[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Angelou continues to astound in The Heart of a Woman, the fourth volume in her series of six autobiographies. Skipping forward eagerly in time, Heart is set over the course of roughly five years and picks up a few years after its predecessor Singin' and Swingin' and Getting' Merry Like Christmas.

As with the other books in the series there is only the loosest sense of a plot. However what gives the novel coherence is Angelou's observations on motherhood and her continual struggle to take care of her son, Guy, even as he develops into a strong, independent young man. Angelou notes that in the world at large she, as a black woman in the sixties, has little authority and worries that her son will absorb that message and gradually lose respect for her. As part of her effort to reclaim some authority she finds herself becoming involved in the civil rights movement, working for Martin Luther King jr's organization, the SCLC, and marrying a South African freedom fighter who is enamoured of her passion for activism and yet wants to turn her into a subservient wife. 

While this book finds Angelou mostly abandoning the theatrical world for the political one, there is still no end to the charming anecdotes of stars and other notable personalities that Angelou encountered throughout her life. Billie Holiday, James Earl Jones, Ruby Dee and Martin Luther King jr are a few names mentioned, along with Pulitzer prize winner John Oliver Killens who is the first to encourage Angelou to write. With Killens as her mentor, Angelou joined the now legendary Harlem Writers Guild and in The Heart of a Woman records her first weak attempts at writing and her joy at her first publication in a no-name journal in Cuba. At last, four volumes in, we are able to witness Angelou's first steps on a road that will take her to literary stardom. 
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas is a compulsively good read. Like Angelou's previous two biographies it's not very long, but the enthusiasm with which Angelou relates her experiences makes it seem even shorter. While her other biographies deal with childhood and her early steps towards independence, Angelou emerges here as a full-fledged adult become more confident with herself and the world around her.

The book covers two major themes, the first being Angelou's beginnings in show business. After her first marriage fails (the courtship, marriage and its dissolution are covered in a brisk few pages) Angelou takes a job as a dancer in a strip club. Her dances catch the attention of some white night club singers who help her begin a career as a nightclub singer which becomes a launching pad for her career as an actress and dancer. At last the Marguerite Johnson of the two previous memoirs transforms into Maya Angelou. A role in the renowned opera Porgy and Bess opens the world up to Angelou literally as well as metaphorically as the opera's tour allows her to visit Europe and parts of North Africa.

Wound inseparably into the narrative is Angelou's observations about what it is like to operate as a strong-minded independent black woman in America in the fifties. Segregation meant that her previous experiences with white people had been infrequent and hostile, but as she begins to travel in different circles her experiences with white people become more frequent and complex. Her family reacts badly when she marries a white man. Her white friends still have the power to unexpectedly wound her with a thoughtless comment and Angelou feels that power imbalance keenly. Her tour across Europe is also incredibly revealing to Angelou as she and the members of her company are often the first black people that people have seen in real life. The questions and stares give way to both painful moments and beautiful ones all of which Angelou recollects with grace and good humour.
[identity profile] ms-mmelissa.livejournal.com
Maya Angelou is best known for her first autobiography, the groundbreaking I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which chronicles her early childhood before breaking off abruptly when she's seventeen. Gather Together in My Name picks up a short while after her last book broke off and chronicles Maya's early forays into adulthood. 

I enjoyed Gather Together in My Name a great deal more than its predecessor. The work has received criticism for its looser structure; Marguerite stumbles in and out of jobs with regularity and falls in and out of love with men at the drop of the hat. This doesn't provide for a great, over-arching narrative, but then life seldom does, and this chaotic period of Maya Angelou's life (from about 17 to 19) seems to demand a less formal structure. 

Angelou was purportedly hesitant to write about this period in her life and after reading the book it's easy to see why. Already a young mother at this point in her life, Angelou also spent this time period making forays into prostitution, both as prostitute and pimp, while remaining stunningly naive about the world around her and her own actions. Some of the most powerful moments of the book can be found in these passages; Angelou is at her best when she is speaking from the voice of teenage Marguerite, outlining her own beliefs and showing the reader how a headstrong girl who believed she was jaded and world-weary was repeatedly fooled by her own naiveté. However, Angelou was writing this at a point in her life where she was no longer a naive spirited girl, but a savvy woman and the voice of that woman occasionally emerges, to the book's detriment. In an early scene Marguerite goes to the home of a lesbian couple simply to show how laissez-faire and grown up she is. As the two begin to kiss in front of her Marguerite is overcome with revulsion and disgust, which Angelou promptly excuses as the bias and hatred of an ignorant girl repeating the prejudices of the world around her. The authorial intrusion is a rare mis-step in a work that is fearless in its refusal to apologize for its narrator. 
[identity profile] veleda-k.livejournal.com
#17: Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching by Paula J. Giddings.

Ida: A Sword Among Lions )
[identity profile] veleda-k.livejournal.com
The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson by Jo Ann Gibson Robinson.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It )

The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman's Amazing Journey From Peasant to International Legend by Phoolan Devi with Marie-Therese Cuny and Paul Rambali.

The Bandit Queen of India )
[identity profile] sweet-adelheid.livejournal.com
#35 - Michelle Cooper, The Rage of Sheep
YA lit by an author I already loved, but only recently discovered was a POC. Hester (like the author) is Indian-Fijian/Australian, growing up in a country town in NSW. The characters are marvellous, as are both plot and subplots. More here

#36 - Waleed Aly, People Like Us: How Arrogance is Dividing Islam and the West
Thinking a book is fabulous does not necessarily mean that one agrees with every word. This is one of those books. I think I'm more willing to mentally argue with the author because we're so very much of the same generation that we were in the same law school class. More here

#37 - Edna Tantjingu Williams and Eileen Wani Wingfield, illustrated by Kunyi June-Anne McInerney, Down the Hole Up the Tree Across the Sandhills...: ...Running from the State and Daisy Bates
Heart breaking. Heart shattering. Just as it ought to be. A really great, and effective, story of the realities of the Stolen Generations. In English with use of Yankunytjatjara, Kokatha and Matutjara languages (with translations and pronunciation guide). More here

#38 - Mary Malbunka, When I Was Little, Like You
The story of growing up as an indigenous child in a remote community: of moving around, of living as much as they could off the land. Beautiful illustrations, also by Malbunka. Uses Luritja words as well as English: as with Down the Hole the book includes a glossary and pronunciation guide. This is going to be one of those books I automatically buy as presents for every little baby I have a connection with. More here

Tagging - a: malbunka mary, a: williams edna tantjingu, a: wingfield eileen wani, a: cooper michelle, a: aly waleed, i: mcinerney kunyi june-anne, fijian-indian-australian, egyptian-australian
ext_12911: This is a picture of my great-grandmother and namesake, Margaret (Default)
[identity profile] gwyneira.livejournal.com
#29: Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point

Gladwell proposes here that ideas, information, and behaviors act like an epidemic, starting small and spreading until they reach a certain threshold, the "tipping point". Although I enjoy Gladwell's clear, conversational writing and thought he had some interesting ideas, I was less taken with this than I was with Blink. Much of what he talks about in this book has to do with marketing and advertising, and I just don't find those compelling topics, as opposed to, say, Blink's discussion of unconscious racism and ideas for how to combat that. It was an entertaining read generally, but it's not a book I'm going to be thinking about a lot after finishing it.

#30: Hank Aaron with Lonnie Wheeler, I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story

Hank Aaron was until a couple of years ago the holder of major league baseball's career home run record, and he is by all accounts one of baseball's all-time greatest players. Aaron started his career in baseball soon after Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier, while black players still faced virulent racism on many fronts. Aaron faced more than most when he challenged Babe Ruth's home run record; he received thousands of hate-filled letters, many threatening his life, which are simply horrifying to read (the book quotes several). He faced these challenges with courage and dignity, he broke the record, and he became known for speaking out on racial issues.

In this autobiography, Aaron relates the story of his life, from his poverty-stricken beginnings in Alabama to his elevation to the ranks of baseball's greatest. Each chapter is introduced with a third-person section which gives a historical picture of the world Aaron lived in, before Aaron's first-person narrative takes over; I thought this was an excellent structure, setting each part of Aaron's life and career in the context of his times while allowing for his own thoughts and opinions to be set down. This is one of the best baseball autobiographies I've read, and along with Jackie Robinson's I Never Had It Made, it's essential reading for any baseball fan who wishes to understand the history of the game. More than that, though, it provides a thought-provoking look at American social history and civil rights through the lens of the sport often considered America's favorite.

#31: Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

In their remote villages in 19th-century China, women are treated like servants, not equal to the men who head their families nor to the husbands to whom they will be given in arranged marriages. When Lily is only seven, she is paired with Snow Flower, her laotong or "old same", in an lifelong bond as important as marriage and much more sustaining emotionally. Lily and Snow Flower communicate via the women's language known as nu shu, passing messages back and forth by writing on a silk fan; they share their pains and joys and heartaches both face to face and via nu shu. Eventually, though, their friendship is threatened by acts of betrayal which may sever their bond forever.

See's writing is lucid, restrained yet emotional, beautifully mirroring the elegant writings Lily and Snow Flower exchange. She's clearly done her research, and the historical details are deftly combined with her narrative, explaining but never overwhelming the story. I liked this a lot and will be reading more of See's work.
[identity profile] seekingferret.livejournal.com
22) Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

A really cute fabulist story with lots of sharp wordplay, vivid and unusual characters, and an uplifting and powerful ending. [livejournal.com profile] kouredios does a better job of examining the novel's themes than I could here.

23) Fury by Salman Rushdie

A strange novel to behold in 2009, it was composed almost immediately before 9/11 and passionately describes a New York City I once knew well, and which is no longer the same as the New York City I know today. 9/11 sits as an uncomfortable specter over the shoulder of this book, and one finds eerie echoes of it throughout the book's story.

It's a compelling novel, reminding me of Chabon's insistence that what he calls "stories with plots" can also be stories of literary significance. Rushdie fits a murder mystery and a civil war into what is otherwise the story of a man dealing with a mid-life crisis and sorting out the weights he should assign to the different priorities in his life.

A wry and clever touch is Rushdie's insertion of a post-colonialist Lilliput, an homage to and demolition of Swift that helps place the story in a broader context.

But the most appealing part of Fury for me is Rushdie's odes to New York City, half rant and half paean, half bewildered admiration and half reluctant condemnation. They take me back so vividly those nine years.

24)Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams

A good basic biography of Marshall and examination of his impact on 20th century America. It's a journalist's biography, not a historian's biography, which... is not a bad thing, but I usually prefer historian's biographies. The difference I would distinguish is that a historian wants to make a point, to decide who was right or wrong to the extent possible given the evidence, whereas a journalist wants to present both sides fairly and leave the conclusion to the reader. It was puzzling and a little frustrating to me that in a biography obviously sympathetic to Marshall, so much time was given to seriously entertaining criticisms that clearly had no basis beyond racism. But as a journalist first, that's Williams's approach to any subject.

It's a thorough biography, with hundreds of interviews with people who knew Marshall intimately. It doesn't shy away from criticizing Marshall, but by the end the conclusion implied in the book's subtitle, that Marshall had a revolutionary impact on the American legal system and overall cultural milieu, is inescapable.
[identity profile] sweet-adelheid.livejournal.com
Black Chicks Talking by Leah Purcell (Hodder Headline, 2002)

This book is going on my personal "learning about Australia 101" list. I'm going to badger all my friends into reading it if they haven't already. Because this book is ... I can't think of any better word: this book is awesome. It fills me with awe.

These ten women - the nine interviewees plus Purcell herself - share so much of themselves in this book, and so openly. And yet also so matter-of-factly. They don't pull punches about the awful parts of life, but what shines through so clearly is the shared humanity of all of us. Which is why it's going to be top of my 101 list.

It's close to impossible to choose a favourite interview or interviewee, or even a 'most influential' one. Cilla Malone (mother of five - I think) left me breathless and amazed by what she does in caring for her children and her community; Tammy Williams has done a staggering amount; Deb Mailman is just so strong and centred, as is Rachel Perkins only in an entirely different way; and Liza Gooda-Frazer in a different way again. Kathryn Hay - who in many ways seems the most fragile of the group - has such grace in letting that fragility show, along with another core of strength that is there as well.

I just love the way this is written (put together), along with the Black Chicks painting (all in shades of pink!) and the portraits of all the women, and Leah's description of their dinner together as the culmination of the project.

Tags needed: a: purcell leah, and I'd love an "interviews" tag or similar, too.
sophinisba: Gwen looking sexy from Merlin season 2 promo pics (william hack rose by semyaza)
[personal profile] sophinisba
20. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
This is one of the most reviewed books at the comm and I don't have much more to say, just that I was really impressed by his writing. One of the quotes on the back cover said the memoir had the pacing of a novel and I found that to be true. I loved the way he would keep the story moving and even as he was talking about really complicated issues, and the way he would accomplish several things at once, like the scene where he goes into a barbershop in Chicago and is describing the scene, and his own place among the other men there, and at the same time recording the conversation and the black communities feeling about the election of Harold Washington. I recommend this book very highly.

21. Caille Millner, The Golden Road: Notes on My Gentrification
This is another memoir by a middle-class black writer who also grew up in an area with very few other black people, in this case San Jose, California, where her family started out in Chicano neighborhoods and later moved to the white suburbs. Millner then went to college at Harvard and afterward spent time in South Africa. I really liked it at first! I enjoyed Milner's writing style and her way of selecting telling details, like in this passage from the first chapter where she talks about going to church with her brother and walking past beggars on the front steps: Read more... )

22. Patricia Raybon, My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love, and Forgiveness
This was the book I liked least of the four I'm reviewing here, though I did learn things and am glad I read it. Raybon is from an older generation than Obama or Millner and because of that I found that her experience was a little more familiar from other things I'd read, and yet slightly less relevant for understanding race relations as they are today. Read more... )

23. Best African American Essays: 2009
Gerald Early, series editor, and Debra J. Dickerson, guest editor

This is the first volume of what's intended to be an annual series, along the lines of Best American Essays, although it's put out by a different publisher. The companion volume is Best African American Fiction: 2009. Read more... )
[identity profile] chipmunk-planet.livejournal.com
This is an autobiography by the first president of Tuskegee University (called then Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute), Booker T. Washington. Born to a slave woman in Alabama and an unknown white man, he was emancipated at the end of the Civil War along with the rest of the slaves there, taking the last name of Washington the first time he went to school, when he was about ten or so. The book chronicles his journey from dirt poor to a man known internationally for his work.

There are a few things that strike me about this book: foremost, how 19th century Washington's writing style is. He thinks and speaks as a man of his day, which makes sense, but it's a bit jarring to hear him compare the "barbarous" red man to the black man who "chose life and civilization to extinction". (he actually used this analogy many times in his speeches to prove that blacks were better suited to be part of Reconstruction, joining forces with whites to rebuild the South)

The other thing that you can't fail to miss is the man's humble and cheerful attitude. He has very little in the way of negative to say about anyone, although at the end of the book he does mention times where people ignored him then later contributed to his work as the school grew. Washington's core belief seems to be that his hardships built character, and that through hard work and perseverance anyone could succeed.

He insisted that every one of his students, no matter how well-off, work at the school. The students built the school; they provided their own food, clothing, equipment, and many returned after graduation to teach as well. He himself spent most of his waking time working at the school, making speeches to raise money for the school, writing letters in support of black civil rights (even in other states, and on his vacation!), and networking with prominent white leaders. He visited several Presidents and William McKinley came to visit Tuskegee, the first time a sitting President had visited a black university. Washington also received an honorary degree from Harvard, another first.

Later in his life, he clashed with some of the other black leaders, particularly the religious leaders (and the influential W.E.B. DuBois), for his tell-it-like-it-is assessment of the condition of black America. Washington's view was that only by blacks being prosperous and useful to the country would racial tension be resolved, and that forcing social and political equality prematurely would only lead to a backlash from the majority white populace. He felt that help to blacks should come in the form of promoting both industrial and liberal arts education, because he felt everyone should know how to work with his or her hands (the university took men and women from its inception), and that it was more costly not to educate someone than to do so, both black and white.

He died in 1915 (I've seen several possible causes listed, but he had extreme high blood pressure and possibly a heart condition, and refused to stop working), outliving two wives and being survived by a third, along with many children and grandchildren.

I found this book very interesting and would highly recommend it.
[identity profile] anitabuchan.livejournal.com
14. Out of India: An Anglo-Indian Childhood by Jamila Gavin

Out of India is an autobiographical account of Jamila Gavin's childhood. She's the daughter of an English mother and an Indian father, both teachers and Christian missionaries. She grew up in India, first visiting England at 5, before settling there aged 11, experiencing life in England during and after WW2, and life in India during the struggles for independence and the Partition. However, as this is a book for children, she doesn't go too deeply into any of these events, instead describing day-to-day life for her and her family. And she's good as descriptions: they're beautiful and evocative.

I enjoyed it, and I think it would be a very good read for children in the right age group.

15. Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami

Bindi Babes is about three sisters, the coolest girls at their school. Everyone loves them, even the teachers, and it's entirely possible that if anything happened to any of them, the world would end. At first, I did wonder if they were the biggest Mary Sues ever, but after reading for a bit I started to think that Dhami was just having fun. All three sisters are very self-absorbed and more than a little conceited, but funny enough to just about get away with it.

The story focuses on what happens when their aunt arrives from India, determined to stop their dad spoiling them (as he has been doing since their mother's death). Meanwhile, at school, an Ofsted inspection is coming up and making the teachers panic. The aunt was the character I liked the most, and I have to admit I loved the scenes where she foiled the girls' plans to get rid of her.

16. Dead Gorgeous by Malorie Blackman

Nova's parents own a hotel, where they live with Nova, her sister Rainbow, and their little brothers. Nova's unhappy with her life, jealous of her older sister, and suffering from bulimia. Then she sees a gorgeous boy in the lobby: Liam. Ten years ago, Liam stormed out of his house after an argument with his dad. Now, he's a ghost, trapped in the hotel.

Dead Gorgeous is sometimes funny and sometimes sad. It's got lots of great (and mysterious!) characters, all with their own problems and issues. I liked that it wasn't a romance, but instead focused on family (Nova and Rainbow, Liam and his brother, all of them and their parents). I like most of Malorie Blackman's books, but I think this is one of my favourites by her.
[identity profile] chipmunk-planet.livejournal.com
Someone recommended this book here (couldn't find the rec by searching the tags and today is a busy one), so I got it, and I'm really glad I did.

This is a memoir of a biracial (Finnish/Igbo) American woman, the daughter of immigrants, who, depressed and failing at Harvard, decides to go to Thailand, where she had gone as an exchange student in high school. While studying women's issues in Thailand, she decides (on the urging of her Thai advisor) to become a maichi, a Buddhist nun.

The thing about Thailand is that you can become a monk or a nun for a time, then leave whenever you like. Faith spends one Lenten season with the maichis, and although she went more as an anthropologist than anything else, you get the impression that she left the temple profoundly changed.

This is a fantastic book, one that I'm going to be rereading a lot. Highly recommended.
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)
[personal profile] sanguinity
(Maybe if I do a bunch of mini-reviews, I'll have a chance of catching up?)

51. Keith Black, MD, Brain Surgeon: A Doctor's Inspiring Encounters with Mortality and Miracles.

This one works best, I think, if you think of it as an extended dinner table conversation. The writing style is somewhat clunky, but the man does have good stories to tell, and I learned quite a bit about brain tumors, brain surgery, cancer treatment, cancer research, and the various concerns one weighs when deciding whether to cut or not. (Which sounds as if it might be dull, when I list it out like that. Except that it's very much not.)

52. Michael Cunningham & Craig Marberry, Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats.

Oo. Lovely photos of women in their church hats, interleaved with reminisces from the women themselves about... the hats, their families, their churches, their communities. Lots of handsome photos, lots of gorgeous moments from people's lives. Go look.

53. William L. Iġġiaġruk Hensley, Fifty Miles from Tomorrow : A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People.
"Alaska is my identity, my home, and my cause. I was there, after all, before Gore-Tex replaced muskrat and wolf skin in parkas, before moon boots replaced mukluks, before the gas drill replaced the age-old tuuq we used to dig through five feet of ice to fish. I was there before the snow machine, back when the huskies howled their eagerness to pull the sled. I was there before the outboard motor showed up, when the qayaq and umiaq glided silently across the water, and I was there when the candle and the Coleman lamp provided all the light we needed."
Memoir of a Native Alaskan activist and politician who was instrumental in the preservation of the Native Alaskan land base. I would be hard-pressed to sum this up, but the first half is a very engaging depiction of Hesley's childhood community and its lifestyle, while the second half is the stressful emotional rollercoaster of trying to make sure that Alaska's newly-created state government, in combination with the federal government, didn't claim all of Alaska's land for themselves, corporate interests, and non-Native immigrants. There was a lot of cool and interesting stuff in here, but a lot of it you get just a glimpse of -- Hensley has had a very rich life, and one book isn't nearly enough to discuss it all.
[identity profile] sweet-adelheid.livejournal.com
Quick-version reviews:

#22 - Infidel: My Life by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Hirsi Ali grew up in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya. Her experiences of Islam cross a spectrum from her (mostly-absent) father's approach, which in some ways allowed interpretation and debate but in other ways was highly traditional, through to devotion to the calls for the renewal of Islam by the Muslim Brotherhood. She's now become in/famous for her calls to consider ways in which Islam may be problematic.

#23 - The Dreaming, Vol 1-3 by Queenie Chan
Although manga is enough of a departure from my regular type of reading that I feel justified in posting it here, I couldn't count the three volumes as separate books. Only the third volume took more than an afternoon/evening to read. In the end, I can't recommend this book, because of what I (ymmv) see as a very problematic treatment of Indigenous Australian cultures and traditions. More info at my LJ.

#24 - Inside Black Australia: An Anthology of Aboriginal Poetry, edited by Kevin Gilbert.
Published in 1988 as a "Bicentennial" year protest, this collection is full of anger, and I found most of it very hard to cope with. I did persevere through to the end though, and I'm glad I did, as Gilbert's own poetry is last in the collection, and despite the fact that his introductions both to other poets and himself had angered and alienated me, I found that some of his poems were *beautiful*, and that they portrayed their anger in a way that allowed me to process it, rather than just putting up a wall. Note: many readers of this comm may find my review difficult or potentially offensive, particularly on "tone argument" grounds.

#25 - The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
I started reading this before the election, but only just finished it, for the simple reason that I own it, and thus it wasn't subject to library due dates. It is a great book, and I'll have to boost Dreams from my Father further up my To Read list.


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