17 9 / 2012

Open City by Teju Cole

Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency wanders aimlessly. The walks meet a need for Julius: they are a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and they give him the opportunity to process his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past.

But it is not only a physical landscape he covers; Julius crisscrosses social territory as well, encountering people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey—which takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into the most unrecognizable facets of his own soul.

Teju Cole is a very smart, articulate writer. I am fascinated by how his mind works. Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this novel. It is very literary, and though I am wont to enjoy books that fall into this genre of fiction, this story was more dull than interesting, which caused me to fight through to the very end.

Cole is extremely descriptive, giving a massive amount of history and other intricate details about the architecture that Julian encounters during his daily walks. The people that he meets along the way are treated with a similar kind of dignity, like relics and landmarks whose circumstances and actions must be explained, even if it has nothing to do with the actual point of the story. This book is definitely a written portrait of the human condition, with Julian meeting people from all walks of life, various cultures and countries, and sharing how their interactions affect him.

Julian came across more dull than his acquaintances, though, which made it very hard to enjoy the book. I can hate or have disdain for a main character, but being bored by him is torturous. Cole made up for it with the smart and slightly humorous minor characters scattered throughout the book.

I’d recommend this for those who have a deep affection for literary fiction.

Grade: B- 

14 9 / 2012

"Just as I’ve been conditioned to be polite to men even as they overreach, men have been taught to ignore my discomfort because my value in our interaction is inherently less than. "

12 9 / 2012

09 9 / 2012

"Sometimes it’s easy to forget that real people produce the documents we see. For instance, when we see billboards on the freeway, an instruction manual for a computer, or an application form for employment, we often forget that a writer or a team of writers actually sat down to produce those documents."

Dobrin, Keller & Weisser. Technical Communication in the Twenty-First Century. 2008. pg33

One of my professors in my Technical & Professional Communications program explained to us last week that she used to work for Quaker Oats for a few years, writing nutritional and other hodge podge information found on cereal boxes, and writing the small, short manuals that come with the toys that come in cereal for children. Everyone was shocked. Who knew people really took time, and got paid real money, to do that? And to think, that’s what I’m in school for…ha!

Luckily, it’s an industry that will never go away. We will always need writers, even for the things that people barely give their attention.

06 9 / 2012

Lovely NYT review. Can’t wait to read this one!

31 8 / 2012

Diaz shares his feeling on Encyclopedia Brown, Octavia Butler, the books he loves, the stories that made him cry, the book that pissed him off

28 8 / 2012

An Accidental Affair by Eric Jerome Dickey

James Thicke is a man whose mysterious past runs as deep as his violent streak. He’s channeled the intensity of his soul into twin passions-success as a screenwriter, and marriage to movie actress Regina Baptiste. In the midst of filming his latest script, starring Regina and leading man Johnny Bergs, James receives a video of his wife caught in the most compromising of situations.

Hours later, the clip of the on-set infidelity has hit the Internet and gone viral in the blogosphere and across all channels of social media. James responds to the affront by savagely attacking Johnny Bergs, and the spectacle has both the paparazzi and the police amassing at the married couple’s estate. James goes on the run, but only as far as the city of Downey, California. As James tries to protect Regina from Hollywood’s underbelly, lust, blackmail, and revenge become his constant companions. Does an accidental affair spell permanent danger?

I haven’t been as enthused about Dickey’s novels for a while now. His stories used to be one of my “Black girl who loves to read” staples, but I eventually either grew out of his story lines or he stopped putting much effort into creating enjoyable books. From the above book synopsis, one would think that this story would be entertaining, but unfortunately, An Accidental Affair falls into the “un-enjoyable” books category.

My book club chose this for our August themed “New Novel” selection. From the get go, the book was filled with name dropping and attempts to put the reader into the world of the modern blog and social network driven media. Every few pages contained a blog entry or a Facebook status or a reference to a tweet. That would have almost been ok had the story line been somewhat believable and not ridiculously repetitive, but all it did was add to the already long list of irritating quirks within the book that were excessively distracting:

  • Every characters’ full name was given every single time they were mentioned
  • Every character always wore a t-shirt with a quirky saying on it
  • The author seemed to intentionally keep the race of the two main characters a secret
  • There were full pages of dialogue with no mention to who was speaking, or HOW they were speaking, resulting in a lot of confusion about the conversations taking place

This book was unneccessarily long as well. Had it been cut down by 200 pages, or even reduced to a novella, I think I would have enjoyed it much better. Not being too much of a fan of erotica, I thought I’d be severely turned off by the sex scenes, but the actual scenes weren’t so bad. The circumstances surrounding them were, though, causing much of the story to be completely unbelievable.

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend this story to anybody. It almost came across as if Dickey may be stuck in a contract requiring him to produce a certain amount of books, so he’s doing that, but not using the talent and thought in structure that put him on the map. I hope he gets back to writing good, entertaining novels, soon and very soon.

Grade: D

28 8 / 2012

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

When Baba Segi awoke with a bellyache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something drastic about his fourth wife’s childlessness.

Meet Baba Segi …

A plump, vain, and prosperous middle-aged man of robust appetites, Baba Segi is the patriarch of a large household that includes a quartet of wives and seven children. But his desire to possess more just might be his undoing.

And his wives …

Iya Segi—the bride of Baba Segi’s youth, a powerful, vindictive woman who will stop at nothing to protect her favored position as ruler of her husband’s home.

Iya Tope—Baba Segi’s second wife, a shy, timid woman whose decency and lust for life are overshadowed by fear.

Iya Femi—the third wife, a scheming woman with crimson lips and expensive tastes who is determined to attain all that she desires, no matter what the cost.

Bolanle—Babi Segi’s fourth and youngest wife, an educated woman wise to life’s misfortunes who inspires jealousy in her fellow wives … and who harbors a secret that will expose shocking truths about them all.

This was BookTini’s July book club selection for our International theme. Based in Nigeria, Shoneyin’s novel burrows deep into the polygamous lifestyle of the well off Baba Segi, and his conniving and dangerous wives who will stop at nothing to make sure their position in his life is safe.

Though polygamy is taking a downturn in the African country, it still remains a practiced custom among those who have yet to embrace the mostly modern practice of monogamy. So what happens when a polygamist adds a modern, educated woman to his list of wives, a woman who couldn’t fit in as wife #4 no matter how hard she tried?

Jealousy, stubborness, and “mean girl” antics permeate throughout the story. When the beautiful and sophisticated Bolanle is heralded as Baba Segi’s new wife, the older, more experienced wives begin to worry that she’ll soon take over their household. But when it is apparent that Bolanle can’t bear any children, the women use that to their advantage to keep her low on Baba Segi’s totem pole.

Shoneyin doesn’t just regale us with negative stories of women, though. She makes sure to include every wife’s back story, starting from their birth, so that each woman’s reasoning for their actions is apparent: powerlessness will make you do what you have to do to survive.

I greatly enjoyed this peek into Nigerian life, customs, and tradition. Though the  ending seemed to wrap up much too quickly, leaving me (and much of my book club) wanting more, the overall story was entertaining. The book club had a great time discussing what we all would do if ever put in such a situation.

I’d recommend this to those interested in African literature, Nigerian lit in particular. Also, those who are interested in stories filled with polygamy, the lives of women in Nigeria, and cat fights.

Grade: B

24 8 / 2012

"Let me ask you something, he said, with mischief in his eye. The American blacks—he used the English expression—are they really as they are shown on MTV: the rapping, the hip-hop dance, the women? Because that’s all we see here. Is it like this?
Well, I said slowly and in English, let me respond this way: Many Americans assume that European Muslims are covered from head to toe if they are women, or that they wear a full beard if they are men, and that they are only interested in protesting perceived insults to Islam. The man on the street—do you understand this expression?—the ordinary American probably does not imagine that Muslims in Europe sit in cafes drinking beer, smoking Marlboros, and discussing political philosophy. In the same way, American blacks are like any other Americans: they are like any other people. They hold the same kinds of jobs, they live in normal houses, they send their children to school. Many of them are poor, that is true, for reasons of history, and many of them do like hip-hop and devote their lives to it, but it’s also true that some of them are engineers, university professors, lawyers, and generals. Even the last two secretaries of state have been black.
They are victims of the same portrayals as we are, Farouq said. Khalil agreed with him.
The same portrayal, I said, but that’s how power is, the one who has the power controls the portrayal."

Cole, Teju: Open City, pg 119

23 8 / 2012

"And, as thought leads to thought, standing there looking at the river, I felt an unexpected pang of my own, a sudden urgency and sorrow, but the image of the one I was thinking of flitted past quickly. It had been only a few weeks, but time had begun to dull even that wound. It was getting cold, but I stood awhile longer. How easy would it be, I thought, to slip gently into the water here, and go down to the depths. I knelt and trailed my hand in the Hudson. It was frigid. Here we all were ignoring that water, paying as little attention as possible to the pair of black eternities between which our little light intervened. Our debt, though, to that light: what of it? We owe ourselves our lives."

Cole, Teju: Open City, pg 56