These are the two most recent books I’ve read. Clicking on each will take you to the reviews I wrote for the Cannonball Read 5 race to read 52 books in a year in order to donate to a kid’s college fund who lost him mom to leukemia a few years ago. It seemed like a good cause to read books I was going to read anyway, but I didn’t count on certain months of this year leaving me with no desire to read or write. That sucked. But now I’m drinking things in, have updated my Goodreads account, and am soldiering on trying to complete the “whole” Cannonball I signed up for in January. I’m only 11 books in, but I’m going strong and have a string of books coming to me from library holds.
However, reading these two books (and the last Kushiel book, but that’s a whole ‘nother post) has been like someone pouring a glass of sweet tea on my head in the middle of a hot spell. There are some similar themes: obviously from the titles, ideas of home and the strong ties to it; love; family relationships; and definitely the South. Since the fourth grade, I’ve had an affinity for both Southern fiction and historical Southern race relations fiction. I’ll always remember my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Stevenson, reading “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” to us, his voice rumbling like thunder come alive in our classroom. To this day, that’s one of my top ten favorite books of all time.
As I grew older, my love of black fiction expanded out of the South and all over the world (one of my favorite books from college was Tsitsi Dangarembga’s “Nervous Conditions” set in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe) and even into a fictional racial dystopian world where white people are the new black. If you haven’t read the YA series Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, you so should. I’ve only read the first book and one of these days will get my hands on the other two in the trilogy. But the first is worth the price of admission alone. And on the other end, my love for Southern fiction expanded to include Rita Mae Brown’s lesbian books. “Venus Envy” = Fantastic.
I may not’ve been born and raised in the South, nor am I black (though it is possible, though unlikely, since my maternal great-grandparents owned a peach plantation in Georgia) but both the Southern mentality of “we don’t hide our crazy, we put it on the front porch and give it a sweet tea” and the warring racial tension mixed with layers of propriety actually spoke volumes to me, growing up fat in an unstable, alcoholic family. I understood what it was like to have people judge you (and act according to those judgments) with one look. Stupid. Lazy. Unworthy. Ugly. I remember fighting with my dad over his antiquated and downright disgusting views of different races (and gay people.) My mom once told me that she showed him “Roots” in it’s entirety and he miraculously wasn’t racist for about two years. But without regularly being exposed to different ideas and also insulating himself with bigoted company…I guess it wore off? I don’t understand it. When I was a teenager, I vowed never to think of people like that, and definitely not to treat people like that. My mom told me racist, bigoted people are afraid. And angry. And underneath it all, sad. My dad, love him though I do, is a very fearful, angry man. Who’s turned into a very sad man underneath it all. After all, “angry is just sad’s bodyguard.”
That quote is from Liza Palmer’s “Nowhere but Home.” The main character, Queenie, spends her time running from her past: her small town Texas roots, the boy who was deemed too good for her, and the reputation of her tramp of a momma. There are so many parts of this damn book that I relate to, but that title quote is one of the best quotes. Anger and sadness. I’ve been fighting with both of them lately.
The other quote, also from “Nowhere but Home,” that keeps running around in my head is “I need to start believing I’m worthy of being courted.” Because I…somewhere inside, I guess I don’t. I don’t know. What I do know is that when I read “Calling Me Home,” a love story that starts in Kentucky in 1939 between a white physician’s daughter and the black son of the family’s housekeeper, I was presented with a love story for the ages. The quiet strength and enduring love Robert had for Isabelle, and she for him left me in tears at various points. She sacrificed her family for him (granted, her mother and brothers weren’t much of a loss) and he gave up studying medicine in college to get a job to pay for their room in a rooming house in Cincinnati. They left Kentucky and got married in Ohio. In this day and age, that’s sacrifice enough, but in 1939? That’s monumental. It’s brave and passionate and wonderful. While there are many quotes and passages that resonated with me, the only one I can find floating around the internet is still appropriate: “The heart is a demanding tenant.” That it is.
So I’m sitting here at 5:35 in the morning trying to figure out the future. Trying to believe I’m worthy of being courted. Trying to figure out the demands my heart is making. Trying to figure out what the next chapter of my love story brings. Thankfully, I had these two books (and the Kushiel series, but again, whole ‘nother post) recently and a boatload of strong female characters to help me along the way.