Monday, December 31, 2012

People Who Write: 2013 Writing/Book Conferences Worth Attending

Here's a solid list of conferences and book events for the aspiring or established writer.

People Who Write is a newly launched effort by Powder Necklace author Nana Ekua Brew Hammond. It has tons of good information and inspiration for those interested in publishing.

I won't be at the earlier ones because of my own book launch in January and my subsequent preparation to speak at South by Southwest in March. But I hope to make it to BookExpo America, especially since they have a Power Reader program that's intriguing and less expensive than the other options.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My favorite books in 2012

My name is J. and I have a Goodreads addiction. Nice to meet you.

To be fair, my fascination with Goodreads is a natural extension of my book addiction, which started when I was in first grade, led to my three-year adventure in library school and continues to this day.

For my holiday vacation, I arrived at my destination with a library book and a thick book for review under my arm, and I will attempt now to make it home with three additional books (two for review) along with the e-book I checked out to read for fun.

Not only is Goodreads like carrying a bookshelf around in my computer and on my phone, but it
also helps me keep track of the books I've been reading, and makes it easy to come up with a list of books I loved in any given year.

So here they are in no particular order:

She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems 
edited by Caroline Kennedy
This was published in 2011, but a friend gave me a copy for my birthday, so I got to read it early this year, between my birthday and Valentine's Day. Here's what I wrote on my blog, with longer excerpts: "One of my favorite women in the world gave me this book of poems selected by Caroline Kennedy. May the sweet, enormous love in some of these lines fill you with enough passion to share -- with yourself &/or with others. The book is full of greatness."

Gathering of Waters 
by Bernice McFadden
I interviewed Ms. McFadden over the summer ahead of her visit in Austin. Gathering of Waters is a beautiful in the soul-stirring, spirit-infused tradition of Gloria Naylor's Mama Day. It is connected to the story of Emmett Till, but it is fundamentally a love story.

The Rules of Inheritance
by Claire Bidwell Smith
Claire Bidwell Smith writes in this touching memoir that grief is like another country. The writing is honest, raw and poetic. It is unlike a book like Cheryl Strayed's Wild in that it has more of a quiet levity and far more dark contours than light sarcasm.

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change
by Pema Chodron
I love Chodron everything. Here's a bit more of a review: "In Living Beautifully, Chodron writes with her trademark simplicity and directness about living with uncertainty, opening our hearts to transitions and pain through tonglen practice and learning that the “time of the lone wolf is over” and we cannot make any real changes to ourselves or the world on our own."

by Susan Cain
I almost never read any book about introverts that doesn't make us seem like crazed, abnormal hermits. So it was really refreshing to read this, and I'm really happy Susan Cain got all the press and accolades she did for her work. The TED talk was also great.

The Power of Habit
by Charles Duhigg
Fans of Malcolm Gladwell's books will enjoy this one. Duhigg, a business reporter at the New York Times, looks at important brands, like Starbucks, Febreze, Target and even Alcoholics Anonymous to give readers a sense of how habit shapes what we purchase. Most of it is fascinating, though I was less interested in the parts describing lab rat experimentation. I learned enough about Target's practices to give me pause when I purchase products there.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry

Melissa Harris-Perry refers frequently to the crooked room in which African American women find ourselves in her book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America. She writes of Zora Neale Hurston's protagonist, Janie Crawford, falling in love with Tea Cake and Michelle Obama, owning her body, her connection to the legacy of black motherhood, her respectability as a woman who has chosen domesticity while also owning her power as an educated black woman. She mentions Ntozake Shange's play and Tyler Perry's misinterpretation of a film, too.

When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up. Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the may seem inexplicable that a respected black woman educator would stamp her foot, jab her finger in a black man's face, and scream while trying to make a point on national television, thereby reconfirming the notion that black women are irrationally angry. To understand why black women's public actions and political strategies sometimes seem tilted in ways that accommodate the degrading stereotypes about them, it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior. It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room.
When she wrote that "black women are rarely recognized as archetypal citizens," or that to be a black woman is akin to trying to stand straight (and tall) in a crooked room, all I wanted to do was cheer. She named for me, as a writer and a reader, impressions and ideas that are rarely named in our culture. I knew that she would, which is why I loved the book and the idea of it before I even read it.

There are few authors who write extensively about the misrecognition of black women in society or the emotional, financial and political implications of that. There are also few books that explore the crooked room and gaze of black women in the church - they have remained the backbone of traditional Christian organizations, for example, while largely being cast aside for leadership positions.

For us to fully be citizens, it is required for us to at least try to stand up. And often, because of the myths associated with our superhuman strength or our supposed mannishness, we are criticized when we try. As Harris-Perry writes, "Sister politics is also about challenging negative images, managing degradation, and resisting or accommodating humiliating public representations." The most refreshing part of the book for me was Harris-Perry's analysis of Michelle Obama's significance to black women and American culture. She deftly sums up what it is, exactly, about Michelle that has prompted odd discourse about our First Lady.
It is an act of resistance for a black woman to demand that her body belong to herself for her pleasure, her adornment, even her vanity, because in the United States, black women's bodies have been valued only to the extent that they produce wealth and pleasure for others.
It would be so nice if this weren't true. But because it is, the best we can hope for are more books that provide solace for those of us who effort to stand straight in the crooked room.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An Introduction

Here are the ground rules:
  • I read books for review at Bitch Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Spirituality & Health or just for kicks at Goodreads. I don't review books of my friends or sources, generally, without a disclaimer. Blame it on my attempt at objectivity.
  • There are almost no outlets that regularly publish reviews of books that are by or about women of color, and those are the ones I'm most interested in. So, I created this space mainly for that. I trust you know where to find books by everyone else.
  • I do not accept bribes or even hot dates in exchange for positive book reviews. 
  • I generally don't read Oprah Book Club or New York Times Bestsellers until years after they have been published. I don't like to echo the sentiments of others when I'm reading a book, I want to come to it fresh, with my own opinions and insights instead of echoing someone else's praise.