January “It’s Lit” Review

January 31, 2020

I always carefully select the first books of the year. It’s usually a mix of inspirational and motivational. It sets the tone for me. This year was no different. I am pleased with the books that I started 2020 with.

Thanks to my neighbors and their fireworks show, I was up. And, since I was up, I picked up Go High: The Unstoppable Presence and Poise of Michelle Obama by M. Sweeney. If you’re looking for inspiration, you can never go wrong with our Forever Flotus. This book is a collection of photographs with accompanying quotes for Michelle Obama. It was great to stroll down memory lane and back to a time when we loved the people who occupied the White House. Per the usual, Michelle Obama’s words encourage us to have heart, believe in yourself, and dream big dreams. It was the perfect way to ring in the new year.

I had been saving Vibrate Higher Daily: Live Your Power by Lalah Delia for the new year. The title got me. By the end of the book, I was proclaiming “vibrate higher” as my words for the year. The book is described as a “manifesto unlike any other for stepping into our power.” Lalah Delia encourages us to be aware of the way we think and move in the world and be intentional about the choices we make – the ones that serve us and the ones that do not. It’s also a reminder that we are all powerful, but we have to choose to walk within our power. We are all finding our way in this world and sometimes it’s hard and discouraging to find our purpose and walk in it. But this book is here to to give us a little guidance and remind us that it is indeed a journey – and give ourselves some grace while we are on it. So, yeah. I encourage everyone to read this, harness your power, walk in it and vibrate higher.

I heard an interview with Chris Hogan on the Karen Hunter Show and immediately put Everyday Millionaires: How Ordinary People Built Extraordinary Wealth – And How You Can Too on my list. If you are a Dave Ramsey fan, you will probably like this book. It was an ok read. It was filled with data based on a study done on 10,000 millionaires. Chris Hogan takes us through allllll of the data (at times, I was over it) to drive home the point that these people are not unicorns – they are just determined, dedicated and hardworking. So, we got to hear a few of their stories and how they saved all their coins, invested in their company’s retirement plans, allowed very few (if any) luxuries and now they are millionaires. He also points out that everybody should stop thinking that millionaires are trust fund babies and privileged spoiled brats, because most aren’t. This book certainly doesn’t make my top reads list, but since I read it, I have been thinking twice about spending money on anything…so maybe the mission was accomplished.

Black Girls Rock!: Celebrating the Power, Beauty, and Brilliance of Black Women by Beverly Bond is a book that I have been meaning to read forever. I am a huge fan of the yearly Black Girls Rock! production and of the movement itself. This book is a compilation of the stories and wisdom of women who have been recognized as black girls who rock. I loved the diversity in perspectives and advice. It helped that some of my favorite people are included. You can never go wrong when Ava DuVernay, Erykah Badu, Tracee Ellis Ross, Michaela Angela Davis, Tamron Hall, Misty Copeland and all of the dope sisters come through to celebrate womanhood, blackness and our beauty.

After reading Red at the Bone, I developed a slight obsession with Jacquelyn Woodson. I picked up Another Brooklyn because I needed more of her voice in my literary life. Well, Another Brooklyn wasn’t as good as Red at the Bone, but, there were similarities. I find all of Woodson’s books to be poetic and lyrical. This one was not different. And, like in Red at the Bone, we get to go back and forth between the present and the past. August and her brother are dealing with the passing of their father and his death has her reliving her past life in Brooklyn. August’s mother passed away when she was young and she was raised by her father. After the mom’s death, the father moved them to Brooklyn from the south. In Brooklyn, she finds 3 best friends. Her adventures with those friends and the friendship with them was her everything. Although there were good times, there was also tragedy for all of them and dealing with those tragedies as a child takes us on a journey that is hauntingly beautiful coming of age story.

Perfect is Boring: 10 Things My Crazy, Fierce Mama Taught Me About Beauty, Booty and Being a Boss by Tyra Banks and Carolyn London was the light read that I needed. I read this book via Audible and I am glad I did. Tyra and Mama Carolyn tell their story and it’s hilarious. At times, Tyra was a little extra, but…that’s Tyra. Tyra shares the lessons she learned while she was on her way to becoming our favorite model, Sports Illustrated swimsuit girl and history maker. From being an unusually skinny kid and the trials and tribulations of teenage life to not being happy with the body she had to accepting and helping us accept our beauty in all forms, to understanding the difference between a dream and calling – Tyra and her mama covered a lot. And I loved Mama Carolyn. She is your typical old school black mama. What I appreciated about her was that she was learning on Tyra’s journey too and was open to it all. This is a good book and I would definitely recommend it for young girls.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reed was an unexpected gem. I was wayyyy too invested in how this story was going to end. Emira Tucker is a black, 25-year old , broke, partially employed babysitter for the white Chamberlain family. Late one night, Alix Chamberlain asks Emira to come and babysit so that she could handle some issues at the house. Emira takes the child to a grocery store, where she is accused of kidnapping the Chamberlain’s two-year old, Briar. Per the usual, the situation escalates, the incident is recorded and the series of events changes the entire trajectory of Emira’s life. Emira is determined not to have the recording of the incident leaked, but it happens. As a result, Alix’s past and Emira’s present meet up in a head on collision. Through it all, the author explores race, class and privilege in a way that thought provoking and real. This was a good one, folks! GO GET IT!

Do you ever think that your ancestors speak to you? Do you believe that their spirit lives in us? Or maybe that even though we are living in a totally different time, we endure the same kinds of love, loss and betrayals as they once did. The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton gave me all of the feels and had me asking all of these questions. The Revisioners is a multi- generational story which takes place in 1855, 1924 and 2017. Ava is a bi-racial woman struggling to gain her footing after a divorce and moves in to her white grandmother’s mansion to help get on her feet. About 100 years before Ava, Josephine is the owner of her own farm. But before that, she was a slave who had escaped to freedom as a child. Both Ava and Josephine endure betrayals by white people they had become close to and in many ways live parallel lives…years apart. I loved this one.

At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years by Taylor Branch is the last installment of the three volume series about the tumultuous times in United States during the lead up to Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. Branch does an amazing job of painting a clear picture of the times. The most interesting part of this story for me, was the insight into other activist groups of the time and how all of these groups were basically battling each other. Stokely Carmicheal and SNCC, who were under the influence of Malcolm X and gave rise to the Black Power Movement – which was totally opposite of what Dr. King was preaching and practicing was very interesting. Vietnam was also taking center stage during this time and King would spoke out against the war. J. Edgar Hoover was a constant threat and launched a full campaign against King and all of his supporters in order to discredit King and the movement. As the story went on, the sadder I became. At times, his closest followers and friends were at odds, his stance on the war made him even more hated, he carried a movement on his shoulders and towards the end, the weariness that he felt was weighing on me too. One of the things I enjoy most about history is learning about all of the things leading up to an event (and what happened next). Branch gives us the whole picture in full detail of how we got here and how we lost one of our greatest heroes.

“I made myself promise: Even if it meant becoming a stranger to my loved ones, even if it meant keeping secrets, I would have a life of my own.” How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones had me all up in my feelings. It reminded me a lot of Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon and his account of growing up black in America. But, Saeed Jones is growing up black, gay and in the South and fighting for his life and his sanity the whole way through. He is raised by a single mother and they have a strained relationship. He spends summer with his holy grandmother, which presents challenges and heartbreaks. He realizes that he is gay at a young age and spends entirely too much of his mental space and energy dealing with how to deal with that. From childhood to college to manhood, he tells his story of how he fought for his life. This book made me stop in my tracks because I am raising two black boys. It made me want to be more loving and more open to them and for them. The world is hard and it will be even harder for them. This story opened my eyes to that a little bit more. Besides this being an incredibly engaging story, Saeed tells it in a very poetic way. This was a beautiful one.

I could not put One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet down. OMG. When it was over, I just needed a minute to get my mind and heart together. It’s the summer of 1968, just after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Booby Kennedy and in the middle of the nation’s unrest. Zelda, Veronica and Daphne are college students. They decide to drive from the North to their HBCU – Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. Zelda is the militant midget, power to the people, logical one of the crew and she really didn’t want to take this trip. But due to unrest in her own house because of her stepfather’s antics, she decides to go – even though she knows it’s a bad idea. Veronica is rich and doesn’t see this whole racial thing the way Zelda sees it. It’s Veronica’s brand new Ford convertible that they take this journey in. And then there’s Daphne who is bi-racial, looks white, lost her black mother at 5 and then her white dad abandoned her. She has a lot going on. This unlikely trio, plus a friend of the family – Daniel (a Morehouse student) set out for a trip that will change their lives forever. As they travel, they hit all of the radio stations that have their place in black history. They use their Motorist Green Book to find their way to restaurants, gas stations, car repair shops, etc. They listen to Motown. They shout out HBCUs, including my alma mater – Hampton University. When they reach South Carolina, they do not stop, but they mention the Orangeburg Massacre that happened on the campus of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, SC – my hometown. As they travel farther South, their car breaks down and all hell breaks loose. I won’t spoil it for you, but this story was riveting. I just kept thinking about how this could have easily been my mother in the car. This was what it was like to try to be a young, black and free college student in 1968. This is a story about race, politics, privilege, love, loss and navigating life at one of the most volatile times in our history.

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy was my very first graphic novel. I was in totally new territory with this one. I have already reviewed Kindred by Octavia Butler, so I won’t do that again. Instead, I will just tell you about this graphic novel experience. I am sure bringing this novel to life wasn’t an easy job, but I enjoyed it. It was a little weird at first because I had already imagined what Dana and the rest of the characters looked like…and they were nothing like the ones Damian Duffy created. LOL. Oh well. Nonetheless, I liked it. The colors were great, the people (once I got used to them) made sense and the storytelling was phenomenal. I think this version is easier to follow and understand, so for a younger reader, this would work well. I did enjoy the interview with Damian Duffy at the end, where he discusses why he made the choices he did in creating this adaptation. What I did learn is that I really am not the graphic novel/comic book reader. From here on out, I will probably stay in my lane, which doesn’t include books like this. But still…I encourage you to give it a try.

Welp, that’s it for this month. February will be filled with some good black history reads. I hope you’ll join me.

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