Black and British

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Read 27/05/2018-02/09/2018 (with breaks!)

Rating: 4 stars

It took me a while to read this history of Black people in Britain, mainly because it’s an in-depth piece of research that warranted a slow read to absorb the multi-layered stories, but also because the majority of those stories are necessarily hard going. I needed to take a number of breaks to read books that were lighter in tone or pure fiction.

I watched David Olusoga’s BBC TV show Black and British last year and have been meaning to read the accompanying book for a while. I enjoyed his presenting style and the way he made a difficult subject accessible without diluting the message of white culpability in the enslavement and continued denigration of people of colour that is central to this history. Continue reading

The Hate U Give

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Read 05/05/2018-08/05/2018

Rating: 3 stars

Angie Thomas’s teen drama The Hate U Give hadn’t crossed my radar until it was included in the Reader’s Room March Madness Reading Challenge. When we were voting on which books we thought we’d be likely to read, I scored it low because I’m not big on reading Young Adult literature. A couple of bookish friends recommended it, though, after I finished Sing, Unburied, Sing.

I feel a little mean, only rating it 3 stars. It’s a good book, but there were things about it that annoyed me, because I’m not a teenager and no longer care about the things that matter to teenagers. I’m glad that I read it, though. Continue reading

Sing, Unburied, Sing

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Read 03/04/2018-08/04/2018

Rating: 5 stars

Sing, Unburied, Sing is Jesmyn Ward’s third novel. It’s the first I’ve heard of, thanks to the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It’s also the book I chose to win in the Reader’s Room March Madness Reading Challenge. It didn’t win, but so what? It’s a book that is more than a reading challenge target.

It’s a book that is full of life. A book that will enrich the life of anyone who reads it. This book is vital. Continue reading

Negroland: A Memoir

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Read 14/03/2018-21/03/2018

Rating: 5 stars

I can’t remember where I found out about Margo Jefferson’s memoir Negroland. I thought I’d read a review on one of the book blogs I follow, but a search threw nothing up. Maybe I found it when I was searching for more to read about black experience in a white-dominated society. Maybe I saw it on someone’s Instagram. However it crossed my radar, I’m glad it did. Continue reading

The Secret River

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Read 09/01/2018-21/01/2018

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve had The Secret River on my library wishlist since the Olympics Reading Challenge on the Reader’s Room in 2016. Weezelle reminded me of it when she mentioned that she’d received it as a gift recently. That spurred me on to reserve it at the library.

Kate Grenville has written just the sort of book I love. Think Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, or Shirley Barrett’s Rush Oh!, or even Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda. It’s historical fiction that records the painful lives of the poor in all its sorrowing detail, but which manages to also capture the indomitable spirit and resourcefulness of some when faced with adversity. More than that, it examines how humans judge each other by the colour of their skin, and how brutally the British treated the indigenous people of Australia. Continue reading

Ruby

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Read 22/07/2017-28/07/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

I bought Ruby a while ago, when it was in the running for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. When I hit Texas in the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge, its turn to be read finally came.

It’s a story about love and hate, a tale about trying to escape the memories of a place steeped in wrong-doing, where things that happened in childhood form who people are as adults. The place is called Liberty, but there is little that is free about it.

Ruby Bell returns to Liberty from New York City in 1963. She is a glamorous and self-confident woman who attracts the attention of the men who sit and smoke and talk outside the P & K Market. She becomes the subject of ribald gossip and cautionary tales about the dangers of travel and the consequences of sin. Over time she descends into madness. Her appearance changes, she is distracted and reclusive, and most of the people in Liberty avoid her. Apart from one man, Ephram Jennings. Nobody in Liberty looks at Ephram. Nobody notices him except for Ruby.

There will be mild spoilers in this review, but it was difficult to describe it without referring to key plot points. Continue reading

Southern Cross the Dog

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Read 15/07/2017-17/07/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

1927: a devastating flood changes lives in Mississippi. Eight year old Robert Chatham, his father Ellis and mother Etta, are driven from their home by the rising flood waters. They start to wade towards higher ground, an exhausting process that is only partially alleviated when a man in a rowing boat picks them up. He sets Ellis to the task of rowing and takes from them their few belongings. He delivers them to an aid camp, where Ellis argues with the guards trying to keep order and we are left not knowing what will happen to them next.

1932: a prison farm for black prisoners. Eli Cutter is serving time for manslaughter, but is about to be set free by a man who wants to set up a travelling musical show. Eli is a skilled keyboard player, piano or organ, a blues player of renown. Augustus Duke wants Eli for his troupe, enough to buy his freedom.

So begins Southern Cross the Dog, a meandering tale of life on the edges in Mississippi. Continue reading

My Name is Leon

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Read 29/05/2017-31/05/2017

Rating: 4 stars

My Name is Leon is a wonderful, warm, funny, tense, sad and hopeful book. When it appeared on the voting list for the Reader’s Room March Madness Challenge, I read the blurb and didn’t feel anything much for it. The blurb made the book sound twee and patronising. Now that I’ve read it, I can appreciate how difficult it is to try to condense its essence to a paragraph. The book is anything but twee or patronising. Continue reading

Between the World and Me

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Read 20/07/2016-21/07/2016

Rating: 4 stars

This was a compelling read that hooked me in and made me concentrate. Coates’s logic is lucid, his argument articulate. His analysis of his own experience as a black man and a full history of black experience since slavery began amplified things that I, in my whiteness, think about how black people are treated.

It starts with an incredible declaration. Continue reading