My Top 20 Books of 2011

As of this writing, according to Goodreads, I have read 266 books this year. That’s a lot. A good number of them are romance novels that only take a few hours to consume and since losing my full-time job in May, I have lots of extra hours in the day. None of those appear on my “best of” list, however, so those of you who don’t read that genre don’t have to worry.

This list is in no particular order and consists of the books that I gave 4 and 5 stars this year on Goodreads. I have included links to the full reviews on my blog. Here goes:

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Hurricane by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Pym by Mat Johnson

Surrender the Dark by L.A. Banks

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman
A very clever novel about an man who aspires to leave the corporate world and be a great American novelist. Unfortunately, his father has already achieved great notoriety as just that. Lots of funny anecdotes about the workplace.

The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens by Brooke Hauser
Exactly what the subtitle says. Interesting stories about teens who have emigrated from all over the world and the lengths they have to go through to get an education in this country.

Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools by Steven Brill
Outlines the real problems in our schools today and gives a great history lesson on how they got that way. Especially eye-opening was the information about teacher’s unions and the power they wield.

The Gift by Elle

The GQ Candidate by Kelli Goff

The Shopping Diet by Phillip Bloch

Voice of America by E.C. Osondu

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

Peace From Broken Pieces by Iyanla Vanzant

 If Sons, Then Heirs by Lorene Cary

Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World by Kathy Freston
An easy way to ease into the vegan lifestyle.

So, there you have it. Sorry it was so long, but I just couldn’t limit it to just 10. 

Heat Wave

The Life and Career of Ethel Waters
by Donald Bogle

I have not done a good job of reading books about history and historical figures. I started several last year and never finished but they are still on the table and I promise them everyday that I will return. That’s why, even though it took me a couple of months to finish Heat Wave, I refused to put it down. And frankly Donald Bogle’s engaging writing wouldn’t let me.

Bogle is an expert on Blacks in entertainment and his love for all those involved and the industry clearly shows in his prose and research.  Ethel Waters couldn’t have been an easy subject for him. Yes, she was one of the biggest blues and pop stars of the early twentieth century, but her private life was complicated and shrouded in mystery and half-truths. Waters went from poverty in Chester, Pennsylvania to performing as “Sweet Mama Stringbean” in nightclubs across the country.  Her relationships with the men in her life were covered by all of the Colored newspapers and her “friendships” with women were gossiped about by her peers in the industry. And Waters’ notorious temper and jealousy affected most of those she worked with, like Josephine Baker and Lena Horne.

This book is long, almost 600 pages, and kept me engaged because of Waters’ ability to reinvent herself as the times changed. From nightclubs to Broadway to Hollywood, she worked to stay relevant as tastes changed.

Sidenote: Two coincidences happened to me while reading this book.

  1. Right after I read about Waters working with the great songwriter Harold Arlen early in both of their careers, I walked into work and heard Frank Sinatra singing a song written by Arlen.
  2. At the exact moment that I’m reading a passage about her stand-out gospel song, His Eye is On The Sparrow, a house music version comes on my iPod. 

Girl Crushes

Those of you who know me are aware of my many celebrity crushes. The collection of photos (some would call it a shrine; but I don’t light candles by it or nothin‘) of Jesse L. Martin that I have at work can attest to the seriousness of my crushes. I also have posters of Maxwell and Roosevelt Franklin. This is all just fun and fantasy.
My girl crushes, however, are more important. I have two primary ones: Jada Pinkett Smith and Erykah Badu.
A girl crush by definition (whose originally, I don’t know; but my former co-worker Jamie told me this) is someone who you don’t want to have sex with (that would be a regular crush), but you think that if you met them the two of you would be best friends. In essence, you just wanna hang out with them. In my case, I draw inspiration from them and their art. If they mention a book in an interview, I go out and buy it (although usually I already have it; see, we are already on the same wavelength!).
So, this week Erykah Badu released her latest CD, New Amerykah, Part One (4Th World War). Now, normally I would buy it on the day of release, but this week funds were tight and I had to wait until today before I could get it.
Well, after the pants debacle of yesterday and blogging about it today, I wanted to lie on the couch and deal with it some other time. Instead I remembered that I bought the CD and had to load it onto my i-pod and then I listened to it. It is going to take me a few more listens to really immerse myself in it, but I am loving it. Next thing I know, I started looking through my patterns again and then I went back to the fabric stash and found some upholstery fabric that may work for an idea that came to me.
Things are starting to look a little brighter and I credit Ms. Badu. Give thanks.

Further Tales

While out doing my errands this morning (and listening to Talib Kweli) I realized that there were some things that I meant to put in the last post, but I forgot.

  • I do like the Kanye West cd; just not all at one time. I felt the same way with the latest Justin Timberlake cd. When the songs came up randomly in shuffle on my ipod it was party time. But when I listened to the whole cd from start to finish it was just too much Timbaland.
  • Talib Kweli mentions Lynne Thigpen in one of his rhymes. How hot is that?
  • I put an asterisk by 50 Cent’s name because I wanted to come back to him later. No, I am not a huge fan of his current work. It is a little skewed towards his female fans and what he thinks they want to hear. However, he has lost some of the magic that he had very early in his career like How to Rob from the In Too Deep soundtrack or his early mixtapes.

I think that is all.

A Tale of Two CD’s

This past Tuesday I bought 2 cds. Yes, Kanye West’s Graduation was one of them. No, 50 cent wasn’t the other one.* The other cd is Talib Kweli’s Eardrum.
I regret buying one and regret not buying the other one sooner.

Although I have all of his cd’s, I am not a huge Kanye West fan. I enjoy his work as a producer for other artists way more than his own (feel the same way about Will.I.Am). Graduation has left me feeling sort of confused.
Now, as a proud ipod owner, when I buy new music (still not downloaded bunches of stuff, yet) I take it home and load it into itunes. But because I watch so much damn tv I don’t have my inaugural listen until the commute to work the next day on the train. Also, as a female fan of real hip-hop, I tend to pay more attention to the music and production first and then the lyrics on subsequent listens. I listen to the cd from start to finish. If a track is particularly genius (like Star/Pointro on the Roots’ Tipping Point, or Jeff & Fess on Jazzy Jeff’s The Return of the Magnificent) then I will listen to it 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next song.
While listening to Kanye on the train and reading my book, I realized that I had listened to half of the cd and nothing stood out to me. It was like one long song. Nothing stood out. Nothing made me rewind. He does nothing new. Talks about nothing new. Doesn’t sample songs in a new way. (Damn, Kanye! We get it. You are really good at finding obscure soul tracks and speeding up the vocals to make a hot track! Happy now? – probably not).
The only two songs that made me stop and take notice is the last cut, Big Brother, his ode to Jay-Z (although the favorite of music journalist Greg Tate), and Drunk & Hot Girls (because anything that Mos Def does is wonderful to me – except his last throwaway album.
Is Kanye West’s album better than a lot of stuff masquerading as hip-hop? Yes, it is, but it is not the best that he can do.

Eardrum, on the other hand, kinda took me surprise. I expected to like it, but not love it. Kweli has really broadened his horizons on this effort, covering a myriad of topics and styles (that’s what happens when you work with more than one producer). I was scared when I saw it had 20 tracks on it (compared to Kanye’s 13) and so many collaborators (including your boy Kanye). But the cd never got old and tired and wasn’t filled with a lot of in-between song skits (that’s usually what it means when there are that many selections).
Best songs: Country Cousins (feat. UGK & Raheem DeVaughn)
Eat to Live
Hot Thing (feat Will.I.AM) current single

Unfortunately, like most hip-hop artists who are really about something (with the exception of Common, who is getting much deserved recognition), most people will never hear this outstanding work. In fact, today they announced the nominees for the BET 2007
Hip Hop Awards (held here in the Atl) and Kweli was nowhere to be found.

…..but, Kanye was all over it.