The Week in Books #100

12/14 ✅

February has come to an end and I did fairly well on my reading challenge for Black History Month, in total I made it through 15 books, including 12 of the stack above. I tried Open City but wasn’t feeling it at this time so I put it back on the shelf for now and read the Final Revival of Opal & Nev instead. I am starting on The Dragons The Giant The Women today then I’m all set to start back up on my previous stack. I got through some amazing books this month!

1. Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo. This is a genre of book (romance-ish) that I don’t normally read, but I really enjoyed it in the end. Azere is pressured by her mother to settle down with a Nigerian man, though she doesn’t like any of the dates her mother has set her up on. She meets a white man and falls for him, which causes big drama in her family. This story takes a look at culture and how it can be preserved in a relationship with someone who has a different upbringing and background. It also carries a strong message about living for yourself and not trying to please others, even if they are your family. The way Azere’s mother treats her is definitely abusive, even if she was just trying to find a partner for her daughter that wouldn’t water down her Nigerian culture. Entertaining!

At twelve years old, Azere promised her dying father she would marry a Nigerian man and preserve her culture, even after immigrating to Canada. Her mother has been vigilant about helping—well forcing—her to stay within the Nigerian dating pool ever since. But when another match-made-by-mom goes wrong, Azere ends up at a bar, enjoying the company and later sharing the bed of Rafael Castellano, a man who is tall, handsome, and…white.

When their one-night stand unexpectedly evolves into something serious, Azere is caught between her feelings for Rafael and the compulsive need to please her mother. Soon, Azere can’t help wondering if loving Rafael makes her any less of a Nigerian. Can she be with him without compromising her identity? The answer will either cause Azere to be audacious and fight for her happiness or continue as the compliant daughter.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard. Woooow this book is intense. It’s very academic and reads like a dense textbook, but contains some highly important Canadian history and data. An essential resource if you are interested in learning more about race relations in Canada. Incredibly well researched and thorough.

Delving behind Canada’s veneer of multiculturalism and tolerance, Policing Black Lives traces the violent realities of anti-blackness from the slave ships to prisons, classrooms and beyond. Robyn Maynard provides readers with the first comprehensive account of over four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada.

While highlighting the ubiquity of Black resistance, Policing Black Lives traces the still-living legacy of slavery across multiple institutions, shedding light on the state’s role in perpetuating contemporary Black poverty and unemployment, racial profiling, law enforcement violence, incarceration, immigration detention, deportation, exploitative migrant labour practices, disproportionate child removal and low graduation rates.

Emerging from a critical race feminist framework that insists that all Black lives matter, Maynard’s intersectional approach to anti-Black racism addresses the unique and understudied impacts of state violence as it is experienced by Black women, Black people with disabilities, as well as queer, trans, and undocumented Black communities.

Policing Black Lives is the first book of its kind: a flagship abolitionist text that lays the grounds for the abolition of policing, incarceration and borders as the only path forward if Black liberation is to be achievable in Canada and globally.

A call-to-action, Policing Black Lives urges readers to work toward dismantling structures of racial domination and re-imagining a more just society.

3. Shame on Me by Tessa McWatt. This memoir is also about race relations in Canada, and actually contains a few of the same facts (though in a more accessible format) as Policing Black Lives, while also being about Tessa’s upbringing and curiosity about her own family history and race. I really enjoyed this book, especially how it was broken into sections related to the body; Eyes, Nose, Skin, etc. I also enjoyed how she brought other literature into the documentation of her journey (Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the work of James Baldwin and so on). Very strong.

Interrogating our ideas of race through the lens of her own multi-racial identity, critically acclaimed novelist Tessa McWatt turns her eye on herself, her body and this world in a powerful new work of non-fiction.

Tessa McWatt has been called Susie Wong, Pocahontas and “black bitch,” and has been judged not black enough by people who assume she straightens her hair. Now, through a close examination of her own body–nose, lips, hair, skin, eyes, ass, bones and blood–which holds up a mirror to the way culture reads all bodies, she asks why we persist in thinking in terms of race today when racism is killing us.

Her grandmother’s family fled southern China for British Guiana after her great uncle was shot in his own dentist’s chair during the First Sino-Japanese War. McWatt is made of this woman and more: those who arrived in British Guiana from India as indentured labour and those who were brought from Africa as cargo to work on the sugar plantations; colonists and those whom colonialism displaced. How do you tick a box on a census form or job application when your ancestry is Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese? How do you finally answer a question first posed to you in grade school: “What are you?” And where do you find a sense of belonging in a supposedly “post-racial” world where shadism, fear of blackness, identity politics and call-out culture vie with each other noisily, relentlessly and still lethally?

Shame on Me is a personal and powerful exploration of history and identity, colour and desire from a writer who, having been plagued with confusion about her race all her life, has at last found kinship and solidarity in story.

Penguin Randomhouse

4. The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton. I looooved this book! Opal is a super interesting character and I really enjoyed the format Walton chose of interviews coupled with editor’s notes from Sunny’s perspective to tell the story of Opal’s career. It was so immersive and at times I had to remind myself that this is a faux-music history and not a true story. Everything unfolded so wonderfully and was captivating from start to finish. I wonder how much inspiration Walton took from Skunk Anansie’s front woman Skin in the creation of Opal Jewel, the similarities were quite strong at many points of the story and I’m certainly not complaining. The controversial song that made headlines for Opal and Nev in the book has a lot in common with Skunk Anansie’s “And here I stand” which is super interesting to me as Walton has actually put together a playlist of music that inspired the novel and it doesn’t have any SA on it! I scoured her other playlists because I was momentarily aghast that she didn’t seem to know about Skin and discovered she does actually have a track on her Opal Jewel playlist, “Yes It’s Fucking Political”, which is great to see. Outstanding debut!

Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.

In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.

Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.

Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.

Simon and Schuster

Some recent acquisitions; Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James, To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara, Do You Dream of Terra-Two by Temi Oh, and Anonymous Sex edited by Hillary Jordan and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. The concept of Anonymous Sex is actually pretty great, it’s 27 stories from some really big name authors (Helen Oyeyemi, Louise Erdrich, Tea Obreht, Rebecca Makkai, Chigozie Obioma, Jeet Thayil and more) all with no author name attached. It’s anonymous! Lol

Back to this stack now!

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