Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “tamatha”

tamatha’s #CBR4 Review #5 – How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston

I know I sound like a broken record here, but dear lord, the delays in review writing are driving me nuts.  No small part of why it’s taken me a while to finish this review is because I know that I’m not going to do the book justice.  So, just know that this book is awesome and you totally should read it.  Seriously.  I’m not kidding.

Several weeks ago, as I was driving home late from work, I caught the end of a Fresh Air broadcast, which featured an interview with Baratunde Thurston.  His book, How to Be Black, had recently come out and Terry Gross was asking him about the book and his life.  The part of the interview which I caught, including Thurston reading parts of How to Be Black, was enough to pique my interest–he was hilarious–and I made a mental note to get my hands on a copy of the book.  A couple of weeks later something reminded me of this plan, and I was happy to discover that my library had a copy, which I quickly requested.  It turns out, I was the first person to check it out, so that means I’m not racist, I’m sure.

You should read this book.  It’s incredibly funny.  That’s reason enough to search it out, but the fact that it deals with the complicated subject of being black in America, all the while using humor, makes it essential reading.

How to Be Black is part memoir and Thurston uses his life experiences, such as having a Nigerian first name (though no direct Nigerian heritage of which he’s aware); attending Sidwell Friends school (while at the same time, participating in an Afrocentric “rites of passage” program on the weekends); and later, Harvard; working in mostly white companies; and so on, as a basis for discussing his experience of being black.  He also has a group of friends and colleagues whom he interviewed for a broader perspective on the black experience in the United States.  He refers to them as The Black Panel.  As a perfect example of the humor found throughout the book, Thurston actually includes a white guy on his Black Panel.  When you read the book, you’ll see why this particular person makes sense as a part of The Black Panel.

I loved his chapter on “How to Be the Black Friend,” because I really appreciated his insight into the value that being a bridge between two cultures has for society at large.  If, via your educational choices (formal or informal) you’ve delved into racism, one of the things you learn is that you can’t assume that every black person wants to educate you–or even talk–about issues relating to racism.  One of the things that Thurston points out is that being a black friend can provide an opportunity for white folks to ask questions about a very touchy and difficult subject with someone who is willing to discuss the matter.  For example, The Black Friend can explain why it’s not okay to touch a black person’s hair.  Then that white person can tell two more white people, who can tell two more white people, and so on and so on, until more whites know that just because they’re curious about it, they can’t just be reaching out to touch some black person’s ‘fro.  It’s rude and racist.

I found his chapter on “How to Be the Black Employee” incredibly eye-opening.  Thurston explains that being a black employee in a predominantly white company means that that person has two jobs:  The one for which he or she was hired, and the unwritten second job “of blackness” (one, for which, the folks who did the hiring may not have even been conscious of).  The second job has three main areas of responsibility:

Part A: Represent the black community

Part B: Defend the company against charges of racism or lack of diversity

Part C: Increase the coolness of the office environment by enthusiastically participating in company events

Thurston goes on to explain how these aspects of Job #2 affect black employees in making various decisions about how they interact with their coworkers.  It was fascinating.

Another topic that Thurston addresses is the issue of being “black enough.”  His point is if you are black, then whatever you do is a black thing.  Blacks should not feel that they are restricted to some narrow definition of “black activities” or “black interests.”  Nothing can make you less black.   He encourages black people to embrace whatever their varied interests may be and to reject the idea that liking something not stereotypically considered “black” somehow makes a person less black.  This perspective makes all the sense in the world.  And I’m so glad he puts it forth.

These are not the only issues discussed in How to Be Black, but I want you to be able to discover the book for yourself.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and want others to read it and enjoy it too.  The book had me literally laughing out loud.  But Thurston doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, either; he approaches the challenging subject of being black in America with wit and humor, but he never undercuts the difficulty of that experience.  Because the subject of racism is so fraught with tension, Thurston’s approach is a welcome one.  If you are at all interested in the subject of racism, or even if you think we live in a “post-racial”society, or think that race shouldn’t be an issue, this is a great book to read.  Unlike other books on the topic, how Thurston introduces and discusses being black in the US is incredibly relatable, regardless of your race.  I highly recommend How to Be Black and think that you should put it at the top of your to-read list.

tamatha’s #CBR4 Review #4: The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

Sigh.  Again with the ridiculous delays.  Again it’s been a few (several?) weeks since I finished this book.  Maybe someday I’ll change my terrible ways, but no one hold their breath, okay?

I requested The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise from my library based on idgiepug’s glowing review. Oh, how I wanted to love this book.  I’m not sure if my expectations were too high or if it simply paled in comparison after reading a book I adored, but although I did think very highly of it, that I greatly esteemed the book, that I liked the book, I just didn’t love it.  And reading it, I felt a bit sad for all the misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and miscommunications between and among the characters.

I did very much enjoy the characters.  They were lovely.  And it was fascinating learning more about the Tower of London.  I absolutely would not want to live there, however.  The damp alone would make me miserable.  And I learned that Beefeaters are not overly fond of that nickname and prefer to be called Yeoman Warders (which is short for Yeoman Warder of her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress Tower of London, and Member of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary), so there’s your bit of learning for the day.

The parts of the story involving the London Underground’s Lost Property Office were fabulous.  I really hope that’s what that office is like in real life.  No one tell me if it’s not.  I want to remain blissfully deluded.

As for what I didn’t like, I just wanted the characters to talk to each other.  All that lack of communication can be a bit frustrating to witness.  Especially when the characters are so delightful and it seems like their problems could be relatively easily solved if they would just share their bloody thoughts and feelings!

I have noticed that as some time has passed since I first finished reading it, I feel a greater fondness for The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise.  Like I said, perhaps my expectations were simply too high and/or the timing of when I read it was an issue.  I definitely recommend it.  It’s a sweet book, with charming characters, and you learn about the Tower of London–and who doesn’t like to learn new things?  So, it has many positive aspects to recommend it.

tamatha’s #CBR4 Review #3: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Dear lord, the  delays are getting worse and worse!  I started this review weeks ago!  So now it’s been months since I read the book.  Sigh, my learning curve is terrible.  And to make matters worse, I am accruing ridiculous late fees from the library!  Here’s what I said when I originally started this review:

I seem to not be learning from past experience. Again, it has been a few weeks since I read this book, so again, my recollections are not as good as they should be. I honestly think I’ve been mostly holding off on reading my next book until I had this review written, so I’d be more likely to write that review closer to when I finish reading the book. (Yeah, that clearly didn’t happen either.)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came to my attention thanks to a recommendation from The Best Books of Cannonball Read III. The title was whimsical enough to stand out for me. I don’t know if I even read a blurb about it, or simply decided to read the book based on it being on the list and its eye-catching title.

I loved this book! I read it pretty much straight through in a weekend.  If you are looking for a book that will draw you in from the beginning and hold your attention, I can’t recommend this one enough.  The book is written almost entirely in the form of correspondence.  So mostly letters, but telegrams and notes as well.  That approach makes for wonderful story-telling, especially given when this story occurs.  It takes place shortly after World War II, in England and the Channel Island of Guersney, when letters and telegrams were pretty much the only way to correspond with people long distance.

This book really made me want to write letters and read all the time.  There are many aspects about technology and staying in touch with friends–hell, creating friendships with folks you’ve never met–that are wonderful about living when and where we do, but losing the art of letter writing is one unfortunate result of the speedier forms of communication such as email, Facebook, texting, and, of course, inexpensive long-distance phone calls, that are now ubiquitous.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society does a wonderful job of putting you in England/Geurnsey in the mid-40s.  You get such a clear sense of time and place.  For those of us unfamiliar with the Channel Islands, this book is also an excellent history lesson–especially of the special challenges the islanders faced.  They were invaded by the Germans, who then cut them off from pretty much all connection with the outside world, so they had very little information–except for the propaganda from the Germans–on what was going on outside of their island.

The characters in this book, and there are several, are so endearing.  I wished that not only were they real, but that they were my friends.  The main character is Juliet, an author, who at the start of the book is on a book tour.  She soon receives a letter from a gentleman from the isle of Guernsey, Dawsey (a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society), who has a book that once belonged to her, and is hoping that she might help him get more books by the same author.  Once their correspondence starts, other members of the GL&PPPS start writing Juliet as well.  And that’s how you find out about their lives currently and during the war.

If you’ve been lucky enough to see the movie 84, Charing Cross Road(and the movie was based on the book of the same title, which, now that I think about it, I probably should read), you’ll note some similarities: a story told through correspondence, among lovers of books, that starts between two characters, and expands to a larger group.  It also starts shortly after WWII, though The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society takes place during a much shorter period of time.

My only complaint about the book, was the romance aspect, which I felt was unnecessary.  But it’s a small complaint and doesn’t take away from the overall loveliness of the story.

Writing this review really makes me want to just read the book all over again.  I highly recommend it.

I’ll just leave you with this quote, “Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.  How delightful if that were true.”

tamatha’s #CBR4 Review #2: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Like Bossypants, it’s been several weeks since I finished reading The Help, so my impressions of the book have faded a bit; and therefore, I expect that this review won’t be as in-depth as it might otherwise have been.

I believe that I was supposed to hate The Help, as I have heard accusations of it being racist flying fast and furious. But I didn’t (hate it or find it racist). I genuinely enjoyed it. And I’ll tell you why: The book was engrossing; I had a hard time putting it down. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I worried about the main characters, Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. I actually brought this book to work and read it on my lunch hour (honestly, well past my lunch 45 minutes). I can’t remember the last time I brought a book to work to read during lunch. It’s literally been years. I found it that engaging.

I assume that the accusations of racism come from the impression that others have had that the book is about a white woman saving the day for black domestic workers. That’s not how I read the story. I think given what was going on in the 60s, it makes sense that a young white woman would start to open her eyes to what was going on around her and would want to do something. I think the book clearly portrayed that the greatest risk was to the black women whose stories Skeeter was recording.

One of the things that I think is good about the popularity that this book has experienced, is that it means that people are actually talking and thinking about racism. And it may well be that some folks are walking away from this book patting themselves on the back for not being racists and thinking that since, in many ways, things aren’t as bad now as they were only a few decades ago, it means that, as a country, we’re in good shape on the racism front. But I’m guessing that there are plenty of other people who, while appreciating the distance that we have come since then, still recognize that there is a lot of work yet to be done. I think it’s good that this book has reminded folks of the horrors of Jim Crow laws and how they were felt in both obvious and subtle ways. It’s important to remember the insidiousness and pervasiveness of racism in law and practice and how it was used to terrorize a community of people.

Something that I thought that the book did well, was to present the nuances of black and white relations in the South in the 60s. This was no Uncle Tom’s Cabin. How individual blacks and whites interacted with each other was complicated and Kathryn Stockett showed that. Similarly, she didn’t present African Americans as being monolithic on the issue of the Civil Rights Movement, specifically, different members of the community had different perspectives on what steps to take and how quickly to move on the process. I appreciated these sorts of details.

I did not find the book to be perfect. I did have a problem with the fact that Aibileen and Minny’s chapters were written in dialect. I found that unnecessary and completely off-putting. And I wish that Kathryn Stockett had written their chapters in same way she wrote Skeeter’s. Honestly, I’m not sure why her editor didn’t call her out on it.

On the whole, though, I really liked this book. I found it captivating and I finished it quickly. I know that other people don’t agree with me on it being a good book, but I think each person needs to read it to form her own opinion. So, I recommend it.

tamatha’s #CBR4 Review #1: Bossypants by Tina Fey

The problem with waiting weeks and weeks to write a review after you’ve finished the book is that you’ve forgotten a lot of your impressions. I got this book for Christmas and finished it soon there after, and well, now, I don’t remember a lot of what I thought about it, so, I’m guessing that this review is going to be on the short side.

I first started hearing about Bossypants last May when Cannonballers from CBR-III started reviewing it. I was very excited to read it, but resisted the urge to run right out and buy it (there was no chance it’d be available at the library–I’m sure the waiting list was dozens of people long) for a very practical reason. I had surgery at the beginning of May, the kind where it takes four weeks to recover and things like laughing and coughing are painful. Given what I was hearing about the book, that it was literally laugh-out-loud funny, I had to resign myself to the fact that it would be unwise to try and read it in my current condition. So I held off.

I don’t know if my expectations for the book were too high, or what, but although I enjoyed it–I tore through it pretty quickly–I didn’t love it. I think I expected to be laughing pretty continuously and while there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (you probably don’t want to be reading this in public, if you’re the sort of person who would be embarrassed if people stared at you for guffawing out of the blue), it wasn’t exactly the laugh riot I was hoping for.

Tina Fey, as you would expect, is a very entertaining writer. I think in the snippets she shares of her life, you get an strong sense of who she was and is as a person. Since she and I were born in the same year, the references in her book rang especially true for me. Yes, in the mid-80s, making nachos at home really was a big deal. Hell, nachos anywhere were a big deal.

I loved her stories about her dad, her first trip to Planned Parenthood, her disastrous honeymoon cruise (and yes, I got the title reference, which means I’m a member of the cultural elite–yippee!), joining Second City, joining SNL, etc. Honestly, I don’t think there’s a story in the book that I didn’t like. It was great to get insight into the beginnings of 30 Rock. And fascinating to learn about how photo shoots work. So clearly, my expectations going into this book were too high.

I definitely recommend the book, but don’t expect it to last long. And you can read it in public, if you don’t mind people staring at you during the times you will be laughing loudly.

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