mini-review · music notes · Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

33947154Summary from Goodreads:
In an age of confusion, fear, and loss, Hanif Abdurraqib’s is a voice that matters. Whether he’s attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown’s grave, or discussing public displays of affection at a Carly Rae Jepsen show, he writes with a poignancy and magnetism that resonates profoundly.

In the wake of the nightclub attacks in Paris, he recalls how he sought refuge as a teenager in music, at shows, and wonders whether the next generation of young Muslims will not be afforded that opportunity now. While discussing the everyday threat to the lives of black Americans, Abdurraqib recounts the first time he was ordered to the ground by police officers: for attempting to enter his own car.

In essays that have been published by the New York Times, MTV, and Pitchfork, among others—along with original, previously unreleased essays—Abdurraqib uses music and culture as a lens through which to view our world, so that we might better understand ourselves, and in so doing proves himself a bellwether for our times.

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us is a volume of sharp, insightful criticism about the intersections of music and culture, specifically punk, rap, and being a black, Muslim man who has often been the only brown face at a show, but also grief, loss, and hope. Abdurraqib is also a poet and it shows in the way he constructs his sentences: “No one decides when the people we love are actually gone. May we all be buried on our own terms.”

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy of this book.

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Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson

9735306Summary from Goodreads:
The extraordinary story of an all-American girl’s conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, The Butterfly Mosque is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world.

When G. Willow Wilson—, already an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-seven—, leaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at Boston University, she enrolls in an Islamic Studies course that leads to her shocking conversion to Islam and sends her on a fated journey across continents and into an uncertain future.
She settles in Cairo where she teaches English and submerges herself in a culture based on her adopted religion. And then she meets Omar, a passionate young man with a mild resentment of the Western influences in his homeland. They fall in love, entering into a daring relationship that calls into question the very nature of family, belief, and tradition. Torn between the secular West and Muslim East, Willow records her intensely personal struggle to forge a ““third culture” that might accommodate her own values without compromising the friends and family on both sides of the divide.

img_8728The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights “One Community, One Book” chooses a book each year and programs readings, lectures, and community discussions.  Now that the Iowa City Book Festival happens in the fall, they coordinate occasionally to bring the author for a lecture-discussion.  This year the book selected was The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson. *cue squealing* And I got to be Willow’s chauffer from the airport  *#DED* I think I set a zillion ghost emojis to my friend Kat. She did a signing at Daydreams and then one after her lecture and I got allll my things signs plus she’s lovely and nope, I’m not a creepy fan. Nope nope nope.

This is a lovely memoir about finding one’s faith and adopting a culture you love even while fighting the media stereotypes about that culture and faith. When Willow was in town, I talked to her a little bit about this book which was largely written 10 years ago with the enthusiasm of a person in her mid-20s. She mused that maybe she could have written some things differently, or had done more research on a topic, from the distance of another 10 years of living in the “third culture” she and Omar have tried to build for themselves.

Even if she wishes things had been written differently, I feel like she approached this book with sensitivity and a great deal of love and gave a lot of nuance to very “big picture” issues. Her descriptions of Omar’s family are so wonderful (I’d love to meet his mom, Sohair). There is a later chapter where Willow had the opportunity to meet a sheikha, a female imam, and how Westernization has possibly eliminated the need for sheikhas, to the detriment of many. It’s an interesting line of thought.

Dear FTC: OF COURSE I BOUGHT MY OWN DAMN COPY.

mini-review · stuff I read

Poetry Will Save Your Life: A Memoir by Jill Bialosky

32620373Summary from Goodreads:
From critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author and poet Jill Bialosky comes an unconventional coming-of-age memoir organized around the forty-three remarkable poems that gave her insight, courage, compassion, and a sense of connection at pivotal moments in her life.

For Jill Bialosky, certain poems stand out like signposts along her life’s journey. These poems have contributed to her growth as a person, writer, poet, and thinker. Now, take this journey with Bialosky as she introduces you to each of these life-changing poems, recalling when she encountered each one, and how its importance and meaning to her has evolved over time.

Witness Jill turning to poetry in dire moments to restore her faith and cope with loss; there are poems she turns to for inspiration and consolation; poems for when she is angry or disillusioned, or when she wants to see into another person’s soul. While Jill’s personal stories animate each poem, they touch on many universal experiences and life events that all can relate to, from crises of faith to sexual awakening from becoming a parent to growing creatively as a poet and artist.

More than a creative chronicle of one woman’s life, Jill’s book celebrates the unique and enduring value of poetry as a means of conveying personal experience and as a source of comfort and connection.

Poetry Will Save Your Life is a blend of memoir and literary analysis, more on the memoir side. Bialosky illustrates the story of her life – her father’s death when she was small, growing up with her mother (trying desperately to remarry) and sisters, becoming a working woman in the 80s, marriage, losing a sister and her first two children – with the poems that found her over the course of her life. She provides some basic analysis or interpretation of each poem so even those new to reading poetry don’t have to worry. A lovely book about the power and love of words.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search by Sarah Perry

33413878Summary from Goodreads:
A fierce memoir of a mother’s murder, a daughter’s coming-of-age in the wake of immense loss, and her mission to know the woman who gave her life.

When Sarah Perry was twelve, she saw a partial eclipse of the sun, an event she took as a sign of good fortune for her and her mother, Crystal. But that brief moment of darkness ultimately foreshadowed a much larger one: two days later, Crystal was murdered in their home in rural Maine, just a few feet from Sarah’s bedroom.

The killer escaped unseen; it would take the police twelve years to find him, time in which Sarah grew into adulthood, struggling with abandonment, police interrogations, and the effort of rebuilding her life when so much had been lost. Through it all she would dream of the eventual trial, a conviction—all her questions finally answered. But after the trial, Sarah’s questions only grew. She wanted to understand her mother’s life, not just her final hours, and so she began a personal investigation, one that drew her back to Maine, taking her deep into the abiding darkness of a small American town.

Told in searing prose, After the Eclipse is a luminous memoir of uncomfortable truth and terrible beauty, an exquisite memorial for a mother stolen from her daughter, and a blazingly successful attempt to cast light on her life once more.

I had the digital galley on my radar, but wasn’t sure I was going to get to it until I heard Liberty absolutely raving about this book. So then I had to read it.

After the Eclipse is an extremely compelling book of memoir and crime writing. Sarah Perry confronts a lot in this book – institutionalized sexism and misogyny, family violence, domestic abuse, gender roles, trauma – and has created a complete work that brings her mother’s life and her own life into parallel and contrasting narratives. At the same time, there is no sensationalism. Although the catalyst for the work was the trial of her mother’s murderer, Perry uses the information she has gathered to better understand the parent she was denied the opportunity of knowing in life. A definite recommend.

Trigger warning for violence against women and descriptions of rape.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.