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August Book

Image © npr.org 

August is a good time to enjoy the sun with a side of a good book, and maybe a cold drink, or two. So this month we’ve picked Brit Bennett’s The Mothers as our sunshine companion. The story is set in a contemporary black community of Southern California. It’s the story of love, ambition, community, and the secrets we keep. The protagonists—Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey—are young and living their lives. It is the last season of high school for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty mourning her own mother’s recent suicide. She takes up with the local pastor’s son, Luke Sheppard, and a pregnancy that results from this teen romance will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are adults and still living in debt to the choices they made. Caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, they’re dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently?

The Mothers asks whether a “what if” can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.

This is Bennett’s debut novel. Published in 2016, The Mothers was an instant bestseller. In fact, when she started writing it Bennett was the same age as the novel’s protagonist. And like the 17-year old protagonist, Bennett was a smart and ambitious African-American eager to get out of her hometown of Oceanside, California. The author’s education and writing took her to places she, and no one before in her family, had ever been. She spent a total of seven years writing this book, claiming in all that time she never got bored with it. And as a result, she’s written a critically-acclaimed, well-loved work of fiction that we’re very excited to read!

We hope you’ll read with us and share your thoughts using #booklymark… happy reading!

For more on Bennett and The Mothers check out this great NYT article.

A Voice

I struggled with this book. Not because the content scared me or made me uncomfortable. Not because it drew into question something I do not see or fail to acknowledge. But because what Coates tries to scratch the surface of is an extraordinarily complex network of invasive roots that both has strangled our collective culture and has consistently unearthed itself in a knotted fashion in places seemingly distanced from our country’s base. In a less metaphorical way, race is nearly always at the forefront of or a driving force of our societal (insert any word) – history, music, fashion, culture, vernacular. What is even more confusing is that we have created a narrative about race that in reality has so many dimensions and layers and colors but we have distilled it down into a simple dichotomy. What is black and what is white.

 

Coates is an astounding writer. He brings an eloquence, a voice, a personal experience that combined creates a feat of literature.  To improve our future, we must understand our past. That is the undertone of this book or at least the optimist’s interpretation of his work. But my only complaint would be that the book reads of Coates being keenly aware of how good a writer he is.  I know this sounds ridiculous. What I mean is that every sentence is worked.  The network of euphuisms, metaphors, and a solitary chapter format created this rhetorical netting that I sometimes got a little lost in – like I had just read a circular sentence. Many paragraphs can be anything but direct and should you not analyze every word and the construction of every sentence, you are bound to miss big parts of the book. To begin to unravel a complicated tapestry such as race and America, a little more directed language may be necessary. Based on my brief experience with his other writings, I doubt there is anyone else more suited for the job than Coates.

 

I would be interested to hear him speak. Perhaps someday I will get that opportunity some day.

Great Writing, Important Message

Let me begin by saying that I am not yet finished with Between the World and Me. I think the lack of chapters is throwing me and making me take longer that I normally would. Couple that with the fact that I want to unpack, analyze, and process every single sentence, and here I am – still reading. So perhaps my review is not worth as much as another’s, I don’t know. If you don’t trust what I’m saying here, read Katherine C.’s review 🙂

Ta-Nehisi Coates is clearly a skilled writer and is able to craft a narrative that is at once poetic, emotional, and eye-opening.

Things I believed merely a week earlier, ideas I had taken from one book, could be smashed to splinters by another.

But it’s the message of the book that makes this book important. The writing is gorgeous, yes, but what it says is jaw-droopingly, heartbreakingly, painfully honest and agonizingly real.

And this is not reducible to just you – the women around you must be responsible for their bodies in a way that you will never know. You have to make your peace with the chaos, but you cannot lie. You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.

I cannot claim to truly understand his life, his pain, or his struggle. But I can try. And I am trying. And I will try. And you should too. So read the book, and even if you don’t like it, at least you heard the message

An Absolute Must-Read!

I can’t say enough about this book. It’s been on my to-be-read list since it came out. However, I knew I needed to give it my full attention. So, as a mother of a one year old and two year old, I waited until taking a solo trip to read this one. I can remember sitting down with a few books to read the first few pages of each and determine my next read. After picking up Between the World and Me the next thing I knew I was more than 30 pages deep entranced by the writing. But of course, I interrupted by the end of naptime. So finally, during a 48hr trip to Idaho the hours spent waiting in airports and on planes were just what I needed to focus fully on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.

The writing is so beautiful, so powerful, so approachable yet weighted with context and complex meaning. And that’s just the beginning. It’s beautifully written, yes, but the message Coates is writing is beyond. Not since reading James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time in college (another must-read) have I learned so much, underlined so profusely, or been as affected by the testimony of another’s life. In reading this book there were times I was made uncomfortable, angry, sad, inspired, hopeful, regretful, and everything in between. Great books are new stories about unfamiliar people that make you feel things you didn’t know you were feeling. Or things you need to feel. This is a great book. And the added layer that this book is Coates’ letter to his adolescent son as a black man in America makes the reading all the more powerful.

I don’t care if you’re interested in non-fiction, if you’re looking to learn more about race in America, if you know nothing of this book or its author—READ IT! This story is one we need to read, and keep reading more of. But if I can’t convince you, maybe some of Coates’ words can….

“But race is the child of racism, not the father.”

“…The Cabal, The Coven, The Others, The Monsters, The Outsiders, The Faggots, The Dykes, dressed in all their human clothes. I am black, and have been plundered and have lost my body. But perhaps I too had the capacity for plunder, maybe I would take another human’s body to confirm myself in a community. Perhaps I already had. Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe. But my tribe was shattering and reforming around me. I saw these people often, because they were family to someone whom I loved. Their ordinary moments—answering the door, cooking in the kitchen, dancing to Adina Howard—assaulted me and expanded my notion of the human spectrum.”

“And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.”

I urge you to put this on your list, and I hope you get as much from it as I did!

Amazon in Brick and Mortar

Since its beginning in July of 1994 people have said Amazon would put booksellers (and eventually printers) out of business. Well, against all odds, it hasn’t happened. And with people like us out there, we don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, or ever.

In fact, did you know print book sales have been outpacing e-book sales over the past few years? And the next generation of readers is driving this trend. So there’s plenty of room for hope.

But Katherine C. predicted a new trend that’s now here (check out her masters thesis from 2012 about how digital brands would do well to present their brands in physical space). Since 2015 Amazon has been experimenting in brick and mortar retail by opening physical stores. There are seven open locations (NYC, Seattle, San Diego, Portland, Chicago, and in Lynnfield and Dedham, Massachusetts) with six more opening in 2017. And last week Katherine C. visited the Chicago location. There are more than a few things that make this store very different from other bookstores…

  • All books are rated 4 stars or above from Amazon.
  • The shelves and books are all organized according to algorithm (Amazon bestsellers mostly).
  • The book are all displayed covers-out, it takes up more space but allows for a more fluid experience.
  • Shelves are categorized based on online data, “Hotly debated on Amazon,” “Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less,” “Children’s Bestsellers,” etc.

 

  • The shop keeps their supplies limited, offering less than 100 fiction titles.
  • There’s an electronics section to showcase Amazon electronics (Kindles, and the Echo).
  • All Amazon Prime members get Prime pricing by simply scanning
    a QR code at checkout and selecting your payment option.

But here’s what we think….  this isn’t the place you go to find a book. Odds are they won’t have what you’re looking for and you’d be better off browsing at your local shop.

What is the Amazon books shop good for? Well it is the kind of place you come to to learn what good books others are reading, what’s popular with the YA crowd, which cookbooks are getting the best feedback, the best children’s books for every age group, and the most useful pregnancy or parenting resource books.

It’s like walking into a store built on yearbook superlatives. Sure, it’s fun to see who’s most popular, and who was voted “class clown,” but it’s not necessarily a place where everyone will find what they’re looking for. It’s more the experience of walking into a brick and mortar Amazon space that’s fun and interesting. but we don’t think it’s anywhere close to putting your local shop out of business.

There’s a great New Yorker article about the latest NYC Amazon store that put it best:

It is reminiscent of an airport bookshop: big enough to be enticing from the outside but extremely limited once you’re inside… The store’s biggest shortcoming, though, is that it is so clearly not intended for people who read regularly. I normally walk into a bookstore and shop the way a person might shop for clothes: I know what I like, what generally works for me, what new styles I might be ready to try. It was a strange feeling, on Thursday, to do laps around a bookstore without feeling a single unexpected thrill. There were no wild cards, no deep cuts, no oddballs—just books that were already best-sellers, pieces of clothing I knew wouldn’t fit me or that I already owned.