Right Steps & Poui Trees


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8 Books I Plan To Reread This Year

three-booksWhen I think about it, there are not that many books that I have reread over the years, though there have always been some books that I have intended to reread. So this year, I’m going to do some intentional rereading and here are eight books on my list.

1. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

I read this when I was 12 or 13 and it consumed me for a couple of weeks. I squeezed it into every spare moment. I remember a few times being so engrossed reading it on the bus from school that I missed my usual bus stop and had a longer walk home than usual. I cried when I finished it, as I wanted the fantastical journey to go on forever. My older brother was surprised to find out recently that I had never reread Lord of the Rings, as he says he rereads it every few years.

2. Augustown by Kei Miller

As soon as I finished reading Augustown a few weeks ago, I had an immediate impulse to go to the beginning and start reading it again. As though there was some seamless way in which this story could (should) keep playing out. I can’t remember ever having had that impulse with another book. There is a compelling mix of the historical story of Bedward, the groundedness of people and communities dealing with real life in the 80s and the mythical and fabulous running through it all. Cutting of hair was revived in Jamaican public discourse last year, demonstrating that things past are still present and things fictional are often not fictional at all.

3. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is the first of Adichie’s books that I read and I felt its impact for a long time after I read it. There is something monumental about the novel, which captures brilliantly that sense of people living their lives into and through a major historical event or period. As the reader, you may know to some degree the outcome of the event or the details of the period, but what you don’t know is what will happen to the fictional characters. When I read this time,  I will already know what happens in this novel about the Nigeria-Biafra war. And I want to see what difference that makes to how I experience this amazing story.

 

young-warriors4. Young Warriors by V.S. Reid

A childhood favourite. My brothers and I went through multiple copies of this children’s novel. Maroon boys helping to defeat Red Coats was good fun. I have read it to younger siblings and cousins and my own children as well, but I’d like to reread it myself one more time, just for fun.

 

5. 1984 by George Orwell

Because of Donald Trump.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Also because of Donald Trump. By chance, I was reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower at the time of the US election last November and then read Parable of the Talents soon after, both about people trying to survive in a dystopian America. Which was rather eerie. A time for dystopian novels?

the-middle-passage7. The Middle Passage: The Caribbean revisited by V. S. Naipaul

When I was eighteen I read and enjoyed Naipaul’s The Mystic Masseur and Miguel Street. On a Naipaul streak, I then read The Middle Passage. I disliked the book so intensely that it put me off Naipaul for life. Seriously, I have never read any of Naipaul’s other books, fiction or non-fiction. It is a rather shameful admission to make! I have bought a number of his books since then and have long intended to give him another try, but haven’t. So I intend to reread The Middle Passage to see how (if) decades more of living have changed my reaction. Then, perhaps, more Naipaul….

8. Summer Lightning and Other Stories by Olive Senior

This is one of my favourite collections of short stories; I still remember how much I enjoyed it when I first read it back in the late 80s. I have reread individual stories since, but not the entire volume. One story has  perhaps the most intriguing story title I have encountered – “Do Angels Wear Brassieres?” I will have to buy a new copy of the book , as I can’t find my old copy. (Trying to remember if I lent it to someone….)

There are some books I read and enjoyed decades ago that I wouldn’t attempt to read again, as I know that I wouldn’t enjoy them as much now. But it will be interesting to revisit the books on my list as a different reader and to see how that and the passage of time affects the experience. The two books that I read most recently will both stand rereading – Half of a Yellow Sun ( a few years ago) and Augustown (a few weeks ago) – and I  look forward to going beyond the experience of first reading to something more.

(This also makes me think of looking at the books I have reread in the past and my reasons for doing so. Another blog post.)

 

 


Add Kei Miller’s “Augustown” to Your To-Read List

I am currently in that temporary space that I sometimes occupy having just finished a book that has captured my imagination for days or weeks, depending on how long it has taken me to read it. The book is finished but I am still inhabiting its world, unwilling or unable to let its time, its place, its people go. This time the book that I have finished but have not yet left is Kei Miller’s novel “Augustown”.augustown

The novel is set in the fictional community of Augustown, geographically located at 17° 59′ 0″ North, 76° 44′ 0″ West, we are told, “a community that bears an uncanny resemblance to and shares a parallel history with a very real place: August Town, Jamaica.” The novel moves between the 1920s and the 1980s and as the narrator says:

“When the past takes hold of us, it does not let go easily. We find ourselves, miraculously, in two places at once.”

Every character in the novel feels as though s/he has been well-seasoned and simmered long. You learn more about some than others, savour some more than others, which is the way with any book. “Irie Tafari, otherwise known as Ma Taffy” is the blind, old woman who bridges the two places in time, telling the story of Alexander Bedward, the flying preacherman, even as we are shepherded towards the autoclaps that takes place in the 1980s. Because when young Kaia runs home crying and tells Ma Taffy “Is the teacher, Grandma. Is Mr Saint-Josephs who cut off my dreadlocks”, you know it can’t end just so. You know, as Ma Taffy knows before she even knows what was done to Kaia, that it can’t end just so:

Ma Taffy lifts the spliff back to her mouth. She is growing nervous. Another coming autoclaps. ‘Steady your heart, Taffy, ‘she whispers to herself. ‘Steady.’

So you journey through time and place, walking into the lives of the characters – Bongo Moody, Mrs G, Miss G, Mr Saint-Josephs, his wife Mary, Governor Leslie Probyn, Sister Gilzene, Soft-Paw and others – and whether you walk with a character for a mile or only a few fleeting steps, you feel you have glimpsed someone real, or someone who could have been real. (Brief note – the only one that feels undone to me is Richard Azaar, the “brash businessman”, who could have done with a pinch more seasoning and half-an-hour more on the stove.)

The novel is an exercise in story-telling, quite explicitly, and has the feel of a fable, of folklore. The story of Bedward, from one perspective or another, is part of both Jamaican history and Jamaican folklore. The story of Rastas having their locks trimmed is also part of Jamaican history and a legendary image of abuse. Kei Miller easily mixes mythical threads with excerpts from Gleaner archives, as he tells a deeply moving story of individual lives and of divisions – class, colour, race, religion, culture –  and the impact on people and communities. Things that are past but are still present.

If you haven’t already, you might want to read “Augustown”.


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A Bucket List of Books?

I remember falling in love with Samuel Beckett’s works in Sixth Form. We were doing “Malone Dies” for A Levels and, in addition to having an excellent teacher, the searing scrutiny of the human condition resonated with something in my adolescent soul. After the three novels, I quickly went on to read “Waiting for Godot” and “Endgame” and without hesitation declared the man a genius!

 

 

So taken was I with Beckett, that in a letter to my grandparents (then in their late 60s/early 70s) I exhorted them to read “Malone Dies”, telling them how good it was. I still remember my grandfather’s reply in his next letter. He said that at his age, he preferred to stick with writers he already knew and liked. It was the first time I had thought about having to choose which books to read based on limited time left for reading. I didn’t fully get it, but it seemed sad to the teen-aged me. I am now nearly 60, and I understand a bit better. I realize that I no longer have the time to read all the books I want to or would want to. Maybe I should begin to act my age, and not read with wild abandon.

IMG_9978That was how I read when I was younger. With wild abandon. Whatever I felt like. Whatever caught my interest or fancy. I never considered time to read a diminishing or limited resource. Of course I had time to read! I could read it all! I could read trashy novels, an entire fantasy series, a book about world superstitions, Naipaul (till I decided never again), every book by Jean Plaidy, every book by Beckett, “David Copperfield”, “Anna Karenina”, “Lord of the Rings”, I could read it all! I could sample something by an unknown author, wander off down unbeaten literary tracks, not at all concerned about whether I would like everything I found there or not. I had time, I had interest, how exciting it was! I could always come back to the tried and true when I was ready. Maps or GPS not needed! There were no flights to miss, no deadlines for this kind of journey! If I didn’t like the book, that was just another discovery to be noted. No question of time wasted or a reading opportunity lost.

bookstoreBut is that changing now? Or should it be? I don’t exactly hear time’s winged chariot, but I am aware that it may be only another 20 or 30 good years of reading left (given some family longevity genes). Maybe I should become more cautious in my choices, check out the bone fides of a book before reading it. Maybe I should spend more nights at home with old friends, rather than go for a wild fling, a possible one-night stand with a strange author! Blind dates with a book should perhaps be a thing of the past. Those pick-ups in an airport bookstore, waiting for a flight, may need to come to an end. Should I be drafting a book bucket list?IMG_9997[1]

I haven’t decided. And maybe I won’t change my ways. But what I do know is that I am accepting that I will never be able to read all the books I would like to. That was always the truth, but I am aware of it now. And that’s a little sad.

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Love Affair with Literature on a Sunday Morning

The prospect of continuing a love affair may indeed rouse you early on a Sunday morning, and cause you to wend your way expectantly to the UWI Mona Campus. Love Affair with Literature 5. IMG_8908

And once there, poet Tanya Shirley welcomes you on behalf of the Department of Literatures in English, assuring you that this is one love affair that is okay, with no risk of fornication, sin or hell!

(Kellie Magnus then reminds you that this is the start of Kingston Book Festival 2016.)

 

A-dZiko Simba Gegele reads from her novel “All Over Again”, and you enter into the world of a young boy carrying home his school report to his mother. IMG_8916

This envelope full of bad things.

Look, you tell yourself. You just have to explain that not everyone can be good at everything. Surely she will understand. You are good at climbing trees, and swimming in rivers and making bingys and you can hit a cricket ball right over the school fence and you know where to find sweet guavas….

IMG_8917Mel Cooke reads a number of his poems, having you follow him as he highlights social issues, individual and collective pain, ending with the first poem in his collection “11/9”, reiterating that he is indeed a “Word Terrorist”:

Me a no no writa

no poet, no journalis’.

No rhyma, no chanta

no Gleana Tursday columnist.

Me? Me is a word terroris’ –

Olive Senior reads a poem from 30 years ago and a more recent poem, both to do with the environment, and then reads from her new collection of short stories, “The Pain Tree”, which is to have its Jamaican launch this Thursday.IMG_8922

That was fine with Mrs. F, for she loved to explain things to foreigners. One of the reasons – perhaps the only reason – she liked going to her Book Club – she hated reading – was that it was full of foreigners, many of whom were attached to embassies. She was frequently asked to their little do’s, and she and her husband to some of their big parties celebrating this Day or that Day – something that gave her one up on those poor souls who never got invited to Foreign Missions, as Mrs. F loved to call them. (From the story “The Country Cousin”)

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Vladimir Lucien, St Lucian poet who is currently Writer in Residence at UWI Mona, reads from his collection “Sounding Ground”, and you are entranced when he reads the poem “Tjenbwa: Protean” – from the Tjenbwa series – first in Creole and then in English.

                                                                    The moth that enters

                                                                    your house at night is a grudge

                                                                    that somebody is holding

                                                                     against you.

Then it is over. You feel good, as you leave, perhaps taking a book or two with you to preserve the love…through till next year, when you hope…hope…the Love Affair with Literature will continue….

 

love affair with lit 2016


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Where Does #APoemADay Take You?

I added a new morning ritual by chance this year. While sitting on the roof New Year’s Day, drinking a cup of mint tea, watching the sky lighten. I had taken a couple of books and my journal with me, as I often do. And I read aloud to myself the first poem in Lorna Goodison’s collection “Heartease”IMG_8597 – “I Shall Light A Candle To Understanding In Thine Heart Which Shall Not Be Put Out” – a longtime favourite.IMG_8600[1]

 

 

 

I enjoyed it so much that later in the day I decided to read a poem out loud to myself each morning. In January it was poems by Jamaican poets; this month it’s poems by African American poets. And I am having fun thinking of what my focus for future months might be: more Jamaican poets; Caribbean, African, Commonwealth poets; poems by women; poems translated into English; poems I first read in school; poems about love. The possibilities aren’t actually endless, though, as I am including only poems from books I own.

And just for fun, I tweet the title of the poem each day at #APoemADay and tweet a few lines from the poem @suezeecue. 140 characters from a poem can sometimes be hard to choose!

At the end of the year, I’ll see where #APoemADay has taken me….

By the illumination of that candle

exit, death and fear and doubtIMG_7463

here love and possibility

within a lit heart, shining out.

– Lorna Goodison, “Heartease”IMG_7378