Thursday, September 21, 2017

The "Autumn Reading" Tag

Tomorrow is the first day of autumn, so it seemed like just the right time to contemplate some seasonal reading with the Autumn Reading Tag.  I did this same tag last year, as one of the very first posts on this blog, so I'm excited to see how my responses differ this year from last.  The tag was created by UK Booktuber Amy Jane Reads, and you can watch her video here.  Let's jump into a pile of leaves the tag questions!

Are there any books you plan on reading over the autumn season?


I recently picked up a copy of Jesmyn Ward's new novel, Sing Unburied Sing, which I am very excited to read.  Other than that, I'm going to let the spirit of my bookshelves direct me to what I read next!

September brings back-to-school memories.  What book did you most enjoy studying?  What were your most/least favorite school subjects?

It's been a hot minute since I was last in school, so it's hard to remember exactly what my favorite subject were.  I know that I liked psychology, English, history, and music classes.  I went on to study psychology in university, and used those skills in my master's degree in Adult Education.  I never had much talent for math, so that was definitely a least favorite.

October means Halloween.  Do you enjoy scary books and films?  If so, what are some of your favorites?

I'm not much of a fan of being scared in general, but I find that between the two I prefer scary books.  That way, I can use my mind's eye to create something as scary as I want, rather than being forced to see whatever the filmmakers decide I should see.  I haven't read any recently, but there are some horror books on my TBR, that I'm planning to read around Halloween time: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, His Bloody Project by Graeme Burnet, Mischling by Affinity Konar, and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

With November, it's time for bonfire night and fireworks displays.  What's the most exciting book you've read that really kept you gripped?


Sadly, the US doesn't have any pyrotechnic-forward holidays in autumn. Although. a celebration called Bonfire Night sounds like something I could get behind! I guess I'll have to get my excitement from books.  A lot of the "excitement" recently has come from poetry books like Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet, Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis, and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay - poets who break the heart and enliven the spirit with their work.

What book is your favorite cozy, comfort read?


I love revisiting favorite classics like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, but also more modern books including Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield, and Parnassus On Wheels by Christopher Morley.

Curled up with a good book, what is your hot drink of choice?

I'm a hot drink aficionado, and what I choose to drink depends slightly on the weather and mostly on my mood.  I'm also not terribly sensitive to caffeine, so I can drink coffee/tea any time of day or night and have no issues with sleeping.

Early in the morning, it's usually either a cappuccino from my Nespresso machine, or steamed milk with Earl Grey tea (London Fog) or with stovetop espresso from my Moka pot. In the afternoon and evening, I generally reach for tea (masala chai and cream earl grey are my favorites, with just a splash of milk) or French Press coffee. A hot drink in the evening might be hot (spiced) apple cider, herbal tea, or (if I'm having an exciting night in) a hot toddy like warmed whisky or hot buttered rum.  Mmmmmm....

What plans are you looking forward to over the next few months?


Next month, my partner and I will be spending our 6th wedding anniversary in California - San Francisco and wine country - which is very exciting!  He's not much of a reader, but is good-natured about my love of bookstore tourism.  I'm hoping to visit City Lights when we're in the city, and one of the Copperfield's bookstores when we're up in Napa/Sonoma/Russian River Valley.


And that's it for the Autumn Reading tag.  If you'd like to do this one, consider yourself tagged!  Happy autumn, everyone!



Librorum annis,


Monday, September 18, 2017

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson


Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America is a truly remarkable and poignant book.  As a member of the titular congregation, I found this work to be a tender, loving gut punch.  Michael Eric Dyson holds back nothing in his portrayal of what it means to be a black person in America today.  He draws from his own experiences, those of his family, and people he has encountered throughout his life to illustrate how deeply and subconsciously racism has shaped this country. 

Dyson talks about growing up in crushing poverty in Detroit, his family's struggles to bring themselves out of that poverty, and the ways that they encouraged their children to rise above them.  Dyson, himself, was accepted into a prestigious private school, in a wealthy suburb of Detroit, where he was one student of color amongst a sea of white, upper-class classmates.  He ended up leaving that school, finishing his high school education at a public school in Detroit.  He became an ordained minister at 19, then working in manufacturing as a way to support his family.  He went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Carson-Newman University, a private, conservative, Baptist university, and ultimately a Doctorate from Princeton University.  He is now an esteemed faculty member at Georgetown University.  Dyson's contentious relationship with the President of Carson-Newman is a recurring theme and something to which he returns regularly as an example of the blatant and unapologetic bigotry that he has faced in his life.


As mentioned earlier, Dyson has a background in preaching, and the book is written as a kind of worship service; there are religious references sprinkled throughout.  He refers to the reader often as "beloved" which is a term one hears often in religious services ("dearly beloved, we are gathered here today" as just one example) but every time I encountered it I thought of Toni Morrison's novel Beloved, about the evils of slavery and how far a mother would be driven in order to save a child from enslavement.  Dyson was certainly not writing this book for a fictional character (although he does reference Morrison's book a time or two) but I couldn't help my brain making that connection.


Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America is divided into nine parts, each meant to correspond to a section of a Protestant church service:

1. Call to Worship - The author's introduction to the text

2. Hymns of Praise - Leading with an ominous, but unfortunately not unique, encounter the author had with police, one where he ends up blasting N.W.A.'s "Fuck tha Police" to express his frustration about rcism and police brutality, Dyson likens Christian hymns to the truths that black people speak through their music.  His featured hymnists include KRS-One, Jay-Z, and Tupac Shakur.
 
3. Invocation - As Christian worship uses an invocation to invite God into the metaphysical space, so Dyson uses this section to lift up the many and varied ways that black people have suffered, and continue to suffer, to God.  He specifically calls out to God on behalf of his (now adult) children, and grandchildren, whom he was unable to protect from the evils of racism even when they were very young.  He beseeches God to provide reason and clarity to those who fear and loathe based on the color of skin, and to give strength and courage to those who speak their truth of life as a black person in America.

4. Scripture Reading - Rather than reciting Biblical passages, the author refers to the holy text "Book of Martin Luther King Jr." and how his life and works are just as applicable today as they were in his lifetime.

5. Sermon - As is the case in a Christian worship service, this sermon is where the author really expounds upon his main points to enlighten and inspire the congregation.  Here, Dyson presents a sharp, concentrated overview of the many avenues into which racism has seeped and spread in American, white society, and how that racism has manifested itself on the black body and the black mind.  Within, the author encourages white America to truly see what the effect of imposing its centuries-long "white as right" campaign has brought about.  Through illustrating the ways that systematic racism has been at work, Dyson encourages white America to make specific changes and to generally move towards empathy.
 
6. Benediction - In Christian worship, the benediction is the bestowal of a blessing on the congregation before the end of the service. Dyson uses this section of his book to summarize his previous points, using the acronym R.E.S.P.O.N.S.I.V.E. as a call to action. He offers suggestions of ways whites can implement these changes, to help move America towards true, racial equality.

7. Offering Plate - As a congregation is called to make an offering to its church, Dyson here discusses how Georgetown University, in the autumn of 2016, made baby steps towards racial reparation.  The president of the university made an official statement about how Georgetown had profited from the sale of 272 enslaved humans, as a way to keep the school from going bankrupt in 1838.  The university offered wanted to atone for this, through offering a formal apology, forming an institute to study slavery, and create a public memorial to enslaved persons who worked on Georgetown's campus throughout history.  Although no one had made efforts to reach out to them, some direct descendants of those 272 persons were in attendance at this announcement and they also spoke to the crowd.  They were not asking for financial contributions from the university, but wanted to form a partnership with Georgetown going forward.

8. Prelude to Service - As a final way to inspire his congregation, before this service comes to an end, Dyson explains his position that, although America is in a dire place right now, there is hope that people can and will fight for the rights of EVERYONE to be treated equal.

9. Closing Prayer - The last page is a prayer that the author offers up to God, that black people will not surrender to white supremacy and racism, because they are irrevocably intertwined in Americanness.  As Dyson says - "We are going nowhere. We are your children too. We will survive. We are America."

In his acronym in the "Benediction" section, one of the E's stands for "Educate", that white America must educate itself about black life and culture, especially the written word.  He goes on to provide a black reading list, the breadth and depth of which is very exciting for those of us who love books, reading, and equality.  He recommends starting with James Baldwin, whose "words drip with the searing eloquence of an evangelist of race determined to get to the brutal bottom of America's original sin" (pg. 199). 

Dyson then goes on to recommend over 50 individual books and scores of authors on topics of African slavery and all its complicated facets; the intersection of slavery, politics, and economics; the American Civil War and the failed Reconstruction period that followed; the modern civil rights movement; black freedom and black power struggles; and the intersection of racism, gender, and sexual identity.  I think it would be a fascinating project to make a personal reading list from the books that Dyson recommends.


So what was it like, you may ask, to read this book as a white person in America?  Not easy.  Whenever the author described a situation where he was treated with hostility and distrust by people in power, I tried to imagine myself in that situation.  Would I have behaved in the same way as the author, and would I have been treated the same way by those in power?  As Dyson expounded upon the varied ways that white people have benefited from black repression and subjugation, I had to consider how often in my life I may have received similar benefits because of the color of my skin.  I have heard many people in my life complain about how unfair affirmative action is, because they think it gives black people an unfair advantage, but after reading this book and considering that most black people have the deck stacked against them in life, affirmative action seems like just a small step.

Michael Eric Dyson's Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America could be classified as a memoir, an essay collection, or a cultural criticism and you wouldn't be wrong.  It contains parts of each of those things, blended to tell an exacting and poignant story. Especially if you're NOT an American person of color, this book will make you think, make you see your basic societal interactions in more clarity, and bring you toward a more empathetic and realistic worldview.  Structured as a religious worship service, and with Dyson as the pastor, you'll finish this book with an "Amen"!




Librorum annis,


Thursday, September 14, 2017

The "Book Buying" Tag

As I'm sure you could tell, from all the book hauls I've shared, I'm no stranger to the buying of books.  That's what I'm such a great candidate to do the Book Buying Tag, which was originally a Booktube video tag, created by Megan Olivier.  You can watch her video here.  Without further ado, let's explore my book buying...

Where do you buy your books?

I'm a bit of an omnivore when it comes to book buying.  I have a Kindle (and the Kindle app on my phone), so I buy/download many of those books directly from Amazon.  I will also, on occasion, buy books from Amazon, but I prefer to go elsewhere whenever possible.  I have a Barnes & Noble membership, and will purchase from them, especially when they send out coupons that can be used on top of whatever other discounts they have going.  I also am big into bookstore tourism, so if I'm visiting a new city I will seek out indie bookstores and (almost always) buy books from them.   However, my absolute favorite place to buy books is at my local indie, The Midtown Scholar, which you can take a little tour of here.


I also regularly buy remaindered and secondhand/used books.  The Midtown Scholar has a great assortment of used books in just about any topic you can think of.  I get remaindered books for super-cheapsies via BookOutlet, and they often have sales where you can get even more discounts.  I also keep track of when my local libraries have their book sales.  I have no qualms about buying books that way, not only because the prices are usually less than $5 per book, but also because that money goes directly to the library.  And I absolutely love my libraries!

Do you ever pre-order books?  If so, how do you do it?

It's really rare that I feel compelled to pre-order books.  Even if there's an author whose work I've loved in the past, I can't be guaranteed that I'll love her/his new releases.  Honestly, I don't find value in pre-ordering unless there's something extra in the bargain.  Barnes & Noble has a robust selection of signed books, so I will pre-order some books there.  Most recently, I pre-ordered a signed copy of David Sedaris' published diaries Theft By Finding, which was signed by the author.

In addition to signed copies, sometimes bookstore will offer extra goodies if you pre-order a book by a certain date.  This was the case with the bookstore Politics and Prose in Washington, DC.  When Zadie Smith's novel Swing Time was announced, P&P had a promotional offer that, if you pre-ordered the book by a certain date, you would also receive a matching tote bag.  Because Zadie Smith was doing an event in town right around the time of the release, the bookstore was graciously willing to have my copy of Swing Time signed and mailed to me, along with the tote bag.  This made me a very happy reader indeed!


On average, how many books do you buy per month?

This entirely depends on what I'm up to in a given month.  If there's a library book sale going on, BookOutlet is having a sale, or if I'm traveling to a place where I might visit new bookstores, then there's a good chance that I'll buy quite a few books.  Otherwise, I might buy one or even no books.

Do you use your local library?

Yes!  I use it very frequently, almost weekly.  I'm such a regular user that I have my library patron number memorized.  Because of where I live and work, I'm able to be a member of three different library systems, which opens up the possibilities of what books are available to me.  If there's a new release, or even an older book, chances are good that at least one of the three libraries will have a copy for me to request.

How many books can/do you borrow from the library at a time?

I've never checked out enough books to encounter a borrowing limit, but I think the maximum is somewhere around 15-20.

What is your opinion on library books?

I. Love. Library. Books.  I love libraries, which is why I visit mine so frequently.  The only time I don't like library books are when the book I'm looking for has been damaged or lost.  That happened to me recently - the book was listed as being on the "hold" shelf, ready for me to pick it up, but when I got there it had *poof* disappeared.  Thankfully this is a very rare happening.

How do you feel about charity shop/secondhand books?

I feel real good about them!  I'd say that my shelves are a 50/50 mixture of new books and secondhand books.  I am quite picky about the condition of books I acquire from charity shops and used bookstores, however.  I prefer them to be as close to "new" condition as possible.  That means: No or very little writing inside, intact covers and pages, no water/etc. damage.  So, many of the secondhand books on my shelves look pretty much new.

Do you keep your "read" and "TBR" piles together, separate, or otherwise?

My bookshelf space is limited, so I have all of my books on two bookcases.  That means that my read and unread books live harmoniously, side by side.

Do you plan to read all the books that you own?

I certainly plan to, but I own a lot of books.  I don't buy a book unless I plan to read it at some point.  I hope to be able to read them all in my lifetime, but who knows.


What do you do with books that you own, but don't expect to read or didn't enjoy?

As I mentioned before, my shelf space is limited.  Therefore, if I DNF a book that I own, or don't enjoy it after I've finished it, it goes in a discard pile.  We have a small lending library where I work, so I contribute my unwanted books there.  I have also, on occasion, donated and sold books that I didn't love or no longer wanted to keep. [photo]

Have you ever donated books?

My work's little lending library is the recipient of many of my donated books.  I will also donate to libraries, for them to use in their book sales.  I just have to be careful that I don't buy back my own book!


Have you ever been on a book-buying ban?

No.

Do you feel that you buy too many books?

I don't buy too many books, because they're an investment in my mental, emotional, empathetic, and cultural life.  Books are well worth it.



And that's it for the "Book Buying" tag.  How do you acquire your books?  How are they stored in your space?  If you're interested in answering these questions, consider yourself tagged.




Librorum annis,


Monday, September 11, 2017

August-September Book Haul

It's been a little while since my last book haul, and I've acquired a few more books since then.  Most of the books came home with me from a massive library book sale, but a few arrived from other avenues.


Sing Unburied Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson
The Dark Dark, by Samantha Hunt
My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, by Aja Monet
We Wear the Mask: 15 Stories of Passing in America, edited by Brando Skyhorse


History of the Russian Revolution, by Leon Trotsky
Men Explain Things to Me, by Susan Sontag
Miss August, by Nin Andrews
The Art of Failing: Notes From the Underdog, by Anthony McGowan
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly


Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter
Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles
Atonement, by Ian McEwan
Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh


The Known World, by Edward P. Jones
Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler
Battleborn, by Claire Vaye Watkins
Ariel: The Restored Edition, by Sylvia Plath
The Book of Tea, by Okakura Kakuzo


The Elements of Style, by William Strunk
Why I Write, by George Orwell
Nature, by Ralph Waldo Emerson



What books have you bought recently, and have you read any of them?  I've read about 1/3 of these books so far, which is pretty good for me!



Librorum annis,


Thursday, September 7, 2017

The 2017 National Book Festival

September 2nd was the annual National Book Festival in Washington, DC.  This was my third time attending the festival, and my experience was a little different this year than in years past.  Doors opened at 8:30am, but my posse didn't arrive until after 1:00.  One reason - many of the early events are more kid-friendly, which wasn't something we were so much interested in.  Another reason - we wanted to make sure we were fueled up for the day!  After some delicious BBQ at Smoked and Stacked, we wandered across the street to Buttercream Bakeshop.  This bakery and coffeeshop is the stuff that dreams are made of!  I chose the Unicorn Bar, a delicious and snickerdoodle-flavored concoction with edible glitter on top.

Om nom nom! 
So delish!  And it turned out that someone had "paid it forward", so my amazing dessert was free for me!  Thank you, anonymous kind person!

Once we got into the festival, my group parted ways for awhile.  While some wandered in and out of panel discussions and author talks upstairs, I spent my time downstairs in the book sales area, Pavilion of the States, and book signing lines.

There are representatives from library associations in all 50 states, as well as many US territories, that have tables at the Pavilion of the States.  Kids get a "passport" that they can have stamped at every table, to earn a special National Book Festival prize.  In addition, there are pieces of swag like posters, bookmarks, maps, and other goodies that festivalgoers can snag.  I always replenish my bookmark stash at the festival, and this year was no different.


One of the great things about the National Book Festival is the coverage.  There are SO MANY great talks that you can listen to, and you might just wander into something that turns out to be really interesting.  This happened when I first got downstairs; looking for a place to sit I happened to be in the audience for Reshma Saujani and her presentation about her organization Girls Who Code.  She talked about how important it is to get girls into tech fields, starting with coding when they're really young.

Reshma at the podium, and her ASL signer
That's what her book series and organization are all about, and it was really interesting to listen to her story and how that shaped her passion about teaching girls to code and understand computational theory as a life skill.  If I hadn't plopped down there, I might never have known it was going on!  However, all of the talks are recorded, so if you miss something you can easily watch it on the official Book Festival app.

The first author whose signing I wanted to attend was Jesmyn Ward.  I already owned copies of her memoir Men We Reaped and previous novel Salvage the Bones, and brought them along to get signed.  She was at the festival to promote her new book, Sing Unburied Sing, and even though it wasn't officially released until September 5th, there were copies available for purchase, so of course I had to get one!  I got near to the front of her signing line, so it was rather quick to get to her table.

I'm next!
She was so gracious and sweet, and even complimented me on my hair (I had recently got some highlights colored a raspberry shade) and talked about how much her daughter wants to get her hair done like mine.  It was a quick exchange, but satisfying nonetheless.

The next signing line I joined was for Michael Eric Dyson, whose Tears We Cannot Stop is my current read.  His line had already started forming by the time I was through Jesmyn Ward's, so I hopped in and waited for things to begin.

There is a designated path midway through the line, so walking traffic can go through to the signing lines on the other side.  I'm at the beginning of that section of his line.
He has a gregarious personality, being very friendly, inviting, and personable.  He took a photo with everyone in his signing line, who wanted one, which is not something most other authors agree to do.  In fact, most authors permit candid photos from the lines, but are less enthusiastic or willing to do any posed shots.  I was so thrilled to meet Michael Eric Dyson, and glad to have the opportunity to tell him how engrossed I am in his work.

The third, and final, author that I wanted to get signings from was Roxane Gay.  Her signing time began shortly after Michael Eric Dyson's, so by the time I got to the end of her line it was H-U-G-E.  In fact, this was by far the longest I've ever spent in a signing line, which isn't surprising because of how popular she is.  It was so worth it, because she's an amazing writer.

This is only 1/4 of the total length of Roxane's signing line
It took at least an hour for me to get to the front of her line, but it was so thrilling to meet her!  I recently discovered that I'm one degree away from Roxane Gay (take that, Kevin Bacon!) - one of my best friends from college is a great friend of Roxane's from grad school.  In fact, when I mentioned her name, Roxane immediately knew who I was talking about and said that she was one of her best friends from grad school.  Although there were copies of her essay collection Bad Feminist, short story collection Difficult Women, and memoir Hunger available for purchase, I brought my copy of her first published work - a short story collection called Ayiti - to have her sign.  She was impressed that I was keeping it old school, and even said that the collection was going to be re-released by a larger publisher, later this year.  I highly recommend you check out Ayiti, if you get the chance.


By the time I got through Roxane Gay's signing line, the National Book Festival was finished.  In fact, the organizers were starting to break down some of the sets and shut off banks of lights.  I reconnected with my pals, jumped in an Uber, and headed home.  I accomplished my goal - to get some great books signed by their authors - and will be watching the author chats that I missed in the near future.

Did you stop by the National Book Festival this year?  What authors did you see?  What panels/talks did you attend?  Did you grab any awesome swag from the Pavilion of the States?  Tell me all about it!



Librorum annis,