Friday, August 29, 2014

My recent book relationship history

After I finished reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, I went through kind of a dry spell.  Four books in a row, I opened and then closed without finishing.  I won't name names because I really think it was me and not them.  Really, they seemed like great books, but I just wasn't that into them.

I loved Americanah so much, so when it was over, I just needed a little time.

Finally, I dallied with a little something that didn't require a lot of investment. I had a fling with the easily read and then set aside Firebird by Susanna Kearsley.  I loved Kearsley's Winter Sea, and so returning to a little history, a little romance, and a lovely Scottish background was just what I needed. Kind of like fooling around with your ex--you know it's not really going to satisfy, but it's a comforting and perhaps necessary distraction.

Fortunately, the next two books I read were the real deal.  Whether you loved or didn't Kathryn Stockett's the Help, you would probably be interested to read both House Girl by Tara Conklin and Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (of Secret Life of Bees fame--one of my faves).

The lawyer in me enjoyed House Girl, as the book is the story of a present day lawyer working on a reparations case, and in her research, discovering the story of Josephine.  Josephine was a slave and also an artist whose art was wrongly attributed to her owner, a much less talented artist.  Interesting, readable, thought-provoking.

I then turned to Invention of Wings, which was similar in that it was told from two voices, though in this case, both were from the same time period: Hetty "Handful" Grimke, a slave, who tells the story of her life and that of her mother, both of whom are excellent seamstresses and love quilting, which they use for warmth, story-telling, and all sorts of other things; and Sarah Grimke, who is given Handful as a gift for her birthday and who goes on to become one of the first pioneers for abolition and women's rights.  The story is historically based, as Sarah and Angelina Grimke were actual prominent figures in the abolition and women's rights movements, though not particularly well-remembered.  And there is even a historical record of Hetty being one of the slaves in the Grimke home, though in reality she died fairly young, and the story about her imagined in this book is almost entirely invented.

I didn't really set out to read two books in a row that delve into the awful history of slavery in this county, but I think they were exactly what I needed after Americanah, which contains such profound commentary on race through an author and main character who are born in Nigeria, move to the U.S. as young adults, and then return to Nigeria with a perspective altered by time and experience.

The other aspect of Americanah that I loved was that the main character, Ifemelu, is a blogger.  I'd been seriously thinking about starting my blog, and reading this novel was one of the final pushes I needed to go ahead and get started.

I am officially a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi fan, and I've just started reading her first novel, Purple Hibiscus.  So far, so good.  I'll let you know how it turns out.  But I'm pretty sure it's true love.


  1. I thought The Invention of Wings was a wonderful book. I recently found out my g grandmother was a POC, person of color and came from a family of free black. I had no idea there were free blacks in the South.

    1. Yes, the whole story line involving Denmark Vesey was so interesting. How did you find out about your great grandmother? Did you ever read Freeman? That is an incredible book!

  2. WV has actual documents online. She was listed as M for Mulatto. My grandfather was white. They were married in Summers Co. My 4th grandad was black and married a white woman in 1801 in Monroe Co Va. He had to post bond of $150 to do so. The way this was explained to me a bond exempted the magistrate from the responsibility of issuing a marriage license for an interracial marriage. I thought all black people in the south were slaves. I did a DNA test and it showed African and European. Is that the freeman by Leonard Pitts? I will check it out.

  3. How interesting! Yes, Leonard Pitts. It's a great book!