that really got to me. Mr. Vernon was once a beacon of light – to her, and to so many other students. This beacon of light had kept her afloat for so many years, years after their relationship ended at the end of her years in high school. She decides to look him up when she gets back into town, not only to thank him for being that light for her, but also to try to find that light again.  She then finds out that he was brutally beaten by a student, in front of a room full of students. Not only was he forced to retire, but he lost his motivation to teach, to lead, and that light that she so desperately needs.

The characters in this book are what make this story great. We all need a beacon of light in our lives, which is what makes this story so relatable.  Mr. Quick has a new story coming out this Spring, and I can’t wait to read it.  I also can’t wait for Spring.  As much as I love to read, I feel like I’ve been bundled up too much lately!  There hasn’t been a single snowflake today and my daughter’s Pre-K class has already been canceled!!!

Blind Date With a Book

unnamedValentine’s Day is this Sunday.  Last year my husband and I were not together – so I wasn’t that excited, it was just another day that he had missed on his 10-month deployment.  We will be celebrating this year tougher – and though we aren’t planning anything romantic, we are taking a trip with our daughter to NYC.  We’re all excited – though not excited about the chilly weather forecasted for the weekend.

Last year our library hosted a Valentine’s Day special they called Blind Date With a Book.  I picked out my “date”, based on a brief 51dxeBM986L._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_description of the book on it’s cover.  Even though I didn’t like the book I had a “date” with, I thought it was super fun.  This year, the library is doing it again.  I picked up my “date” just a few days ago.  Specially – wrapped books, which hide their covers, each with a cute description of what lay inside the package.  There were many to choose from, all decked out in hearts.

The one I picked out this year was described as chick lit, made into a movie, romance, and fiction.  So, ready to find out what this book was, I opened it up and was slightly disappointed.  I have already read it – and may have to go back to the library for another “date”!  With the book I picked last year, I was promised something like Briget Jones – and it was something I just couldn’t read.  This year I actually got Miss Jones, and I don’t think I’ll be reading this one either.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!  Hope yours is much more exciting than mine is!!  Don’t have a date?  You can always find a good book!

Black History Month

9780812993547_p0_v4_s192x300February marks the celebration of Black History Month.  Last year, we shared our list of notable books that we love – some of which I use in the classroom every semester.  We still love those books, and believe that they are worth reading – and not just in February.  This year, instead of reworking that list, or talking about them again, I’d like to share three books that were published last year that I loved.

Celebrating black history and black culture extends beyond the books that we’ve shared before, black history isn’t just the study or celebration of the past – it’s still happening, still evolving, and these three books represent that.  Don’t be daunted by heavy subject matter, or indifferent to the history.  These books represent so much in black history and culture – each for different reasons.
9780822963837_p0_v2_s192x300Between the World and Me – I read this book last year and was completely changed by the experience.  It challenged every idea I had about race, and what being an American means – not just to me, but to anyone who grows up in this country.  Ta-Nehisi Coates gives a legitimate voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, having lived through the experience of having a friend, a Howard University classmate, shot down by police for no good reason.  This experience has shaped him as a writer, a father, and as an activist.

I had heard many good things about this book, and had even heard Coates interviewed.  I was still stunned by this book’s message.  It was real, raw, and heartfelt.  I was deeply 31x688yc99L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_touched, and after reading it I wanted to make everyone I know read it.  Unfortunately those who need to hear this message won’t be reading the book.  It’s an important one nonetheless.

Two recently published poetry collections capture the that Coates talks about.  In a recent interview on NPR (thanks NPR for broadening my horizons!), the poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, references Coates, and the cultural/political impact of Between the World and Me.  Nate Marshall was also featured on NPR, discussing his recent poetry collection.

Bastards From the Reagan Era – I am not a poetry fan, but I am excited about this collection.  Betts was interviewed on NPR – on All Things Considered, and Fresh Air, and had to pick it up.  Betts went to prison as a teenager for an attempted carjacking.  Taking full responsibility for his actions, he served his time – 8 years, despite the fact that he was a high school honor student with no prior record.  After prison, he went back to school – and is currently a Yale Law School student.

Wild Hundreds – Poet Nate Marshall is from south side Chicago, and has witnessed violence, discrimination, and that has shaped his work.  He talks about pain, violence, tragedy, but also of hope and healing.  It’s beautiful.  It’s powerful.

These three books aren’t the only noteworthy … to be published this past year.  I’m currently reading Negroland, and am loving it so far.  These collective voices represent despair and disappointment.  But they also represent hope, and the promises that tomorrow can bring.