The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Dear Fellow Reader,

In case you were wondering, I am going to stretch a little bit and say that this week’s review is another category of book. This week is a memoir but it is a YA memoir. Am I cheating a bit? No. YA is different from adult especially when the author has re-issued the book specifically for YA.

In 2008, acclaimed author, Ta-Nehisi Coates gave the world his story, The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. A description of the book was “An exceptional father-son story about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us.” And in 2021, he adapted the memoir for a YA audience. I was given a copy of his adaptation for review. (The usual, and unbiased review.)

The Beautiful Struggle tells Ta-Nehisi Coates’ story centering on his junior high and high school years. His parents were a major influence particularly his father Paul. Paul Coates was a Viet Nam vet and former Maryland State Coordinator of the Blank Panther Party. His father founded and directed the Black Classic Press, which specializes in republishing obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent. His printing press was in their home and the books were all around the house. Ta-Nehisi Coates tells of his fears and fights on the streets of Baltimore through his school years there. He was not a good student and was just trying to find his way. But he did have a strong guiding hand at home.

I am not the intended audience for this book. There were times that I had no idea what the terms in the book meant BUT I could infer the meaning from the context. After all, I could not be further from a young man growing up in the battleground streets of Baltimore during the crack epidemic. I did start and stop reading this book several times. But I was always drawn back to it and I did finish it. There was a lot in the story that I didn’t understand. In doing research for this review, the story comes into better light. In an interview, Mr. Coates talked about how this was the book that he would have wanted to see when he was his younger self, that where you are at 16 is not a verdict on the rest of your life. He also said that for him to look at the book at this point in his life, he is much more understanding and would have been nicer to his younger self.

So, the question is, do I recommend the book? Overall, I do recommend the book. There is much to be gained from learning about people outside your personal world. There is much to be gained from learning about the opposite sex and their fears and mistakes. There is always much to be gained about broadening your world view. Before I wrote this, I watched an interview with Mr. Coates that was from 2015 after his bestselling, award winning book Between the World and Me came out. I found it very interesting to hear him talk about his views and how they are formed from his study of history. (https://www.c-span.org/video/?328842-1/ta-nehisi-coates-discusses-between-world-me)

Thanks for reading.

Posted in Talking Books | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Devotions by Mary Oliver

Dear Fellow Readers,

April is National Poetry Month. It seems fitting that to continue our journey through reading genres that we move to Poetry this week.

To be honest, I do not know much about poetry. While I have tried my hand at writing some poetry, I think it has mostly sounded like a copycat of “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue”. And like many, I have trouble interpreting it. I can read it and then I have no idea what I have just read. I always take that as a sign of my lacking rather than the poet’s clarity. So, like many of you, I have shied away from it.

I would like to change that for you.

Mary Oliver was an American poet whose poetry is nature inspired. She always liked to take solitary walks in nature and write about them. I think you will find them clearer. She even has a book of poetry devoted to her dog.

In Devotions, you will find selected poems by Mary Oliver. The book starts with poems from her book Felicity (2005) and it ranges back to her book No Voyage and Other Poems from 1963. There is a sampling of poems from each of her works. Near the beginning of the book there is the following poem:

The World I Live In

I have refused to live

locked in the orderly house of

reasons and proofs.

The world I live in and believe in

is wilder than that. And anyway,

             what’s wrong with Maybe?

You wouldn’t believe what once or

                                                               twice I have seen. I’ll just

                                                                              tell you this:

                  only if there are angels in your head will you

         ever, possibly, see one.

I found that reading this poetry book a little at a time each morning has brought a smile and a good start to my day. I think it might just make, perhaps not a poetry lover, but an occasional poetry reader out of you. The book is available in both hardback and paperback. I am sure it is at your local library also.

My copy with flags and postits

Do you go through and mark passages or in this case poems that mean something to you while you read? I do. (Yes, only if I own the book.) I find that I have marked many in this book and I think that when I re-read the book, there will probably be more markers. I think poetry is one of those mediums that a can hit you differently at different times. While this book was given to me as a gift, I think it is one of those books that I would have read and then gone out and bought a copy of the book so that I can mark passages that I love.

I urge you to take a shot at poetry this month. You can try a new poet or go back and read an old favorite from your childhood. How about Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse or look at an anthology like Good Poems by Garrison Keillor? Amanda Gorman’s new book of poetry was released this month, The Hill We Climb. If you are younger than I am, you might want to harken back to the silly, fun, childhood poems by Jack Prelutsky. (Something Big Has Been Here, Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face, are two of his 45 books of poetry for children)

There are just so many wonderful choices.

Since I wrote this piece, I have seen so many other interesting poetry articles. The New York Times Book section has “5 Poets to Help You Love Poetry” – https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/04/14/books/poetry-appreciation.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20210419&instance_id=29407&nl=the-morning&regi_id=105795576&segment_id=55855&te=1&user_id=9d392a43a6194c79e56a8b3ad3886e2e Also, I think suggested by the New York Times also is the book Poetry RX which was written by a doctor about poetry. He goes through and describes the poem and what the poet is trying to tell you. You can check it out at www.normanrosenthal.com

Thank you for reading!

P.S. I would feel terrible if I also didn’t suggest my friends, poetry books available from Amazon. Gone Missing: Someday We’ll Meet Again and Still Life of Loved and Lost are two books by Linda Hatton. And there is Safe Among the Roses by J. Lynn Sheridan. The books are short lovely books of poetry that I recommend.

Posted in Talking Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Broken by Jenny Lawson

Dear Fellow Readers:

This week we are moving into a mixed genre of Autobiography and Humor. I seem to be on quite a roll here with changing genres each week.

Once again like Historical Fiction, which I seem to end up reading a lot of when I don’t mean to, I do not generally read Autobiographies. There isn’t a great reason why I don’t but somehow, they don’t seem to rise to the top of my TBR pile.

BUT… I will always make an exception for Jenny Lawson. I realize it is very possible that you have never heard of Jenny Lawson. Or is it just that I think that no one else’s mind works the same way as mine? Anyway…. I think that I first heard about Jenny Lawson at a convention for bloggers. Yes, there is such a thing, and I went once. Jenny Lawson is The Blogress. (https://thebloggess.com/) and she is funny. Her first book, Let’s Pretend It Never Happened was hysterical. It came out in 2012 and I still remember some of the funny parts. This is saying a lot because I have read many books since 2012.

In Broken, Jenny Lawson blends very funny stories with her own story of depression and anxiety. The book seesaws between laugh out loud funny– I did laugh out loud and would read parts to Silent Sam who didn’t seem to appreciate the humor as much as I did – and parts where you just want to help her through her bad times. She is honest about her bad times and what she has done to try and help herself. She is under a doctor’s care and in the book, you follow her problems with side effects and fighting the insurance company. The book is a look into her world and how debilitating and funny it can be. The stories she tells about herself will make you feel better about every time you have said the wrong thing. (It is a wonder that her husband ever takes a conference call at home.)

The most succinct way I can sum up the book is to say that it will break your heart while you are laughing. Her perspective is her own. She is obviously very intelligent – her mind makes leaps that frequently seem completely different than where my mind would go in a particular instance, but her leaps do make sense when you read them.

At the end of the book, there is a section called “A Note about the Cover”. In it, she talks about how she ran across the artwork of Omar Rayyan. In his artwork, he has

“…strange and whimsical paintings of people carrying their own baffling little monsters, dangerous looking creatures that were wild and untamed and often happily destroying everything around them. I suspect I’m projecting, but I’ve never seen a collection of art that more perfectly encapsulated how I felt about my own battle with depression and anxiety and the monsters in my head…”

She goes on to talk about her personal “beasties” and how they are terrible but there is something about our personal beasts that is wonderful and unique to each of us.

“Embrace your beasties. Love your awkwardness. Enjoy yourself. Celebrate the bizarreness that is you because, I assure you, you are more wondrous than you can possibly imagine… monsters and all.”

And that is her message to all of us. We are all wonderful in our own way. And after reading her story, it is moving that her desire is to build you up while it is such a struggle for her.

Yes, Yes, Yes, I recommend this book. It is not easy and not fun all the way but it is beautiful in its own way. (And I was given a ARC of the book in exchange for my honest review.)

Thanks for reading.

Posted in Miscellaneous Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bohemians by Jasmin Darznik

Dear Fellow Reader,

Dorothea Lange

We have been on a ride through genres lately right? We’ve hit non-fiction, Christian self-help, and romance in the last three weeks.

This week we are venturing into historical fiction. Yes, that genre that just keeps coming. Most of my trouble with historical fiction is that so much of what I have read centers around WWI, the time between the wars, or WWII. I am a bit tired of that time frame.

So let’s pick a different time. How about 1918 in San Francisco? That’s different, right? And interestingly, this author’s last book was about 1950s Tehran. The one thing I would say was the  common element in her books is that she finds fascinating woman characters to write about. In her earlier book, she wrote about Forugh Farrokhzad, an Iranian poet. (My review of Song of a Captive Bird can be found at https://cecooney.com/2018/04/25/song-of-a-captive-bird-by-jasmin-darznik/)

In The Bohemians, the central character is Dorothea Lange. While you may not recognize the name immediately, you are familiar with some of her work. As usual, when I started reading the book, I didn’t remember what about the book had intrigued me. I had liked Ms Darznik’s last book (I remembered it., which is saying something.) and so I accepted this book. (I received the book in advance of publication in exchange for an unbiased review.)

Dorothea (Dorrie) arrives in San Francisco in 1918 at the age of 23. The first thing that happens is that she loses all her money to a pick pocketer. She ends up spending her first night on the beach because she didn’t have money to get a place to sleep. The next morning, she hocks her most prized possession, her camera. And then she meets Carolyn Lee. Carolyn is half Chinese and is kind to Dorrie. She takes her to an inexpensive restaurant and then shows Dorrie her apartment in Monkey Block. (Monkey Block was an area in San Francisco where many artists lived. It was the bohemian heart of the city.)

Carolyn is quite sure that someone that lives in or is around Monkey Block can help Dorrie. With Carolyn’s help, Dorrie meets many of the famous and infamous artists in San Francisco. Dorrie and Carolyn form a close friendship that helps both of them.

The politics of the time play into the story. In that era in San Francisco, the Chinese were looked down upon and treated very poorly. They were not allowed to hold good jobs or live outside of certain districts. (Timely reading with our current issue with Asian hate crimes) Since Dorrie’s close friend was Chinese American, Dorrie sees the prejudice experienced by her close friend.

Dorrie has also suffered from polio as a child and as a result, has a limp. That influences how she views herself thought her life.

One of the people Dorrie meets is Maynard Dixon, the painter. Carolyn warns Dorrie to avoid him that he is trouble. Dorrie finds out quickly that he is fascinating, and that Carolyn was right. Dorrie also becomes friends with Ansel Adams.

Dorothea Lange’s famous photo

Dorothea Lange is known for her photojournalism, but she started out as a portrait photographer and that is how she made a living most of the time in San Francisco. It was interesting to read how she started and how her life changed.

  I enjoyed the book and am happy to suggest that you read it. The people and the times are interesting. Dorthea Lange was an exceptional woman. She has been brought to life in an interesting fashion in the book.

My only quibble with the book is at the very end. The last chapter skips ahead 10 years. Dorrie suddenly has major life changes that are given without much information. I understand why it was done but at the same time, it was a sudden shift. I did like the Epilogue and the Author’s Notes and the Historical Notes. Don’t skip them. There is interesting information there. The Historical Notes section gives a historical synopsis of the famous main characters.

Maynard Dix Painting “Thunder Over Ship Rock

Thanks for reading!

Posted in Talking Books | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Duchess if You Dare by Anabelle Bryant

Dear Fellow Reader,

A new week means a new book review. I have decided that I will never catch up with my list of books to read. There are more all the time and I sometimes feel like I am drowning in choices. I’ve fallen behind in book club and just see more and more books I want to read.

How terrific is that? How fortunate we are to have libraries full of books and so many new books coming out each week.

This week’s review is a new book by Annabelle Bryant. It is in a genre that if you asked me, I would say that I don’t generally read. But that might not be true.

We are on to Romance Fiction.

I saw that blink. What? You think you don’t read romance? I bet you do but you don’t realize it. Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte wrote romance novels. Oh, those love stories.

I think that those of us who are a certain age think of Harlequin Romances as the source of all romance novels. There are still Harlequin Romances but there are many other publishers as well and many types of romance books. I think back to the days of Sweet Savage Fury and the shirtless hero on the cover with a busty wench being saved – even though she probably didn’t want to be – at first. I think the genre was referred to as “bodice rippers”.

But there are now Historical Romance, Erotic Romance, Fantasy Romance, Contemporary Romance, and even Romantic Suspense to name a few of the sub-genres. The romance novel comes in many flavors and is set of a variety of tastes. Romance novels sales exceed $1 BILLION every year, selling more than many other genres combined. That means that one-third of all mass market fiction books are romance novels.

Not only that but traditionally, romance novels sell better during bad economic times than other forms of entertainment. Why? Because they can be at a lower price point and provide more escape from hard times.

So three cheers for the Romance Genre.

Duchess If You Dare by Anabelle Bryant is almost what I would think of as a “traditional” romance novel. Scarlett Wynn is not your typical female in old London. She has had a hard life but has been taken in by a group of women (the Maidens of Mayhem) who have committed to help fight injustice. As part of her fight, Scarlet (Who is stunningly beautiful), has a dressmaker adapt her clothing to help her fight off bad guys and escape. One day when she goes to pick up her latest order from her seamstress, she finds the young lady missing. In asking around, she finds that the young woman was also working as a prostitute. She goes to the brothel to see what she can find out. While there, she encounters the Duke of Aylesford. (A breathtakingly handsome, rugged, muscular, man) They meet and are at once magnetically attracted to each other. Ambrose is not there for the brothel services but to see if he can also find a missing girl. His brother was the frequenter of the brothel and was concerned about the young lady that he liked to visit.

It might be possible at this point that you think that perhaps this is not the type of romance novel you read years ago. You are correct. It appears to me that there is more sex in the romance novels of today. Back in the olden days, there was illusion but not description. So, there is sex in this book because, well, the attraction was just so strong. A kiss was just so overpowering that they could not stop there.

This is a big, lusty book. There are fights and rescues. There is love and passion. There are the good guys and the bad guys. A fun read. If you read to escape this is a good way to escape without having to think much. And don’t we all need to escape occasionally? So, go enjoy a romance as they are written today.

Thanks for reading!

Posted in Talking Books | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment