Bookish Brains Issue 15

Letter from the editor:

February’s just about over already, and even though it was a short month, I read quite a bit! In the first two weeks of February, I read six amazing books, and then my reading came to a screeching halt with the beginning of my third graduate class on February 14. Not only did I then have a third class’s worth of work added onto my plate, but projects started ramping up in classes I had begun in January. Sufficed to say, things got a little stressful real quickly and I’ve been a bit burnt out lately.

Like I said though, the six books I managed to read at the beginning of February were amazing reads. I discuss them all in this edition of Bookish Brains, including Assembly by Natasha Brown, Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, None But the Righteous by Chantal James, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, and Don’t Cry for Me by Daniel Black. Plus, I share a list of upcoming March book releases you don’t want to miss!

Hope you’ve been taking care and reading well. We’re one day closer to spring!
-B.C.

What are you currently reading? Leave a comment!

Small Country by Gaël Faye, translated by Sarah Ardizzone

I am very slowly making my way through this book. I picked it up because it is the Found in Translation Book Club’s February read, but I have struggled to truly “get into it” because I haven’t been able to sit down with it for a large chunk of time. So far, it follows the narrator Gaby as a boy in Burundi and the falling out of his parents’ relationship. While I find it interesting and I have chuckled a couple times at it, I have debated putting it down for now, as I am not able to give it my full attention. Still, I feel determined to participate in the book club discussion, so I am trying to perservere.

What was the best book you read this month? Drop a reply!

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
  • Non-fiction picture book
  • Published 2021
  • 48 pages

A part of The 1619 Project, Born on the Water is written in verse and offers a reframing of the traditional textbook narrative of U.S. slavery. The book begins when a girl is assigned a genealogy project in school, but can only trace her family back three generations. After the girl turns to her grandmother for answers, the grandmother gathers the family and tells the girl the story of who her ancestors were—and how they were so much more than just “slaves.” Accompanied by expressive and captivating paintings, the words give life and texture to the individuals who endured and made the best of the horrific lot they were given. It humanizes those who were torn from their distinct cultures and communities hundreds of years ago, and asserts pride in their ancestors. This is a book about being proud of one’s Black heritage and I highly recommend it for all ages.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
  • Magical realism [Young adult]
  • Published 2019
  • 208 pages

In the land of Lucille, Jam is a teenager and summer break has just begun. It’s common knowledge that there are no more monsters in Lucille after the angels took care of them, but Jam’s questions about the specific events in Lucille’s history are evaded by teachers and her parents. Taking it upon herself, she begins to investigate at the library with her best friend, Redemption. Soon, Jam finds out that even though everyone insists there are no monsters in Lucille, it may only be that way because they choose to ignore them…

The utopian/speculative premise of this novel is very intriguing, and it was refreshing to read about such an accepting and respectful society. Jam herself is trans and predominantly signs to communicate, and there are many characters who exhibit a wide range of physical and personal characteristics typically marginalized in real life. Moreover, there was a looming sense of unrest and anticipation throughout the novel. Admittedly, it took me a couple chapters to really get into this book, but as tension mounted, I was pulled further and further into the story.

Lucille is such an interesting society that I wish we could have gotten more concrete world-building. Vague references to angels and revolutions are made, but as a reader I found it challenging to truly envision what Lucille looked like and how it operated. Emezi’s writing is raw and compelling even geared towards a young adult audience, and I only wish we got more detail of this society.

Overall, another stellar work from the genius mind of Emezi, and I cannot wait to read their new prequel to this, Bitter, which released this February.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Non-fiction, essays
  • Published 1963
  • 106 pages

Why had I not heard of James Baldwin or read any of his works until 2020? In college, I studied English, and although we covered many novels and American writers, I was never required to read James Baldwin. A couple years ago, I picked up If Beale Street Could Talk and had my heart broken. Last year, I read Giovanni’s Room and finished it in awe of Baldwin’s talent. This week, I read The Fire Next Time, and now I say that James Baldwin is one of my favorite writers of all time.

After reading The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs (read my full review here), I had the inclination to read something by James Baldwin. The Fire Next Time is a collection of two essays, both which read somewhat like mementos of memoir, and so after having learned more about his mother and his life growing up in Harlem, I found these essays even more powerful…

Continue reading my full review here!

None But the Righteous by Chantal James

None But the Righteous by Chantal James
  • Magical realism
  • Published 2022
  • 208 pages

After reading the first sentence of None But the Righteous by Chantal James, I felt a particular enthusiasm coursing through me that this book was going to take me to special places as a reader. Within the first chapter, I knew I would be writing a thorough analysis of it. (And somehow, I have managed to do this without spoilers.)

Immediately before beginning None But the Righteous, I had read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (my review here). In his essay, Baldwin mentions Ham, a Bible character I had never before heard of—-though, to be fair, my knowledge of Bible stories is moderate to limited. However, the name was fresh in my mind, and so when I glanced at the inner flap of None But the Righteous‘s dust jacket and saw that the protagonist’s name was Ham, I felt there must be some allegorical intent…

Continue reading my full review and analysis here!

Assembly by Natasha Brown

Assembly by Natasha Brown
  • Literary fiction
  • Published 2021
  • 112 pages

Assembly is a brief yet well-rounded novella. The narrator is a Black British woman who must work twice as hard as her white male peers while enduring persistent microaggressions and racist language. While her hard work has allowed her a financial privilege her ancestors never experienced, she also struggles morally with her complicity in a financial firm which preys upon the under-privileged. Moreover, she feels disconnected from her white boyfriend and feels the subtle tokenism of her presence in his life, especially when he takes her to his parents’ house for their anniversary garden party.

As the narrator detaches herself from her surroundings to endure the constant pressure and racist jabs she experiences, she takes on an observer role in her own life. This witness quality is reflected in the tone and writing style of the book, as vignettes illustrate the narrator being a bystander, such as when she watches a funeral procession from her window, or sits upon a hill. Passivity becomes her coping mechanism.

I appreciate how the author played with writing style to convey the emotions and experience of the narrator. For example, when the narrator is riding on a train, the narration begins to flash through quick anecdotes that shift in verb tense and topic, depicting the way our minds wander when we have reprieves from active doing; how memories can feel both immediate and distant as we recall them.

This is a very succinct entry in the archive of 21st century Black British womanhood. Though somber, it is a quick read.

Don’t Cry for Me by Daniel Black

Don't Cry for Me by Daniel Black
  • Historical fiction
  • Published 2022
  • 304 pages

In Don’t Cry for Me, a dying father writes a letter to his gay son attempting to reconcile after a lifetime of emotional distance. Through Jacob’s voice, the reader (and presumably, his son Isaac) learns about Jacob’s childhood in rural Arkansas as he was raised by his grandparents, and the consequent values instilled in him. As he recounts, we gain insight into how he formed his perspective on family, manhood, and the way he endured. Told in a personal, confessional, and plain-speaking voice, Jacob reveals what shaped him into the father he became to Isaac—-for better, and often for worse.

The nature of the narration lent itself well to a brisk reading experience. As Jacob’s voice is conversational and direct, it was easy to keep going chapter to chapter without setting the book down, and I finished it within 24 hours of beginning it…

Continue reading my full review here!

What books are on your March TBR? I’d love to hear!

March TBR

Believe me, I have so many books I want to read in March, but realistically, I probably won’t have the opportunity to read much, outside of schoolwork.

The following books are ones I plan to read as soon as I have the extra time:

  • Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong, which I highlighted in last month’s Bookish Brains
  • Passing by Nella Larsen
  • More by James Baldwin…

Which of these upcoming releases are you most excited about? Let me know!

The Deep Blue Between by Ayesha Harruna Attah

The Deep Blue Between by Ayesha Harruna Attah

Summary from Bookshop:

Twin sisters Hassana and Husseina have always shared their lives.

But after a raid on their village in 1892, the twins are torn apart. Taken in different directions, far from their home in rural West Africa, each sister finds freedom and a new start. Hassana settles in in the city of Accra, where she throws herself into working for political and social change. Husseina travels to Salvador, Brazil, where she becomes immersed in faith, worshipping spirits that bridge the motherland and the new world. Separated by an ocean, they forge new families, ward off dangers, and begin to truly know themselves.

As the twins pursue their separate paths, they remain connected through their shared dreams. But will they ever manage to find each other again?

  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Release date: March 1, 2022

Messy Roots by Laura Gao

Messy Roots  by Laura Gao

Summary from Bookshop:

After spending her early years in Wuhan, China, riding water buffalos and devouring stinky tofu, Laura immigrates to Texas, where her hometown is as foreign as Mars–at least until 2020, when COVID-19 makes Wuhan a household name.

In Messy Roots, Laura illustrates her coming-of-age as the girl who simply wants to make the basketball team, escape Chinese school, and figure out why girls make her heart flutter.

Insightful, original, and hilarious, toggling seamlessly between past and present, China and America, Gao’s debut is a tour de force of graphic storytelling.

  • Genre: Graphic memoir
  • Release date: March 8, 2022

The Last Suspicious Holdout by Ladee Hubbard

The Last Suspicious Holdout by Ladee Hubbard

Summary from Bookshop:

The twelve gripping tales In The Last Suspicious Holdout, the new story collection by award-winning author Ladee Hubbard, deftly chronicle poignant moments in the lives of an African American community located in a “sliver of southern suburbia.” Spanning from 1992 to 2007, the stories represent a period during which the Black middle-class expanded while stories of welfare Queens, crack babies, and super predators abounded in the media. In “False Cognates,” a formerly incarcerated attorney struggles with raising the tuition to keep his troubled son in an elite private school. In “There He Go,” a young girl whose mother moves constantly clings to a picture of the grandfather she doesn’t know but invents stories of his greatness. Characters spotlighted in one story reappear in another, providing a stunning testament to the enduring resilience of Black people as they navigate the “post-racial” period The Last Suspicious Holdout so vividly portrays.

  • Genre: Short stories
  • Release date: March 8, 2022

When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

Summary from Bookshop:

In the old house on a hill, where the city meets the rainforest, Yejide’s mother is dying. She is leaving behind a legacy that now passes to Yejide: one St Bernard woman in every generation has the power to shepherd the city’s souls into the afterlife. But after years of suffering her mother’s neglect and bitterness, Yejide is looking for a way out.

Raised in the countryside by a devout Rastafarian mother, Darwin has always abided by the religious commandment not to interact with death. He has never been to a funeral, much less seen a dead body. But when the only job he can find is grave digging, he must betray the life his mother built for him in order to provide for them both. Newly shorn of his dreadlocks and his past, and determined to prove himself, Darwin finds himself adrift in a city electric with possibility and danger.

Yejide and Darwin will meet inside the gates of Fidelis, an ancient and sprawling cemetery, where the dead lie uneasy in their graves and a reckoning with fate beckons them both. A masterwork of lush imagination and exuberant storytelling, When We Were Birds is a spellbinding and hopeful novel about inheritance, loss, and love’s seismic power to heal.

  • Genre: Magical realism
  • Release date: March 15, 2022

When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Solà

When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Solà

Summary from Bookshop:

Near a village high in the Pyrenees, Domènec wanders across a ridge, fancying himself more a poet than a farmer, to “reel off his verses over on this side of the mountain.” He gathers black chanterelles and attends to a troubled cow. And then storm clouds swell, full of electrifying power. Reckless, gleeful, they release their bolts of lightning, one of which strikes Domènec. He dies. The ghosts of seventeenth-century witches gather around him, taking up the chanterelles he’d harvested before going on their merry ways. So begins this novel that is as much about the mountains and the mushrooms as it is about the human dramas that unfold in their midst.

  • Genre: Literary, nature & environment
  • Release date: March 15, 2022

Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Summary from Goodreads:

Meddy Chan has been to countless weddings, but she never imagined how her own would turn out. Now the day has arrived, and she can’t wait to marry her college sweetheart, Nathan. Instead of having Ma and the aunts cater to her wedding, Meddy wants them to enjoy the day as guests. As a compromise, they find the perfect wedding vendors: a Chinese-Indonesian family-run company just like theirs. Meddy is hesitant at first, but she hits it off right away with the wedding photographer, Staphanie, who reminds Meddy of herself, down to the unfortunately misspelled name.

Meddy realizes that is where their similarities end, however, when she overhears Staphanie talking about taking out a target. Horrified, Meddy can’t believe Staphanie and her family aren’t just like her own, they are The Family–actual mafia, and they’re using Meddy’s wedding as a chance to conduct shady business. Her aunties and mother won’t let Meddy’s wedding ceremony become a murder scene–over their dead bodies–and will do whatever it takes to save her special day, even if it means taking on the mafia.

  • Genre: Mystery, romantic comedy
  • Release date: March 29, 2022

Thanks for reading!

To browse previous editions of Bookish Brains, check out this page.

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