Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Sunday Salon

I've been looking for a way to better organized my posts, develop a posting schedule and figure how I want to talk about what I'm reading. After several weeks reading a variety of book blogs, I've decided I really don't have the time or desire to write lengthy reviews. I read at one blogger's site reviews that read more like annotations, and I've decided that's the way I want to go. I want to spend more time reading and less time writing impressive reviews. Besides there are some great reviewers out there and I don't want to try to match their skill set. Having said all that, I am very happy that Sunday Salon provides me with a scheduled day to talk about what I've been reading, gives me some guidelines for what to discuss and a network of people to share my thoughts with.

Recently I read Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice (One World/Ballantine, 2008). If you enjoy mother/daughter relationship books, you'll enjoy this one. While the issues are complex, the story reads like a conversation. Shay is the daughter of a recovering alcoholic. She comes home for break after a meltdown during her last year of graduate school. Nona is still in the early years of her recovery. She's diligently worked on her issues and her behavior, is raising a small child and has attempted make amends with her daughter, but Shay is resentful. Shay wants to continue blaming Nona but she doesn't want to address how her mother's alcoholism has impacted her. She won't admit she doesn't know how to get her life back on track.

Brice has done her homework. Both Nona's and Shay's behavior are authentic. With only a few years clean, Nona behaves like many people in early recovery. She has a garden. She pays attention to her diet and she keeps herself wrapped in positive messages. And Shay behaves like a child of an alcoholic: she has poor interpersonal skills, she acts out when she is distressed and she distrusts everyone.

While the story is predictable, it is still compelling. Anyone who has dealt with addiction either as the addict or a family member, will relate to this. Readers can easily empathize and be judgemental with both characters. At times, a reader might favor one character over the other, but ultimately you want reconsilation for them. You want them to heal. I think most women who have had a strained relationship with their mothers will relate. I think the author was smart to keep this story straightforward and personable, too. It made this kind of relationship easier to examine; it gives the reader space to inject herself. And for some, it just might be a catalyst for revisiting relationships of their own. I enjoyed it.

I also read Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (Puffin, 2009). When a new boy comes to Frannie's all black school, she learns a lot about what she believes in and who she is. She discovers her own meaning of hope. The new boy who goes by Jesus Boy is appears to be white with long flowing hair. He used to live on the other side of the highway in the white part of town but it wasn't a good place for his black parents. Samantha, Frannie's religious best friend wants to believe Jesus Boy is Jesus. Trevor, the class bully who's absent father is white, wants to pound JB. At home Frannie's deaf brother, Sean, tries to explain to her about bridges to other worlds and her mom finds out she's having a baby after losing two others.

Race, faith, loss and disabilities is a lot to tackle in one children's book, but Woodson pulls it off. There is an accessibility and subtlety here that is indictative of Woodson's body of work. One reviewer complained there was little action in this book. Well, this isn't an adventure book. It's about relationships and self-discovery.
It's about hope. It's about tolerance and acceptance. It is about the nuances of how we relate to one another and how we respond to changes in our intimate worlds. While Woodson writes for children and young adults, her works, like adult literature are examinations of character. Often adult ideas about children's fiction inhibits adults' ability to recognize what Woodson accomplishes in her work: keen observations about character and dynamics that shape our relationships. Children, on the other hand only want to read a good story. Woodson is a deft writer who provides depth that enriches a read even for the reader who is unaware that it is there.

I'm currently reading Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Seal Press, 2004). I've read a few African writers: Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Beverly Naidoo. There is a lyrical quality in all of these writers' work. I haven't gotten far into this novel, but I already know it will be a good read. I like the construction, the pacing, setting and the underpinnings of the conflicts central to the novel. Looking forward to sharing more with you all in the near future.

I've picked up several books from the library. Not sure what I'll read next, but check out my Library Loot and In My Mailbox posts to see my options.

Now I'm off to see what other Salon participants are reading.


jlshall said...

Orange Mint and Honey sounds intriguing - nice review. I sort of feel the same way about blogging. When I first started my blog, I thought of it as a kind of reading journal or commonplace book, where I could record my reading progress and jot down a few notes. Reviewing just grew out of that, and the reviews never quite keep up with my reading.

Doret said...

I once thought about setting posting guidelines for myself but I am not that organized so it seems too much like work
I really enjoyed Orange Mint and Honey. It was easy to get lost in, plus it helped that I am a Nina Simone fan.

I have heard great things about Nervous Condtions for years but I have yet to pick it up. I don't read enough African authors.

susan said...

Hi Jl, yeah, my reading has really dropped off because of my blogging and because I was obsessing about how to write my reviews. I'm going to read and whatever comes from that will have to do.

Doret, I don't read enough African writers either and I'd like to because the ones I have read, I really enjoy. Like I mentioned there is a distinct style among those I've read.

susan said...

Oh, I forgot. Doret, have you read I Put A Spell On You? A friend loaned me her copy. An informative read. She sent me some compilations of Ms. Simone's music, too. I like her work. Really respect her integrity and candor.

Doret said...

No I haven't read I Put a Spell on You. As much as I love Simone's music I don't do bio's much. At first I was worried about my reviews but than I was like I'll just be honest and try not give away the ending. And do my best to spell everything correct. I am an awful speller.

susan said...

Doret, I prefer memoirs over biographies and slim ones are easy. I'm the worst speller on the planet. I'm always pulling up a dictionary and spell check.

Becca said...

I liked your thoughts on these books, and Orange Mint and Honey sounds like a book I'd really enjoy. Stories about family dynamics (however dysfunctional) always appeal to me!

Thanks for stopping by my Sunday SAlon post at Bookstack! We've met before, BTW (Becca, from Becca's Byline). Good to see you again!

susan said...

Hi Becca, I thought I knew you from rwp. I'll be back. I'm adding both blogs to my blogroll.