Armchair BEA 2013: Nonfiction

The genre discussion of the day is nonfiction! My initial response is always that I’m not a fan, but that is untrue. According to my category label, I read a lot of nonfiction. And I am always interested in nonfiction, especially if it falls under one of these two categories:

  1. Memoir
  2. Self-help

Memoirs are awesome, especially if they read like fiction, which is why I preferred Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography to Angela Davis’s. For example. I also dig graphic novel autobiographies/biographies like Maus and Persepolis.

As for self-help, I love that stuff. I think mostly because I’m on a quest to be a better person. Also, because I love when books tell me something about my life. Plus also, I think a lot of self-help books say the same things in different ways, and it’s always interesting to see which one clicks.

Peace from Broken Pieces by Iyanla Vanzant actually combines memoir and self-help (LOVE HER). A book that has been particularly helpful for me lately has been Cheryl Richardson’s The Art of Extreme Self-Care. I am so terrible at self-care and need to do better and just thinking about her book helps.

I also like books about religion and spirituality, and a lot of times they fall under the self-help category.

Armchair BEA 2013: Literary Fiction

Ugh, I have such a chip on my shoulder about literary fiction. In fact, when I say it, I make it sound all fancy and hoity toity. You know, ~*literary fiction*~ that beautiful special snowflake.

I realize I have issues. Most of those issues, I think, stem from all of those years of studying lit and then doing the creative writing MA. You may not know this, but, in a lot of creative writing programs, the goal is to produce literary fiction, and genre fiction is pooh-poohed. In fact, in my undergrad creative writing classes as well as my graduate ones, we were often explicitly told not to write anything but literary fiction. And all we read as examples was literary fiction.

Which led to me becoming sort of a reverse snob. I tend to avoid literary fiction on purpose. If critics love it, if it’s lauded as a feat in literature, I’ll avoid it. I find a lot of those kinds of books boring and overworked and annoying. And I’m also annoyed that people tell me they’re supposed to be good when I tend to enjoy, say, young adult lit or even chick lit more.

Like I said: issues.

(Side note: If you ever needed another reason not to go to grad school, now you know it makes you crazy in so many ways. I haven’t even really talked about my experiences studying lit yet.)

ANYWAY. All of that said, I do find myself enjoying literary fiction from time to time. I classify literary fiction as adult realistic fiction that doesn’t easily fit into a subcategory. So! Some I have read, reviewed, enjoyed:

Top Ten YA Books about Middle Class Black Teens

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is freebie week, which means blogger’s choice. My list is inspired by a conversation I had with my friend Jasmine about the lack of books about middle class black teens. As she pointed out, if you go into any bookstore, it’s easy to find books about black teens who live in the hood or are dealing with jail or street drugs. Suuuuuper easy to find books about slavery or about Being Black. But it’s really hard to find books about black teens outside of those stereotypical narratives. So, here are some books about black middle class teens doing middle class teen things.

1. Played and Jason & Kyra by Dana Davidson: These books are both romances dealing with stupid boys who care more about what their friends think than having super cool girlfriends. Jason is a little better than the boy in Played but only because he really likes Kyra and finds ways to deal with his friends. Ian, on the other hand, is a putz.

Bonus points for Kyra having natural hair, btw. My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson

2. Dancer by Lorri Hewett: This novel is about a ballerina whose parents want her to be mindful of how hard it would be to pursue a life of dance.

3. Saving Maddie and My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson: Saving Maddie is about a preacher’s kid whose childhood best friend comes back to town and his quest to save her from herself.

My Life as a Rhombus deals with a developing friendship between two girls from very different backgrounds. Both books have excellent father/daughter and son/daughter stuff.

4. Bad Kitty series by Michele Jaffe: Jasmine and her friends solve crimes in exotic locales. Okay, Vegas and Italy, so one exotic locale.

5. The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake: This one is about a young girl trying to deal with the horrors of middle school. You know, being picked on for how she looks and dresses and the fact that she breathes. Typical middle school hell.

6. 8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich– Main character Reggie is also trying to navigate middle school hell while dealing with questions of faith and character. Bonus points for my girl Ruthie who is amazing.

7. Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis – Luther’s mom is like The Godfather of their neighborhood. Also, Luther is totally into philosophy.

8. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan – Okay, fantasy/mythology, yes, but Carter and Sadie are the main characters who get to save the world as opposed to being relegated to sidekick status.

9. Kimani Tru books – I haven’t read any of these books, but I know they run the gamut of black teen cultural experience and mostly focus on romance. They are probably more visible where I was raised (the DC area) than they are where I live now (somewhere with a decidedly smaller black population).

10. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith – Historical fiction that’s not about slavery or the Civil Rights Movement! (It’s about WWII.)

After compiling this list, I can say that Jasmine’s lament about the lack of books featuring a middle class black teen experience wasn’t in vain. I had to leave a couple of books off my list because, while I enjoy them, they fall right in line with the stereotypical story lines often seen. (I love Walter Dean Myers and Coe Booth, but their books are about poor black teens.) And even with them added, my list probably still would’ve topped out at about fifteen.

So what does that mean? Publishers and agents have to do better. I know there are stories being written about atypical (and they’re NOT atypical, btw) black experiences. And I know those stories are being lived because my daughter’s experiences are not at all in line with “urban” stories. Mine were, but hers are not. She deserves to see stories about herself and her friends’ lives being told–as do all of the other millions of middle class black kids out there.

For more books featuring teens of color, Reading in Color (though currently on hiatus) is an excellent resource.

Armchair BEA 2013 Intro

Greetings, fellow Armchair BEA participants (and regular friends of the blog)! Pull up a chair and let’s get acquainted!

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

Well, according to this quiz over on Oprah’s website, I am “the rock in a storm, the one others lean on” and “loyal and committed in [my] relationships.”

But if you just meant the regular stuff, then I’m Akilah, and I teach writing and lit to college students. I’ve had this blog since August 2009, which is a lot longer than I thought. (That’s almost four years. Holy crap.) Before, I posted my book reviews to a personal blog, but I wanted to separate my book blogging from the more personal blogging I did over there.

2. Have you previously participated in Armchair BEA? What brought you back for another year? If you have not previously participated, what drew you to the event?

First timer here! I want to go to BEA. Like, a lot. But since I can’t, I figured I’d do the next best thing. I’m usually too insanely busy to participate (and I’m not less insanely busy this time), but I figured I’d go for it anyway. Some of the other blogs I read have participated in Armchair BEA, and it seems like a fun time.

3. Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

If I only have to pick one, I’d go with my review of The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

4. If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?

Tina Hakim Baba from The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. First, she would catch me up on all the gossip. Second, and more importantly, we would talk for hours and hours about everything that’s important and by that I mean television and other pop culture stuff. I mean, I just know she has lots and lots of opinions on Scandal.

5. What literary location would you most like to visit? Why?

I was going to say The Florida Keys because I am hankering for a beach vacation, but then I remembered Powell’s exists. So. Powell’s, final answer.

One Sentence Book Reviews

I am so, so, so far behind on reviews. Trying something new to get caught up.

Also Known As by Robin Benway: This book was fun to read, but I honestly cannot even remember how it ends.

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han & Siobhan VivianAsh by Malinda Lo: Who knew a lesbian retelling of Cinderella with so many fascinating elements could be so boring?

Period 8 by Chris Crutcher: Chris Crutcher writes a mystery and still manages to incorporate every single one of his tropes into the story.

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian: Three girls—who clearly need lessons from Emily Thorne—try to get revenge on their classmates, which leads to the stupidest cliffhanger ever.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah: If the author had spent half as much time developing the characters as she did describing their decade-appropriate fashion, I probably would have liked this book a lot more.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga: An author embeds a meta-narrative on how to avoid writing predictable female lead characters in his novel and then proceeds to write a completely predictable female lead character.

The Friendship Matchmaker by Randa Abdel-Fattah: In a cute retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma (according to the Goodreads summary) (oh, and !!!!), a girl writes and lives the middle school version of How to Win Friends and Influence People to an entirely predictable end.

Deadly Pink by Vivian Vande Velde: I don’t remember much about this book except cheaters suck and sooner or later they have to face the consequences for their actions.

Source: I got all of these books from the library.

Book Review: Under the Light

Not as simple as it looked, this meeting, for most young men and women who begin a courtship do not have a forgotten history between them.

I was super excited to read Under the Light by Laura Whitcomb because I loved A Certain Slant of Light. Under the Light picks up where A Certain Slant of Light ends, showing not only the aftermath of Helen and James’s jaunts in Jenny and Billy’s bodies but also exactly where Jenny and Billy went when their bodies were taken over by the two spirits.

Under the Light by Laura WhitcombI liked the book quite a bit, but I have to say up front that What I Didn’t Like has less to do with execution and more to do with me wanting to read a story the author didn’t write. That’s my long way of saying that I felt like Helen’s story was over and wanted this book to concentrate solely on Jenny and her experience with Billy, but Whitcomb chose to alternate between Helen and Jenny’s points of view. Which is fine since that’s the story she wanted to write. It’s just not necessarily the story I wanted nor expected to read.

After I let go of my expectations of what the book should be and accepted what it actually is, I could focus on What I Did Like.

I loved learning about Jenny and Billy and who they were before the possessions and who they are after. I also liked that the major details of their lives are filled in. Mostly, though, I liked seeing the two of them work together to figure out what  happened to them and embark on a new relationship.

All of the characters are so well-developed. Mitch and Jenny’s dad both get limited page time, but I learn SO much about them in that time. And that’s not even mentioning the minor characters like the women in Jenny’s mom’s church group.

Also, Jenny’s dad is the worst. Wow.

I should also mention that like the previous book the epigraph for this one is the Emily Dickinson poem that the title comes from.

In conclusion: Easy, fast read with excellent characters in a complicated situation.

Source: Library

Top Ten Book Covers

Of books I have actually blogged about! Because I’m lazy and didn’t feel like uploading new book covers. Which is my way of saying, SVH’s Dear Sister totally belongs on this week’s top ten list. Oh well.

Apparently, all those times I said I didn’t like/care about faces on covers was a lie since most of these are face covers. Also, I really love seeing people of color featured on covers. No shocker there. True story: I’m more likely to pick up a book if there’s a POC on the cover. And especially if that POC is rocking some fierceness. (70% of these feature POC on the cover.)

I am also a fan of striking covers. And I chose I Know It’s Over specifically because it is so about the emotion of the story inside.

Top Ten Light/Fun Books

Fun fact: I didn’t think I was going to make it to ten! Even though I do like a fun book, I guess I do not read enough of them. OR the light and fluffy books are not that great. So! Something to be mindful of, authors. I need more fun books. Make that happen.

Top Ten Tuesday

1. Meg Cabot owns this category for me. OWNS. I was reading her book in the dentist’s waiting room once, and someone commented that it must be great because I had been laughing/giggling THE WHOLE TIME. So, yes. Meg Cabot. If you haven’t read her before, I’d start with The Princess Diaries or 1-800 series for YA lit and The Boy or Heather Wells series for adult lit. LOVE.

2. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding is a lot of fun. Bridget Jones is a nut, and I love her for it.

3. I am currently listening to Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park in the car, and words cannot express how fun and funny she is. I love that kid. She makes me laugh so much, not matter what kind of funky mood I might be in.

4. The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart. I love the Roo books in general, but the first one is just full-on Roo with all of her wackiness and neurosis.

5. The Bard Academy books by Cara Lockwood. If you are a big lit nerd like me, then ghost teachers (Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Emily Brontë, etc) coupled with book characters that come to life and engage in all kinds of crazy shenanigans with the school/students might just speak to you.

6. Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer deals with some heavy subjects, but it’s just so darn hopeful that it reads light. I just feel good/better after reading it.

7. You know what’s a lot of fun? The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Super fun book. Better than the movie. Soooooo much better than the movie.

8. I didn’t read past the third book because I felt like the books got mean-spirited, but the first two Georgia Nicolson books by Louise Rennison are laugh out loud funny. Literally. On public transportation, even.

9. I read The Bum Magnet by K. L. Brady poolside, and it was the perfect, perfect read for sitting by the pool or the beach. I highly recommend it for that purpose.

10. 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter was my go-to recommendation for anyone wanting something fun and light. The beginning is a smidge dark, but after that, everything is wacky fun.