Category Archives: Books

Not A Literary Critic Reads – Things Fall Apart

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve read plenty of books over my reading lifetime however I don’t seem to do well on any of the “must read” books of our lifetime nor former lifetimes for that matter.  I just read what I’m interested in.  I came across one of those must read/important books lists recently and one of those books was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I’d seen it reference many times, heard those who’ve read it loved it and it was decided on Google+ that we’d discussed it.  Also Mr Achebe recently passed away. No time like the present to get this in.

 Things fall apart follows the story of Okonkwo a man’s man, warrior and leader in the village of Umuofia. He was the son of Unoka, a lazy man of no means in the eyes of Okonkwo. His disdain for his father (who had already passed) was palpable. So much so that he just assume disassociate himself from him.  Okonkwo rules his children, his women and others entrusted to him with an iron fist as that is the way of real man.  There is no bend in Okonkwo and for that he is respected and consulted with on decisions as it relates to his village.  A staunch upholder of tradition, he’s done all that he’s needed to do to ascend the ranks in his village he’s ever so close but yet so far once he commits an act that sets him back and exiles him from his home village to be with his mother’s family for 7 years.

For a man of action and work, seven years was an eternity.  Though gratefull to be taken in and provided land to make a living he was eager to get back and re-establish himself.Upon his return to his home village he finds a place very different from whence he came due to the arrival of missionaries.  The impact these missionaries had on his village proved to be one in which even he could not overcome.

In Things Fall Apart, Achebe tells a story that is beautiful and frightening at the same time.  The stories told by the women and children, the ceremonies, the colors and the foods rest  alongside the brutality, disregard and disrespect laden upon persons who are considered “lesser”.  Achebe was successful at pulling this reader in and making her leave the book with eyes and mouth wide open.
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Not a Literary Critic reads It Worked For Me

One Saturday at work I had C-Span 2’s BookTv on in the background.  One of the top-selling books they mentioned that week was It Worked for Me by General Colin Powell.  Having enjoyed his book My American Journey I made my way to Barnes and Noble and picked it up (yes I read printed books and go to brick and mortar bookstores to buy them).

It Worked for Me is a leadership book born of Powell’s personal experience both in and outside the public sector.  His leadership rules of the road, boiled down to “the 13 rules” which started as scribbles on bits of paper throughout Powell’s career and became the foundation of this book.  Here’s a sample of the 13: #2 Get mad, then get over it; #7 You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.; and #10 Remain calm be kind.  What’s beautiful about this book is that the 13 are given at the very beginning of the book, the remainder of the book is told as a series of stories that are examples of the 13 but aren’t enumerated as such.  Thus the book is not a prescription so much as it is a loose set of guidelines for persons in leadership in any arena.  Powell is at his best telling stories in lieu of being formulaic in his approach, which I feel is typical of books of this genre. What happened to me as I read the stories, I felt almost as though I were listening to him tell them instead of reading them.  For example in regards to coming in new and taking over as the leader over a group of people Powell says: “start out trusting the people there unless you have real evidence not to. If you trust them they will trust you, and those bonds will strengthen over time.” I would nod my head in agreement.

What are some of these stories? One of my favorites was near the end of the book in which Powell talks about some Brazilian exchange students, participating in the State Department’s Youth Ambassador’s program.  Meeting with these students before their departure home, they tell them about their visit to a Chicago restaurant in which they didn’t have enough money to cover their bill.  The restaurant manager picked up the bill and thanked them for coming to the restaurant and wished them well during their stay in America.  The students were overwhelmed by the kindness shown to them as was Powell.  He ends the chapter by talking about how it was the people, not the congressmen and members of the cabinet these students met who were America’s best ambassadors.

What was the biggest takeaway from the book? That leadership in Powell’s view comes down to thirteen concepts, but at th end of the day, for him is about service to those above, below and around you.  What Powell speaks of is what worked for him as a leader.  I’m inclined to think that his approach would work for anyone in a position of leadership.  If you’d like to learn more and get a fresh perspective on leadership, I highly recommend It Worked For Me.

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Not a Literary Critic Learns “How to Be Black” yeah, that’s #howtobeblack by Baratunde Thurston

Leave it up to an untimely illness I missed the opportunity to see the author live, but said illness did allow me time to finish reading the book.

It was through social media, i.e Twitter that I learned of the author.  Twitter opened me up to his work on Jack and Jill Politics, The Onion, Netroots Nation and appearances on networks like MSNBC.  He’s known for his comedic chops and is (in my opinion) a political activist technologist, who analyzes and then communicates, the political, the technological and the racial in a comedic and palpable way.  Needless to say that I was pleased as punch regarding the release of How to Be Black, and even more pleased after reading it.

How to Be Black is a memoir/manual  about Thurston’s black experience in America and and that of his selected panelists, including a white Canadian.  The story is told as sort of a comedic instructional manual on blackness that left me laughing out loud as well as shaking my head in agreement with some of his examples. The “manual” portion of the book including how to be the black friend (maintaining your cultural connection and serving as intelligence for your home base, while educating white folks), the black employee (doing the job you were hired for, while making the company, diverse, non-racist and cool) and in this particular season, the next black president (with an extensive list of duties).  These roles are all easily identifiable and their descriptions are both humorous and sad because they all delve in to the navigational issues encountered while being black in America.

Interspersed through the manual are not only Thurston’s experiences but those of his panel. Of particular interest to this reader was the question of when Thurston and each of the panelists realized they were black.  In some instances, blackness or the knowledge of one’s blackness was based on the blackness they lived in and were surrounded by versus the blackness that was used divisively, as in the case of Cheryl Contee who described herself as beige (based on the proximity of her physical color to it) when a white nursery school mate informed her that she indeed was black. Contee was introduced early to “othering”.

I found How to Be Black not just entertaining but found it to be first: a model for educating in blackness which was best exemplified by Thurston’s mother’s multi-pronged approach to his education, one that would get him to Harvard (via Sidwell Friends school), and one that would constantly envelope him positively in his blackness (via the Ankobia program, and a collective of his mother’s black and brown friends and;  secondly and most importantly that being black and experiencing blackness is not a singular thing.  There’s not one way to be black and not one way to do it.  Being black is being yourself and doing those things that are critical to your own experience, not something that is prescribed.

If you haven’t read How to Be Black yet, I suggest that you do.  You will be enlightened, entertained and will recognize some portion of the experience because it is part of your own.
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