The Nickel Boys

Author: Colson Whitehead

Published: July 16, 2019

Publisher: Doubleday

Where I picked up my book: Purchased from an Indie

Key Words: Reform school, Historical Fiction, The Black Experience in Jim Crow/Civil Right Era

My Rating: 5 stars

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My Thoughts:

I LOVED this book and because of the content, that feels hard to say…but I did. This is based on a real reform school in Marianna, Florida that was operated for 111 years and “warped the lives of thousands of children.” Here is more detail if you’re interested. You should definitely be interested-it’s harrowing,  but we should all know what happened there, so please give that article a read. To top it off, the school only just closed in 2011?! What in the actual hell?! Whitehead, after hearing about the devastation that occurred behind those school walls including beatings, deaths, rape and other atrocious things, decided to write a book about it and The Nickel Boys is what it turned into. It is magnificent, telling, devastating…and truly a masterpiece. I finished it over a week ago and I’m still thinking about those boys and their story (and frantically googling about the real school in Florida every chance I get).

I don’t want to say too much because honestly, you just need to read it to appreciate it. And then probably read it again to appreciate it even more. That’s where I’m at. Although I have zero experience with reform school, or being Black in a white world, I did go to an all-women, Catholic school (which I should preface by saying it was NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING like this) and I have some thoughts. There is a sense of discipline and control in schools like this. There are structures that must be adhered to and yes, scholastics are very important (in my school at least), but discipline and structure are almost top of the list. There are laws that don’t apply to us as students in a Catholic school and I remember knowing that very well. Nothing ever happened when I was there, but I remember stories of past generations and the types of punishments that were allowed. Again, NOTHING like this, but knuckle slapping with rulers and things of that nature happened in the past. There is a control that the adults in charge think they need to get a handle on early, and rules and discipline are there “for a reason.” Keep in mind-this is only coming from my experience at a relatively well-off, Catholic school that my parents were invested in (both actually with their presence, but also with their wallets). But I could see how a disciplinary reform school could turn into this something horrible really quickly. Although my experience was nothing like the experiences in this book, I can understand what it must have been like for children, especially Black children, to be sent to a reform school that is full of racism and bigotry, into the height on the Civil Rights and Jim Crow Movement in the 1960’s where the school (and world) is segregated, where teachers have formed a corruption circle among themselves with no outside monitoring?! Plus add the dimension that these are “bad kids” in need of discipline. This school is what you get.  What ACTUALLY went on in this school? What laws were being broken? What boy’s souls were being crushed for the rest of their lives? In this book, you’ll get those answers and more. I will never be the same after reading it. It truly crushed me.

The Nickel Boys is not for the faint of heart, but the writing is genius, the plot is immaculate, the details are truthful and succinct and overall, this book will make you think long after you read the last page.

I hope you read this one and if so, come chat with me on Instagram! Find me at @bookishfolk

bookishfolk…read instead.

Dominicana

Author: Angie Cruz

Published: September 3, 2019

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Where I picked up my book: My Book of the Month pick

Key Words: immigration, NYC, arranged marriage, love

My Rating: 4 star

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My Thoughts:

This is one of those books that held my heart and didn’t release it until the last page. It’s heart-wrenching, startling at times, powerful, heartwarming, and will have you thinking long after you read the last sentence.

I have a lot of thoughts, but I think it’s better if you go into this book relatively blind. So here are some things that I will say about it.

1. Some families will do just about anything for their family. I wasn’t born into one of those families, but at times, I wish I had been. I had friends that were part of that type of family and sure, it can be a slippery slope into some negative or toxic situations, but it can also lead you to some beautiful situations as well. You always know someone has your back and it allows you to make decisions based on something besides just yourself. This book had me thinking long and hard about that.

2. Dominicana was based on Cruz’s mother’s story and now I am obsessed with finding out exactly how. I haven’t found out yet-I’ll keep you posted if I do 🙂

3. 15 year olds are very, very young. They can do a lot, but they are, truthfully, still babies. We get to see Ana taking on the role of an adult woman and wife, but my favorite parts of the book were when we saw her acting her age. Cruz didn’t just dismiss her age and she didn’t let us dismiss it either and I appreciated that so much.

4. Apparently, I am obsessed with books based in old NYC. I like to think about what it was like to walk those streets, be excited about who the characters might bump into, what the atmosphere was like then, what a city that is a bit rough around the edges feels like—all of it! This book gives me a feel of that and I LOVEDDD every second of it!

5. Resiliency is amazing and I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read this book. No matter what life throws at Ana (the main character), she shakes it off and creates a new goal and a new dream for herself. This is something that I’ve been working on in my own life. Life throws curve balls at us all the time; the magic happens when we choose how to handle those curve balls. I learned a lot from Ana in this regard.

6. Loneliness is one of the saddest things a human can experience (in my opinion). As an introvert, I like to have a lot of alone time, but true loneliness can be so isolating, depressing and eventually lead to major problems for most people. Dominicana really describes what loneliness feels like through the eyes of Ana and it made me remember to reach out to people in my life more often that might experience loneliness and to not take for granted how many beautiful people I have in my own life.

At it’s core, this book is as much about marriage and family and immigration as it is about finding yourself amidst chaos and confusion. It’s a beautiful book and one that I promise you, will stick with you for a long time to come.

Have you read this one yet? If so, reach out and let’s chat!

bookishfolk…read instead.

 

Here We Are

Author: Aarti Namdev Shahani

Published: October 1, 2019

Publisher: Celadon Books 

Where I picked up my book: From publisher (THANK YOU!!!)

Key Words: immigration, family dynamics, memoir  

My Rating: 3.75

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My Thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I felt like I was given a front seat at a table that I have never sat at before…and I truly felt honored to be there. This is the story of the Shahani family, who came from India, through Casablanca, to Queens, New York. It’s a first hand, poignant account of what happens when undocumented people land on US soil, how undocumented people are treated, what is at risk for undocumented people, what happens to become documented, what life is like after you are documented, and everything in between. Yes, this is a first and account and is unique from this particular woman, but from what I hear and from what I have read, this story resonates with many families trying who are trying to call the United States home. We see the struggles, the pitfalls, the risks, the desires, the stresses, the intense fears…but we also see the hope, the laughter, the strength and the determination. Here We Are opened my eyes to not only what the process is like and specifically, how this family dealt with the good, the bad and the ugly of coming to America.

Here are some of my takeaways about our immigration system:

1. Immigrating to the US is not for the faint of heart and why in the world do we make it so complicated and corrupt?!

2. It seems like the story for every immigrant family is struggle. Struggling in their home country, and then struggling when they get to the US. As a country, we can do better to help with the transition. No one should have to live in cockroach infested homes, or a home that has a water leak causing toxic mold to grow because they are afraid to report it to a landlord who could report them as undocumented. No one should have to live with broken windows or broken heat in the middle of winter because they are nervous to set off someone’s radar and potentially get deported. It’s infuriating and we need a better system to support families that want to come to the US.

3. Our justice system is broken and corrupt and toxic, especially when dealing with immigrants. We can, and need to, do better!

4. In conclusion-WE CAN DO BETTER!

There is soooo much more in this memoir to talk about and discuss, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I went in pretty blind and was completely taken by Shahani’s journey. This is an articulate memoir that is sure to infuriate you, make you cry, make you laugh, help you better understand the role of family in many cultures and ultimately…I hope, lead you to talk more about immigration and our role in it all. Our country is intrinsically tied to the immigration experience and I think this book will not only help give a voice to many immigrants who are currently voiceless, but help to shine a brighter light on a highly relevant topic of today. It’s an honor to have read Aarti Namdev Shahani’s story and I’m thankful for her courage to write it. I will definitely be on the lookout for anything else Shahani offers us!

bookishfolk…read instead.

 

Three Women

Author: Lisa Taddeo

Published: July 9, 2019

Publisher:    Avis Press (Simon and Schuster)

Where I picked up my book:  Book of the Month choice!

Key Words: nonfiction, sex lives of women, journalistic approach

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My Thoughts:

I was completely, 100% sucked into this book from the very first sentence. To be honest, from the description alone, I was sold! So when Book of the Month chose it as one of their picks, I didn’t hesitate to grab a copy! I went into the book thinking that I was going to get an insiders view into 3 women’s sexual lives and the idea of desire…and I was pumped. I’ve long since realized that there is a barrier when it comes to women and talking about our sex lives. Yes, when we get together with our friends, we might talk about sex a bit, or acknowledge that we are in fact having, or not having, sex, but I wanted some more detail, more insight, just more of ANYTHING from a female perspective. So when I started reading this book and then realized that I wasn’t necessarily getting an insiders view on sex lives, or a feminist, empowered perspective, or any sexual awakening vibes, at first…I was caught off guard. But after I realized exactly what I was reading-I was in. Allow me be a fly on the wall in any situation, and I’m in, 100%, and that’s what this book feels like. You’re a fly on the wall, listening and observing, while these women talk about their lives, intimate details of their day to day and the sex they are, or are not, having. We see what goes on behind closed doors, how men play a huge role in some women’s lives* (*straight women), and how the past affects our present and future. We see their insecurities, what goes on in their heads, how they walk through life and the choices they make and why.  We see things that pain them and things that shouldn’t ever take place, take place. We read about their intimate feelings and the raw hurt that is present in a lot of women’s lives.  After I adjusted my sail, I was not able to put it down. Trust me when I say, it’s not an easy book to read and I often left the pages with a pit in my stomach, but it was truly the most unique book I may have ever read.  Here are a few of my thoughts (I could probably go to 100 and not be finished, but this is the condensed list):

1. Yes, there is definitely sex in this book…but I didn’t see it as the sex positive, feminist, empowering book I thought I was going to read. It doesn’t change that I was completely engrossed, but if you were like me…you’ve been warned. Go into it with correct expectations and I think you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

2. We, as women, carry baggage with us from our past trauma and it shows up, plain and simple, in our present lives. We need to work through our past before we can be good to ourselves in the present and the future.

3. Sometimes, other people (in this case, men) will try to control you, your sexual being and your sex life-don’t let them!

4. This is only a teeeeeny snippet of the population of women. These are 3 straight, white, cis, relatively affluent women that we see represented. It’s called ‘Three Women’ and that’s a really good thing to keep in mind. I would have liked to see more diversity and if I ever get a chance to talk to Taddeo, I’d love to know how these three women came to the front of her research (because I read somewhere her research actually involved a ton of women and eight years). We always need more diversity in literature (and everywhere else), and I would have liked to see that in this one.

5. I am still thinking about all three of these women, but specifically Maggie, on a daily basis. Ugh…her story absolutely broke my heart and I saw myself in her-it scared me a bit and brought up some tough things for me too.

6. You are going to feel every emotion you know how to feel when reading this one…and maybe some others you didn’t even know you knew how to feel. I had to learn to slow down and reflect on all of those emotions as they came up. It was cathartic.

7. This book is raw. It’s not one that will wrap up with a pretty bow. It’s non-fiction…these are real lives we’re dealing with here. Keep that in mind and keep your judgements in check.

8. I’ve truly never read anything like this before.

9. Victim-blaming is never okay. Please don’t blame victims.

10. Ultimately, I don’t think this book dealt with ‘desire.’ I think it was a portrayal of what women feel, think and how they respond when our past affects our present. And when men are jerks. Was that too much? 😉

11. Three Women will make you think and is bound to be a book you talk about with your friends. Ultimately, I think this book might help women feel more open to talk about our sex lives with each other and with professionals, to stand up for ourselves and against jerks in our lives, and to see how our past, and especially past trauma, affects our present. I think that’s a good thing.

12. This book won’t be for everyone, but if you’re a fly on the wall type of person like I am, I think you will dive into this one and pop out when you finish the last sentence.

Have you read Three Women yet? What did you think? Let me know here or over at @bookishfolk. As always, happy reading!

Bookishfolk…read instead.

 

 

 

How to Review Books

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Even though the title of this post might make you think that I’ve got my shit together and I’m going to provide you with a list of 1-10 steps to review a book…you’d be mistaken. I have no idea what I’m doing when (and if) I review a book, and the more I talk to people over on Bookstagram about this, the more I’m learning there is no right or wrong way to go about reviewing books. When I first started this Bookstagram, I spent time only periodically mentioning books, what I was reading, or books I was buying, and that was pretty much it. Taking pretty photos was the name of the game. Then, once I started receiving books from publishers in the mail, I started thinking that I needed to up my game and write more reviews on my blog and Instagram and interact more professionally on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, my blog, or wherever else book reviews are valued. These publishers are reaching out because they want to generate some buzz about a book and we are the ones to do it. I wouldn’t call us smaller accounts ‘influencers,’ but publishers are definitely looking for some buzz when they send you a book and there is some responsibility associated with this. So, after about a year or so of being pretty serious on Bookstagram, I got my shit together and I created a spreadsheet where I itemized books I received from publishers, took note of what was asked of me, marked where and how I shared about the book, gave a star review, marked if I had mentioned it in Bookstagram yet, etc. All was good and I was feeling like I was finally in control of this thing called Bookstagram (PS this is a hobby. No one pays me to do this. Sometimes, I receive a free book in the mail, but that’s it. I think I forget that sometimes). Anyways, I digress…So all felt more organized and less chaotic for this hobby of mine and that felt good. That is…until I received a book in the mail from a publisher that I thought I was going to love, but ultimately, I found problematic parts that rubbed me the wrong way. I was all prepared to create that perfectly honest post, but all of a sudden, I went down a spiral of slight panic (if I’m being honest). Here is my dilemma (also-completely 1st world problems so take this anxiety with a grain of salt but still…). 1, I want to have good relationships with publishers who send me a free book and hopefully, generate more good buzz to get the word out 2, I want to make sure I never dissuade anyone from reading a book they may like and 3, I want to review books in a 100% authentic way for all of you reading my reviews. Is there a formula for that? Is there a way to organize my reading life that will accommodate all of that? The odds of me buying a book I don’t love are slimmer, but being given a book by a publisher that I wind up not loving is more possible. Will I piss off a publisher if I give their book a negative review and that’s it for my time of receiving books to read and review? Will a reader be turned off from a book that I didn’t love but they might?! I’m telling you-I went down a crazy rabbit hole of insecurity and a bit of anxiety with this one. BUT, my best end result from a lot of thinking was this…You do you Boo. A friend of mine on Instagram (@caseythereader) mentioned that publishers know that not all books are for everyone. And that’s so true. We all know that. I might recommend a book to a friend and they wind up reading it and not liking it. It’s a bit of a bummer, but we all move on (hopefully after a good discussion if it’s your friend). Obviously, this discussion doesn’t usually happen with a publisher, but still-I’m positive Casey was right. They know not every book is for everyone. Secondly, I never want to be dishonest in a book review. Or be deceitful in any way just to save face with a publisher and therefore continue to get free books. That was the overwhelming advice I received when I threw this question out to the Bookstagram community. Be honest! Thirdly, find some good things to mention in your review. There is always some good things in every book and they are worth mentioning. After all, this book is someone’s pride and joy that they created and it’s been through a lot of eyes before it got to me. If it’s published, odds are, there are some good things worth mentioning. Fourth, if there are problematic things in a book, they are worth mentioning in a constructive way too. And lastly, I don’t have to review every book I read. That’s probably not even possible anyways, and also-most books I receive from publishers do not mention HAVING to write a review about the book anyways. In fact, they oftentimes say, if you liked the book, feel free to rate and review it. ‘Liked’ being the key word. So there you have it folks! I have come up with a plan for myself in terms of how and when I rate, review and post about books. Here is it if you’re interested:

  1. If I receive a book from a publisher, write the info down and any details I might need (follow ups, emails, pub dates, requests for review, Instagram post dates, etc) and put it in my pile on ‘books from publishers’
  2. If I purchase or get a book from the library-I do me! (it will likely sit on shelf longer than I want it to. Story of my life lol)
  3. Post a photo on Instagram upon receiving a book, purchasing a book, or starting to read a book.
  4. If I enjoy the book, read, rate, post and give it all the love (with details why). Write a blog post too! THE BEST FEELING!!
  5. If I felt meh about a book, just give it a star review on Goodreads and move on. People don’t necessarily care about a meh book. It’s always hard to articulate why I felt meh about it anyways, so just move on (unless of course I made a promise to receive a book in exchange for an honest review. In that case, give an honest review). *this rarely happens
  6. If I personally found something problematic in a book, it might be worth mentioning (but again, I don’t have to). Be truthful, find the positives and be specific. A blog post is optional, but give it a few days before I write it. Time is think is always good 🙂 Same thing as #4-if I made a promise to exchange, do that.
  7. Remember this is not a job, it’s a hobby and I’m usually under zero obligation to review a book. It’s kind of part of the unwritten deal and best practice if the book was from a publisher, but, for the most part, I’m under no obligation.

So that’s my plan from now on. Praise the good, possibly mention the problematic and leave the meh alone. *this may all change tomorrow and I’m okay with that too 🙂 But also-this is a hobby and I need to stop worrying so much about this and start reading! That’s what brought me here to begin with.

What is your method of reviewing books? Do you feel you need to review every book you read? Are you more choosy with book reviews? Is my anxiety at fault for all of this?! 😉 Head over to Instagram and let’s chat! Find me @bookishfolk

bookishfolk…read instead.