Saturday, February 14, 2015

5. Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men

Adichie is, by far, my favorite writer of our generation. And as she continues to write outstanding works of literature, I'm sure she will become my favorite writer of all time.

However, reading We Should All Be Feminists made me realize just how different the two of us are.

And that's okay.

I have much to say about this short, short piece. But since, I'm sending it around to publications, I should probably keep this review short.

It was, as is all of Adichie's writing, a pleasurable and informative read.

4. Letters to a Young Novelist

I loved Letters to a Young Poet and Letters to a Young Artist by Smith and Cameron; thus, I was delighted to discover Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa in Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor.

The most important thing that I learned from this slender book is that I have a lot more reading to do. In nearly chapter he makes at least one reference to a major author who I have not read yet. In mentioning each author, Llosa is unafraid to state, quite plainly, what he does and does not appreciate about each writer. His straight-forward honesty gives me permission not-to-like the work of those others consider to be great. His transparent critique makes me more likely to try read Moby-Dick and Madame Bovary, both of which I assumed I would hate. Llosa has given me permission to read and dislike, to read and disagree.

I trust his sentiments based off of who calls great: Faulkner, Hemingway, Malraux, Dos Passos, Camus and Sartre -- who impacted his youth -- and Borges, Calvino, Rulfo, Pierre de Mandiargues, Kafka, Garcia Marquez and Alejo Carpentier  -- who he refers to as the most distinguished authors of fantastic literature of our time.

I enjoyed the first letter the most. In this letter Llosa calls into question existentialism at least as far as it pertains to the free choice of an artist. As an existentialist, I appreciated the nuances of Llosa's argument. With Llosa's encouragement, each reader should evaluate their own inclinations against their own choices. Perhaps understanding themselves better will positively influence the writer's work.

I agree with Llosa's balance of emphasis on the stylized technical aspects of writing with the other important components of a strong novel. Llosa mentioned Balzac and Joynce among others as making all kinds of grammatical mistakes. It was important for me to read that even those who break all the rules can be considered a great writer.

This is an important book for a beginning novelist. This book forces you to question: have I read that book Llosa mentioned? Do I agree with Llosa's literary theory?

As Llosa walks a budding novelist through the process of writing a novel and being a novelist, both, the reader will take note of gaps in their knowledge base and with the assistance of this text, begin to fill them.

This is definitely a book that a new novelist should own.

Friday, January 30, 2015

3. 12 Keys to Good Health

The primary difference between Joyce Meyer and most other Christian writers that I have read is that Joyce Meyers couples all of her biblical knowledge with concrete facts. There are a lot of ministers who know the bible; there are very few ministers who can educate as clearly and as succinctly as Meyer has on topics that aren't directly related to religion.

I am thoroughly impressed.

I am impressed at Meyer's discussion of metabolism and hormones and diseases; I am impressed that she covered so much in such a short volume

This was one of the most efficient books that I have ever read.

After reading Good Health, Good Life by Joyce Meyer over the last few days, I have walked away with concrete things that I can do to improve my health. I will drink more water; I will ask God for help; and specifically, I will work on loving my body.

"The best exerciser of all may have been Jesus," Meyer writes. "He routinely walked from His home in Galilee to Jerusalem--a distance of about 120 miles." I appreciated this sentence so much. I appreciated this sentence, this entire section, because I had never stopped to think about exercise from a biblical point of view.

This slim book was the perfect volume. It allowed me to focus on God while providing me with valuable information on how the human body works and what it takes to improve my health.

I highly recommend this to Christians who are concerned about their health; and, that should be all of us.

Friday, January 23, 2015

2. The Drunken Sweetheart Appeared

Last night, I had the honor of hearing Ken Meisel at the Jazz Cafe in Detroit. I was so moved by the second poem he recited

As an introduction, he mentioned that he was going to read a poem celebrating the power of a woman's voice. Without even hearing the poem, I was moved. It is always such an honor to hear a man give honor and respect and praise to women.

I began to take notes.

When me stepped into the line: "I saw/ a woman struck by her husband. It was almost delicate.." I could feel the juxtaposition between 'delicate' and 'struck'; between delicacy as a state and the impact of being struck. (from "Woman Releasing a Tongueless Swallow from Her Violin")

For a brief second, I had flashbacks. I stopped listening.

I purchased the book because of the poem, alone.

The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door is a masterful collection of poetry. It is quite obvious that Ken Meisel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. Reading his poetry, it becomes obvious that Meisel is in touch with inner attitudes and dispositions; reading each poem, it is obvious that he has an in depth understanding of the inner subvocalizations, the inner memories of women as well.

I enjoyed "Learning to Taste the Chocolate". I enjoyed the transparency of a man's thoughts in this poem the most. Just past the middle of the poem I read, "I wonder if she ever actually thinks about my body in that lusty,/ out-of-control way that I dream of her body..." And as he learns to taste the chocolate, as he learns to let go, I experience his lesson, too. I wonder if any man has wondered about me that way. I wondered if I am thought of.

Two poems later, I was moved by "Adolescence".

...She was about to take
the leap that all girls take when their skin
changes, and suddenly the stirring of their
deepermost feelings, which sit safely
locked underneath the compress of skin
for years, emerge somehow as wildflowers
or a sudden rain storm of giggles, and then
everything is different, alive somehow,
like an unleashed current of passion.

And I wondered if I had ever written about my own adolescence into womanhood as clearly, as beautifully as him. As I read the poem, all I could think was "Yes."

At the end of this poem, I realized that Meisel is a master of conclusions, a master in knowing where the final period falls. Somehow, "so she could kiss it" not only ends the perfect sentence, it also justifies and enlightens the entire poem.

I noticed that I liked his endings with only two or three words on the last line the most. The brevity of their accuracy was breath taking.

I loved "finding flame" which concludes "The Girls at the Vista Maria Home for Truants". I loved "poetry to us" which ends "My Fingers Move Across the Typewriter Keys in an Effort to Find You".

And I realized he had mastered the final phrase of every poem because he has mastered phrasing in general. He does, with his poetry, what I only hope to do with my prose. Using aposotives among other phrasings, Meisel has the knack of using a well placed comma.

The repetition is beautiful, hypnotic.

The repetition of "not" and "with" in the first poem "Matinee"; the repetition of "like" and "now" in "Some Purple Violets at the Market"; the use of different phrases modifying a single word is powerful. Perfect.

I have several favorite poems. I love "Strip Clubs, Tampa" and "She Was Caressing Me" the most.

I often wondered how women ended up as porn stars and strippers and prostitutes; I often wondered how way leads onto way. Yet, I never could capture my wonderment as beautifully as Meisel did.

And "She Was Caressing Me" may be the most perfect poem I've read in years. It has the perfect opening, the perfect close. The last four lines are almost too much for me to bear.

I enjoyed this poetry book. Secretly, I knew a poetry book that begins with an epigraph by Rumi would not lead me astray.

I highly recommend The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door to all who love literary poetry, poems that show up beautiful and slanting across the page.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

1. Autopsy of the Deceased

Last Saturday, I attended my first leadership conference. It was at my church, under the direction of my pastor. Our assignment was to read the slim selection: Autopsy of a Deceased Church.

I was so glad that I read this book. It was very readable; it was straight to the point.

This selection was important to me because it reminded me that Ye are the City and my body is a temple. In short, I am the church. The church is me. There is no separation. If my church survives, if my church grows it will because of me, because of my fellow church members.

In this book, Thom S. Rainer discussed the conditions that arise before a church dies. In the beginning he writes, "He did not notice the deterioration... You don't see the accumulation of dust in hours." I this case he was talking about the deterioration of a town; however, it could be applied to a church, it could be applied to our lives.

This paragraph struck me. Is there any dust accumulating in my life that I have not noticed?

There is a section entitled: "Others First = Life. Me First = Death". This ought to be my life's slogan. This should become my motto. The first sentence reads, "When a church ceases to have a heart and ministry for the community, it is on the path towards death."

I am so grateful for this reminder. I want my dance ministry to be for others. Not for myself, my health, my popularity. And I want my writing career to be for others -- not for money or fame or anything other that my audience.

At one point Rainer states loudly, "Membership in the church is not country club membership. It's not about paying your dues and getting perks." This sentence was directly for me. I have to make sure that I am not in church for networking purposes; I am not in church to gain an audience for my writing or my dancing; I am not even in church for the sole purpose of gaining friends. I am in church to serve. If I gain friends, of course that is okay. If people enjoy my writing or dancing, then that would be a blessing. If I gain a network, fine.

However, I am here to serve. Period.

One of the most important statements in the book said, "None of the members asked what they should be doing; they were too busy doing what they've always done."

All I can do is shake my head. I've realized that it is time for me to stop doing what I've always done. That's not good enough. Perhaps, it never was.

I must ask my community, my church family, my pastor, and indeed, I must ask my God, what should I be doing? How can I serve?

I highly recommend this slim book for church congregations across the country and across the English speaking world.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If I Were a Poor Black Kid

Forbes: If I Were A Poor Black Kid

I'm not sure if it sounds silly or condescending, but as a Black person... I kind of contemplate the, "If I Were a Poor Black Kid" scenario to myself all of the time. It's almost impossible to address everything in a single blog entry. 

To be successful and Black in America, in my opinion, takes a hell of a lot of luck. Once you have a broad range of lucky conditions... then you have to work your ass off. Since I studied undergrad at the University of Michigan between the Supreme Court Cases of 2003 and the transfer of the Wardell Connerly movement to Michigan in 2006, I've been thinking a lot about what it takes for a Black child... especially a broke Black child. 

One of the things that the Forbes article doesn't account for is every Black person in America, whether they are conservative or liberal, knows that you any Black person has to learn everything twice. You have learn everything that is on the surface which Marks addresses and then you have to learn what it means when you are black. (Then, if you are a woman you have to learn how to navigate patriarchy and racial issues).  It is extremely difficult to learn this concept by yourself. It's damn near impossible. Basically, in addition to learning the academics you have to learn 1. how to have white teachers, 2. how to have white classmates, 3. how to be a token in networking situations, 4. how to be a token in corporate or academic situations, 5. how to have a drink with a bunch of white folks in academic or corporate situations... I haven't really found any book on it. It really takes a Black person in academia or a Black person in corporate America to say, "Look, this is how everything really works."

1. Grades. A lot of people undereducate Black children. Even if you have the best grades... it's hard to compete with someone who is being taught 2-4 levels ahead of you. For instance, when I entered U of M wanting to be a physics major... I realized that many of the white folks had already completed Calculus 2 (or AP Calculus BC) and Differential Equations. On the other hand, many of the Black students from Detroit did not come from schools where AP Calculus was available... let alone Intergral Calculus or above. 

So even if you get the best grades in Trigonometry or Algebra... How do you compete with someone the same age who has already been taught so much more? 

2. Libraries. Many libraries close by 7pm. If you are lucky you might be able to find a nearby university that stays open until 12. But if your not lucky... then what? Many suburbs have internet cafes... but inner cities don't. And even if they did, you wouldn't have the money to pay for them. 

3. Even if you get a computer... How in the world would you pay for internet? You need credit, good credit in order to buy the internet on contract. And so far they don't have prepaid internet services. 

Perhaps you can go to McDonalds, but they don't have any sockets to actually plug in your lap top.

4. And if you are an inner city black kid... There just so much that you won't be exposed to... Your music departments will be cut. You won't learn an instrument until you get to high school because the middle school programs are obsolete. So how do you win a scholarship for music when you've only been playing for 4 years... versus a person with private lessons who has been playing since they were 4 years old? 

You won't have a swim team, or a lacrosse team, or a soccer team, or a hockey team. You might have a track team that may or may not have a track. 

5. And what will you eat. A person's diet has a huge effect on their long-term brain development. Most inner cities don't have very many health food stores... And most of the grocery stores in the cities barely carry produce. I don't know. 

And that's just the basics. I don't know anything about going to schools where there are metal detectors. And actually partial police departments based on school grounds. I don't know anything about going to school where there are active gangs. Sometimes folks can't just get "good grades". 

I just shake my head. I don't know what a broke kid could do. Or should do. 

A year ago, I read an article about a young Black man who was valedictorian of his high school. It was a congratulatory article, praising the young man for going to college in spite of all of the odds. But at the end of the article, it mentioned that the young man was going to community college! I was so furious! If was was valedictorian, with decent scores... and he went through everything the article mentioned. I think he should have had a full ride to Harvard, Stanford, Michigan or Wharton... There's no way in the world he should have been going to a community college. 

But that would take a guidance counselor to say, "hey-- you've gone through enough... there's money out there. Here, apply to Harvard. Here, apply to Northwestern. Oberlin." Whatever. 

Part of the problem when your Black... is just having enough people tell you that you really can compete with White folks. Really.

Everyday, I'm reminded of how priveleged I have been a Black middle class lady. I didn't have a car, or name brand clothes... But I definitely had one of the best educations a Black person could have in America.

What would I do if I was a poor Black kid?

1. Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts
2. Jr. Achievement
3. Free Sports Teams
4. Free or Cheap Private Lessons for a Musical Instrument
5. The smartest, coolest, most-down-to earth Black frieends I could find in the city
6. maybe Jack and Jill parties (to learn how to network with Black folks)
7. Church (maybe that should have been number one)
8. A mentor or two or three or four (who are black)

9. And the most important thing is summer programs. Every major college has summer programs for people of color or people without the most money... Sometimes they are absolutely free.

10. A lot of inner city Black schools won't let you take college courses while your in high school, but a lot of white schools will. I guess if I was broke I would try like hell to take college courses while I was in high school. Even if I was just auditing and couldn't get credit...

Its really hard to know what you don't know. I don't know how I would have known about summer programs  1. if I didn't have sibling who went to college before me, 2. if I didn't have Black friends going to the programs, 3. If I didn't have a guidance counselor who knows.

I don't have any real answers. In some ways, I'm still trying to figure out what I would do (or will do) as a poor Black parent. 

Thursday, December 01, 2011

No More Sheets

It is impossible to read Juanita Bynum's No More Sheets and not be honest with one's self. For every woman who is walking in her relationship with God, with Christ, she must acknowledge that sex was designed for pleasure within a marriage.

Bynum has written an honest challenge for women to give up the sheets until she finds a man who is devoted enough to commit to her before God. The twelve year old church girl who vowed to keep her virginity before she even knew what sex was believes this is not only possible, but mandatory; however, the single mother, the lonesome woman and the skeptic inside of me believes this is a tall order.

Luckily, I have known Black women who in the 21st century were able to save themselves until marriage. Without actual proof, I'd call Bynum a lie. But realistically, I know its possible. Perhaps my negativity comes from reading, Is Marriage for White People a few days before reading No More Sheets.

Black women are a religious and devoted people. After reading Banks account in Is Marriage that not only are 70% of Black women unmarried but at least 30% will never do so. I can't help but wonder, and I always have if I'm in the 30% that will get lucky or the 30% that will never come close. And so honestly by the Law, if every Black woman was completely perfect seven out of every ten adult Black women would not be having any sex at all.

Although Bynum doesn't address any issues that particularly affect Black women, she does acknowledge the difficulty of all women to commit to celibacy until marriage or re-marriage. In spite of the difficulties, Bynum reminds that even non-penetration simply leads to arousal... which may ultimately invite sex. And, even if masturbation is not explicitly outlawed in Bible, many religious scholars agree that there is nothing about masturbation that glorifies God.

Bynum's book is an excellent guide to why sex is worth waiting once you are an adult and especially after you've been married before. She gives detailed explanations from the scripture and from example on how sex outside of God can hinder your spiritual relationship with Him.
Bynum's conclusion is that we [all women] are not married because we are not ever truly single. Based off of my experience and observation of Millennial women, the author is irrefutably correct. For me, the one thing that Bynum never addresses is, Is your faith in God so strong that you can commit to celibacy even if no wedding day ever comes? Bynum's book ends on the positive with the expectation of an equally yoked prince Charming and a few bits of advice for Christian women on their spiritual walk. However, any advice or recommendations on how to remain celibate for one's entire adult life, I would have to search elsewhere for answers.

The Honor Code

Perhaps family discussions at my house are a bit strage. With my brother's graduate degree in Philosophy and I with my bachelors, one of our constant conversations is the need for a moral revolution. William's argument is that the rate of growth of human morality has always been significantly slower than the rate of technoloigical advancement. Kwame Anthony Appiah chooses to examine the possibility of a Moral Revolution first by examinig how technological revolutions take place.

While I enjoyed reading Appiah's work, I disagreed that there has ever been a moral revolution thus far in human history. The greatest illusion of moral progress was Appiah's example of the abolition of human trading. In Europe, as well as America, the abolition of slaver was financially  driven. Although a moral resolution eventually occurred (after hundreds of years), it was not because of the change of morality of Americans or Europeans.

Appiah is correct. There needs to be a moral revolution. Now. However, looking to the past may not be the best way to incite a moral uprising.

I would recommend reading the Honor Code to understand the need for morality, to learn a bit about formal, academic philosophy and to determine if you agree with Appiah's explanation of how moral revolutions happen.

Is Marriage for White People

Every black man I know hates this discussion. My father tells me, "It doesn't matter if all black men are 'dogs'.' How many do you need? You only need one man. You can't tell me of all the men in the world there is not one." As a child, I heard him say this to every single woman in my family. As a child, I believed him. As an adult, I realize what that even if the woman only needs one man strange things happen when the man has the world at his disposal.

My father wouldn't believe it as a man with many options (even in his older years); he would not understand. Thus, I am delighted that the book Is Marriage for White People was written by a man. I am certain that if a Black woman had written the exact words she would be accused of bad mouthing Black men, over exaggerating the obvious or being the stereotypical angry Black woman.

Perhaps Banks should have titled his work Is Marriage for White Women. He admits that while the problem of Black women is too few choices, the problem of the Black middle class or upper class man is too many. Banks is a thorough expert on the Black middle class. However, if he spent any time with the Black working class he would realize that even Black men who are not middle class earners have the upper hand. Contrary to what he says, incarceration nor underemployment prevents Black men's options to marry. The fact that Banks doesn't give Black men who aren't in the middle class enough credit is the primary fault of the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed Is marriage for White People [Women]. Reading the stories of the women cited in the book was like talking to old friends or older mentors. The primary goal of the book seems to be 'Should Black women marry men who are not Black.' The secondary goal is, 'Are black women even desirable to anyone besides Black men?' And the unfortunate understatement is are Black women desirable to Black men, Dyson aside.

Whether you agree with Banks' conclusions or not, and I do, Is Marriage for White People [Women] is well worth the read.

Monday, May 10, 2010

18. The Good Guy

I have committed to reading 25 authors that I have never read before. The sixth New Author that I have read this year is Dean Koontz. As much as I love suspense movies, I have not read very many suspense novels in my life time. I found Koontz to be an excellent invitation into the genre.

Without telling too much of the story, Koontz crafts a tale where two individuals - once strangers - find themselves in the chase of their lives utterly dependent upon each other. And, I promise you, the novel is not nearly as cheesy as the sentence which I used to describe it.

I enjoyed the suspense, I read the book in less than 24 hours over a two day period. For me, it was the definition of a page turner. I loved the story down to the very last line.

I am certain that I will be reading and buying more of Koontz, and more suspense novels in general.

17. Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Now, whenever I think of James Weldon Johnson I will recall the benediction of Rev. Joseph Lowery at President Barack Obama's inauguration. Johnson is best known for his poem "Lift Every Voice and Sing", which when combined with the musical composition of his brother John (J. Roseamond) has come be revered as the Black National Anthem.

Well regarded as a fine poet of the Harlem Renaissance, James Weldon Johnson also penned a novel entitled The Autobiography of an Ex-colored Man. Critics may or may not agree; I find Johnson's Autobiography to be the first complete, well-structured novel by an African American. I am struggling to find the phrasing that would adequately display my sentiments. In short, I think that Johnson wrote the best Black novel of the early writers. Published in 1912, I find it to be the greatest of the early novels before Nella Larson and Zora Neale Hurston began publishing in the late 1920s through 1930s.

While many scholars have wondered about the influence of Dostoevsky's The Underground on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. I must wonder if he also read Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored man before he began his monumental text.

I enjoyed reading the novel for a second time, and I would encourage other to venture into James Weldon Johnson's prose as well.

16. Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men

This book has been on my to-be-read list for the past five years. Finally, the opportunity to explore intimately and honestly what I won't experience first hand.

I was unsure of what to expect, and thus I had no expectations. What I found in each page was an honest self-exploration of a communal experience. Similar to a memoir, Poulson-Bryant, brought a level of clarity and transparency to the page. I found his work necessary and brave.

While the text was not as inclusive or objective as ethnography, the reader can experience the similarities between the author and other black men's account.

I truly enjoyed the book. Sometimes, the positive and negative effects and implications of stereotypes and preconceived notions must be explored. I applaud Poulson-Bryant for doing so publicly and honestly.

15. Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age

14. What's Your Dangerous Idea

I loved the premise of this book. Unfortunately, I think my excitement surpassed my enjoyment of the book. Honestly, I don't think the vast majority of the ideas were dangerous, at all.

I still recommend the book to popular science, technology and information enthusiasts. But I'm sure that the lay reader can think of much more dangerous ideas than those the scientists and intellectuals interviewed were willing to print.


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