Thursday, October 05, 2017

A few minis - Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, Defining Moments in Black History by Dick Gregory

There are a few books I've been thinking about not reviewing (and one I loved but don't want to give full review treatment) so I've decided to do a few mini reviews. Most of these were read some time ago, at least long enough that plenty of the details will probably escape me.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson is a beautifully written story about a young girl and her family after their move to New York. Told in reflection after she meets an old friend on the train and refuses to speak to her, the story describes the fiction she told herself about her mother and how eventually the missing mother would show up, the friendships that she formed after she was finally allowed to roam outside her apartment, and the horror when one of her friends was raped. I read Another Brooklyn in July and that's about all I can remember, apart from how it made me feel.

And, here is where the surprise comes. Most everyone seems to love this book but it simply did not resonate for me. Jacqueline Woodson's writing is impressive, evocative, a little dreamy and very honest. It wasn't so much that I couldn't relate because that doesn't necessarily matter to me. It was that I couldn't always follow; in other words, sometimes the book was a little too lyrical or metaphorical and I wasn't entirely certain what she was trying to say or what had just happened. And, in the end, I was left with questions. I no longer recall what those questions were, but I definitely would have loved to talk to someone about it when I closed the book. Maybe that would have made it a better read for me, having someone to discuss with. But, I found it just an above-average read because of the confusion. Apparently, it was just me. The book gets rave reviews. All of my friends have given it either 4 or 5 stars at Goodreads and I love Woodson's writing so I still recommend it. I may even reread Another Brooklyn, someday; it's very likely I missed something.

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans is a book that's been on my radar since Andi of Estella's Revenge talked about it. Till then, I was unfamiliar with the author or her blog (where she appears to now seldom write an entry) and her heartfelt posts about her struggle between the Christian beliefs that have taken a sharp direction away from those of the evangelical church in which she was raised and her yearning to be a part of a church community. Subtitled, "Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church," the book tells about Evans' childhood in a Southern Baptist church, her devotion to learning about the Bible and saving people, her Bible-scholar father's calm explanations, and then . . . the questions, the creation of a new church with friends, and the gradual changes in her beliefs that led her to search for a new church home.

With the exception of having a Bible scholar as a father (mine was an accountant) there were some striking similarities between Evans' church history and mine. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church (a cheerful, small-town church where I always felt happy and loved). I was an eager student of the Bible, although maybe not a very good one, and I wanted everyone to feel the kind of acceptance and love I felt at church so I was constantly trying to convert people. I can only hope I wasn't too much of a prig, but it all boiled down to the fact that my home church was a joyful place. Like Evans, I also went through a stage when I finally began to seriously question the church's stance on particular modern issues, although I had long since moved to the Methodist church and my move away from the church was decidedly slower. Still, the similarities stunned me and I found Searching for Sunday an incredibly affirming and comforting read.

Highly recommended, especially to those who find themselves questioning the church but not their Christianity.

In the opposite vein, I'd really like to say as little as possible about Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies by Dick Gregory because I have such mixed feelings about it. It starts out great. Gregory, who recently passed away, lived quite an interesting life as an actor, comedian, and writer, and appeared to know just about every black person of fame that you can think of. He was around during the Civil Rights Movement and was knowledgeable about the events, the people, the movement itself and the many organizations working for change. At the beginning, he shares a great deal of history in fairly short chunks. They're not necessarily cohesive, but they're interesting and revealing. The audience he addresses is black; he talks as if he's talking to a young person, offering his knowledge as well as advice.

However, as the book progresses, Gregory begins to occasionally contradict himself and dig deeply into conspiracy theories. While I felt like some of them were absolutely plausible, there were many others (particularly involving the deaths of celebrities) that simply didn't make sense to me, even when I sat back and thought about them and twisted them around in my head.  He believed, for example, that Tiger Woods' downfall was not due to his infidelity but due to generic white supremacists who didn't want him to surpass the success of Jack Nicklaus. How he came to that conclusion in spite of Tiger's own confession and decided that Tiger's back surgery was a fiction forced upon Tiger by these unknown white supremacists is beyond me. That's simply one example. I'd like to give Gregory the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps the contradictions and conspiracy theories were due to the fact that he was aging and died shortly before publication but I haven't read any of his other books so I can't compare to know if there's been any change.

At any rate, I liked parts of Defining Moments in Black History and found some of the history particularly fascinating (music, movies, movements, you name it - he spoke broadly). Iffy on recommendation but I wouldn't tell you not to give it a try. I'd love to hear other folks' thoughts about this book.

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  1. I get so annoyed with books like Another Brooklyn. They make me wonder if I'm just slow and dense or if maybe the author should lighten up on the metaphors. Sometimes I think that people that love these books that are do confusing aren't doing the whole Emperor's New Clothes thing. But maybe a discussion after reading would have been good. As for your other reads, I'm glad one was so affirming and sorry that the other got a little hard to swallow.

    1. I know what you mean. I think Another Brooklyn was not necessarily right for me, stylistically. And, yet, I have to wonder if I just missed something because everyone else in the galaxy seems to love it. Yeah, I think discussion would have helped - particularly because I've had so much trouble concentrating, the last couple of years. I know I occasionally drift off mentally but my eyes keep moving across the page. Searching for Sunday was such a wonderful read. Between what she was taught by her dad the Bible scholar and her own studies, she's very knowledgable and I thought she did an excellent job of coherently presenting her beliefs and where the Bible backs her up but some of the Amazon reviews are just . . . it's like they didn't actually process the book. Anyway, I loved it. I need to look for reviews of the Dick Gregory book. I'm curious what other people think of it.

  2. Everyone enjoyed it but me! And, I confess, there were times I was swept up in the storytelling in Another Brooklyn. It just felt like it was missing something, to me. Defining Moments is interesting. I'd love to hear your opinion.


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