The Devil in Silver

As much as I try not to be literary snob, I am. Romance, mystery, horror, western, sci-fi, unless it’s for class, I make it a point to steer clear of. For me, it’s not the genre itself that is a turn off, but the level of writing, plot development and lack of compelling characters always breaks my heart.

Yeah, the previous post was about Lauren Conrad’s “literary work,” so I guess I am making progress in enjoying genre books for what they are.

Enter Colson Whitehead and Victor LaValle.

Although both have written zombie/horror novels in the last year, Zone One and The Devil in Silver, I’d categorize them as literary genre works because of the elevated level that they’re written.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been enjoying LaValle’s work to the point where I’ve been reading it slower so I could enjoy the last third of the book.

Unknown

Pepper is a hot tempered guy who finds himself in a 72-hour hold at a mental hospital because he got into a fight with three police officers.

Pepper isn’t crazy (he thinks), but because the cops don’t feel like processing him at the police station, they drop him off at the metal ward.

It’s one thing to be a mental hospital against your will, it’s another to be there because of lazy cops, and instead of Pepper laying cool until his 72 hours are up, he gets in a string of fights that extend his stay for months.

To make matters worse, the patients are under the impression that the Devil is haunting…living…er…trapped with them in the ward as well.

This book is worth the read and LaValle’s writing is so funny and so crisp that much of the book has been highlighted.

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Where the F*@! I’ve Been and Other Tales

I know you all have been waiting with bated breath on my whereabouts and what has happened to this site. In October I got a job that required me to train in another state, making me miss a week of school. After training I became a “part-time” student and began working. I’m doing technology integration for a school.

Then I had two jobs. Yay.

Working over 40 hours a week left me tired, not physically tired, but after dealing with students and teachers and computer screens all day, coming home and being on my laptop for a few more hours wasn’t a priority. Sadly, my thesis always was pushed back and graduation.

Fast forward to the end of February, after taking off a few days of work and drinking my weight in Red Bull, the first draft of my thesis was completed. Another yay.

Then disaster struck. Literally.

The program that funded my job furloughed us for two weeks. As I was packing my bag for my “forced vacation,” I had grand plans of finishing all my posts and being awesome. None of that happened. I think I loafed around the couch reading books and trolling Goodreads like it was a porn site.

After the two weeks, we were told the program was disbanding, and it would take another three weeks before I could get rehired by the school part-time. This, dear readers, is employment limbo.

So another three weeks of loafing, reading and avoiding the web site. However, the school where I was working hired me part-time, so this is where I am. Until the summer where my other teaching job starts back again.

Start Here Volume 2

The following is an entry for Book Riot’s next book, Start Here Vol. 2

Reading Pathways…James Baldwin

James Baldwin is known for three things; essays on race and sexuality, the short story “Sonny’s Blues” and his second fictional novel, Giovanni’s Room. There is nothing wrong with the aforementioned, but it does not give readers a rounded view of Baldwin’s work. james_baldwin_24x30_Dig_Ins_Gal_copy

In the same vein of Shakespear’s comedies, histories, tragedies and romances, I like to divide Baldwin into religion, race and sexuality.

Where Giovanni’s Room gets the most publicity, Baldwin’s debut novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain, encompasses every topic Baldwin’s fiction and non-fiction will ever cover. The novel takes place on the fourteenth birthday of the main character, John, who lives in Harlem.

John lives in a rigid religious home — parallel to Baldwin’s — with a deacon father whose relationship to his family is fraught on lies and abuse. What Baldwin does in this novel is pull back the curtain on the laden connection the black community has with Christianity; it is equal parts reliance and crippling. The characters are stifled in their growth and happiness because of their adherence to religion and the one character that rejects it, well, you will just have to read for yourself.

There is a religious strand in every Baldwin novel. Although he considered himself an atheist, his formative years were spent as a child preacher so his works reflect that. Especially during the time when his books where coming out (1950s and 1960s), black readers, no matter what their current religious beliefs were, would have had a comprehensive understanding of his religious allusions, making the characters’ struggles with balancing their religious and sexual choices more real and present than a novel that excluded them.

On a quicker note, his first play, The Amen Corner, reiterates the idea of hypocritical religious leaders and their inability to dole out true forgiveness.

This happens in Just Above My Head, my favorite Baldwin novel. Hall Montana is the grieving brother of famous gospel singer Arthur Montana, who had to keep his sexuality and personal demons secret while propagating the ideal of a black gospel singer

Like all of Baldwin’s novels, the Montana brothers’ childhood was neither perfect nor desirable. While traveling, the brothers and the group Arthur has put together, look at the racism and homophobia of America with the vision of European openness. 

A quote from this novel, the only one that has every haunted me, is spoken by Julia, the Montana’s neighbor who, after years of traveling, learns this:

“He told me that I was not barren, that child birth takes many forms, that regret is a kind of abortion, that sorrow is the only key to joy.” 

Baldwin became an American expat early on in his life, living mostly in France among the bohemians, so his criticisms of American racism, homophobia and sexism come from his experiences of being open and unashamed of his sexuality and race.

If nothing else, Baldwin does an excellent job in selling the idea of a less racist Europe—though it’s highly debatable if his perceptions were accurate or if he was just so put out with double-minority status that anyplace where differentness was celebrated he would approve.

He would expand is views of sexuality and race in Another Country and the consensus-agreed flop Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone. Both deal with bisexual, interracial, international romances.

For fans of Baldwin’s open homosexuality, their biggest criticisms came about the number of bisexual and interracial pairings. Critics wanted black men loving black men with no white, female characters in the interim.

Rounding out Baldwin’s work is another play, Blues for Mr. Charlie, based on the Emmitt Till murder and If Beale Street Could Talk, a romance and critique on the ramifications of the legal system in the black community.

Many times Baldwin’s work can been see as too Utopian and Euro-centric with heavy-handed analyses on race, religion and sexuality, but for a black, openly gay man in the 1950s and 60s, the only word that comes to mind is brave.

The reliance on Biblical imagery maybe lost on current readers, but deeper questions of how do I navigate my life in a society who many not agree with my lifestyle, and how do I grow as a human in my current surroundings remain.

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Conrad’s Mind Candy A Sugary Surprise

There are times when I can be a book snob. Anne Rice, Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling are the last authors I can remember whose series I followed faithfully.

And with regards to YA fiction, well, it’s a bit dated.

But I was a faithful fan of “Laguna Beach,” “The Hills” and “The City,” so when Lauren Conrad announced she was writing a YA series based on her show, I rolled my eyes and told my friends I wouldn’t follow Lauren into Literaryland.

Until my local bookstore had the LA Candy series on sale and I decided that spending around $10 for three books wouldn’t be too much of waste.

The reviews on Goodreads were mixed but fair, so I kept my expectations low.

Jane Roberts (Lauren) and her bestfriend/roommate Scarlet Harp (Lo) move to Los Angeles and are chosen to start in a new reality show called “LA Candy.”  The show follows Jane as an intern at event planner Fiona Chen’s (Lisa Love) company where she meets Hannah (Whitney) and the two forge a friendship.

Scarlet, the brains of the group, teeters on rather being on the show was a good idea as their profiles rise. Jane’s castmate Madison (Heidi) gets jealous when she realizes that Jane is the breakout star and decides to ruin her reputation through gossip magazines. And then there’s the ditzy Gaby (Audrina), who becomes the witless sidekick to Madison’s schemes.

Remember when Heidi and Spencer said Lauren and Jason had a sex tape? Yeah, this is that.

By no means is LA Candy as stretch to the imagination for Conrad or her readers. There are some name changes and plot twist, but you could read this book along side the show and never miss a beat.

To her credit, the pacing is good and Conrad gives readers an inside look at how a reality television show works. The hours are long and casts are basically blocked off from the real world to those who have only signed release forms.

In this midst of writing my thesis and reading high modernism for class, this was a breath of fresh air and a much needed mind break. Or dare I say, mind candy?

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Banned Books Week

Sunday was the beginning of Banned Books Week and I couldn’t be happier. It’s time to celebrate those books which were challenged by parents, PTAs and school boards not because of the difficulty in reading and understanding the text, but of its content. I don’t have any intention on preaching, but parents and school boards seem to think that modern kids don’t know anything about   racism, sexism, religious warfare and poverty and to expose them to it would open up the Pandora’s box to ruin their chaste childhoods.

I’ve met children who use the N-word without ever reading Mark Twain and knowing who Nigger Jim is. Kids are having unprotected sex and getting famous from “Teen Mom” without ever cracking the spine of Our Bodies, Ourselves. So the idea that books are somehow a gateway to hedonism  when cable television isn’t has always been above my understanding.

Here is a list of the most famous banned books. Which ones have you read? Are you surprised by some on the list? Share your own banned book story.

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What I Bought This Month

Yes, I buy more books than I read – blame being in graduate school and writing a thesis – but that hasn’t stopped me from buying books and trying to steal a few chapters on the weekends.

NW: Many readers of Zadie Smith describe her fiction as “hit-or-miss” at best. While everyone drooled over her debut novel White Teeth, I can barely remember the characters. Her universally panned The Autograph Man was one that I liked and On Beauty is considered her masterpiece. Yet despite this novel’s so-so reviews, I’m an unrelenting Zadie Smith fan. Though not as mature in her prose as Toni Morrison, Smith is excellent in describing the anxieties of the middle-class in the 21st century.

The Devil in Silver: I got hooked on Victor LaValle by an NPR segment on his previous novel, Big Machine. Like his previous works, there is a monster haunting the main character and it’s up to him to either escape or defeat the monster. I know many people aren’t into genre fiction, especially where they are monsters and supernatural figures, but his books are so well written that the monster(s) become characters themselves.

The Stranger’s Child: This was another book and author (Alan Hollinghurst) that I heard so much about that as soon as it came out I had to have it…until I saw that the hardcover had those ragged edges and that’s a book pet peeve of mine. The book spans from WWII to present day England. A young poet, who died during the war, has been revealed to have been gay. Despite all the reviews of the book, I’ve managed to stay away from them because I like to be surprised.

The Casual Vacancy: Everyone was hoping the title was rouse and J. K. Rowling’s eleventh book would truly be Harry Potter and the Missing Wand Replacement Acquisition Form. But sadly, it is not and I have to come to terms with the notion that Harry Potter is over.

This is How You Lose Her: I read Junot Diaz’s other novel for a class last year and was moderately pleased by it. I really hadn’t thought of buying his new one (especially in hardback) until other friends said how wonderful the collection of interconnecting stories where. Clearly I’m a sucker for good reviews.

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On The Pulse of YA Fiction

Back in my middle school days, I had a healthy obsession with book series. Between The Babysitters Club and Nancy Drew, I was a budding book stalker of the Scholastic book fair [blink three times if you remember those days].

I would always get two Scholastic order books, one for under my pillow which I would treat like purloined porn. Every minute I would pull the order form out, turn the pages and circle the books I planned on buying with the money I’d earn from running errands for my Granny.

Carefully reading the premises and calculating the cost, my 6th grade mind would race on rather I’d made the right decision. The second copy would be my official order form which I kept in pristine condition in my TraperKeeper. While everyone else worried about a pen or stickers, my mind danced with all the books I would take home, read and display on my bookshelf. 

On the day of the book fair I would be almost nauseated with excitement. When would they call my class to the fair? Why couldn’t my mom – a teacher at my school – come get me? What if all the other kids bought all the books I wanted and there would be none left for me?

When it was finally my class’ turn, you could find me at the front of the line, sprinting for the library – my Garden of Eden.

During these books fairs I met and fell in love with Walter Dean Myers’ books. At that age – and sometimes now – his biggest selling point for me was the black faces on the book covers.

I had always grown up in a home where toys and books had black faces, but seeing them out in the public still made me happy.

Although he’s considered a young adult writer, I find myself revisiting Myers’ books for comfort and complex storytelling. The books may be for younger readers, but Myers’ tone nor subject matters suggest he does not understand what children have seen and experienced more than adults are willing to accept.

Fallen Angels has been listed ranked #16 of the American Library Association’s frequently challenged books. Taken place during the Vietnam War, the novel follows a group of men who have to fight in a war they do not understand for a country who still does not consider them an equal citizen all the while becoming the men their families hope they become. Racism, depression, death are portrayed with such compassion and understanding.

Writing about war can be tricky, but Myers focuses on each character’s personal relationship with being a solider rather than overarching themes of war. 

Directly after reading Fallen Angels I drove into The Glory Field, a novel I feel is an excellent introduction into talking about slavery and sets younger readers up to read Alex Haley’s Roots in the future.

In fact, I would say The Glory Field is the younger brother to Roots in that both books span the history of blacks pre-and post the Antebellum era. But where there is no central character to reflex in Roots, there’s one in The Glory Field. By it ending in the 1990s, younger readers can connect more with the idea of familial history and the shame sometimes associated with slavery.

Myers really foregrounds this idea that the older generations haven’t done enough to instill in their children cultural history. There is a disconnect between them wanting the younger generation to “do right” and their inability to verbalize these concerns and embody them.

Monster is by far, the most stylistic and heart-wrenching of the three listed. A young man is on trial for a murder he claims he did not commit. To cope with being on trial, the narrator documents everything happening to him in movie script style, making the narrative a face pace and engaging one.

If you’re thinking about teaching a YA book in a classroom, I would suggest this one because students can act this out and there are so many activities that can go along with it. Is he really guilty? Who’s telling the truth? What are our perceptions about our legal system? I was a freshmen in high school when I read this book and I remember being totally heartbroken by everyone’s resolve of his guilt.

The despair and helplessness teenagers feel is felt in every page. Myers is never preachy, you can tell he understands and cares for the the young adult perspective.

What YA book series where you fans of? If you’ve read Myers’ works, what are your favorites?

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New Claude McKay Novel

The New York Times is reporting that Columbia PhD candidate Jean-Christophe Cloutier found a novel written by Claude McKay titled Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem, in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Claude McKay

The McKay estate has given permission for the student to publish the work, so I’m hoping to see something by spring of 2013.

McKay’s most famous work being Home to Harlem is a corner stone in Harlem Renaissance studies and I expect this book will add a much needed revival in McKay/Harlem Renaissance scholarship.

What do you think? Are you a McKay fan? I read Home to Harlem in my modernism class last semester and enjoyed it.And I love when “lost” manuscripts are discovered, yet I hope the editors won’t do too much editing and leave the work as is.

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Literary Tag

I saw this on YouTube and thought it would be fun. Who would you choose and why?

THE RULES: you must invite 11 guests, and there must be:

1. One character who can cook/likes to cook. Lafayette Reynolds from True Blood. He’s a short order cook at Merlotte’s and a native of Louisiana so he knows how to make a mean gumbo.

Lafayette

2. One character who has money to fund the party. Jay Gasby from The Great Gasby. Jay’s not only rich, but he doesn’t mind spending endless amounts of money for parties he doesn’t attend.

3. One character who might cause a scene. The Queen of Hearts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. If people aren’t having fun, she can threaten to have their heads.

4. One character who is funny/amusing. Queen Eleanor from John Goldman’s The Lion in Winter. Married two kings, slept with the father of one and on several occasions plotted the demise of her husband (King Henry II) and sons. I think she’s the only woman who’d give The Wife of Bath a run for her money.

5. One character who is super social/popular.Shug Avery from The Color Purple. I need someone who can sing and flirt with all my guest.

6. One villian. Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. He just needs some friends.

7. One couple – doesn’t have to be romantic. Schroeder and Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip. Shug needs someone to play for her and the Queen of Hearts needs someone to argue with.

Lucy and Schroeder

8. One hero/heroine. Pippi Longstocking. Like Queen Eleanor, Pippi is well traveled and plucky, and I would love to hear her stories as well.

9. One underappreciated character. Beneatha Younger from A Raisin in the Sun. I feel like Beneatha is seen as only a foil to Walter Lee and not a driving force in her own right. I bet when she’s not with her family she is insightful and more relaxed. Wait…can I choose another? It’d be Penelope from The Odyssey. She waited twenty, TWENTY! years for her husband while he plowed every water nymph and siren from Troy to Ithaca and you know what Odysseus wants to do as soon as he gets home? Take her to bed.

10. One character of your own choosing. Tea Cake from Their Eyes Were Watching God. But he’d have to leave the rabies at home.

Teacake

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Good Morning New Readers

Welcome!

BlackFaceType came to me as a name and web site out of my want to find more literary discussions and suggestions on black literary writers. For me, everything I found was either urban lit or religious fiction–neither I am a fan of. On mainstream sites, Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith and Colson Whitehead made up the trilogy of black writers up for discussion.

But there is more out there and this site’s goal is to introduce readers to writers who by definition are “others.” Writers who deal with sexuality, race, economics, religion and humor to illustrate their world as they see and wish it where.

That is not to say we won’t discuss other types of writers because we live in a world where everyone must exist–though they might not want to–together.

If you are interested in writing for or submitting books to the site, please feel free to send them along. I can be reached at BlackFaceType@gmail.com.

Thank you