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Posts Tagged ‘Becoming’

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We are very excited to present this week’s “3 Questions” with the writer Emily Bernard. Professor Bernard was born and grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and is now a Vermont resident. She received her PhD in American studies from Yale University. She has been the recipient of grants from the Ford Foundation, the NEH, and a W. E. B. Du Bois Resident Fellowship at Harvard University. Her essays have been published in numerous journals and anthologies; currently she is the Julian Lindsay Green and Gold Professor of English at the University of Vermont, where she has been a faculty member since 2001.

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine Cover Image

Ms. Bernard will appear at 7 pm on Wednesday, March 27 to discuss her latest book Black is the Body. This collection of twelve essays explores how race is the story of her life. As Maureen Corrigan of Fresh Air stated in her review, “Of the 12 essays here, there’s not one that even comes close to being forgettable. Bernard’s language is fresh, poetically compact, and often witty … Bernard proves herself to be a revelatory storyteller of race in America who can hold her own with some of those great writers she teaches.”

And now, our “3 Questions”:

Their Eyes Were Watching God Cover ImageAnnie John: A Novel Cover ImageSarah Phillips (Northeastern Library of Black Literature) Cover Image

1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?

The three books that have shaped me as a writer have to be: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, and Sarah Phillips by Andrea Lee. I read all three of them when I was young, and their defiant black girl protagonists who were determined to live lives different from the ones their parents’ planned for them were crucial to my self-development as a writer and a person. All of them are daring stories right down to the level of the sentence. The language in Their Eyes Were Watching God ranges from the thundering resonance of the Old Testament to the earthy vernacular of the Deep South. The piercing rhythms of Jamaica Kincaid’s sentences startle and penetrate me now as much as they did when I first read the book. The protagonist in Sarah Phillips was the first black female character I ever met in whom I saw myself. I’ll probably spend my whole life trying to match the elegance of Andrea Lee’s prose.

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2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

I don’t know if I would be able to keep my hands from trembling long enough to hold a cup of coffee steady, but I would love to be in the presence of Walt Whitman. Like his poetry, Whitman was full of passionate energy, so I’m not sure how patient he would be the domestic ritual of a 21st century coffee klatch. I think I would suggest that we take our coffees with us on a walk through some tiny, quiet town in Vermont in the fall, or a street fair in Brooklyn in the summer, or anywhere, anytime. And I would definitely want to meet Whitman only in the present—I’m confident his attitudes about race would have matured with the times.

Becoming Cover ImageLost and Wanted: A novel Cover Image

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

I am deep into Becoming by Michelle Obama. Next up is Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger (I was lucky to get an advance copy), a book that reminds me of the power and necessity of intimate friendship between women.

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, The Book Jam has paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events and read their books.

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Image result for images for black history month 2019Every year, we use Black History Month as an excuse to audit the diversity of the authors we review. Why?  Well, because we truly believe we are what we read; and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing in our libraries, and allow us to fill those gaps during our next year of reviews. Our latest audit results are discussed below today’s new reviews of four – oops five – great books (one each of adult fiction, adult nonfiction, YA, children’s, memoir).

 

Things Fall Apart: A Novel Cover ImageThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958) – In this lucky reader’s life there have been a few books that find their way into my hands that upon turning the last page cause me to reverently and gently place them down, to blink and slowly exhale, and then to turn my gaze back out upon the world feeling that my view has changed. This is one such book. Things Fall Apart is a novel set in precolonial Africa towards the end of the 1800’s and chronicles the effect of the the arrival of British missionaries and government on village life. It is the story of Okonkwo, a brave and powerful but flawed warrior of the Igbo clan in Nigeria. The tale is told from the deep “inside” of his clan. The “Obi” (main house), the religion, the lore, the language, family structure and the traditions are shown through his eyes and those of his family and friends. The reader is transported to another world and way of life where pythons are considered sacred and yams represent riches. It is also one where social order and connection is maintained by full moon ceremonies, wrestling, foo-foo feasts, the power of ancestral gods, and the reality of banishment. All of which is threatened by the arrival of white people. This novel explores the reality of an ever changing world while forcing us to consider what we lose along with that change. It also pushes us to consider the complexity of leadership, community, justice, and what it means to respect our fellow humans. It is not hard to understand why it is considered by many as one of the most important 100 books of all time. ~ Lisa Cadow

On the Come Up Cover ImageOn the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019) – Ms. Thomas’s second novel for Young Adults proves she is not a one hit wonder. Once again, she handles tough topics such as teens figuring out who they are, race, stereotypes, violence, and addiction with compassion and fearless honesty. In this outing, 16-year-old Bri wants to rap and be a rap star more than anything – including doing well on the ACT to ensure she enters an amazing college. But, any progress at all is hard when your dad is long dead from gang violence, your mom just lost her job and is working to remain eight years sober, there is no heat in your house or food in the fridge, and the only job your brother, the brilliant college grad, can get is delivering pizzas for money your family desperately needs. Due to an incident at school, and other conspiring events, Bri finds herself going viral and being unfairly viewed as a hoodlum. The question for her becomes  – what if a being a hoodlum helps you make it? ENJOY!

A Good Kind of Trouble Cover ImageA Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee (2019) – A great book for younger  readers (perhaps 4th-8th grade?) that helps them understand Black Lives Matter, while also providing insights into navigating middle school, friendships, teachers, and the ever-evolving process of figuring out exactly who you are. Ms. Ramee’s main character, a 7th grade African American girl named Shay, hates to get in trouble, doesn’t understand her older sister’s insistence being black is embedded in certain traits, and honestly really just wants to get out of Middle School with her friendships intact, her grades their usual A+ level, and ideally with a cute boyfriend. The world is conspiring against all her wishes, and her hand is forced when a local white police woman is acquitted for shooting a black man. Shay will make you assess what is important for you to stand up for, how your unique traits will manifest your stand, and ideally to actually stand up for something. I hate to compare it to The Hate U Give, but Ms. Ramee’s debut novel is reminiscent of Ms. Thomas’s unflinching look at what it is like to be a Black adolescent in the USA today, and that is high praise. ~ Lisa Christie

Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist Cover ImageWell That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey (2018) – Our nonfiction review highlights Ms. Ramsey, of MTV fame, who uses her book to explore the lessons of her life as a social media star and activist. She discusses how her life changed dramatically once her YouTube video “What White Girls Say . . . to Black Girls” went viral — twelve million views viral. She is simultaneously funny and serious about the importance of social justice, and what we can all do better in our efforts to help others.  A great book for anyone in your life who would like to see their passions and messages spread. A great reminder we can all do a better job communicating. And just a lovely look at someone who would probably be very fun and enlightening to have as a friend, and who inspires us all to do more. ~ Lisa Christie

And again, if you haven’t yet read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming, we suggest you get started.

And now the audit results:

During the twelve months since our February 2018 audit, we reviewed 202 (up from 164 reviewed last year) authors.

The fine print for this audit: We did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections. We also excluded books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors. Although we know some of the authors we highlighted identify as members of the LGBTQ community, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to economic class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race/ethnicity.

Some significant numbers from this latest audit: Women authors were 55% of the authors we featured. 32% of all authors we featured were white women from the USA, and 8% of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA. 4% of our featured authors were Latinas and 6% were Asian women; and, 12% of the authors were Black women from around the world.

There was slightly less diversity of country and ethnicity in the men we reviewed. Almost a quarter (23%) of the authors we featured were white men from the USA. 8% of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA. 7% of the authors were black men (from anywhere in the world). Very few authors we featured were Asian men (fewer than .5%) or Latinos (2%) or Middle Eastern men (2%).

Adding men and women together, 36% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color. Within the white authors there was some geographic diversity — a quarter (26%) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA (mostly Canada, the UK, Australia, Sweden). The largest group (13% of total authors reviewed) of authors of color were Black.

To sum, while we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 36% of authors in 2018, 32% in 2017, 26% in 2016, 23% in 2015 were persons of color — the fact remains that over half (64%) of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were white authors. And while we are curious if our percentages are greater than the percentages of authors of color who are actually published in the USA each year (as this affects the pool from which we can select books), once again, we vow to review a greater diversity of authors.

Happy Black History Month.

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So, perhaps things are a bit quieter after the bustle of December holidays. You may even have time to curl up with a good book by a wood stove, fireplace, or beach. Thus, today to end the year, we post our annual selections of great books to enjoy after the relative have left. HAPPY 2019!

Becoming Cover ImageBecoming by Michelle Obama (2018). Rarely does a book live up to its hype, but somehow, Mrs. Obama’s book does. Her reflections on her childhood, her own children, her career to date, and, of course, her interactions with her husband and other political leaders allow us all to learn something useful for our own lives. To top that off, she writes well. Her tale is unique. She has a great sense of humor and the right amount of gravitas. If you have not yet read this, we recommend you do so you can start 2019 off with a great book. BONUS: We have heard this makes an amazing audio book experience as well. ~ Lisa Christie

Cabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere Cover ImageCabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere by Zach Klein, Steven Leckart & Noah Kalina (2015). This beautiful, pensive book is the perfect balm to soothe the soul after a busy holiday season. Despite the salacious title, this is actually a deeply meditative collection of essays and photographs that reflects on how we can actively create community and build our own authentic quiet spaces. Author Zach Klein was looking for just this (and an escape from Manhattan) a decade ago when he went in search of land in Upstate New York. He found the perfect spot, a parcel with a brook running through it where he and a group of like-minded souls have now built several structures and created a school to teach building skills. (Check out their popular website here: https://cabinporn.com/ and become on of 120,000 followers). Their book is full of inspiration in the form of cabins, yurts, geodesic domes, converted grain silos, barns, and underground structures from all over the word. The pictures leave you feeling soothed and the essays incite reflection. In sum, if the increasing noise and fractured natured of our busy daily lives has you craving stillness and authenticity, look no further than to the pages of this book. If you dare to turn them, you just may find that a cabin lies ahead for you in 2019. P.S. Rumor has it a second book is in the works! ~Lisa Cadow

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