(Originally posted on my book review blog, Diary of a Mad Reader)

I am someone who reads books that break my heart, time and time again. The Book of Night Women broke my heart. Apparently, A Brief History of Seven Killings, which I’m 14 pages away from finishing, is going to do the same. And they’re both by Marlon James.

I so want to say that I hate him and his damn novels but that wouldn’t be true. They resonate too deep for hate. The Book of Night Women stayed with me so long I was extremely reluctant to buy A Brief History. I waited; saw it in my favorite bookstore, saw it win prestige and still said I ain’t buying fucking bullshit that breaks my fucking heart. I nah fi do it.

But…

Marley

whose music reached me before Prince.

Marley

whose reggae connected me to my family in a way no other music does.

And so I bought it…and started reading.

Fucking Marlon James, man. I mean, damn.

I can’t fault him for his knowledge, or sense, of history. I can’t fault him for me reading past the sick ass murder that occurred in the first few pages. I can’t fault him anymore than I could fault Dylan for Masters of War or NWA for Fuck the Police or War for The World is a Ghetto because neither him or Dylan or NWA or War are the originators of this violent ass world I’m raising my son in.

I can’t even fault him for my reaction to a book that I haven’t yet finished, although I only have 14 pages left out of a 686 page novel. I can’t fault him for me feeling sorrow for the fictional psychopath Josey Wales. I can’t fault him because he’s an honest writer. His research is solid. His writing is beyond great. I can’t do anything but finish the novel, post this review and this song…

Selassie I Jah Rastafari

Addendum: I just finished the book. Considering the deranged violence that occurred throughout the book was that I would end it smiling and happy but I did! I’d read the whole tome all over again just to read that ending but first, I need a year or two to recover, just like I did with The Book of Night Women. With this ending, I do believe Marlon James has joined my very small list of favorite writers.

Reading is Evolutionary

March 18, 2010

Two years ago a blogger for Circle of Seven Productions posted a blog/rant on my space in favor of reading and literacy. As part of it, she issued a challenge: “I challenge anyone reading this blog to write one blog…just one…encouraging people to read. Encourage them to encourage others to read. READ ANYTHING!”

As I find myself getting almost orgasmically excited by my latest read (The Book of Night Women by Marlon James), my mind traveled to my response to the challenge.

 

Reading is Evolutionary

It was the diary of a young girl living in an era I could never go back because time moves forward.

Just like time, my eyes moved forward through each page growing more and more enamored of the first book that touched me in my black girlness. It was beyond affirming.

That book, The Color Purple by Alice Walker set me on the path to being a writer because it enabled me to see how our life stories can contribute to literature.

It also helped me to redefine the definition of fiction. I have heard a lot of people (black men in particular) say that they don’t read fiction because they’re tired of “lies” or some statement to that effect. I believe however that those statements miss the point of black “fiction”.

It is (or should be) indisputable that prior to the mid to late 20th century our voices were censored. What better way for a people to get in where they fit in that to position their works under the banner of fiction. Is Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man total fiction? Or does it resonate with the experience of black men, regardless of their generation? Toni Morrison’s Beloved was based on the life of Margaret Garner. Margaret Garner’s story isn’t fiction. Is Sethe’s? My favorite James Baldwin novel is If Beale Street Could Talk. I recognized the main character, Tish, in the faces, lives and pride of my sisters. Black fiction is not automatically fictional.

Read.

Even though I am an advocate and a believer in well-written, reality-based “fiction”, that is not the only thing I read. As someone who intimately understands the saying “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”, I also read history. In high school, a teacher slipped me the Autobiography of Malcolm X on the sly. It was a thick paperback that I had to rubber band together in order not to lose any of the pages. Reading that book led me on the path to researching the Black Revolution of the Sixties. My research deepened my awareness of black resistance. At no point were we passive.

Regardless of the danger, we struggled to learn to read when it was dangerous to the point of death. Frederick Douglass described in his autobiography of the poor white boy who showed him how to read. The Free African School movement is an indication of our desire to reclaim what was stolen from us and learn.

Read.

Reading is Evolutionary.