Review of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a letter to his fifteen year old son in which he discusses race in America. Specifically, he touches on the Black Lives Matter movement, the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and the various institutions that have systematically oppressed black people for centuries. He confronts and analyzes these issues within his own experiences as a young black man growing up in Baltimore as well as his time surrounded by black excellence at Howard University. It is through this analysis that Coates attempts to answer the many “whys” and “hows” that his son and people of color in general have been asking for years.

The idea that black bodies are so easily destroyed without a second thought and have been for years is such an important concept which Coates beautifully illustrates. Furthermore, Coates eloquently and accurately cites much of America’s relentless oppression of black as a way to keep the guilt free “dream” of white America alive because to acknowledge and validate the problems facing black Americas is to take responsibility for this continued oppression.

Coates repeatedly talks about how inspiring the words of Malcolm X were to him and frankly, Coates had the same effect on me. With each page, I found myself nodding and smiling because he verbalized and validated frustrations I couldn’t find the words for and brought attention to just how heavy the weight of centuries of oppression can be on people of color. To put it simply, I am incredibly grateful for this Coates’ words and encourage everyone and anyone to put this book on the top of your reading list.

5 out of 5 stars  

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Favorite Quotes:

“Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim your present circumstance–no matter how improved–as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the post humous, untouchable glory of dying for their children. Our triumphs never compensate for this.” –p. 70

“The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of tis country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies–the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects–are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police if to challenge the American people who send them into the ghettos armed with the same self-generated fears that compelled the people who think they are white to flee the cities and into the Dream.” –p. 79

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body and you must find some way to live within all of it.”

“Our current politics tell you that should you fall victim to such an assault and lose your body, it somehow must be your fault. Trayvon Martin’s hoodie for him killed. Jordan Davis’s loud music did the same. John Crawford should never have touched the rifle on display. Kajieme Powell should have known not to be crazy. And all of them should have fathers–even he ones with fathers, even you. Without its own justifications, the Dream would collapse upon itself.” –p. 130-31

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Review of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

 When Breath Becomes Air is the memoir of Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal lung cancer just as his career is about to start. With his musical prose, Kalanithi takes the reader on an incredibly moving journey as he comes to terms with his own mortality and identifies what makes life worth living.

It is hard for me to put into words how much this book means to me. As someone who sees death and all its ugliness almost every day as part of my work in a neuroscience intensive care unit and is simultaneously petrified of not having enough time in life, I found Kalanithi’s perspective particularly interesting and familiar. The idea of him not recognizing death when it was happening to him personally, despite his daily encounters with is as a neurosurgeon is a sentiment I found to be both poignant and important. Kalanithi’s portrayal of the array of emotions and challenging decisions associated with facing his own mortality and ensuring his last few days were meaningful was so moving and truly unlike anything I have ever read before.

I am absolutely in awe of this book. Dr. Kalanithi taught me more about having a meaningful and fulfilling existence in 200 pages than I have learned in 22 years of living. I can honestly say that I am a better person as a result of reading this memoir and can say with confidence that this is the best book I have ever read. I encourage everyone to pick up a copy and learn from Paul. You won’t be sorry.

As always, let me know in the comments below your thoughts on this book and check back here over the weekend for my review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. 

5 out of 5 stars 

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Favorite Quotes:

“While all doctors treat disease, neurosurgeons work in the crucible of identity: every operation on the brain is, by necessity, a manipulation of the substance of ourselves, and every conversation with a patient undergoing brain surgery cannot help but confront this fact…At those critical junctures, the question is not simply whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living…Because the brain mediates out experience of the world, any neurosurgical problem forces a patient and family, ideally with a doctor as a guide, to answer the question: What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?” –p. 71

“Death, so familiar to me in my work was now paying a personal visit. Here we were, finally face-to-face, and yet nothing about it seemed recognizable” –p. 121

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Happy New Year/Review of A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

Happy New Year Everyone! With 2016 being a less than stellar year, I wanted to start 2017 with good vibes and of course good reads. This week, I’ll be bringing you reviews on the three books that made my transition into the new year absolutely perfect: A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. These are honestly three of the best books that I’ve read and I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you all!

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After experiencing quite the reading hangover after I finished The Wonder, the only thing that could bring me out of it was the beautiful prose of Frederik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. This novel is about an elderly Swedish gentleman named Ove who is described as “the bitter neighbor from hell.” He starts his days with a daily inspection of his neighborhood and does not hold back when people are not following the rules or doing things up to his standards. However, when a young couple moves next door to Ove and accidentally knocks over Ove’s mailbox with their moving van, a rather unexpected friendship begins and truly changes Ove’s solitary and cranky ways.

To put it simply, Frederik Backman can do no wrong by me. Every single word he writes captivates me and A Man Called Ove was no different. Ove is the most lovable of curmudgeons. The pace at which Backman reveals Ove’s past and the true colors of his character is perfect and simply made my love for him grow with each turn of the page. Furthermore, I loved how dynamic each of the supporting characters were. I could easily picture Parvaneh waddling into Ove’s house unannounced or the “Blonde Weed” shrieking about Ove’s newly adopted cat swatting at her dog because Backman truly creates characters that leap off the page.

A Man Called Ove is a truly heartwarming tale. Backman perfectly captures how love, loss, and true friendship can shape an individual. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh out loud, cry, and leave you with a new appreciation for life in general, then I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of A Man Called Ove (or any Backman masterpiece for that matter!)

Let me know your thoughts on A Man Called Ove in the comments below and check back on Thurs for my review of When Breath Becomes Air!

5 out of 5 stars

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hello, it’s me

Hi Everyone! Happy third night of Chanukah, a belated Merry Christmas, and a happy first night of Kwanza! I just wanted to post a quick update for you all. I apologize for being MIA for the past two weeks. I’ve honestly been in a bit of a funk and haven’t done much reading but I’m finally back to feeling like myself again.

At the moment, I’m reading A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman because I just needed his wonderful prose and quirky characters to lift my spirits. Seeing as though I’m tearing on through that, I should have another review up for you guys in the next couple of days. I’ll also be posting a complete list of all the books I read in 2016 with ratings and a TBR list for 2017.

Thanks for not forgetting about me & happy reading! 🙂

Review of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

After being in a bit of a reading slump, I was desperate for a read that would absolutely enthrall me and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue did that and more. Set in the 19th century, an English nurse named Lib is summoned to a small Irish village to observe a young girl who, according to her family, hasn’t eaten anything for 4 months. As people flock from all ends of the earth to witness the miracle girl, Lib makes it her mission to uncover the secrets behind Anna’s survival without proper nutrition for such an extended period of time.

I was immediately captivated by this novel. Donoghue expertly creates an air of mystery surrounding Anna’s “miraculous” existence that was was realistic, but still extremely intriguing. I particularly loved the various dichotomies that Donoghue wove into this novel. The stark contrast between English Protestants and Irish Catholics during this time period served as a beautiful foundation for a story that wonderfully portrayed how difficult it can be to manage the dissonance between religious and scientific truths. Despite the fact that Anna’s existence goes against all the scientific information that has been instilled in Lib, she is still alive and well which forces Lib to question the sanctity of her own beliefs.

Although this book moved at a slower pace than I am typically drawn to in a psychological thriller, I honestly couldn’t put it down. I simply had to know how Anna continued to survive and which of the many flawed characters in her inner circle were responsible for this “divine intervention” and Donoghue’s incredible storytelling abilities kept me guessing until the very last page.

Ultimately, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder completely redefines the genre of psychological thriller. I absolutely devoured this book and encourage anyone and everyone to move this novel up to the top of your reading list. Donoghue’s incredible storytelling is simply not something any reader should deprive themselves of any longer.

Let me know your thoughts on The Wonder or any of Emma Donoghue’s other works in the comments below! 🙂

5 out of 5 stars

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Review of The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

After the tremendous amount of praise surrounding this novel, The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang was yet another book I purchased and immediately bumped to the top of my reading list. However, this novel became yet another “notable” book of 2016 that failed to strike a cord with me.

In this novel, Charles Wang is a Chinese immigrant who has carved out a very lavish life for himself, his second wife Barbra, and three children Saina, Grace, and Andrew with the tremendous success of his cosmetics empire. However when this comes toppling down with the rest of the market in 2008, Charles decides to return to his homeland and reclaim his ancestral lands that were confiscated under the Communist regime. Before he can do this, he first pulls Grace and Andrew out of their respective schools and drives cross country in his first wife’s vintage car to Saina’s upstate New York home, which becomes the overall focus of the novel.

Although the premise of this novel seems to lend itself to endless humor, I was less than amused. While I commend Ms. Chang on her ability to create five main characters with such distinct voices, I found all of them to be quite unlikeable and therefore struggled to really empathize with what they were going through as a family. I was also very frustrated by Chang’s decision to write parts of the novel’s dialogue in Chinese. While I understand the desire to create an authentic portrayal of a blended Chinese-American home, I found myself lost in translation at key moments in the novel. In fact, I’m honestly still at a loss for what exactly happened in regard to Charles’ health and his ancestral lands because of how much Chinese riddled the last few pages of the novel.

Ultimately, reading The Wangs vs. The World was very comparable to my experience reading The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Just when I started to warm up a bit to these utterly unlikeable characters, they did something inexcusable which left me questioning why I even bothered to continue reading. Despite all the hype surrounding this novel, I would definitely not recommend it.

Let me know in the comments below what your thoughts were on this book!

2.5 out of 5 stars

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November Wrap Up & December TBR’s

Happy December everyone! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving last week and an overall awesome November. Below is a recap of the books I read this month and my reading plan for December. I apologize that didn’t exactly stick to my TBR list from this past month. I’m hoping to get to the books I didn’t get to in November in December!

Let me know in the comments below what you’re most looking forward to reading this month!

November Wrap-Up:

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Frederik Backman
5 out of 5 stars 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
5 out of 5 stars 

The Mothers by Brit Bennett
4 out of 5 stars 

The Underground Railroad by Colton Whitehead
2 out of 5 stars 

The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang
(reading now–first review of December!)

December TBR:

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam

Sleep Wise by Dr. Daniel Blum (to be released: 12/27)

The Mortifications by Derek Palacio

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett (to be released: 1/3/17)

Review of The Underground Railroad by Colton Whitehead

After Goodreads declared The Underground Railroad by Colton Whitehead the Best Book of 2016, I quickly rushed out to purchase it and bumped it up to the top of my ever-growing fall reading list. This novel is about Cora, a slave on a deep southern plantation who is a bit of an outsider since her mother Mabel’s infamous escape. Her and Cesar, a newer slave on the plantation, decide to escape their own personal hells and take the Underground Railroad to freedom. However, within this novel the Underground Railroad is not the network of brave individuals who housed and moved slaves to freedom that we are accustomed to, but rather it is an actual underground network of railways that was supposedly built by freed slaves and other abolitionists.

Despite my excitement about reading this book, I honestly couldn’t get past the first hundred pages. While I appreciated the realistic way in which Whitehead depicted the atrocities of slavery, his overall writing style failed to captivate me. I found the structure to be quite disjointed and difficult to follow. It seemed as though right when the action started, Whitehead would cut to a flashback or begin telling a portion of the story from a completely new perspective. The lacking character development not only made these transitions in perspective more challenging to follow but also made it difficult for me to empathize with them, despite the tremendous hardships Cora, Cesar, and the rest of the slaves on the Randall plantation were experiencing.

To be quite honest, I was very disappointed in myself for not being able to enjoy this novel. As someone who loves historical fiction, especially about this particular era in our history, I was truly devastated that I was unmoved by this novel. I am very curious to see how you guys felt about this novel so let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

2 out of 5 stars 

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Review of The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Mothers by Brit Bennett follows the story of seventeen year old Nadia Turner who, after losing her mother to suicide, finds herself pregnant with the local pastor’s son’s baby. It is this pregnancy, and the cover up that followed, that greatly impacts the life of Nadia, her best friend Aubrey, and Luke well into their adult lives. Told through the perspective of Nadia and “the mothers” of the local church, Bennett beautifully captures the modern black experience and the complexity of our relationships, especially within a rather insular community.

To put it simply, this book is a work of art. Bennett’s imagery and prose is like nothing I have ever experienced before. She somehow captures exactly what the reader is thinking as she exposes us to the different hardships that Nadia faces, making her experiences even more relatable. Furthermore, she beautifully and expertly shows the reader the hearts and minds of the three dimensional characters that she created in a way that transforms them into old friends that leap off the page. Moreover, her comments on the modern black experience ground Bennett’s whimsical writing style in a reality we all recognize to be true.

My only complaint about this novel is that the ending of the novel was a bit long winded. After the last, and most damning, of the many plot twists occurred, I found myself getting a bit antsy for it to resolve itself. While I still found the overall progression of the novel to be masterful and moving, there were some moments especially in Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey’s adult years during which I felt a bit stuck in a rut as a reader.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett was a pleasant surprise in my fall reading list. I honestly had no idea what to expect from this novel and her story took me to a corner of the literary world that I had never been before, and am longing to return to. I cannot wait to see what other masterpieces Ms. Bennett puts out in the future and I strongly encourage everyone to bump The Mothers to the top of your reading list.

4 out of 5 stars

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Review of Chronicle of a Last Summer: A Novel of Egypt by Yasmine El Rashidi

When I first received this book from the Blogging for Books program earlier this summer, I was so ready to immerse myself in the history of a country I know very little about. I had high hopes of forming a greater understanding of the current conflicts in Egypt, told through a fictional lens. However, despite numerous attempts to finish this book, I honestly couldn’t get past the 60 page mark. Below is a portion of the Goodreads synopsis followed by my review:

Goodreads Summary:

Cairo, 1984. A blisteringly hot summer. A young girl in a sprawling family house. Her days pass quietly: listening to a mother’s phone conversations, looking at the Nile from a bedroom window, watching the three state-sanctioned TV stations with the volume off, daydreaming about other lives. Underlying this claustrophobic routine is mystery and loss. Relatives mutter darkly about the newly-appointed President Mubarak. Everyone talks with melancholy about the past. People disappear overnight. Her own father has left, too—why, or to where, no one will say.

Review:

Part of what drew me to this novel, initially, was the idea of following the main character across three decades. However, I quickly became quite frustrated with this structure because I found it particularly challenging to get a sense of an unfamiliar country in an era that was before my time when it was being told to me from the perspective of a six year old. Furthermore, the protagonist’s parents worked very hard to shield her from the hardships their family was experiencing so I felt as though I, too, was being shielded from pertinent information necessary to understanding the state of Egypt during this time. This ultimately prevented me from empathizing with what the protagonist was experiencing and thus made it impossible for me to get through this entire novel.

I think what would have made this a stronger novel would be starting the novel in a time when then protagonist was older and then flashing back to her six year old self. This would have allowed the reader to have some concept of the state of Egypt and who the main character is prior to diving in to all that she’s been through. I apologize for the brevity of this review, however I felt it was important to share my thoughts on novels that I really struggled to get through to balance out my reviews of books that I absolutely fell in love with. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on Chronicle of a Last Summer if you’ve had a chance to read it!

1 out of 5 stars 

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**I received this book for free from the Blogging For Books Program in exchange for an honest review**