Goodbye to Favorite Books
I figure I should update my “NaySue Recommends” section, now titled “NaySue’s Notable Reads.” I originally didn’t want to remove any of the books that I’ve previously selected because I love them all for different reasons–a few because I had to write papers on. But it’s a new year and time for change. Several books will remain because they are truly favorites. Unfortunately, the others will continue to gather dust in a special section on my personal bookshelf at home. So let’s say a fond farewell to a few favorites that have reached widget deletion status for the new year:
First-timer Jones travels deep into the drug-fueled underworld of a grim urban Philadelphia in this energetic novel, a neo-noir voyage into violence and injustice. When a popular Puerto Rican city councilman with a stellar anti-corruption record is shot dead in a Philly crack house in September 1992, a citywide manhunt begins. The targets of the hunt are four luckless crack addicts, innocent but doomed by association and reputation. The down-and-out addict and petty thief Leroy was on the scene, along with his sort-of girl, Pookie. Desperate, he turns to his sharper pal Black for help, who in turn involves Clarisse, a still-employed nurse who has only recently turned to crack. The cops pursue all four, looking to wrap the case up fast and easy (while concealing a secret plot of their own). Going back and forth between characters, hunters and hunted, Jones produces a mix like Dragnet meets Chester Himes, stamped by his own experience on the streets. The chase is compelling, but even more involving is the way Jones slowly reveals each character’s story, presenting in convincing and heartbreaking detail how each was sucked into dead-end addiction. Clarisse and Black’s romance and redemption is too neatly conceived, but this is a promising debut effort.
On her way home from school on a snowy December day in 1973, 14-year-old Susie Salmon (“like the fish”) is lured into a makeshift underground den in a cornfield and brutally raped and murdered, the latest victim of a serial killer–the man she knew as her neighbor, Mr. Harvey. Alice Sebold’s haunting and heartbreaking debut novel, The Lovely Bones, unfolds from heaven, where “life is a perpetual yesterday” and where Susie narrates and keeps watch over her grieving family and friends, as well as her brazen killer and the sad detective working on her case. As Sebold fashions it, everyone has his or her own version of heaven. Susie’s resembles the athletic fields and landscape of a suburban high school: a heaven of her “simplest dreams,” where “there were no teachers…. We never had to go inside except for art class…. The boys did not pinch our backsides or tell us we smelled; our textbooks were Seventeen and Glamour and Vogue.” The Lovely Bones works as an odd yet affecting coming-of-age story. Susie struggles to accept her death while still clinging to the lost world of the living, following her family’s dramas over the years like an episode of My So-Called Afterlife. . .
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Amir and Hassan are childhood friends in the alleys and orchards of Kabul in the sunny days before the invasion of the Soviet army and Afghanistan?s decent into fanaticism. Both motherless, they grow up as close as brothers, but their fates, they know, are to be different. Amir’s father is a wealthy merchant; Hassan’s father is his manservant. Amir belongs to the ruling caste of Pashtuns, Hassan to the despised Hazaras. This fragile idyll is broken by the mounting ethnic, religious, and political tensions that begin to tear Afghanistan apart. An unspeakable assault on Hassan by a gang of local boys tears the friends apart; Amir has witnessed his friend’s torment, but is too afraid to intercede. Plunged into self-loathing, Amir conspires to have Hassan and his father turned out of the household. When the Soviets invade Afghanistan, Amir and his father flee to San Francisco, leaving Hassan and his father to a pitiless fate. Only years later will Amir have an opportunity to redeem himself by returning to Afghanistan to begin to repay the debt long owed to the man who should have been his brother.
Some People, Some Place by J. California Cooper
An unborn child narrates Cooper’s earthy fourth novel, which, through a minute exploration of the lives and loves of the residents of Dream Street in the town of Place, aims to unveil the vastness of human experience. At the heart of the novel is the narrator’s future mother, Eula Too. Born to a poor African-American family in a small town outside of Chicago, Eula Too spent her early years caring for her numerous younger siblings, finding time to sneak away for lessons with a beloved teacher and letting an impotent chauffeur touch her for spending money. When she eventually flees home, hoping for a better life in Depression-era Chicago, she is raped and abandoned, only to be discovered by the rich owner of a high-class brothel. Madame LaFon takes Eula Too in, not as a future prostitute but as a friend. The years pass and Eula Too, now a loving, moral young woman, accompanies Madame to her hometown of Place, where she endeavors to turn the neighborhood into a haven of love and goodwill. A certain didacticism—about politics, rich-poor relations and the importance of morality—gives the tale added depth, if also a kind of heavy-handedness.
Low Road: The Life & Legacy of Donald Goines by Eddie B. Allen
Donald Goines was a pimp, truck driver, heroin addict, factory worker, and career criminal. He was also one of the most popular Black contemporary writers having published sixteen novels, including Whoreson, Dopefiend, and Daddy Cool. Goines’s unique brand of “street narrative” and “ghetto realism” mark him as the original street writer. Now, in the first in-depth biography of Goines’s life, author Eddie B. Allen, Jr. explores exactly how one man made the transition from street hustler to bestselling author. With exclusive access to personal letters, treatments from unwritten books, photographs, and family members, Allen uncovers Goines’s experiences with drugs, prostitutes, prison, and urban violence. Fans of Goines’s novels will note a dramatic parallelism between his life and fictional tales.
The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon
The book details the life of West Indians in post World War II London, a city the immigrants consider the “centre of the world”. Covering a period of roughly three years, it has no plot in the strict sense of the word. Rather, the novel follows a limited number of characters of the “Windrush generation“, all of them “coloureds”, through their daily lives in the capital. The various threads of action form a whole through the unifying central character of Trinidadian Moses Aloetta, a veteran emigré who, after more than ten years in London, has still not achieved anything of note and whose homesickness increases as he gets older. Every Sunday morning “the boys”, many a recent arrival among them, come together in his rented room to trade stories and inquire after those whom they have not seen for a while. Not surprisingly, their lives mainly consist of work (or looking for a job) and various petty pleasures. Dating young white women is at the top of the list.
Sapphire returns to the themes of incest and child abuse that were a part of her daring American Dreams (1984) but with a starkness that is truly horrifying and unforgettable, perhaps because of the horror. Precious Jones lives in a world worse than the one inhabited by the character Celie in The Color Purple. She, too, is a victim of abuse. At 16, Precious finds herself pregnant again by her father, untrained, uneducated, and unable to care for herself or her baby. She is astute enough to know that there is a better way to live but is clueless as to how to get there. Fortunately for Precious, she meets a black teacher, Ms. Blue Rain, who pushes her to change with encouragement and inspiration. Ms. Rain challenges Precious to learn to read and write and improve her way of life. In her literacy class, Miss Rain instructs all of her students to maintain a journal; readers experience Precious’ transformation in her journal entries. Her development and growth are astonishing in the short period of time we share her writings.
In this hardcore novel of love and betrayal, a female ex-con moved by the power, poetry, and dangerous passion of Tupac Shakur has plans to play it straight and do the right thing for her future survival. But her lover Jesus, the man she went to prison for on a gun possession charge, is intent on bringing her back into his game. She finds herself caught between inescapable yet contradictory forces-the passion for the streets and the inspiration of her conscience, just like her idol Pac. With righteous anger to burn, she’s got to pull her life together before it’s too late.
I hope I didn’t overdo it with the replacements I’ve selected. I wanted to incorporate more of my scholarly reads. Especially those that I bring up in book conversations with folks. Now I only wish I hadn’t deleted my list of “Past Reads” so quickly. Boo.
Happy reading ya’ll!