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My Favorite Books That I Have Read in 2014

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Up until now, I have told you my favorite music and movies I’ve encountered this year. Here is my final favorites of 2014 blog post, my favorite books I’ve read in 2014.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell- I loved reading this book because I can totally relate to Cath, the main character. She loves reading and writing fan fiction (albeit slash fan fiction) about a Harry Potter-ish book series called Simon Snow. At the same time, she is a college freshman who has to learn to get out of her comfort zone as a writer and a person.

I loved that the author understood why some people enjoy reading or writing fan fiction and how she captured the glory days of the Harry Potter fandom with a fictional book series. I also loved how she showed that anybody can geek out over something, not just a particular type of person. In addition, Levi was a thoughtful and sweet love interest for Cath and he is my favorite love interest in teen fiction.

Blackanese Boy by Ramon Calhoun- This is the first book I’ve read that was written by a black and Japanese author. It is also the first book I’ve read featuring a black and Japanese protagonist and the first book I’ve read that discusses what it is like to be bi-racial in the 70s and 80s. A remarkable aspect of the book is that the main character Rafael encounters different cultural experiences and is viewed through the eyes of black, Japanese, white, Arabic, and Muslim people.

Despite taking place years before I was born, I could relate to this book because I am black and asian and have experienced events similar to Ramon’s. I loved how honest this book was and how historical events like the atomic bomb scare and the birth of hip-hop were woven into the storyline.

Of Minnie The Moocher and Me by Cab Calloway and Brian Rollins- This autobiography has Cab Calloway telling about his life from his childhood until the early 70’s. It was a great read because you see how he became a bandleader, how he developed certain songs, what it was like touring with his band, and more. It was just as entertaining as any of his music.

I liked how he said that the point of him being a bandleader was that it was his way of saying, “I know it’s rough out there, but let go of your troubles for a little while.” I also liked that he revealed that he was an introvert offstage.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson- I’ve been a fan of Jacqueline Woodson’s teen fiction for a couple of years, but this autobiography has become my favorite book of hers. I loved how she wrote about her childhood in beautiful free verse poems with vivid sensory detail. I also loved that she also wrote haiku poetry in order to tell about the lessons she learned. Finally, I loved how you can see her writing voice developed in certain poems.

Various Black Speculative Fiction Books- I did a separate post on my favorite black speculative fiction books that I read this year. Since people of color rarely get noticed in fantasy fiction, I decided to promote them as much as I can on this blog and the site Black Girl Nerds. Read about my favorite black speculative books on Black Girl Nerds here.

 

Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Brown Girl Dreaming

Source: Goodreads

Plot Summary (Taken from Goodreads): Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement.

My Review: One of the best aspects of the book is the poems. Most of them are written in free verse, while others are haikus. Many of the free verse poems have great sensory detail that allows the reader to feel like they are right there with the author. Meanwhile, the haikus serve to sum up lessons she learned by paying attention to what was going on around her. They are simple yet poignant poems that make the reader pause and reflect.

Besides the poems in general, the poems that tell the about the author’s love for stories and her beginnings as a writer are very touching. Through the eyes of the author as a child, these poems go from innocent to passionate as the book progresses. After reading about the author’s influences and seeing her writing voice emerge, current and new readers of Woodson will appreciate her more.

Another aspect of the book that is great is its themes. The most prominent ones are freedom, dreams, and a sense of belonging.  Despite being set in the 1960’s and 70’s, these are themes and more are presented so honestly that almost anyone today can relate.

Overall, this book was fantastic. I recommend it to poetry fans and minorities of all ages.

 

6 Reasons New Generations Must Listen to Nina Simone

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Nina Simone

Source: Wikipedia

1.  During the Civil Rights Movement, she wrote songs that expressed the anger, grief, and hope of black people.

My personal favorites are To Be Young, Gifted and Black and Revolution (Parts 1 and 2). To Be Young Gifted and Black was an anthem of the civil rights movement, but I consider it a personal anthem for myself now. Revolution is a fantastic musical representation of the defiance and chaos going on at the time.

2. “Four Women” is a song that black women of all shades and ages can connect to either personally or emotionally.

When I first heard this song, I was entranced by Simone’s voice and the raw lyrics. The song plays out like a stage performance, with Simone singing different parts. By the end of the song, Simone’s voice had me stunned.

3.  She was an eclectic artist that was hard to pin down.

She sang the blues and gospel, fused jazz and pop with classical, and even had one song with reggae influences. One of the first Nina Simone songs that I enjoyed was “Love Me or Leave Me“. Her piano playing was a pleasant surprise, especially when she switched from jazz to classical and then back. Another favorite of mine is “Little Girl Blue“.  I love Janis Joplin’s version, but Simone’s version is beautiful and soothing.

 

4.  She had great live performances where she improvised on piano and looked like a queen.

“I Love You Porgy”- Live 1960

“Mississippi Goddam”- Live 1965

“Work Song”- Live 1966

“Ain’t Got No… I Got Life Life”- Live 1969

5.  She has influenced rap, pop, and R&B musicians such as Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Talib Kweli,  and Lauryn Hill.

6.  She was a hardworking, outspoken, talented, and resilient spirit.

Very recently, I finished reading Simone’s autobiography I Put A Spell on You.  It is a tale of how she endured racism, physical and emotional abuse, alienation, and bi-polar disorder (which she wasn’t diagnosed for until after the events of the book). She endured all this and made music that moved people and inspired them to action. For that, she is amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Zami- A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

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zami, audre lordePlot Summary (Taken from Goodreads): From the author’s vivid childhood memories in Harlem to her coming of age in the late 1950s, the nature of Audre Lorde’s work is cyclical. It especially relates the linkage of women who have shaped her.

My Review: One of the best things about this book is its beautiful imagery. She makes some sentences in the book seem like lines from a poem. An example is the line “All the colors change and become each other, merge and separate, flow into rainbows and nooses”. In addition, there are poems sprinkled throughout the book that give a more vivid impression of her experiences.

Another fantastic aspect of the book is how the poignant bond between women is shown. The book’s title is a Grenadian word meaning “friending” and symbolizes the bond between Lorde’s ancestral home of Grenada and the women that impact her life. Lorde’s experiences show how true sisterhood is formed between women who are mothers, sisters, friends, and lovers.

In addition, the book has a powerful historical account of racism, lesbianism, and the McCarthy era. All three of these themes eventually intertwine as Lorde struggles to discover her identity and her place in the world. There are a couple of chapters devoted to Lorde’s thoughts on how others perceive race and sexuality and the impact of those perceptions. These thoughts are insightful and could easily apply to today’s times.

The only flaw of the book is also its strength. Sometimes, the author focused too much on her romantic relationships with other women. It made the book a bit slow and melodramatic.

Overall, this book was a touching autobiography that may give strength to fellow outsiders of any race, sexuality, or gender identity. I recommend it for black history month reading and anyone who has enjoyed Audre Lorde’s poetry.

Written by Serena Zola

February 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM

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