Dec 31, 2015

Book Looks: What I Read In 2015

I've been a bad girl this year.

Reading and me...well, we had a tumultuous year.

Aside from the fact that I have become the slowest reader in the world nowadays (and an even slower writer...), this year was a year where I became busty trying to figure out what the fuck I'm doing with my life, and begin making some serious choices and plans. Some of those plans included my other blog Audio Diva, which I spent a lot of time refurbishing and "re-branding" this year (I really hate that word, but it is the only way I can describe it). While other plans dealt from a financial standpoint (finding a job, getting a job, losing a job...the cycle continues). Of course I could have whipped out a book or my Kindle in-between all that planning and reassessing, but for the first time, reading and keeping up with books was the last thing on my mind.

Cue the gasps.

Reading has always been an integral part of my life --- I know I'd break out in hives if I didn't read something throughout the day ---  so it was painful to admit a year where I simply didn't read books the way I wanted to. I was feeling like Burgess Meredith in that famous Twilight Zone episode where he is desperately wishing to have 'time enough at last' to read everything he desires, and then gets screwed when his wish does come true (and if that ever happened in real life, I can read without my glasses --- so jokes on you Rod Serling!). So hopefully in 2016 I will have 'time enough at last' to read and review (and especially blog her!) the way I truly wanted to this year.

Well, I shouldn't be so down on myself as I did manage to read a few books and articles this year, and though I read one of the worst books I've ever read in my life this year, there were some good, life changing ones that made it into the pot and kept me afloat all year.

Without further ado...

Oct 21, 2015

Book Looks: 'Joy In The Morning', A Book So Cute You'll Wanna Pinch Its Cheeks

Nothing explodes. There aren't any vampires. The setting isn't some dystopian underworld. Joy In The Morning doesn't possess any of those flashy literary embellishments. It is is what it is --- A sweet, gentle, and honest story about a young couple named Carl and Annie who fall in love, and against both of their parent's wishes, get married and move to the Mid-West where Carl is attending college, studying to become a lawyer.

I was curious about what Betty Smith wrote outside of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, which is one of my favorite books, and while Joy In The Morning has a similar charm, it's not as epic in scope nor rich in lyrical flow. It appears to be the last book Betty Smith wrote, and it took her awhile to get it going and completed due to her failing health. Health aside, Smith always was a genius about characterization, she truly makes you become attached to her characters when you may not want to be, drawing you into the worlds they embody and for Joy In The Morning she places us square into a 1928 college town, allows us to roam up and down the sidewalks, wander into stores, get acquainted with with folksy characters and become embroiled in bite-sized small-town shenanigans.

The honeymoon phase of Annie and Carl's marriage unfolds slow and nice, we get to feel all the awkwardness, financial strains, and stomach growls that come from a young couple who has thrown caution to the wind for whirlwind romance. The best parts are when Annie comes out of her shell and begins to attend college classes, sparking her interest and talent for writing. Though she's quite naive, her wholesome ways do charm after awhile as her earnest curiosity shines a new light on everyday things, allowing the reader to take a second glance at her observations, and she seems to be the more aware and down-to-earth partner in the relationship.

Carl is, um, kind of an ass. He talks down to Annie a lot, and get jealous and upset over the friends she makes within the town. I also sensed some homophobia from him with Annie's endearing relationship with the town florist, but I had to remind myself this was 1928, and Carl is a stiff collared "good ol' boy", hence his ambivalence towards people who he believes aren't on his 'level'. From the looks of things, Carl probably needs Annie more than she needs him, she brings the spice to his life, as she made friends with common law couples and found employment with flapper-styled prostitutes. Never a dull moment is to be had with Annie. Baby Carlton will be so lucky to have Annie for a mama!

Problems do resolve themselves too quickly, and a lot of Carl and Annie's disputes are quelled by the magic of Annie sitting on Carl's lap. Still that didn't bother me too much because like the title, derived from one of my favorite Bible quotes (Psalm 30:5 "weeping may endure for the night but joy cometh in the morning"), sometimes problems do have a way of working themselves out when we step back and let a little morning light into them. Okay. Sorry for sounding like a frilly and glitter-crusted Hallmark card, but Betty Smith always does that to me, she makes you appreciate the little surprises in life, makes you see that setbacks are merely part of the growth experience.

The edition I had a few little essays in the back --- two written by Smith's granddaughters --- that explained about the book and Smith's writing life. Annie and Carl were really fictional stand-ins for Smith and her first husband, and once I understood that Joy In The Morning was sort of in memory tome towards the relationship she shared with her late ex-husband, then the story took an even more sentimental turn.

Joy In The Morning is the kind of book that you'd want to pinch it's cheeks because it just so gosh darn cute, but also snuggle up next to and sip a warm drink with because it has a story to tell, and you'll want to listen to every word.

+ Previously reviewed and posted on GoodReads

Oct 20, 2015

Muse: Separation Of Huxtable & Cosby

So Ebony Magazine went there. Went all the way there with the cover of their November issue. 


As in life, there is opposition, and people are polarized, polarized and down-right enraged over the decision of this particular cover. Polarized and angry on why the cast of The Cosby Show have their faces marred by broken glass, next to a headline that reads "The Family Issue(s)" when The Cosby Show is a fictional situation comedy show that follows a fictional family called the Huxtables. Why put them in the same breath as the Obamas? Whatever "blended situation" the Real Housewives of Atlanta Kandi and Todd are in? They aren't real. Why punish fictional characters?

Simply because of that --- they aren't real, but viewers of The Cosby Show made it real, especially Black Americans made the Huxtable family into walking and talking members of our own family, or who we wished was in our own families. Even Bill Cosby himself made it real, so real that today we have a hard time separating Bill Cosby from the character he played on a television screen. Have a hard time understanding that the man who played Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable is in fact a serial rapist.

Bill Cosby is low-key the greatest actor in the world because of this. He pretty much fooled people into the art of his fictional character. He made people believe he was Cliff Huxtable. When he got up on the podium in front of an audience or lounged back in a chair on a late night talk show, we didn't see Bill Cosby, we were seeing Cliff, Dr. Cliff Huxtable rattling off jokes about domestic life, social commentary, every bullet point of respectability politics, telling Black people that they needed to stop embarrassing themselves, etc.. 

The lie of the thespian. A beaut isn't it?

Sep 21, 2015

What I ❤ Today: Lessons In Sisterhood, Starring Viola Davis

Felt some megawatt sisterhood feelings after watching Viola Davis make history at the 67th Emmy Awards last night, where she won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, the first time an Black actress has won that award.

Yes...the first time. Just... *sucks teeth*

What makes up for that disgraceful gaffe is Davis waltzing up to the podium to accept her award to spill out this gem of a quote:
"In my mind, I see a line. And over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line. But I can't seem to get there no how. I can't seem to get over that line. That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something. The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there"
After thinking it over, I'm actually glad Davis was the one to close that gap, because she's one of few Black celebrities that isn't afraid to speak out against Hollywood's notorious need to marginalize and rub out POC's (she's done it before...). Nobody could've quoted Harriet Tubman and brought up Hollywood hypocrisy in one string of word pearls, but Viola Davis, so standing ovation for that. Also great was that Davis shared her winning moment as she exclusively made the speech for and about Black women, recognizing her fellow actresses, and pointing out that Black women can achieve much greatness if we'd only get the opportunities to do so. [Note to self: Begin writing kick ass detective-meets-Southern-Gothic-mystery novel with Viola Davis in mind...] So about that diversity gap, Matt Damon...?

Of course she made some White people uncomfortable with her words --- she got a soap star wading in her feelings --- but she wasn't race baiting, or trying to derail the glitzy glamorous night into a March on Selma moment, no, she was telling the unvarnished truth, utilizing her position as the voice of the voiceless to express universal truth and break that barrier, and still being damn gracious about her win to boot.

Prior to the speech there was also a oh so perfect moment between Davis and Taraji P. Henson: 

The two of them both up for the same award, but hugging it out and showing good sistersportsmanship --- now that's how we win and that's how we grow as a sisterhood.

Take notes, folks. 

Sep 8, 2015

Book Looks: 'Dietland' Throws A Grenade On Diets, Fatness & Feminism

Growing up my mother was sort of the empress of dieting. Every drink, pill, powder, supplement ---what have you --- she either knew about it, had tried it, or was tempted to pop it in, or stir it up. My mother wanted to revive the slimmer image of her younger days, rid herself of the Winnie The Pooh pooch she had, and she believed that if she found the right 'cure', her body was going to 'snap back'. Ultimately I got drawn into this weird world of miracle pills, mixed powdered drinks that resembled bubbling bayou bile and health literature that promised that if you squint and read between the lines you could shed the pounds in 7 days or less!!!!!!!, and while I still had my Funfetti cake and ate it too, my mother was the one who made me aware that even just a thin slice of it would cause my cute little waist to expand. Note this is before I even was influenced by glossy magazines and pop stars; my mother was on the pedestal then.

All of these dieting tricks and gaffes were really code words for starvation. I can attest to this, as one such diet experiment that my mother believed to be the ultimate belly shrinking cure had both of us hallucinating and shaking like addicts trying to kick the habit. We were back to cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes after enduring a concoction of blended carrot juice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and not much else) for four days. Looking back, we almost killed ourselves trying to obtain some unattainable size, and that to me was the wake up call out of my mother's dieting madness.

Diet culture makes everyone play the fool...sometime. Behind every line of "be yourself" and "you’re beautiful the way you are" there is a diet plan, cackling and whispering, "…that is if you do this one small neat weight-loss trick" and we fall for it every time, because 'thinness' is key, 'smallness' is desirable. Nowhere did I mention "healthy diet". Nowhere did I mention "whole foods" or "exercise". Dieting and its programs give the impression that your health and their 'good clean' eating is at the core of their agenda, but it usually opposite. Dieting has a glamorous and quick flavor to it, it doesn't regard sweating it out on a treadmill, or shelling out money for oh so pricey whole foods, thus we flock to it.

Still all the dieting my mother did throughout the Snackwells and Jenny Craig culture of the 1980s and 1990s didn’t stop her from contracting diabetes (she has Type 1 --- genetics are a bitch…) or having high blood pressure, but lessons are never learned because even though she keeps on a steady diabetic diet, she still gets hyped when a new "miracle cure" pops up, her finger itching to strike the key or press the button to purchase. It's a cycle, a vicious obsessive one, and one a lot of people, especially women like my mother, tend to never get out of.

In that regard, my mother and Dietland's Plum Kettle have a lot in common. Plum Kettle flocks towards the same thought, the thought that if you take part in diet programs that offer short-cuts and quick solutions that that thin person will leap right out of you in a snap!, in an instant.

In Sarai Walker's debut novel, Plum Kettle’s got 99 problems and a pre-made plate of low calorie puke is just one.

Jun 29, 2015

Lady Who Rocks: Bree Newsome

Well-behaved women seldom make history --- Laurel Thatcher Ulrich didn't lie about that some 30-odd years ago, and her statement rang with much ferocity this past Saturday when activist and all-around Renaissance woman Bree Newsome added her name to the long list of women who have caused a little mischief in the name of progress after she climbed up the flagpole outside of the South Carolina statehouse and removed its Confederate flag. In an instant she became a social media goddess, liken to social justice warriors like Fannie Lou Hammer and Wonder Woman, and immortalized in photos and artwork for her courageous and bold act that needed to have been done, well, decades ago.

Jun 24, 2015

Impressions: Anita Hill, The Power Of Speaking Up For Yourself & Owning Your Darkest Hour

When Anita Hill sat before an all-white, all-male Senate judiciary committee to accuse Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, I was a mere babe of 4.

As I became older, Anita Hill's name grew leverage, her name tossed around the dinner table at family gatherings as if it was apart of our family's oral history. Still the details attached to her name were still vague to me. My inquiring mind, though, was quelled as the grown-ups around me instead of making attempts to explain who she was clamped their mouths shut, giving that "I really don't want to talk about this" grimace and promptly changing the subject. In school the scandal was lightly touched upon (or really not at all), at times written off as an "oddity" or a marring blip in the country's judicial's track record.

When it came time for me to work in professional arenas, I came face-to-face not only with racial bias but also gender division, and thus, Hill's story, the one so many people around me tried to say I was 'too young' to understand, crept back into my conscious. When Anita: Speaking Truth To Power, a documentary by Academy-Award winning director Freida Mock was released in 2013, I was eager to view it simply because I wanted to fill in the blanks of all that had thinly been taught about the scandal, and understand with more context, more clarity why Hill became almost a 'folk hero' in the feminism canon.

Within just a few minutes of watching the film I began to understand why the grown-ups around me curbed their appetite for conversation about it, why it was so abhorred in political circles, and muzzled in the sociopolitical text. I also re-learned a few things as well, reassessing how sex, race, media influence, and politics collided into a mangled traffic jam of fail that October day in '91, while in turn, gained deeper insight to an ordinary but resilient woman who revitalized a movement just by speaking her unvarished truth.