Top Ten Tuesday: Best Reads of 2018 (so far!)

Alright, alright…we’re halfway through 2018. I set my yearly reading goal at 140 books back in January, right now I’m at 86. Here are the best books I’ve read this year so far, in no particular order:

  1. Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson – Beautiful autobiographical novel written in verse about the coming of age of a Black girl in the 1960’s and 70’s.
  2. Calling My Name, Liara Tamani – Set in the 90’s, this is a beautiful fiction book about the coming of age of a Black girl growing up in Texas.
  3. Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi – This book is a bit of a shape-shifter. To say it’s about identity or mental health is to deny its true power, so I’ll say it’s about certain subjects that are so thought-provoking it defies explanation. Let that sit for a minute.
  4. Sometimes I Lie, Alice Feeney – Pleasantly surprised by this one. Suspenseful, engaging, and full of drama. Loved this!
  5. Where the Dead Sit Talking, Brandon Hobson – “Quiet” kinda book that packs a helluva punch about the dysfunctional life of an adopted Native American teen in 1980’s Oklahoma.
  6. Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires – First collection of short stories this year that I actually liked. This is definitely one to read.
  7. Monday’s Not Coming, Tiffany D. Jackson – Another recent read that manages to be hopeful, frightening, and inspiring all rolled into one. Great book.
  8. Convenient Store Woman, Sayaka Murata – I was recently blown away by this one. This writer is definitely one to watch!
  9. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? – Kathleen Collins – Kathleen Collins was a Black playwright, filmmaker, and writer who died of cancer in 1988. Several years ago, her daughter gathered many of her still-unpublished writings and issued them in this volume. The stories in this book are definitely revelatory and quite profound–the reason you haven’t seen a review for this on here is because I still just don’t have words for it yet. I read this back in March and it is extremely good. Definitely check it out!
  10. The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui – Another recent read that completely blew me away with its beautiful drawings and message.
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Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR

I have a confession to make, ya’ll. I typically don’t do TBR lists. The reason for this is simple: I have a horrible reading attention span. I simply cannot guarantee that the books I tell you I’m going to read will be read in the allotted time frame I give. I am literally always looking at books–online, in stores, at the library, through emails I get, through requests. I just can’t say I’ll read x, y, and z during this month when the truth is I will probably find something else while randomly browsing the library one afternoon that will catch my interest.

I find that it’s best for me to base my TBR-isms on what’s currently on my shelf and in my Kindle with an expiration date or on reserve from the library. So here goes:

Books I’ll More Than Likely Read this Summer

1. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs (ARC, to be published on 24 July 2018). Short story collection from a debut author that promises to be really yummy.

2. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson (currently reading). I am floored by this book so far. Review forthcoming.

3. There There by Tommy Orange (currently on reserve). Debut fiction about urban Native Americans headed to a powwow. It’s gotten some good reviews and I’m curious about it, so I’m going to give this one a peep.

4. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (own a copy of this). Fiction book about an incarcerated woman. I’m interested where this one goes.

5. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (currently in my Kindle). Kick ass Black girls and zombies. Sign me up and take my money…

6. A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising: A Novel by Raymond Villareal (currently on reserve). I told you: I love zombies, so this should be interesting.

7. The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir by Yrsa Daley Ward (currently on my shelf; library copy). I loved her recent poetry volume, Bone, so this should be a great read.

8. Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour (currently on my shelf; library copy). A nonfiction account of the author’s long and expensive struggle to get a diagnosis for what is discovered to be late-stage Lyme disease. I have a sister-in-law with Lyme disease, and she nearly lost everything just to get a doctor to listen. I need to read this story.

9. Severance by Ling Ma (ARC, to be published on 14 Aug 2018). Interesting dystopian fiction read about a lady who loses her job while the end of the world is happening at the same time. Can’t wait to read this later this summer!

10. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (ARC, to be published on 31 July 2018). Fictional story set in Colombia at the time of Escobar’s violent hold on the country. Promises to be a great read by a debut author.

Ok, work in the morning folks.

xoxo, Kellan

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Loves and Hates

Once again, this week’s designated Top Ten Tuesday doesn’t agree with me…so I’m making my own topic. I’ll pretend I’m in a speed dating situation and I’ve got about 15 minutes to tell you about what I like and don’t like as far as what I read.

(This is silly, but play along here, OK?)

Top Ten Book Loves/Book Hates

Loves

  1. YA, YA YA. I pity people that don’t read YA. Seriously. Like, what do you do in your boring ass life? Young adult books are the shit because it’s where all the action is. Want to know what’s hot in the streets? Read YA. YA is a cool litmus test for finding out what’s hip, what’s controversial, what will be talked about next. As an educator I dive into YA often, because I want to know what young people think about, what types of messages about life they receive from older people. I also like YA because it’s a safe place for nostalgia, make believe, and uncomplicated, raw emotion. Where else can you be angsty as fuck and get away with it? YA, of course.
  2. Diverse characters. Ever since I took a Multicultural Literature class as an undergrad student in 2001, I’ve strove to make my reading as representative of society as a whole as possible. Here on 29chapters.com, you will find that I review books about people of all races, ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, religions, ability levels, social classes, as well as inside and outside of the U.S. This is done purposefully, not only keep me in the loop of the human experience, but to shine a light on people with experiences unlike your own whose stories deserve your attention.
  3. Nonfiction about social issues. I love reading nonfiction, but I strive to make the reading of mine worthwhile by reading to educate myself on social issues that interest me–particularly issues of crime and the criminal justice system, race, feminism, immigration, and poverty. Oppression of one is essentially the oppression of all, and learning how all of these issues are connected in our every day lives is critical.
  4. Dystopian lit. Books on how jacked up the future will be are always a treat for me. Perhaps it is because I am deeply pessimistic on the future as well, and believe that the changes we don’t make now will revisit us in the future, only three times worse. Either way, it’s fun to read about how the world’s going to hell, and there’s very little we can do about it but wait. Weee…
  5. “Thinking” while reading. If I’m thinking while I’m reading it, that’s always a good thing. Books that engage me intellectually and challenge me are always books that I will finish, whether I like them or not. It just drives home (for me, at least) that reading will always be a thinking process, not just some passive activity where I’m sitting and absorbing info like a plant. It also means that we can still be friends and disagree.

Hates

  1. “Chick” lit. Ewww, I hate anything that resembles this genre of literature. Books where the main objective is finding love, catfights, figuring out silly friendship drama, or a good pair of heels is not for me. I turn down offers to review on these kinds of books all the time and will continue to do so unapologetically. No chick lit here ever, I’m convinced it causes brain shrinkage.
  2. Romance novels. Another genre I don’t touch with a ten foot pole. As a matter of fact, if I go to a book review site and it’s full of reviews on romance novels (even if they are YA) and chick lit, I immediately back up and make a note not to visit that site again. Brain shrinkage occurs with this one as well, only at a more rapid rate.
  3. Books from Western canons. I’m not saying there aren’t classics because there are, but surely one has noticed that 99% of the books in the humanities considered “classics” are written by White men. I love All Quiet on the Western Front, Grapes of Wrath, Aristotle’s Poetics, and Huckleberry Finn as much as the next gal, but if these kinds of books is all one reads, I question why your reading perspective is limited to that of straight White dudes only. As if Western perspectives and being cisgendered is the center of the moral universe. Not so, I say. I’ll stay on the left.
  4. Mainstream bestsellers. I could care less what’s on the Amazon or New York Times bestseller list. I also don’t care about who won what award, or what book “everybody” is reading right now. As a matter of fact, if I see a book on “the list” I will usually avoid it for that very reason because yes, millions of people can be wrong. Occasionally I do read pop fiction, but it is only because I am curious about that particular book. But nah, I’ve never gone to “the list” and scanned it for something to read. To this day I maintain that I’ve never read a Harry Potter book and don’t plan to. My son has read them all though. Bless his heart.
  5. “Major Motion Picture” covers. So Everything, Everything is a movie now. That doesn’t mean you have to change the paperback cover. I know you want to sell movie tickets, but urrrrgghh…this burns me up. Keep it the same, don’t change it.

Rock on, guys…

xoxo, Kellan

Top Ten Tuesday: Nonfiction Reads

Hmm…I haven’t really been feelin any of the last 3-4 Top Ten Tuesday topics lately.  Book with my favorite color in the title? Poo. Books we’d “slay a lion” to get early? Nah…I like lions.

Anyway, I’ve decided to make up my own Top Ten Tuesday based a genre that I go to quite frequently: non-fiction. So here’s my Top Ten Favorite Non-Fiction Reads from the past 5 years or so. Enjoy!

Top Ten Nonfiction Reads

  1. Buck: A Memoir, M.K. Asante. This a very solid memoir about a young Black man’s upbringing in a middle class Philadelphia household in the 80s and 90s. His father is the very famous Molefi Asante, a scholar known for bringing Afrocentrism to the forefront of academia. Despite his well-known father, M.K. struggles with a lot of issues that don’t get talked about much, because most books written about Black life are not from a middle class perspective. Very solid, readable book.
  2. A Bestiary, Lily Hoang. This book kinda defies genre. If I could describe it, I’d give it the title of “nonfiction fiction memoir.” It’s a gathering of facts, personal stories, biographical insights, observations. Normally I hate this kinda of crazy quilt, pastiche effect (check this review) but I LOVED this book. Everything fit together perfectly.
  3. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Monique Morris. This book’s a part of the dissertation research I’m working on, but it’s still an enjoyable and very fact-based read. As a Black female, I think it is lamentable that I am still more likely, simply based on my race, to be incarcerated, expelled from school, or drop out of school altogether. Black girls are also 6 times more likely to be suspended from school than White girls, even though they exhibit the same behaviors. Great read.
  4. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Kathryn Edin & H. Luke Shaefer. This book is an eye-opener to the world of the working poor. It is not excuse making (see this review) nor is it poverty-shaming, it is just the day to day realities for people who work 40-60 hours a week and, due to the fact that we haven’t raised the minimum wage in fucking years, barely have enough to buy toilet paper. A very readable, informative book.
  5. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond. The author of this book traveled to Milwaukee and spend time with people on all sides of the low-rent housing market for year: investors, the landlords, the people who call these places home and get put out time and time again, the judges whose sole job it is to evict people, often to the streets with no other recourse. Normally I don’t care about who wins a Pulitzer Prize, but this book deserved it–hands down.
  6. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates. If you haven’t read any of Coates’ articles on race relations in The Atlantic then you definitely should be. He is pretty much the writer right now when it comes to critical race issues and the public conversations going on around them. I was going to write a review of this book here when I read it a while back but I realized that it was so good, I literally had nothing to say. A mic-dropper.
  7. They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan, Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, & Judy Bernstein. When I included a quote from this book on this website, one of the authors (Judy Bernstein) sent me an email and offered me a copy of this book. Of course I said yes, because this book touched my heart. It’s the story of three boys, all very young (10-13 years old) and left orphaned by their families due to the civil war in Sudan. They escape the country, but cross rivers, hostile territories, deserts, endure dangerous predators, starvation. It’s a harrowing book.
  8. A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story, Linda Sue Park. Another book about one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, only with a YA centered focus and contrasted with a modern story from 2008. Salva is a boy who escaped the Sudanese Civil War in 1985, Nya is a girl who walks miles to fetch water. Their stories intersect beautifully. Loved this book!
  9. There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, Alex Kotlowitz. This story takes place in the 1980’s in the Henry Horner Homes, one of Chicago’s most notoriously violent, drug and gang infested housing projects. The story centers around Pharoah and his brother Lafeyette, living with their mother and literally dodging bullets on their way to school. Even though they’ve since torn down the Horner projects, this is still a relevant read, especially if you want to understand why Chicago leads the country in gun-related violence. There is a kinda humanizing effect here to inner-city lives that I haven’t found elsewhere in nonfiction.
  10. Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, Jonathan Kozol. I don’t think you can call yourself an educator if you’ve never read Kozol–he’s quite a prolific writer and his books are widely taught in teacher education courses. This book is a kind of follow-up to other books that he has written over the years about children in poverty. Some of the stories end on a positive note, some are tragic. It’s still a great book, however, by a great author.

Whew, my hand’s tired. I get fired up when writing about nonfiction, that’s all. See ya’ll later this week.

xoxo,

Kellan

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring TBR

Alas, a Top Ten Tuesday topic I can love with my entire heart. I’ve always got some good reading on the horizon, so here’s my Top Ten picks for this spring:

  1. Sometimes I Lie, Alice Feeney (currently reading, NetGalley ARC). This book comes out on this Friday, March 23rd. I’m going to try to get the review up before then. I haven’t gotten too far into this, but I think that there’s gonna be a really good twist here. Hmm.
  2. The Hunger, Alma Katsu (currently on reserve at the library). From what I’ve gathered, this book is a zombie-ish take on the Donner party story. I’m here for it.
  3. Social Creature, Tara Isabella Burton (NetGalley ARC). This book comes out June 5th, so I probably won’t read it until close to Memorial Day. It seems to be a thriller-type story with some “The Talented Mr. Ripley” vibes to it, so I’ll take it.
  4. Tyler Johnson Was Here, Jay Coles (currently on reserve at the library). A book that’s captured my entire interest lately, and not just because it has a beautiful Black man on the cover. My dissertation is all about critical YA lit by Black authors, so this book fits in perfectly with what I’m researching. I cannot wait to read this.
  5. The Comedown, Rebekah Frumkin (NetGalley ARC). This book comes out on April 17th, so I will probably read it and review it here closer to its release date. It’s gotten some really good press, so we’ll see.
  6. Monday’s Not Coming, Tiffany D. Jackson (waiting waiting waiting). I’m planning to purchase this book, another YA title that I’m discussing in my dissertation. It comes out on May 22nd and explores the topic of Black girls caught in the school-to-prison pipeline. Should be very interesting and informative.
  7. Let’s Talk About Love, Claire Kann (currently on reserve at the library). Another YA book that I’ve been dying to read lately that’s being discussed in my dissertation. The beautiful girl with the curly ‘fro on the cover is just a plus.
  8. The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo (currently on reserve at the library). YA novel in verse about a young Dominican girl and poet growing up in Harlem. Of course I’m discussing this in my dissertation too, this is a must read.
  9. Number One Chinese Restaurant, Lillian Li (NetGalley ARC). I’m trying to incorporate more contemporary Asian authors into my reading life, and this book seems to be a good one. It comes out on June 19th, I can’t wait to read it and have a review for you here closer to that date.
  10. Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir, Ngugi wa Thiong’o (on ILL reserve). This book came out for American publication for the first time earlier this month, but Thiong’o wrote and published this overseas back in the early 80’s, after he was released from a Kenyan prison after being held there as a political prisoner from 1978-1980. I’m always interested in these kinds of topics, so this promises to be a really good read.

Ya’ll know I can’t stand commonplace, boring books, so I try to keep things fresh on 29chapters. So many exciting things (and more) coming up soon here, stay tuned.

xoxo,

Kellan

Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Surprised Me

Books that surprised me, for particular reasons I’ll share below:

  1. Billy, Albert French – I found this book in a used bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin in 2001. I’d never heard of Albert French before, so it sat on my shelf for almost 15 years before I bothered to read it.  When I did get around to reading it, it truly chilled me. It’s a series of vignettes around the execution of a ten-year-old Black boy named Billy Lee Turner, convicted of murdering a White girl in Mississippi in 1937. Not one word is wasted here, it’s one of the finest books I’ve ever read.
  2. Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland, Dan Barry – Another book I half-heartedly picked up at the library. Once I opened it, I could not put it down. This book is a fine work of investigative reporting about a group of men with developmental disabilities who were kept in a dilapidated rooming house and forced to work on a chicken farm for over 30 years with limited pay and no recourse for leaving their employer. The group eventually sued the company who abused their rights–and won.
  3. Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Jessica Bruder – Another nonfiction pick I consumed via audio. It’s about older Americans (mostly those who have lost their jobs and savings in the 2008 financial crash) that have chosen a kind of “off the grid” lifestyle, living in mobile homes and tents and working odd jobs (Amazon warehouses are a popular job among them). Great investigative reporting.
  4. See You at Harry’s, Jo Knowles – This is a YA book that I read for one of my doctoral classes about YA lit and trauma. I remember this book surprised me not because it was particularly well written, but because of how amazingly sad it was in the way it dealt with the death of the main character’s younger sibling. If you decide to tackle this book, have tissues handy.
  5. Down City: A Daughter’s Story of Love, Memory, and Murder, Leah Carroll – Another nonfiction pick that I picked up at the library somewhat half-heartedly, but ended up really getting into. Leah is a young girl when her mother is murdered by two Mafia-affiliated henchmen. She does not find out about the circumstances of her mother’s death until much later in her life because her father refused to tell her, attributing her death instead to a car accident. Many years later, Leah’s father, an aging alcoholic Vietnam veteran, is found dead in a seedy hotel. Despite the bleak content, I completely loved this book.
  6. Ru: A Novel, Kim ThuyRu (Vietnamese for “lullaby”) is a collection of short vignettes that describe the author’s growing up in Vietnam before, during, and after the war, her experiences as a refugee in Malaysia, and finally, in her new life as a mother and a writer in Quebec. It’s a short book, but man…every single page packs a punch. Loved this immensely.
  7. The Insides, Jeremy Bushnell – Fantasy like book about a dangerous man in search of a special knife with the power to change destiny, and a girl chef who possesses it and must keep it safe. It’s a nice mix of magic and realism and real-life like characters. Once I started reading this book I couldn’t put it down, it was a very suspenseful read from start to finish.
  8. Crimes in Southern Indiana, Frank Bill – I was surprised that I actually liked this book of short stories, despite the fact that it is full of the male-dominated violence that I completely abhor these days. All of the stories in this volume are connected, the head that got blown off in the meth lab explosion in the second story belongs the same guy who murdered two crooked cops in the first story. Despite the fact that these men are all pathetic, there is a kind of reckoning for all of them, which is one of the factors I think I responded to most. I also think what drew me to this book back in 2014 was the fact that I liked this book for the very reason I shouldn’t–because it is full of drugs, guns, and men fighting over them–a guilty pleasure, if you will.
  9. Inside Madeleine, Paula Bomer – Another audiobook I loved. All of these stories revolve around girls and their relationships with their bodies. They are amazingly brave and hide nothing. Whew.
  10. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Laila Lalami – A short book of less than 200 pages that begins with four characters riding in a shoddy, makeshift boat across the 14 kilometer strait that connects Morocco to Spain. Each character, we learn, has a reason they are escaping their fate in Morocco in pursuit of a better life. Some of them find happy endings and some of them don’t. This book is really really good though. A must read.

On to dissertation writing for today, ya’ll. Good morrow…

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes

Alas, another Tuesday. Here’s some of my favorite book quotes:

  1. “If I have to fight, it will be just as good a day to die as any other.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
  2. “What is it to worship an image? It is to pray for a gift you will never receive.” – David Mura, A Male Grief: Notes on Pornography and Addiction
  3. “Shelter, if it’s warm and safe, may keep a family from dying. Only a home allows a family to flourish and breathe.” – Jonathan Kozol, Rachel and Her Children
  4. “Where there is power, there is resistance.” – Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, volume 1
  5. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail
  6. “Love catches fire, it trespasses, it breaks, we break, it comes back to life…we come back to life. Love may not be eternal, but it can make us eternal.” – Julie Maroh, Blue is the Warmest Color
  7. “It’s the myth of the American Dream that with initiative and industriousness, an individual can always escape impoverished circumstances. But what data shows is that you have these multiple assaults on life chances that make transcending those circumstances difficult, and at times, nearly impossible.” – Ta’Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power
  8. “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” – James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
  9. “Ignoring men–whether romantically or rhetorically–is existential violence to them.” – Jessica Valenti, Sex Object: A Memoir
  10. “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” – Audre Lorde, From a Land Where Other People Live