If Beale Street could Talk

By James Baldwin

This was my first James Baldwin read and I definitely plan on reading many more. If I didn’t already know of Baldwin, I would have been surprised to find that this was written by a man. He did such a good job telling the story from the woman’s perspective.

“If any place is worse, it’s got to be so close to hell that you can smell the people frying. And, come to think of it, that’s exactly the smell of New York in the summertime”

I absolutely love the way he infuses humour in his writing. I also love the way he writes about love…

“…and when you come home most likely I’ll just grunt and keep on with my chisels and shit and maybe sometimes you’ll think I don’t even know you’re there. But don’t ever think that, ever. You’re with me all the time, all the time…and when I put down the chisel, I’ll always come to you. I’ll always come to you. I need you. I love you.”

This is the kind of love I aspire to – the real kind. The kind that persists long after the honeymoon phase. Fonny and Tish’s confessions of love aren’t about tulips and roses but the recognition that no matter where you are or what is or isn’t going on; you are loved.

“He wasn’t anybody’s nigger. And that’s a crime, in this fucking free country. You’re supposed to be somebody’s nigger. And if you’re nobody’s nigger, you’re a bad nigger: and that’s what the cops decided when Fonny moved downtown”

This probably isn’t news to you. We’re reminded of it every time a black man is stopped because his fancy car must be “stolen”. Or the store clerk follows you around the store because the only way you could possibly get anything in this luxurious store is if you stole it. Like many stories that celebrate black love in America, the stain and influence of racism is inescapable; this one is no different.

“Maybe there’s something I had to see, and — I couldn’t have seen it without coming in here”

At the end of the book, Fonny is wrongfully imprisoned and he states his outlook in the quote above. I have my own thoughts on this but I’d like to know what you think. Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? Is there really a point to all suffering (even when unjust)?

Questions for ADA

By Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Not to be dramatic but this book changed my view on poetry. I used to think that it had to be flowery or that there was a level of “deepness” required to enjoy it to its fullness but “Questions for Ada” showed me that it could also be simple and relatable. The poems touched on a myriad of topics that most of us are aware of but dance around discussing.

“The day your education makes you roll your eyes at your father, the day your exposure makes you call your own mother uncivilized, the day your amazing foreign degrees make you cringe as your driver speaks pidgin English, may you never forget your grandfather was a farmer from Oyo State who never understood English”

As a Nigerian in the diaspora, the struggle is real; with one foot trying to expand your mind and acclimatize in your new environment and the other not wanting to become too detached from the motherland. As one of my favourite podcasts puts it, “Too foreign for here and too foreign for home”. There’s an air of superiority that can come with “exposure” that we must temper at all costs. In our rush to conform we can unknowingly end up turning our noses up at where we come from. Awareness is key.

“Daughters do not have to inherit the silence of their mothers”

A lot of the evil perpetrated in Nigeria is enabled by our celebrated culture of silence. “Shhhhh”, “What will people say?” and “Hope you didn’t tell anyone else?” is killing my people because the opinions of others matter more to us than where the shoe is pinching us. Our culture of silence is one of the reasons why abuse goes unchecked. Abuse (in all forms) thrives on the silence of the victims and family members who are conditioned not to speak up.

“Nobody warned you that the women whose feet you cut from running would give birth to daughters with wings”

Many of us believe that the feminist movement is a recent development but the groundwork of all that’s happening now is as a result of the fight that our mothers put up. Society tried to silence them but they raised daughters that wouldn’t be silenced. We in turn have a duty to champion the cause and pave the way for the next generation of women that won’t put up with this shit.

“You call me “sister” not because you are my blood but because you understand the kind of tragedies we both have endured to come back into loving ourselves again and again”

The importance of female friendships and support cannot be overstated. We stick together because we might be unique but we share similar struggles and as such are better equipped to support and lift each other up. Every woman needs and deserves a sister circle. I’m grateful for mine every day.

“Your feminism wears a wrapper, cooks for her husband, changed her surname.”

My view on feminism is that it’s a fight for everyone (especially women) to have equal opportunities. This means that the house wife, the entrepreneur, the hawker, the woman who loves to cook and the woman who does not want to change her last name can all be feminists in their own right. In our haste to not make the same mistakes as those that came before us we sometimes put down those whose way of life or choices do not align with our wants and choices. We forget that this kind of exclusion is what brought us here in the first place.

“There are many ways to love yourself without breaking in half for a man. Even your mother forgot to teach herself”

For years women have been taught to bend over backwards for men without expecting the same in return. We’re supposed to put everyone else’s needs above ours and deal with whatever comes with that without complaint. Men these days point to their mothers as an example of who we should be they fail to realize that they too were silent victims of a society steeped in patriarchy.

“Someone should have told you the eyes of a lover are not where you find your beauty. Someone should have told you never to cling to another for a reason to feel precious”

It’s easy to get lost in your desire to be found worthy of a partner that you try to change yourself to fit their standards. I have found myself in that exact boat a number of times. It’s usually unintentional and subconscious but it has the same consequence, you lose yourself until there’s nothing left of you. And if or when things end; you’re forced to start finding yourself again.

“Forcing manhood on boys with skin still soft and sticking to mother’s milk for survival is cruel”

Toxic masculinity is destroying our young men. The problem with setting a standard of strength for men is that it leaves no room for mistakes or the chance to simply be human. Sadly, the effects of toxic masculinity linger on for generations and hurt both men and women.

“America, while you were asleep another woman mourned her dead black lover’s bullet-ridden body, as his baby cried for her father’s life”

I’m leaving you with these two jarring quotes that I’m hoping will intrigue you enough to check out this amazing collection of poems or at the very least leave you to ponder their significance. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself and you’ve already read it. If that’s the case, it’s only right that you share your faves with me since I already shared mine 😉

“They invite you to come view artifacts stolen from your ancestors in their museums as their “experts” explain your ancient Benin Kingdom”

Man’s Search for meaning

By Viktor E. Frankl

I remember purchasing this book (when it was suggested at our book club) with no idea what to expect. I initially thought it would read like a textbook (and in a way, it did) but it was an extremely impactful read. Viktor E. Frankl (who died in 1997) tells of his and others’ experiences in the Nazi concentration camps and the psychology behind their survival

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”

Friedrich Nietzsche

I got to peek into the mind of a man who believed that any amount of suffering can be endured if you have something to look forward to. That will diminishes significantly when all hope is lost.

“Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it”

While reading this I thought to myself, how could anyone possibly endure this much suffering. Even if one endures it, how could you carry on. He talks about how having the most basic of needs taken away from you puts you in a position to realize what is truly important. Someone who isn’t getting food to eat has barely any time to think about sex. People found joy in little mercies like the delay of a death sentence at camps with no crematorium; where they would have to wait to be moved in a sick convoy if they disobeyed the rules.

“There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose”

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

There’s an expectation of relief for anyone who survived the Holocaust but there’s really no back to normal after that. Victims had gone so long in displeasure that they had lost the ability to feel pleased even on release. There was also resentment for those outside the camps who had gone on living their lives while they (the victims) suffered unimaginable horrors.

“…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”

Viktor E. Frankl believed that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not the result of camp influences alone.

I honestly wish I could fill you in on all the perspectives I gained from this book but that would make this an extremely long post. Plus, I’d really love for you to read it and share with me if/how it impacted you. I know I’ve already shared way more quotes than are legal for one post but here’s one more (that most of you already know):

“Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker”

“That which does not kill me, makes me stronger”

Nietzsche