Weekend Reads: “Ace Boon Coon”

5/5 Stars

I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for a review. The book is scheduled for official release on September 15, 2020.

When I opened the first Elliot Caprice novel, A Negro and an Ofay, I told my husband that I wanted to be Danny Gardner when I grew up. His prose takes you smack into the middle of a scene (in that particular case, a Chicago jail cell during Jim Crow) and doesn’t let go of you until after you close the cover of the book.

In this sequel, Caprice is still trying to help save his uncle’s farm, as well as figuring out how many of his old friends from childhood are involved in a racketeering “short paper” operation (aka, collecting protection money) … and why so many of them seem to turn up dead.

One of the things that was a little confusing is that flashbacks to Caprice’s childhood were not readily delineated. You had to figure out from context that he was now a little kid, or a teenager, or a soldier … and then you’d find yourself back in the main setting of the book. It was a distraction at times, as I had to go back and re-read to make sure I understood what was going on.

In the end, though, Gardner presented another solid historical noir detective story with more twists and turns than Chicago has back alleys. Highly recommended.

Weekend Reads: “Across That Bridge”

It seems impossible that it’s been a week since we lost civil rights icon John Lewis to cancer. Although this review is brief, I can assure you that Across That Bridge is one of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for ChangeAcross That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change by John Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I deliberately took my time reading this important memoir. Each chapter/essay dealt with a theme of peaceful resistance via a particular concept: love, peace, unity, etc. And coming as it does from a civil rights hero like John Lewis, this is important information for our own time.

We are living in a time when peaceful resistance is the only way to stand up against the tyranny that has come to live in the Executive Office; Lewis has a number of great recommendations from which we can all benefit.

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Weekend Reads: “It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke”

It was never about a hotdog and a CokeIt was never about a hotdog and a Coke by Rodney L. Hurst Sr.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

August 27, 2020, will be the 60th anniversary of a horrific event in the history of Jacksonville, Fla.: Ax Handle Saturday.

Rodney Hurst was 16 years old when the event took place. He was president of his local NAACP Youth Council chapter; his elementary school history teacher, Rutledge Pearson was the adult advisor. Pearson encouraged Hurst to join the chapter at age 11. The students learned public speaking techniques and parliamentary procedure, as well as how to coordinate actions for civil rights.

Thus, Hurst and some of his fellow council members planned a sit-in at the local Woolworth lunch counter. Black people could shop at Woolworth with no problem, but they were expected to sit at a separate lunch counter located on the top story of the store next to the restroom. Reasoning that if they could pay for things on the first floor, they should also eat on the first floor, the students each went in and bought an item. That way, they would have receipts to prove that Woolworth had accepted their money. Then, they went to the lunch counter.

After a few sit-ins, where they were refused service, the local Klan got wind of the situation and planned a day when they would go beat Black people up, using baseball bats and ax handles that would be strategically placed for access. Local law enforcement turned a blind eye and shop owners locked their doors to prevent Black people from being able to escape the violence. White people who tried to help them were subject to similar abuses.

Hurst not only writes about that day but also about the aftermath, including a “selective buying campaign,” as they called their boycott of downtown businesses that had closed their doors. Hurst also discusses his work with other civil rights leaders of the era, who listened to his experiences rather than dismissing him because of his youth.

As the title of the book points out, integrating the lunch counters (which did eventually happen in Jacksonville) was not about eating lunch but about pointing out the hypocrisy and ensuring equal access.

Highly recommended for those who wish to have a better understanding of the times, and of Black history beyond the more famous incidents and people.

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Weekend Reads: “Too Much”

Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women TodayToo Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today by Rachel Vorona Cote

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The day that I read an excerpt from this book, wherein the author talks about the Ramona books, I cried. I am not exaggerating. She describes how Ramona, whom I adored as a child, is larger than life — and how this challenges the people around her.

I cried because I’ve been called “too much,” “larger than life,” and more, for as long as I can remember. “Pipe down!” was constantly aimed in my direction. Another friend says that I emote like Niagara Falls.

I knew I had to read this book.

In it, I found a series of essays about Too Muchness across areas like sex, food, mental health, and more. I spent so much time nodding, understanding just what the author meant. Society seems to think that women shouldn’t take up any space across a variety of realms, and this is stultifying to those who are not the self-effacing sorts.

No two people are alike, and trying to contain someone’s “muchness” (as Lewis Carroll called it) can be painful for the Too Much person. That’s what the author gets across with tremendous clarity, in no small part by examining her own Too Muchness in a way that helps us truly understand it both from the inside and the outside.

Highly recommended.

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Weekend Reads: “Bending Toward Justice”

Bending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing That Changed the Course of Civil RightsBending Toward Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing That Changed the Course of Civil Rights by Doug Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Senator Doug Jones’ memoir is not always an easy or pleasant read. He takes us deep into the hearts and lives of Bobby Frank Cherry and Tom Blanton, the two KKK members whom he successfully prosecuted for their roles in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson.

We see a lot about the racial politics of the 1960s, in which all four perpetrators were set free by a white jury, and how those politics had not changed nearly as much as one would have hoped in the 1990s when the two still-living participants in the crime were sent to jail.

Jones also writes (briefly) about his campaign for senate against disgraced judge Roy Moore … and ties the situations together with a look at the racial politics being spurred today by white nationalist elements within the Republican party … all the way to the top of the ladder.

This was a tough book to read. It took me more than a month, because I had to take breaks from it. I have given up on the idea that we’re doing better as a country than we were in the past. My privilege doesn’t blind me anymore. However, the hatred is exhausting to deal with, and I could only read so much at a time about men who were proud to kill four little African-American girls and lament that their crime didn’t take more lives.

The heroes in the story are not Jones and his prosecutorial team, from his perspective. The heroes are the families and investigators who never gave up and never forgot.

Like I said, it’s a tough read. However, it’s an important one. Highly recommended.

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