Monday, December 8

Secrets To Be Shed, Books To Be Read

On a recent visit to the library a couple weeks ago, I passed a misplaced copy of Giovanni's Room. I set it on top of the small stack of books in my hands and went to the check out line. I'd start reading the other books, but on each attempt, I kept wanting to read Giovanni's Room instead. It has been a good three or four years since I read anything by James Baldwin, and I've never read any of his fiction. So I started Giovanni's Room yesterday. My heart peels open a little more with each word, and I know in a short time I will feel raw, completely naked, as if all my life experiences and secrets are exposed to anyone who happens to pass me by. I read with constricted breath and feel tears might fall any second. Such a voice. A simple gesture turns into a magnitude of feeling and I am sucked in.

I read Hurston to my students, the man I love is tackling Fanon, and it seems like Langston's name is spoken in every conversation I have with any black man or woman old enough to be my parent. And now Giovanni's Room sits in my bag, I read a couple pages any free moment I get at work. On all fronts, I feel immersed in heart-work, and its effects on those I love and even those I know nothing of, which no doubt brings to a surface a lot of the curiosities and emotions I tend to set aside or ignore completely.

Do we have these kinds of writers anymore? Yes, their books are canonical, and they've been turned into deities, but that's besides the point.
As my peers rave about Jhumpa Lahiri and Paul Beatty, who no doubt do their thing and do it well (though I couldn't get into Slumberland at all; saving it for another time, another season...), I feel like I know of no present-day writers who make me feel this vulnerable, as those who are no longer with us could. Am I being too nostalgic? What is Sapphire up to? I recently spotted Suzan Lori-Parks in a shop the other day, but was too shy to ask her any questions.

My to-reads list is growing, mostly catching up on books I didn't finish or kept putting off for cheaper thrills or overly-hyped sensations.
Here's what I'm (in some cases, still) working on:

Drown by Junot Diaz (Keep putting it off. I know, how dare I?)
The Train of Salt & Sugar by Licinio de Azevedo
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Living, Loving And Lying Awake At Night by Sindiwe Magona
Unburnable by Maria-elana John
Becoming Abigail by Chris Abani (The follow-up to Graceland, which I loved deeply, crept right by me)
Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

In Brooklyn, there is feverish talk of a renaissance in visual art and music. What about one for the written word? Am I out of a loop? Not looking hard enough? Near enough? (I have my eye on one dude; he works diligently, but never finishes and I am losing patience).


B said...

Great list and I love your blog's design.

C said...

My favorite Baldwin fiction is If Beale Street Could Talk - quick read and very moving.

Jhumpa Lahiri is AMAZING. I zip through her stuff because it's so riveting.

Are you on That site is guaranteed to make your to read list out of control but I've found lots of great stuff there.

Happy reading ;)

ahnka said...

Thank you Brigitte.

C - Thanks for the goodreads tip. I'd stumbled on the site sometime ago and completely forgot about it. You're right, my to-reads list doubled, and I had to force myself to stop adding books. I'm good for the next six months or so.

kameelah said...

i just could not get into slumberland either and that was such a disappointment because white boy shuffle was really good. hokum as an anthology was quite powerful.