The Library Is Open

No Miss Things, this is not a post about artful, colorful ways to denigrate someone.

This is a post about books.

The Queen is a lover of books. The Royal Family was a big believer in learning.The Queen Father was one of youngest students to enter Howard University; and the Queen Mother was asked by Mary McLeod Bethune to be a part of the dedication ceremony for the National Council of Negro Women House in Washington DC. Some of my favorite memories revolve around story times with my parents. It instilled in me a voracious appetite for discovering more.

Right now I am in the middle of reading three selections. The Queen hasn’t embraced the E-book generation quite yet–preferring the feel and smell of a heavy volume. However, the idea of being able to carry a virtual library and giving my back a rest is incredibly enticing. I know I am becoming a relic, because the idea of books becoming archaic objects absolutely terrifies me. I’ve seen Star Trek–The Next Generation. I know it’s coming. But until then, I’d like to share with you Miss Things the stack that is sitting on my nightstand and sometimes in my back-breaking knapsack or bag (thanks to you all, the Queen ended up getting the last one on the page).

Mogul–Terrance Dean

The Queen will probably once again have his Black Card revoked for this statement: I am not a big fan of gay fiction by black writers. Mostly it’s because of the writing style. And character development. And plot development.

In other words, everything. The Queen is a sanctimonious bitch sometimes.

However, after reading the first few paragraphs of every book in the black, gay section of the Strand I found this work by Terrance Dean–the author of Hiding In Hip-Hop. Unlike so many of the other works I perused, Dean understands how to hook you with a strong, sure-footed narrative, and reel you in with suspense. The story revolves around a high-powered, successful entrepreneur in the testosterone-filled world of Hip-Hop who has decided to come out of the closet. It starts out with a bang, and so far continues to intrigue. This is stuff that black men don’t talk about. It addresses homophobia in the Black community head on (pun-intended). I applaud Mr. Dean for doing so…and in an entertaining manner.

You can read an excerpt here.

Manchild in the Promised Land-Claude Brown

One of the most convenient things about getting older is memory loss. Not only does it help you conveniently forget many of those pesky fuck-ups you’ve made throughout your life; but it also allows you to revisit books you’ve read before as if it were the first time. The Queen was never inordinately rebellious in his youth–although I did join a gang during my Middle School years. Even during that part of my life, I still read everything I could get my hands on. If I remember nothing else about the book, I remember that it scared the shit out of me and profoundly changed something deep inside.

In a past RPDR post, I talked about working with inmates at the now defunct Lorton Reformatory one day a month for about eight hours as a part of a Social Outreach theatre company called Living Stage. Some of the greatest men I’ve ever met were a part of those sessions. During the eight hours the residents would have to be “counted” three times: once in the morning, once at lunchtime, and once in the afternoon. During one particular session, the afternoon count was off. This was nothing truly unusual. The new guards would often make a mistake, and it would be the inmates that would help them correct any discrepancies.

This time however the issue seemed to take a little longer to rectify.

I should point out that in our little company of four there were two women, one white male and one black. The white guy (who was leading the session that day) learned what was up when one of the residents approached him. He kept motioning for me to step back from the circle in which the exercise was to take place after the count. And it suddenly dawned on me: the guards were counting me as one of the residents. That was why the count was off.

Later that evening, when I was walking back to my car, I broke into tears. I realized that the only difference between the men in prison and myself was a prison pass (which I kept VERY close to me for the rest of the day) and one initial incident that changed our respective lives. This book reminds me of that in a very powerful way.

The Alchemist-Paulo Coelho

β€œAnd, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Many books have affected me deeply. Most of my primary reference points for dealing with life have come from books. I think it is fair to say that each book I’ve read from my first baby book to the ones that I am involved with now have, on some level, touched something deep within me. None more so than The Alchemist–a tale which reverberates with the Soul of the World.
It is a very simple fable about a shepherd boy who is looking for his Personal Legend: his very special purpose for being. But to find it, he must deal courageously with setback and triumph. Along the way to his Personal Legend he discovers much about himself and the world.

I cherish this book. Not because it offers any magical answers–it has not become a bible for me. I cherish it because it is a beautifully written story that gives me fresh eyes for looking at things that I have known all along. In moments of abject failure and self-doubt, it reminds me that I must be close to treasure…or else the Universe would not be testing me.

Miss Things, if you haven’t already, give yourself a gift and read this story. The Queen gets no kickbacks from Mr. Coelho for recommending it–other than feeling that I have paid a little bit forward from the incredible support you all have given me over the last few months.

So what fabulous tomes are on your Summer Reading list?


10 thoughts on “The Library Is Open

  1. I agree very strongly with you about the trend toward e-books. Logically, I understand that they are probably more convenient and more modern. However, my boyfriend has a Kindle, and I find it horrifying and soulless. (Plus, used “real” books are still cheaper than most e-books!)

    I spend about 3 hours a day commuting, so I read a LOT. Right now, I’ve got ‘War’ by Sebastien Junger (I read a lot of WW2 books, and it’s interesting to compare and contrast the experiences of young soldiers in that war to the experiences of today’s young soldiers) and James Ellroy’s ‘L.A. Confidential’ waiting for me. Plus a bunch of trashy zombie books that I enjoy more than is justifiable.

    I may have to pick up ‘The Alchemist’. Although it’s not something I’d normally be interested in, so far I trust your good taste! πŸ™‚

    • ” However, my boyfriend has a Kindle, and I find it horrifying and soulless.”

      I don’t want to offend any of the Miss Things out there who swear by them, but your description is perfect from my viewpoint. I recognize that it is a cultural thing, but an actual book is a perfect amalgam of form and function for me. When I walk through the stacks at a library and/or bookstore, I am drawn to a book partly by the visual. From the title, to the cover, to the dust jacket–like a food epicurean would say “I eat with my eyes as well as my palate.” After a long day there is something physical that happens to me when I come home and see a book I am enjoying sitting on my nightstand. A Kindle will not make me exhale with the same contentment.

      As far as the books are concerned: I think I’m going to have to pick up War. From your description and from what I’ve read online, it sounds quite intriguing. It reminds me of a book called Brave men, Gentle Heroes by Michael Takiff that one of our most fabulous Miss Things Mary Ellen was involved with.

      In terms of The Alchemist, one of the reasons that it resonates so much with me, is that Coelho is not trying to be metaphysical or New Age at all. He just tells a compelling story. if people want to read that into it–fine. But I love it because it does what all good stories do: it beckons you in with a metaphorical “Once Upon A Time” and leaves you with a very satisfying “The End.” The fact that I walked away changed forever was just my happy coincidence.

  2. I own a Kindle, used it once on a flight, and have since then lost the power adapter (I’ve had it for a year now :)). I am absolutely with you on the disappearance of books. I like books – everything about them – smell, feel, substance – and in the case of a paperback – they don’t care if you drop them in the tub. As far as my summer reading – I proudly admit to being a consumer of trash while sitting anywhere near a beach (or sun). I just finished the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel – I don’t remember a thing about the plot, but it was fun at the time. James Patterson – Women’s Murder Club. I do plan on doing my yearly re-read of Jane Eyre for just a bit of culture. I’ve seen a couple of reviews of “The Alchemist” – and thought it looked like something worth reading. Based on your recommendation, I’ll plan on picking it up during my next Barnes & Noble run (I miss Borders too). I hope all is going well for you this summer!

    • “…and in the case of a paperback – they don’t care if you drop them in the tub.”

      …or run over them with the back end of your car (long story).

      I really have to read some James Patterson. I’ve picked up an Alex Cross novel every time I’ve gone to a bookstore in the past nineteen years, but always put it back. And I offend and embarrass myself with the racist reason why. It’s because it’s a white guy writing about a black one. And the funny thing is that I think Patterson is such a great pitchman for his novels. Every time I see him I think to myself that if he writes with the same wit and humor with which he talks, I’ll probably love his work.

      Thank you. You’ve just unknowingly helped me tackle one of my somewhat persistent demons. I’m picking up the first in the series today.

      There is a section in my local library which features classics that the average student has on a reading list. I have resolved to pick one up to re-read every time I go there. That’s where Manchild… came from, and coincidentally Jane Eyre is next.

      Losing Borders was agony for me. There is was one next to Madison Square Gardens in which I practically lived.

      • I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I got a bit disgusted with the Alex Cross series a few novels back. The plot line was just irritating. Alex goes to Africa and fixes a third world government. Blergh. But the first few are really pretty great. Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls – I’ll be curious to know what you thnk. I almost think Patterson’s a bit bored with the character but doesn’t quite know how to stop. Women’s Murder Club – I have something of the same issue as you do – white guy writing about a racially mixed group of women, but he does surprisingly well with it all. There’s times when I think – there is no female on the face of this planet who would do/say that, but all in all, not too bad. I enjoy them – very light read.

        Borders started in Ann Arbor, Michigan – I remember (aging myself) when the very first one opened in the Detroit area. Loved the place, and all the empty stores look very sad. Barnes & Noble tries – but just not the same. Sigh. πŸ™‚

  3. Books: from my cold, dead hands.

    Right now I am reading American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto. It’s a Sociologial study of a housing project in Chicago. I’m only through the first few chapters, but it is interesting.

    I don’t really read a lot of fiction these days, but I did looove The Alchemist. It’s one of those books that changes your life. And I like to recommend The Road by Cormac McCarthy whenever I get the chance.

  4. I agree completely with what you say about the love of books going beyond just the content to the physical and visual experiences too. I don’t think I’ve been without a book in progress since I was about five years old. In many of the books that I reread most often, I’ve accumulated a number of stains and marks and things, and so coming back to them is a feast of memory & nostalgia as well as a good story. The spot where I dripped ice cream during a wonderful road trip after college, the place where I jotted a phone number when I had no other paper, etc. BUT, for travelling, I can’t survive without my Kindle anymore. I travel a LOT, for research, often for weeks at a time or longer. And I read too fast, I simply can’t get enough books in my bag along with clothes and other necessary stuff to last for a trip that’s longer than a week! But to me, they’re so different they’re really two completely separate things, physical books & Kindle – I even have a number of the same works in print and Kindle versions. Which is why I guess I’m okay with using both – they get used at different times, and the Kindle serves a very specific function, so I don’t feel like I’m giving up physical books, just giving up the backache of traveling with them.

  5. I was shocked when I heard Barnes and Noble was in financial trouble. While I realize B&N was at least partially responsible for the coma independent bookstores are now in (I refuse to accept that they’re dead), It makes me sad when any source for books has to close down. I’ve had as much fun in a Barnes and Noble as I do in our local store, because… books!

    I’m reading “A Son of the Circus” right now. After uncountable unsuccessful attempts to read it, I’m fully hooked this time around. It has Irving’s usual quirky writing style, parenthetical comments and all. I’m actually not sure yet what it’s about, because I haven’t even reached page 100. Right now, I’m just along for the ride. I’ve already encountered dwarves, clowns, and dwarf clowns. I suspect there will be bears soon enough.

    Before that I read Alice Sebold’s “The Almost Moon”. It is not a light beach read. It’s a brutal story about the choices people make and the repercussions of those choices, especially when it’s a choice you absolutely cannot change. The very first sentence in the book tells you what choice the protagonist makes, but I won’t spoil it here. I’ll just say don’t expect to laugh, or even smile, while you’re reading this book. If you do smile, you might want to seek professional help. πŸ˜‰

    By the way, Big Lots is a goldmine for cheap hardbacks. They’re never more than $5. I’ve been getting books there for the past several years, and have only picked up a few duds so far. The worst was “Ladies of the Lake”, by Haywood Smith, she of the Red Hat books. Annoying characters, terrible dialogue, a story so predictable I could have skipped to the last 5 pages and probably not missed a thing. It was the first Smith book I’ve read, and it’s also the last. It cost me 3 bucks, and I feel I still overpaid. It’s a hardback I would happily drop into the bath tub. Better yet, I should take it into the shower with me.

    RE: the Kindle. It’s not for me, and not just because I’m too damn cheap to buy one. I too love the feel and smell and heft of a book. But my opinion of the Kindle is like my opinion of big box bookstores. Anything that gives people access to great books is fine with me.

  6. I have to admire anyone that prefers a tangible book. I still get my newspapers delivered and have a library card.

    The next time you’re in the stacks-of-nostalgia check out “Down These Mean Streets” by Piri Thomas. Thomas, may he rest in peace, was a poetic rose of Spanish Harlem that didn’t avoid the thorns.

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