Another Country (James Baldwin)

  "If you don't forgive yourself you'll never be able to forgive anybody else and you'll go on committing the same crimes forever."

"If you don't forgive yourself you'll never be able to forgive anybody else and you'll go on committing the same crimes forever."

U.S.A. / 1962

This novel about the affairs and chaos between a group of New Yorkers is a rollercoaster ride. It's nice to see Baldwin's depiction of NYC in the late 50s - early 60s. The city has changed so much since then. Apparently you could get a room in the YMCA for less than $5 a night! And the West Village was affordable. But overall, I found Another Country to be a bit overdone, over-detailed, and just unnecessarily long. Around the half way mark, I found myself just wanting it to be over. I can understand how this novel is important—with its discussion of the then (1960s) super-taboo topics of affairs, and interracial and bisexual couples. And I appreciated how each character was unique. But the lengthy descriptions of every single moment just turned me off. It worked in Baldwin's shorter novels, Giovanni's Room and Go Tell it On the Mountain, but when stretched out into 436 pages, it just felt like too much. I'm still glad I read this book. So I still recommend it. All I'll say is you should be very patient.

Giovanni's Room (James Baldwin)

  "Sometimes, when he was not near me, I thought, I will never let him touch me again. Then, when he touched me, I thought, it doesn't matter, it is only the body, it will soon be over."

"Sometimes, when he was not near me, I thought, I will never let him touch me again. Then, when he touched me, I thought, it doesn't matter, it is only the body, it will soon be over."

U.S.A. / 1956

I read this tale about a scandalous same-sex love affair in Paris in just a few sittings. It is utterly gripping and draws you into a world of intimacy, tension, and passion like no other. What I love most about this novel is Baldwin's ability to render the subtle nuances of social interaction — whether they be intimate, platonic, etc. He puts into words those casual glances, secret thoughts, shifts in tone, slight sighs and body language that color our real-life encounters with others. I felt so close to the protagonists, Giovanni and David. I felt as if I was looking at their relationship through a magnifying glass. Read my full review of Giovanni's Room here.

NW (Zadie Smith)

  "There is a connection between boredom and the desire for chaos."

"There is a connection between boredom and the desire for chaos."

United Kingdom / 2012

NW is my third Zadie Smith novel. I read White Teeth in August, then On Beauty in October. I've been told by many that NW is her best work. I have to disagree. I still think White Teeth is the best of the three. At it's core, NW is the story of a place: Northwest London. More specifically, some projects called Caldwell and the four residents who come in and out of age there, trying to navigate the pitfalls of adulthood. Some leave the projects and feel guilty, some stay and feel the same way.

SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT BELOW:

Not much happens in this book. Smith dedicates most of the novel to explaining what "type" of person each character is. These characters are explained to death, and it becomes painfully obvious that Smith has a very specific idea of who she wants these people to be. Just like in On Beauty, these otherwise interesting characters become vessels for typecast ideologies. There's no breathing room. They're boxed in, predictable. I wish Smith would just let these otherwise lovely characters BE. Not think and overthink but just be.

This book's greatest strength is its authentic and nuanced portrayal of modern London. Smith built this fantastic world that makes you feel transported. You can hear the accents, smell the smells, and imagine the passing pedestrians and trains on the page. What she's accomplished here is really fantastic. Another great strength is its take on adulthood: how we technically are "adults" but don't really feel that way. And how it can be difficult to assume these prescribed roles of wife, mother, etc, when we don't really feel too whole ourselves. After I finished NW, I did what I always do after finishing a book: read the reviews on GoodReads. One review stood out to me: Zadie Smith is great locally, but not globally. I thought, "Ding ding ding!" On the level of sentences, intelligence, and metaphor, her work is astounding. That's why I couldn't put this book down even though parts of it annoyed me. But when you stick it all together, it doesn't quite work super well. Even though it's not perfect, it's still worth a read. 3.5/5.

So Much Blue (Percival Everett)

 “And though I missed my lover, I was not sad. I was satisfied. I was different.”

“And though I missed my lover, I was not sad. I was satisfied. I was different.”

U.S.A./ 2017/

"Kevin Pace is working on a painting that he won’t allow anyone to see: not his children; not his best friend, Richard; not even his wife, Linda. The painting is a canvas of twelve feet by twenty-one feet (and three inches) that is covered entirely in shades of blue. It may be his masterpiece or it may not; he doesn’t know or, more accurately, doesn’t care.

What Kevin does care about are the events of the past. Ten years ago he had an affair with a young watercolorist in Paris. Kevin relates this event with a dispassionate air, even a bit of puzzlement. It’s not clear to him why he had the affair, but he can’t let it go. In the more distant past of the late seventies, Kevin and Richard traveled to El Salvador on the verge of war to retrieve Richard’s drug-dealing brother, who had gone missing without explanation. As the events of the past intersect with the present, Kevin struggles to justify the sacrifices he’s made for his art and the secrets he’s kept from his wife." — GoodReads.

Solibo Magnificent (Patrick Chamoiseau)

 “...from the word you build the village, but from silence you construct the world."

“...from the word you build the village, but from silence you construct the world."

Martinique / 1988

One of the customers of the coffee shop where I used to work randomly gave me this book one day. Like 95% of my books, it is currently sitting in a storage facility on the outskirts of Brooklyn (a long, sad story 😪). Hopefully I can get my books back soon and give this a read. Here's a synopsis from GoodReads:

"In Fort-de-France, Martinique, a colorful group of musicians, street vendors, and hopeless disciples, including the author, gather under a tamarind tree to listen to legendary bard Solibo Magnificent spin tales. Suddenly, in the middle of a raucously entertaining story, Solibo drops dead. So entranced and drunken are his friends, they initially fail to realize that their hero has spoken his last word. One hysterical listener runs to find the doctor and inadvertently returns with the overly eager, sinister chief sergeant, who holds Solibo's friends under suspicion for murder. At turns a madcap murder mystery, a political satire, and a lament on the death of a treasured tradition, Solibo Magnificent is wildly imaginative and exuberantly lyrical."

The Prey of Gods (Nicky Drayden)

  "Just because it happened in a dream didn't mean it didn't happen."

"Just because it happened in a dream didn't mean it didn't happen."

U.S.A. / 2017

This novel about robots, genetic engineering, and ancestral revenge in a future South Africa is like the book form of one of my favorite films: 2009's District 9 - an allegorical tale that portrays a future South Africa where subjugated aliens bear the brunt of a new apartheid. I really, really love this movie. If you haven't seen it before, I highly recommend it. This book goes hard, too.

We Were Eight Years in Power (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

  "And I know that there are black boys and black girls out there lost in a Bermuda triangle of the mind or stranded in the doldrums of America, some of them treading and some of them drowning, never feeling and never forgetting."

"And I know that there are black boys and black girls out there lost in a Bermuda triangle of the mind or stranded in the doldrums of America, some of them treading and some of them drowning, never feeling and never forgetting."

U.S.A. / 2017

This collection is essentially a round-up of all the essays Coates has previously published in The Atlantic. I admit I was slightly disappointed about this, because I was expecting new essays. Of these eight essays, I had already previously read five of them online. However, Coates did write an introduction for each essay. These were like diary entries; meditations on who he was and how he wrote the essay. These new personal essays were insightful. As a collection, these essays flowed effortlessly together. They complimented each other extraordinarily well and made the book itself feel like a solid argument. Reading these essays in conjunction with one another really allowed for a deeper mode of understanding. My favorite essay was and still is "The Case for Reparations." This essay, to me, puts Coates' value as a writer on full display. His dedication to research, to history, to hard facts and undeniable truths turns vague arguments into solid possibilities. My other two favorites were "My President Was Black" and "Fear of A Black President." My only critique of this collection is that sometimes it seemed that Coates could be inhibited by his own perspective and experience. His critiques of Obama, in particular, seem to be rooted in a constricting understanding of the multitudes of blackness. I think for Coates "black" is synonymous with "struggle." It is surely a synonym, but I don't believe it's the only one. Anyway, this book was a delight, a massive achievement. A gift to your shelves. 5/5 stars 💫💫💫💫💫