Reading Round-up

February 15, 2012


The Help:

I know I’m a day late and a dollar short in discussing The Help but I recently saw an interview/discussion between Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Tavis Smiley that made me order the book. I read it relatively quickly over a weekend. During my reading of it, a quote from Alice Walker flashed into my mind:

“I used to wonder if any white child in the South who received the love of the great souls forced to tend them would ever develop enough soul of his or her own to rise in their defense.  Or even to an understanding, however limited or imperfect, of their silenced, hidden sacrifice.  Kathryn Stockett has done so.”

I think that, ultimately, is the value of this book.


Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons:

This is a book of narratives of women both formerly, and currently, imprisoned. Every single one of the “stories” highlights the anti-human nature of prison. I’ve heard the phrase “if you do the crime then you do the time”. However the condemnation inherent in that phrase pertains more to black and/or poor  women than any other group. The women tell tales of being eight months pregnant and being shackled across their belly during visits during the prison hospital. One pregnant woman, Olivia, who was sentenced to a year in prison, nine years of probation and a $100/month post-incarceration repayment schedule for stealing $700 reports the following:

My due date was May 24, 2008, just before the Memorial Day weekend. A female doctor from the Atlanta Medical Center came to visit me on the 22nd. At that time, I wasn’t showing any signs of labor. We did an ultrasound, and the baby hadn’t moved one bit. I wasn’t dilated at all, wasn’t even close, and I wasn’t having any pains. She said I should be fine through the weekend, and that everything was normal about my pregnancy.

Then, on the evening on the 23rd-this was a Friday evening-the guards called me, and they told me to pack my stuff. But I hadn’t even had one contraction, so I asked a guard, “Where am I going?” And the guard said, “I don’t know. They just called  and said for you to pack your stuff.” I thought, Okay, maybe I’m going home!

I got over to the infirmary, and the captain said, “Well, the doctor from the prison says he’s going to send you to be induced.” When I asked why, she said, “Because your due date is May 24th, and this is a holiday weekend.” I said, “But I’m not even in pain or anything! I don’t want to be induced, I’m not even late. Nothing’s wrong with me!” And she said, “Well, these are orders.”

They put me in a room and shackled me. I was more upset than anything that the baby just wasn’t ready, and I didn’t want to be forced. They gave me Pitocin, but it wasn’t working. Later, in the middle of the night, the doctor came in to check on me. He came in and he started poking inside me with an instrument-I’m not sure exactly what it was, it looked like a little stick. He put it inside me and started poking the bag of water, where the amniotic fluid was, so he could bust it. It was a lot of pain, and I said, “You’re hurting me.” He stopped, but by then he had swollen up  my insides, and the baby couldn’t move any more than six centimeters.”

Then he said, “Well, if you don’t move any more by tomorrow, we’re going to have to do a c-section.” I said, “So you come in here, and you poke me to death, and now I”m swollen! I have never had a c-section in my life. My oldest son was nine pounds-no cuts, no slits, no nothing. And you’re going to make me have a c-section?”

The next day, the doctor came back and took me in to have the c-section done. A sergeant came in and said, “She needs to be shackled. She’s no different from anybody else.” I was hurting and I was tired. I said to the sergeant, “Ma’am, there is no way I need those shackles. I’m not going anywhere; I’m in pain. You’ve got a guard in my room. And I don’t know if you have kids but this ain’t something fun to have your hands shackled for.” But she made them keep the shackles on me when I went in for the c-section.

The doctor gave me an epidural. I went through with the c-section and finally, the baby came on out. It was a boy. The guard held him up to show him to me. Even then, they never took the shackles off me.

This c-section I was force to have-I doubt that it’s legal. I don’t remember signing any paperwork but I never looked into finding a lawyer. I was hoping there was something I could do but I was told that I had no rights. The guard said to me, ” You lost your rights the day you walked in here.”

I named the baby Joshua.

Now that was a long excerpt for what was supposed to be a round-up but it disturbed me enough to want to share what happens behind the wall to the fastest-growing population of prisoners: women.

Zong! – M. Nourbese Phillips

I had such high hopes for this book when I read the description: “[an] extended poetry cycle is based on a legal decision, at the end of the eighteenth century, related to the murder of Africans on board a slave ship. It was intended to be part of my research for my next book. However, the arrangement of the words on the page make the book, honestly speaking,  unreadable!  Here is a link to a sample so that what I’m saying can be understood from a reader’s point of view. Flipping through page after page, I found nothing else but the same.

Now I had watched a video of Ms. Phillips read-performing her work and I got it. In fact, it was the video that predisposed me to order the book. However, I simply think print isn’t the best format for that type of poetry.

Reading Matters

April 30, 2011

The public library has become my new bookstore. Yesterday, I went book shopping there and got the following books:

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter

If you know me, then you know I am in no way, shape or form, a supporter of mainstream politics, let along presidents of the united states, former or current. However watching “history” the day Obama was installed as the “new face” of america, I was struck by the difference in physicality between George, Sr and the “peanut farmer” from Georgia. George, Sr looked like he could barely walk (and old Barbara didn’t seem to want to help him at all – if how far ahead she was walking is any indication). However, the peanut farmer defined sprightly. The image stuck with me and lead me to watch a documentary about said peanut farmer. In that documentary, I learned about this book…and the reaction to it. So even the back cover blurb includes quotes from the bible (something that interests me even less than mainstream politics), I decided to get it and yes, read it.

A Change of Skin by Carlos Fuentes

On the header over at Whirlwind Publishing, I have a quote from Fuentes: writing is a struggle against silence. When I saw this book, my mind flashed to that quote and also the realization that I had never actually read anything by Fuentes. So the book got added to the small pile. Because I have no experience with him or his writing (aside from the quote), I have no expectations. If A Change of Skins resonates with me enough, I will review it in the future.

The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan

The cover of this book seems like it was designed to capture the eye of readers who get titillated by the “exoticness” of Indian cultural attire. But what decided me on it was the back blurb which said the following:

In the celebrated tradition of The Joy Luck Club and Like Water for Chocolate comes a lyrical and deeply moving debut that explores the intricate bond between mothers and daughters – and the universal quest to live a life of love, beauty and truth.

This book and the one I’m going to discuss next will be read as part of the 2011 South Asian reading challenge.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

Honestly, I bought this book because I’ve seen the movie and want to read the original, as is my wont.

Both books will be reviewed.

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful – Alice Walker

When I first started reading Black lit as a teenager, this was one of the books I got. Back then my favorite poem in it was First They Said. I think it might actually be the original hardcover book because the picture on the back cover shows a young Alice Walker wearing what looks like braid extensions.

The writing prompt for this week’s participants in the Literary Blog Hop over at the Blue Bookcase website is what is the most difficult literary work you’ve ever read? What made it so difficult? The question immediately to mind the book I’m currently reading, Cane by Jean Toomer – and the problems I’m having finishing it. 

I have tried; sincerely, honestly tried. To be honest, it’s not because the book is unreadable or because I don’t like it. I do like it and it is readable. However, I’m finding it difficult to read Cane like a regular novel. There are no main characters and/or narrators. Perhaps I’m being too linear but it seems as if the only thing holding the diverse set of characters together is Sparta, the early twentieth-century rural Georgia town they all inhabit. Toomer wrote the town in such a way that it seems hell bent on being the stage on which the stories and poems are presented and he did so with a clear mastery of language. Cane is undeniably visual and therein lies the reason I find it difficult to read it continuously. The short prose pieces are so packed with imagery I think of them more as vignettes; literary vignettes I can put down, ponder over and return to.

As I end part one, I find myself putting it down to ponder some of the characters, particularly Karintha. On the surface, the two page chapter on Karintha appears to deal with what today would be called pedophilia:

Men had always wanted her, this Karintha, even as a child. Karintha carrying beauty, perfect as dusk when the sun goes down. Old men rode her hobby-horse upon their knees. Young men danced with her at frolics when they should have been dancing with their grown-up girls. God grant us youth, secretly prayed the old men. The young fellows counted the time to pass before she would be old enough to mate with them. This interest of the male, who wishes to ripe a growing thing too soon, could mean no good to her.

I found myself curious as to why Toomer, a Harlem Renaissance writer, would choose to start Cane with such a topic. Why have the opening gambit be a tale about how a young girl in the process of growing up became the town prostitute? In fact, the majority of the stories in the section I’ve read so far focus on women. So much so, that I found myself noticing similarities with some of Toomer’s literary descendants; particularly Alice Walker (setting) and Ntozake Shange (language).

I know Alice Walker read Toomer. In In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, she wrote the following:

A few of us will realize that Cane was not only his finest work but that it is also in part based on the essence of stories told to Toomer by his grandmother, she of the ‘dark blood’ to whom the book is dedicated, and that many of the women in Cane are modled on the tragic indecisiveness and weakness of his mother’s life. I also wondered if he received flack for writing about the abuse some black women experience as Walker and Shange did. Cane was for Toomer a double ‘swan song.’ He meant it to memorialize a culture he thought was dying, whose folk spirit he considered beautiful, but he was also saying good-bye to the ‘Negro’ he felt dying in himself. Cane then is a parting gift, and no less precious because of that. I think Jean Toomer would want us to keep its beauty, but let him go.

Well, as I said in the beginning, I am letting go of the book for now. What I term Cane’s vignette style, in my opinion, doesn’t support a straight through to the end type of reading. Nonetheless it is still highly valued literature for its written-with-love and extremely lyrical depictions of life in the town of Sparta, Georgia and I will definitely complete it.