Category Archives: Books

What I’m Reading: Beyond the List

It’s been a while, so I’m playing catch-up.

Finished up with Misty Copeland’s memoir as news of Prince’s death hit the airwaves. He was just as much her muse and she was his. There’s a wonderful video where they performed The Beautiful Ones. Prince is probably the only person in the world who loved purple more than me. One evening I hopped on the subway train and sat next to an adolescent Latina. As soon as I pulled the book out of my bag, she said, “I’ve read that book! I hope to be a ballerina one day!” And I said, “Well, I hope to see you perform on stage one day!”

And, speaking of young ladies, the thought occurred to me that maybe I should buy the Misty Copeland Barbie dolls for when my granddaughter is comes of age. (As of this writing, the doll is on backorder.) Along with the one for Ava DuVernay. And I should see Ms. Copeland perform in person. Get my hands on a ticket to ABT.

Books on Film: The May 1 edition of the New York Times Book Review had an article about Whit Stillman’s latest vehicle, Love and Friendship, both a novel and a movie. It’s based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. I’ve watched a few PBS adaptations of her work, but the last time I actually read Jane Austen was back in grade school. So I downloaded the e-book and gave it a go.

The story is a chronological series of letters from different characters, so it’s a multiple first-person narrative (whatever the technical term is for that!). I saw the movie trailer for the film, and it’s looks like a riot of a comedy. I’m not sure if I saw the humor in the story. I had to re-read it because I couldn’t pick up the relationships between the characters. I was able to sort it all out on the second read. As an adult, I’ve rarely read a book twice. The last one was Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, back in the ’80s.

Another book on the work pile…my co-worker Desmond had just finished reading America’s Hidden History by Kenneth C. Davis, which he borrowed from William, another co-worker. So William and I made a swap. I gave him Misty Copeland’s book for America’s Hidden History. I just started on the history book, but William finished up Misty Copeland’s book, which is now on Desmond’s desk. Have no idea when he’s going to read it.

And speaking of books on film, my Navy son got the chance to see The Jungle Book, and he liked it. I mentioned that I’d read the book—or at least started the book—back in grade school. There’s a lot of Oscar buzz for this film. I have yet to see the movie; but I saw one of its stars, Lupita Nyong’o, in Eclipsed on Broadway. A powerful play, and a great performance.

Also finished reading Island Beneath the Sea. Things are starting to come full circle now in the story. This book would be a great companion book to read along with Master of the Crossroads by Madison Smartt Bell. While Bell’s book which is part of a trilogy, focuses on the Haitian Revolution from the perspective of Toussaint L’Ouverture, Isabel Allende’s book deals with those who fled to Cuba and New Orleans. One can draw parallels to the revolutions and rebellions going on in countries like Syria, Libya, Egypt, and more, all with varying degrees of success—or failure, as the case may be.

And started on the next audiobook, Alan Lomax: A Biography by John Szwed. It’s time now for the summer shows in the parks season, so I figured it would be good to listen to a book about a musical figure.

In memoriam: Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, passed away on June 30th. I was just entering high school when I read his book in 1973. My best friend Yolanda and I talked about it. And Elie Wiesel passed away today. I’ve read his book, Night, as I listened to the audio. (Thanks, Professor Paul Dolan.) It was almost as if I was there. Almost, because no one but a Holocaust survivor knows what it was really like. I have a peripheral interest; I worked at a job with a Holocaust survivor, and my stepfather fought with Patton’s Black tank brigade in WWII. Both had little to say about their experience, but left me to wonder how such things can happen? And if we will ever learn the lessons of history?

So now we’re all caught up. Looks like a year where books just happen to find me, no rhyme or reason. Or so it seems…


What I’m Reading: Beyond the List

Sometimes you have to flip the script…For the past week, I’ve haven’t walked around with a print book. I finished reading Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass, and couldn’t decide what book to read next. I thought I would jump right into Michele Wallace’s book. But I was still trying to figure out what to think of Faith Ringgold’s response to her daughter’s seminal work, Black Macho. First off, I have to say that the artwork was stunning. (Then again, this is Faith Ringgold.) But now that I’ve had time to think about it some more, I have to agree with one of the book reviewers on the book represents a much-needed dialog between women about feminism, and what it means to be a woman in this society.

I also thought that I might want to read some lighter fare. The audiobook I’m reading by Isabel Allende, Island Beneath the Sea, deals with the slave society in Saint Domingue. The characters are fascinating. And the audio has an excellent narrator in the voice of S. Epatha Merkerson. But it’s a heavy subject. So I about going to a totally different world, and read the Dark Matter anthology. Then I went shopping at Jack’s World. Anyone in New York City who’s looking for bargains knows all Jack’s. I spotted a copy of Misty Copeland’s memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. If you haven’t watched the PBS episode of Independent Lens, you need to see it. The book is in my bag.

Speaking of memoirs…I listened to the New Yorker Radio Hour podcast about Sylvia’s in Harlem, where they mentioned Chef Samuelsson’s restaurant, The Red Rooster. Maybe I’ll read his memoir, Yes Chef. I used to watch his cooking show on PBS.

And more PBS…Author Ben Ratliff was on the Tavis Smiley show talking about his new book, Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty. The conversation really resonated with me. I took on a paid subscription with Rhapsody when folks were still burning music on their desktop computer, and way before streaming services exploded with the smartphones. I like it because I can stream music from any device like a computer, smartphone or tablet, without having to buy and store the music on a device. I’ve always listened to many different types of music, and the service has more than paid for itself.

What piqued my interest in this book is that, unlike generations past, we have access to millions of songs from all around the world. How can we use that to expand our musical palette? I grew up in the 70s where there was a lot of sharing across musical genres. What we lacked during that time was access to the music. You had to travel far and wide to get the kind of music that we now have at our fingertips. Americans in general tend to have a limited palette when it comes to listening to music, and this tendency seems to be exacerbated within the African-American community. Which is a pity, since the music created by black people has become the soundtrack of American music, and inspired other musical cultures around the globe.

During the President’s Day weekend, I loaded the most recent segment of my handwritten to-read list into Goodreads. And the idea struck me; instead of handwriting the books when Bill Goldstein does his segment on Today in New York, I can logon and add them to my Goodreads list. Now I just have to load the books from my other notepads. I think there’s about four pads floating around my house, so that ought to fatten up my list. Now, if only there was a way to auto-load my list from the NYPL.

My friend on Goodreads now has over 3400 books on her to-read list. I wonder if it’s physically possible for any one person to read that many books. Right now she’s currently reading five books. I also made friends with my home library, the Queensborough Public Library. They’ve both given me a few books to add to my own to-do list.

Another book on the pile…Another book from the office library has found its way to my desk: Dressed for Death by Donna Leon. Part of the Guido Brunetti series. Also recommended the Attica Locke book to a co-worker from the downtown office who happened to go by the library. Now that’s a great workday.

What I’m Reading: Beyond the List

Usually for my daily commute, I carry my gear in a rolling backpack. But when there’s snow on the ground, I leave the big boy at home, pare things down, and pack my stuff in a tote bag. After the record-breaking snowstorm in January, I left the heavier Attica Locke book at home, and carried my tablet around. During one morning commute, I read We Should All Be Feminists on my Kindle app. Then I started on Octavia Butler’s book, Unexpected Stories. Continuing with my exploration of the Schomburg Exhibit. For a brief time that I was reading a print book, an e-book, and an audiobook. Most times I read either an e-book or a print book, along with my audiobook. Now I’m reading from each medium. Guess I’ve gone from toggling between two books to multi-tasking. Hopefully this also settles the argument about which medium is better. My answer is, it depends on where you are. Try opening up a print book when you’re packed in on a subway train.

So it’s back to the office library for The Cutting Season. And I picked up two more books: The Key, part two of the Simon Toyne series; and Memories of a Geisha Doll, which I’ve never read. Don’t know where in the mix they’re going to end up. Attica Locke sat on my desk for over a year.

Invisibility Blues by Michelle Wallace will be the next book that goes into the backpack, weather permitting. There’s talk of two more storms coming through town this week. And the next e-book I’d like to read after Octavia Butler is the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. A friend recently quoted from the book on a Facebook post, in honor of Black History Month. This was one of the first e-books that I downloaded, so I should get this one done, as they say. See if I can keep up with this multi-tasking. I’m not one of the folks who believe they can do more than one thing at once. I know that I can’t multi-task, so I don’t even try. This will be a stretch for me.

But I have a friend on Goodreads who’s reading three books right now. Her want-to-read list is more than twice the size of mine, over a thousand books. I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that my boys will inherit my list. A thousand books to read is just mind-boggling. But who knows? Maybe I can pick up the pace once I retire—or hit the lotto. We’ll see.

Happy reading!

What I’m Reading: Beyond the List

So here we are, a new year, and a new page to fill with the books that I’m reading.

Just started the first book for 2016, No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan. The book was on my audio list at NYPL, and I downloaded the book as a test when I was having problems transferring files to my MP3 player. This book should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand religious practice in general, and Islam in particular. And for anyone who is concerned about the rise of fundamentalist religions, be they Islam, Christianity, or any other practice. One thing that I learned, or what I was reminded of, is that religions and religious practices do not exist in a vacuum. They are the shaped by the society, culture and economic landscape that surrounds them. It’s easy for us to look at things within our current societal, cultural, and political context, and therein lies the danger.

Speaking of culture, society and politics, I made a trip to the Schomburg Center in Harlem during the holiday season to check out an exhibit titled, Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination. The exhibit explored “black speculative imagination,” and it was one of the best exhibits that I’ve attended at the center. When I started reading sci-fi back in the 1970s as a junior high school student, the word ‘nerd’ wasn’t invented. But sci-fi definitely wasn’t cool for anyone, black or white. I attended an integrated school where sci-fi wasn’t considered as serious literature by our teachers, and still carried the pejorative term, “pulp fiction.” For most of the black folks I knew, sci-fi existed in another universe. The exhibit not only featured artwork, but speculative fiction and related books throughout the decades. One of the books featured in the exhibit is part of my stack of books at home: Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora. The second book in the series was also included in the exhibit. More books for me to add to the ever-growing list.

The list also included some of my favorite authors, such as Walter Mosley, who is a superb science fiction writer. And an author that I haven’t read yet, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her book We Should All Be Feminists, was featured as part of the exhibit. Her book, along with Dark Matters, will go near the top of the queue.

I also made a stop at the Schomburg gift shop, and picked up the book Invisible Blues by one of my all-time faves, Michele Wallace. Any time I get one of her books, it goes straight to the top of the pile. I read her seminal work, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, back in high school, at a time when the feminist movement was gathering steam. I’ll start her book after I finish The Cutting Season. Then continue my exploration of the Schomburg exhibit by reading Dark Matter and We Should All Be Feminists.

Hope that you’re having a good start to your reading year!

Progress Report: New Year’s Resolution

Before the holly jolly and the merry merry, one final update…

Last week I started on The Cutting Season by Attica Locke. And I’m about two-thirds of the way through Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Two totally different books with the word ‘cutting’ in the title.

Of all of the books that I’ve read this year, the two that I enjoyed the most happened to be the two longest books: Cutting for Stone and Master of the Crossroads. They are both long sagas with unique perspectives.

The most impactful book that I read this year was Between the World and Me. I’m going to gift my two sons with this book, and hopefully we’ll talk about it somewhere down the line.

I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to Benedict Anderson, who passed away on December 19. His seminal work, Imagined Communities, was among the Top 10 Books that Stuck with Me. And also to editor and publisher Curtis F. Harris, who worked as chief executive of Howard University Press, and founded Amistad publishing. I read books published by Howard Press, including And Then We Heard the Thunder by John Oliver Killens and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney. As a child, my older son read books by Walter Dean Myers, published under Amistad Press. And one of our all-time favorite books that I read to them was published by Amistad, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe.

What’s on tap for next year? I might start by reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. December 16, 2015 marked the 240th anniversary of her birth, and Rosamund Pike just recorded an audiobook of this classic. Hopefully the audiobook will be available in the library by the time I’m finished with Cutting for Stone. I’ll probably listen to the audio along with reading the printed book. Haven’t done that in a while. I got into reading along with the audio when I took a Shakespeare class. My introduction to the wide world of audiobooks.

Hope that your year in books has been just as exciting and enlightening as mine. And here’s to another great year of family, friends, good times, and great books. Happy Holidays!!


Progress Report: New Year’s Resolution

Well, the holiday stuff is on the store shelves…which means it will soon be time for making another batch of New Year’s Resolutions. So how have I done on this year’s resolution? Out of the fifteen books, I’ve managed to read five, which is a third of the list. A bit of a dent.

Lately I’ve been reading books that are not on the list. Recently, I read Between the World and Me. There’s been so much buzz about it, and with the current racial climate, I had to read it. Right now I’m reading something from my audiobook wishlist, Cutting for Stone.

So far for the year, I’ve read a total of fourteen books. Not too shabby. Before the year is out, I hope to start one more book from my New Year’s list, the Attica Locke book that’s sitting on my desk. At the rate I’m going, it will take another two years to get through the list. Guess this means I won’t have to make a resolution for 2016…Nice.

Progress Report: New Year’s Resolution

Yea, I know, been missing in action lately. Too busy checking out all the summer concerts. Tomorrow I will attend my 40th concert for the season! Now I’ve done 20, 25 shows in a season; but this year I’ve just been on a roll. One show that passed me by was tonight’s free Stevie Wonder concert at SummerStage. He’s one of my absolute heroes. Oh well. Guess I’ll have to pony up and pay to see him when he swings back to the City in November.

All this traveling around on the trains to chasing concerts means that I’m just about done with Master of the Crossroads. Hope to have it done by the end of the month. A phenomenal historic novel. Highly recommend.

Over the weekend, I was able to borrow the audio version of another book on my list, Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. Should be starting that one soon. And another book to add to the office library.

And speaking of the office, I think that after I’m done with Crossroads, the next print book I’d like to read will be the book that’s sitting on my desk, The Cutting Season by Attica Locke.

In case you’re keeping count, I’ve read four out of the fifteen. Not even close to half. But a nice dent in the pile.

Recently, the thought came to me that, for next year’s reading, I may focus on books that were made into movies. I’ve read the entire Harry Potter series, but I haven’t read The Hunger Games. I don’t watch a lot of movies, but I got to see the second movie in the Hunger Games franchise, and I thought it was great. My Navy son is a fan of Goosebumps, so he’s looking forward to the movie coming out in October. I think I’ll mix up both old and new; on my Kindle I have Frankenstein, and Pride and Prejudice. So we’ll see. Stay tuned…