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CBC: Afro-Caribbean/Black American literature 2021 recommendations.

Hey you, welcome back to your journal. Whilst we await Miss 2022, how about I tell you about my year?

This is the first entry to Coco's Book Club.

If there's one thing I did in 2021, it was read. I love escapism. Its the perfect time for reflection and self evaluation. For me, reading is as spiritual of an act as meditating so...go figure. Anyway these are the books that I feel really shifted my outlook on life and myself this year.

Anddd Drumroll please...*bang bang bang* First book off the shelf is....

1. The Stars and the Blackness Between them
Gyal, you been in constant communication with Spirit your whole life and you been taught that Spirit speak loudest when we deep in the water, drowning in trouble and fear. - Queenie

What a way to start the year! I mean talk about spiritual awakening. Fun fact: I have always been very fearful of death. And I mean that chilling type of fear. As a child, each time I had a dream relating to the afterlife (ghosts, deaths etc) my grandmother would emphatically urge me to pray about it in that very moment. Or pray against it shall I say. She believed the interstice between the living and the dead was meant to be an abyss (probably a result of ignorant cultural superstitions). So naturally, as one would, I developed an intolerance to anything intangible.

The stars and the blackness between them enamoured me...because it spoke so beautifully of a transition l had vilified my entire life. Death. life. Spiritually as opposed to religion. The juxtaposition of being dead to the flesh but living in spirit. What does it mean to live? Is a spiritually void life even a life lived? So the lesson learned was: death is as inevitable as any other ending in life. Everything has to come to an end, in order to promote change and summon new beginnings and la-di-da. Its certainly mystical but not eerie.

Queenie (Audre's grandmother) practices ancient African ethos. Spirituality, not religion. She is inspired by pre-colonial Africa's sacred rituals i.e. connecting to a higher power through ancestors and the descended. So she goes to the ocean, amongst the earth and all great nature to perform her ceremonies and rituals that breed alignment and understanding and I guess a direct line to the spiritual realm. Its complex and equivocal but I loved reading about it.

Other Key themes: Criminal Justice System, Incarceration, Sexuality, Grief.

2. Butter Honey Pig Bread
This thing, happi-ness, is it actually a luxury? Am I a fool to want to be happy in this life? I feel as if say, if you open my body, nothing go dey inside. As is say I be empty box. - Isabella

Now this was shocking. There were so many intellectual gems in this novel but when Isabella said this I was stunned. (The woman was indeed too stunned to speak). Ok so spoiler alert, Isabella is at her own engagement party when she utters these words. This marketing campaign selling marriage as this bright cocoon of safety and elevated social standing is very prominent amongst Africans (plus other black cultures). Yet, in the days leading to the biggest day of her life as a woman, Isabella unravels. Its in this moment she realises Happiness is an inside thing. You can't find it outside. The education, perfect career and now 'perfect' man was all a façade she created to imitate what she felt happiness looks like. And it wasn't. There is also a part of herself she is running from. A closeted part of herself that she needs to accept in order to gravitate towards this 'happy' she deeply seeks. Chimamanda said it best:

Never speak of marriage as an achievement. Find ways to make clear to her that marriage is not an achievement, nor is it what she should aspire to. A marriage can be happy or unhappy, but it is not an achievement. We condition girls to aspire to marriage and we do not condition boys to aspire to marriage, and so there is already a terrible imbalance at the start. The girls will grow up to be women preoccupied with marriage. The boys will grow up to be men who are not preoccupied with marriage. - Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Then there's Taiye.

Taiye grew into the sort of woman who loved easily. Not foolishly, just hungrily.

She is a very complex (that's our word of the day clearly lol) character that most can relate to on some human level. She's a bit of a 'self sabotager.' Her childhood trauma has led her through random canals of loneliness and consequently haphazard relationships with many many lovers. She just could never satiate that urge. That hole. The beauty in her journey was her ability to find her rhythm and hold on to it, even whilst battling an internal vacuum of emptiness. I love her vulnerability and ease when it comes to her truth (as unorthodox as said truth is).

Other main characters: Kambirinachi, Kehinde.

Key Themes: Suicide Ideation, Death, Sexual Abuse, Trauma, Sexuality, Interracial Relationships.

3. Such A Fun Age
“There were moments like this that Alix tried to breeze over, but they got stuck somewhere between her heart and ears. She knew Emira had gone to college. She knew Emira had majored in English. But sometimes, after seeing her paused songs with titles like "Dope Bitch" and "Y'all Already Know," then hearing her use words like connoisseur, Alix was filled with feelings that went from confused and highly impressed to low and guilty in response to the first reaction. There was no reason for Emira to be unfamiliar with this word. And there was no reason for Alix to be impressed.”

That moment when you realise the song you've been skipping on the playlist is actually a banger. This was that book for me. There is something so polished about Alix's character. No sharp edges. She is secure in her whiteness. But culturally attune enough to appear apologetic about it amongst ethnic minorities. These are the dangerous kinds because they make themselves appear so blameless that you forget who they are, that they are not from your world. This is exactly what Emira realises about her white boss. Her as a young lower-class black girl, Alix as a middle age upper-class white woman in modern America. We get to explore the intersections of social class and race in this layered employer - employee relationship. Wanting to be understood but failing to understand.

I don't need you to be mad that it happened. I need you to be mad that it just like...happens. - Emira

And for Emira, straddling the fence between her personal values and monetary gain. What is more important? Its easy to judge her choices, but how many times do we as minorities dismiss microaggressions aimed towards us because we want to keep our jobs and appear 'unproblematic'? We become so hypervigilant and hyperaware of underlying racial tones, to the extent of beginning to question the validity of our own claims. Truth is, we have all been Emira at one point or another.

Key themes: Microaggressions, Racism, Racial Profiling, Classism, Interracial Dating, Motherhood

4. Small Great Things
"They're targeting you because they think you failed as a nurse." "You're wrong" I shake my head in the darkness, and l say the words l've swallowed down my whole life. "They're targeting me because I'm Black."

I'm just as tired of speaking about race as you are of reading about it. But when injustices and unethical disturbances like this occur, we are left no choice but to question the very prism of race and the reason for its inception. When a qualified professional nurse is denied the joy of fulfilling her work obligations because of the colour of her modern America, years after Jim Crow laws had been banished, what do we call that? And of course there is another issue...which is the unfortunate death of a white baby.

No spoilers with this one, I want you all to read it and come to your own conclusions. But its definitely a book everyone should read.

Key Themes: Social justice, Racism, Microaggressions, Extremism, Religion, U.S Justice System, Colourism, Black in white spaces.

A little nugget to accompany you into the new year...


What has Coco been listening to?

Brown Skin Lady (Black Star)
Would you rather (The Georgettes)
Really love (D'Angelo)
Avoid Things (Tems)
Paper Thin (Lianne La Haves)

Compliments of the season to you. Be sure to subscribe and to make your own journal entry down below. Don't be shy! New year, new habits right?


Coco R'

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