142 Exit West

exitwestby Mohsin Hamid, 2017

“…for when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

So writes Mohsin Hamid, as his characters prepare to embark on a journey from their war ravaged home to an unknown land, leaving behind those whom they love. It is a fitting, and sometimes literal, description of the emigration experience that is at the heart of Exit West. When their unnamed country – though we can guess that they hail from somewhere in the Middle East – falls into the chaos of war, young lovers Saeed and Nadia cling to each other in their effort for survival. All across their city, mysterious doors are opening up, allowing citizens to step through, Narnia-like, to another land. Walking through one of those doors will be the hardest, but most necessary, decision they will make.

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141 The Souls of Black Folk

soulsofblackfolkby W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903

There is a certain sense of wonder – or is it chagrin? – when reading a hundred-year-old book that exemplifies the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Such is the case with W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays published at the turn of the 20th century that are, sadly, as poignant today as they were a mere 40 years post-Emancipation. Race relations have no doubt improved greatly since then, yet not so much as to prevent the reader from sitting slack-jawed and wondering if Du Bois were writing these words today. He and his ideas are far from obsolete.

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139 Tar Baby

tar babyby Toni Morrison, 1981

I think this is my favorite Toni Morrison yet. While I’ve found every book of hers completely engaging, there’s something about the lyrical quality of her prose in Tar Baby that I find particularly appealing. I also continue to be impressed by how effortlessly Morrison weaves not just the conflict between white and black into her stories, but also that between varying shades of black. Each book has spoken volumes about intraracial conflict that only someone who has personally experienced that tension can fully appreciate.

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137 The Mis-Education of the Negro

woodsonby Carter G. Woodson, 1933

Carter G. Woodson is one of those names I’ve heard bandied about for quite some time, thanks largely in part to the fact that one of the three huge regional libraries in Chicago is named for the writer. As such, I’ve always had him in my mind as someone I ought to read, but, as is often the case, I never got around to it. With the Read Harder Challenge’s task to read a book published between 1900-1950, this 1933 tome jumped to the forefront. It’s a fairly short book, coming in at around 100 pages, but it’s packed with some interesting ideas regarding education and race that not only were applicable to its time, but continue to be relevant today.

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131 The Sellout

selloutby Paul Beatty, 2015

Ah, the library. What’s so great about the library nowadays is that you can put any ebook on hold and eventually it’ll come to you without you having to lift a finger. What’s not so great about the library is that, for some reason, all of your ebooks tend to come in at once and you find yourself speed reading them before they’re yanked from your account. Such was the case with The Sellout which, despite having a long wait time, became available to me shortly after I received The Nix, meaning that after reading that 600+ page tome, I had little time to devote to this Booker Prize winner and even less time to spend appreciating it. For I think there is probably some level of genius in this novel, however unable I was to connect with it.

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129 If I Was Your Girl

ifiwasyourgirlby Meredith Russo, 2016

I kind of hate fairy tales. Not the Brothers Grimm sort, which are actually quite gruesome and only vaguely resemble the stories we were told as kids, and not even really the Disney sort, because I can’t lie that, as much as it rankles my inner feminist, I still enjoyed Beauty and the Beast. No, I mean those stories where someone with a “problem” – they have a string of failed relationships, they are clumsy, they (gasp!) have curly hair and glasses – overcomes said “problem” to live happily ever after. I realize there is some comfort in knowing that we are all lovable despite our differences, but this sort of trite plot and predictable ending are far from new and far from interesting.

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127 The Wangs vs. the World

wangsby Jade Chang, 2016

It’s the start of the economic recession and Charles Wang – a Chinese immigrant who made his fortune in the cosmetics industry – is bankrupt. Having put all his collateral, including his house, toward a loan for a failed attempt at beauty stores that cater to non-white customers, Charles is determined to save face by reclaiming the land stolen from his family by the communist Chinese government. He picks up his daughter from boarding school, his son from college, and, along with his second wife, they head toward the eldest Wang daughter’s New York farmhouse in search of something like redemption.

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