Check out this quick video of the creator of Rookie Magazine , Tavi Gevinson, on her apartment and its stories.
“There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.”
Stephen Chbosky wrote a simple masterpiece, perfect for surviving souls out there. Set in the nineties, this novel is written with a schoolboy innocence as the main character Charlie, writes diary like letters to a anonymous friend, chronicling his lonely high school debut and the demons that haunt his mind. He begins revealing truths about his friend whose recently died, recounting his shock and dismay at everyone’s continuance of their lives ever since.
With a genuine innocence about him, Charlie begins high school and meets a girl, Sam and a guy, Patrick. These smoking buddies welcome him in spite of his age, accepting each other despite all their flaws and secrets. Charlie falls in love with Sam, though she is uninterested and already in a relationship. His innocence is further highlighted as he promises that he loves Sam – so much, that he feels a gripping horror at even thinking about her in any bad way ever. Charlie is dramatic and timid, constantly crying about his life, but in that, there’s something so pure and endearing about him that you will fold to his woes.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist. Or something like that. I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this. That’s why I’m trying not to think. I just want it all to stop spinning.”
It’s clear that Charlie loves his family dearly. He misses his brother who’s away at college playing football. He has a close relationship with his loving mother who understands his ways wholeheartedly. She also the only one skilled in knowing how to deal with him when he’s in a very dark place. But most of all, he misses his Aunt who died in a terrible accident. This is revealed in a interesting way.
Charlie’s friends become his life so much so that, when they’re not around, he finds it hard to breathe. When they argue, he falls apart and will do anything to go back to how they were. Charlie also experiences drugs, music, girls and books. His English teacher becomes inspirational as he realizes Charlie’s potential in writing and provides him with advanced books to read.
The simplicity of this book reveals Charlies state of mind and how he deals with his feelings in a childlike manner. With many turns of events and life changing moments, this is a book which can be read over and over again. Chbosky’s writing is enticing and somewhat addictive, in that he sets the scene as if you were present in the nineties. If anything, you won’t feel like a wallflower. You will feel like you’re driving fast, listening to cassette tapes and feeling infinite.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant novel ‘Americanah’ (2013) reflects an unbelievable life journey, highly capable of impressing readers with its unending and satisfying chain of events. Adichie’s manner fearlessly tackles major topics of oppression, race and identity as well as the principal themes of love and culture. ‘Americanah’ is unlike other mainstream fiction of its kind simply due to its brash portrayal, deep rooted honesty and African flavour.
Adichie introduces brazen main characters Obinze and Ifemelu, two strangers who meet and soon create a deep mutual romantic love and bond that readers will grow to dote on. Ifemelu is a strong protagonist, direct and unassuming that we as readers should in any way understand her life and most importantly her Nigerian culture and her blackness. The writer leads us through her mind anticipating Ifemelu’s motives, at times, encouraging us to sympathize even.
At the start of the novel, the politics of black hair is very much alive as Ifemelu describes visiting a hair salon to get her hair braided. After disagreeing with the Senegalese hairdresser that she does not need a relaxer to soften her hair to fit in, the hairdresser offers a compliment on the improvement of Nollywood films lately, expecting Ifemelu to understand, speaking to her as if she is the sole person accountable for the Nigerian film industry.
‘‘She nodded in agreement because to hear ‘Nigeria’ and ‘good’ in the same sentence was a luxury.’’
The start of the book reinforces the irony that Ifemelu has become her own worst nightmare, as she strolls through New Haven, Princeton University. She begins to understand that you still cannot be a black African in America, not the way Ifemelu arrived. You must morph into an African American. This story is surprisingly refreshing with an incredible balance between the harsh difficulties in both characters’ lives, intertwined with the recurrent love story peeking through the blinds. The integral theme throughout is the importance of culture and remembering who you are, wherever one resides.
The other main character Obinze on the other hand is a rarity. He’s a charming and educated young man, who reveals a sensitivity one can only spot as a fly on the wall or maybe weaved into Adichie’s prose. He exudes a warmth and romance through his interests and ideals, yet eventually turns into almost the opposite person he intended to be. Both characters long to leave their small homes in search of a big dream and we completely understand. They become each other’s backbone through Lagos school, holding tight to big dreams of a visa and a life altering move to America.
“She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself. With him, she was at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size.. It seemed so natural, to talk to him about odd things. She had never done that before. The trust, so sudden and yet so complete, and the intimacy, frightened her.. But now she could think only of all the things she yet wanted to tell him, wanted to do with him.”
- Obinze is inspired by his mother to read books and so he buries his head in American novels which sustain him through the years. Nevertheless, the dream is and always has been leaving home and boasting that they’ll each soon have a glowing shiny visa stamped in their passports. However, when Ifemelu is presented the opportunity to flee and study first, she promises to wait and has no choice but to leave Obinze behind. Years later, Obinze’s opportunity to change his life leaves him with England as his only option where he attempts to find solace unhappily without Ifemelu by his side. Both characters lives take unexpected turns, changing both of them forever. The couple lose touch and begin to think their journey is over.
“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. ”
Obinze struggles in the UK financially and meets up with friends from Nigeria, back home, friends who have established themselves in English society; they’ve married English now and are sporting new accents. He can’t begin to understand how this much change has taken place, how the cultural differences leave him itching to argue during dinner parties where they eat on ‘ethnic plates’ alongside his old friends and new acquaintances. Obinze struggles with controversial conversations with these people who discuss ‘foreignness’ like a disease and he’s instantly infuriated. The character becomes a lone wolf and faces many hardships in England. Eventually, Obinze is forced to return to Lagos by the English authorities who catch him in a desperate act to stay in the country with no official paperwork.
Ifemelu also struggles terribly when she first gets to America. With a thick accent and no chance of getting a part time job, she slowly sinks into a depression which is maximised as she begins contemplating and eventually partaking in a sexual favour for money. Eventually, Ifemelu represses those memories finding a respectable escape as a babysitter for a caucasian family who feel a need to discuss Africa or African women whenever she is in the room. Adichie introduces Curt and Blaine (new men in Ifemelu’s life) which allows her to fasten Ifemelu to a pedestal as the token black girlfriend. Short hair, dark skin; a foreign beauty.
“When it comes to dressing well, American culture is so self-fulfilled that it has not only disregarded this courtesy of self-presentation, but has turned that disregard into a virtue. “We are too superior/busy/cool/not-uptight to bother about how we look to other people, and so we can wear pajamas to school and underwear to the mall.”
From arrival in America to her departure, Ifemelu battles the weighty topic of race relations. Race is achingly relevant as Ifemelu eventually creates a blog where she constantly vents about race in America through her Nigerian eyes and she eventually makes enough money to stop working.
Adichie reinforces the importance of family as she paints Aunt Uju and Dikes story, reinforcing cultural acceptance when moving to the west. The story suggests America is like a uncle who spoils children. Cousin Dikes suicidal episode reinforces the stigma of not seeing the signs of turning western so to speak, or simply the shock of how dare a Nigerian child even view suicide as an option?
“I realized that if I ever have children, I don’t want them to have American childhoods. I don’t want them to say ‘Hi’ to adults I want them to say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good afternoon’. I don’t want them to mumble ‘Good’ when someone says ‘How are you?’ to them. Or to raise five fingers when asked how old they are. I want them to say ‘I’m fine thank you’ and ‘I’m five years old’. I don’t want a child who feeds on praise and expects a star for effort and talks back to adults in the name of self-expression. Is that terribly conservative?”
The position of Nigerian women and relationships they partake in is a huge topic in the last third of this novel too. The give and take notion whereby Nigerian women stay in unhappy relationships so their men can pay for everything, is reinforced when Ifemelu exposes her friend’s relationship. Ifemelu’s eventual return to Nigeria is intriguing as she does not so much adjust to life in Nigeria, but slips back into routine, although even she learns to accept that though she has changed, Nigeria has changed a great deal too.
Obinze becomes a rich and popular man, married even and this is where the story becomes light hearted while birthing a major cliff-hanger. By the end of this novel, the importance of Americanah is startling. Adichie cleverly critiques society’s stupidity but also cultural foolishness. This is a racially charged novel but a extremely relevant one nonetheless. Adichie writes impressively, challenging culture and loving it in the same breathe. Even at points when readers try to predict what will happen, she shocks and delivers. Adichie did not seek out to create a hero and heroine, rather she tries to bravely evoke love and the realistic truth she has lived. There is a truth to this book that will make you ache.
“I lived in New York for eleven and a half years and I don’t think anybody ever asked me about my religion. I never even thought about it. Now, all of a sudden, it was the big thing in my life.” – Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret.
The queen of children novels, Judy Blume, encompasses a rare ability to write classic books for years to come. As teens, we had expectations of her to teach us the truth about things that no one else would, and this revealed an obvious reliance never before presented to other authors; a social responsibility Blume clearly took seriously. Many of you have read her gripping, almost addictive and quite memorable stories as a child, myself included. Tales of divorce, losing a parent, snooping neighbours and first bras aided young children to believe that yes, maybe there was an adult out there who understood all our problems. Puberty and its dark shadows on a young child’s life was nowhere near fun, yet Blume’s many individual and intriguing characters, proved that her characters lived through what we lived through. They shared our joys and pain, and her stories proved to be a revelation in the eyes of the youth. Her gift of making almost depressing topics, engaging to a young reader, prompted her excellent ability to tackle themes of religion, American politics and racial tension as well as other topics like socialising, sibling rivalry and puppy love. Judy began her career in the in 1966, whereby after graduating from New York University, she received a B.A in education. She began with several picture books for young children in the early days and in 1972 found her big break when “Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing” (1972) was published. Initially this story was intended to be called “Peter, Fudge and Dribble” and had a different plot to the final story, but as time went on Blume decided to base Fudge on her own child and the New York City lifestyle of her memories of a close friend’s family life.
“Sometimes life in the Hatcher household is enough to make twelve-year-old Peter think about running away. His worst problem is still his younger brother, Fudge.”
In 1980 one of the most popular and my personal favourite Judy Blume book “Superfudge” was published. I can remember purchasing it from a book shop when I was in Year 4 in primary school. My teacher had picked it out for me and I loved that the cover was bright orange with three intriguing characters on the front; two boys and a baby girl. Surprisingly Blume claimed “I remember exactly where I was when the idea finally came to me—in the shower, covered with soap and shampoo. And the idea seemed so simple I couldn’t believe it had taken seven years. I would give the Hatchers a new baby.” Baby Tootsie the new member of the family causes friction when Peter, the oldest son, is unhappy that a new edition to the family will arrive soon and that they’re all moving home to compensate for his parent’s dream careers. Blume has many other books, spin off of the Hatcher family and they’re friends. These include “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great” (1972), “Fudge-a-mania”(1990) and “Double Fudge” (2002).
Blume has also published a string of highly influential, if not controversial novels, which are very much cherished by fans still today. Iggie’s House (1970) was different to the Superfudge series in that it was not too focused on young children, rather was classified as a young adult novel. It deals with the topic of racism in the late 1960’s where Blume herself commented that “the late sixties was a turbulent time in America. Racial tensions were high, especially following the assassination of Martin Luther King. The ongoing fight for racial equality affected all of us, one way or another.” The main character Winnie’s fascination with the new black family next door, allows her to quickly become friends with them. However, her own family’s disapproval of her new friends is disheartening as the story takes a turn for the worst. Blubber (1974) deals with bullying in school, a common and relatable topic, whereas the next novel by Blume called “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself” (1977) was an autobiographical novel whereby Blume concealed herself in this character wearing a colourful dress, reliving her past as a Jew throughout the war.
“Suppose there aren’t any more A + days once you get to be twelve? Wouldn’t that be something! To spend the rest of your life looking for an A + day and not finding it.” – It’s Not the End of the World (1972)
“It’s Not the End of the World” (1972) chronicled a marriage falling apart at the seams whilst the story is told from the point of view of a young girl named Karen. Her parents constant fighting leads her to lose faith in love and marriage, as does her hope for her favourite teacher’s marriage lasting, instead believing it has made her evil. Her parent’s quick decision toward divorce, causes her to do anything in her power to make them stay together, even if that means pretending to be ill.
The controversial topic of religion is tackled in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” (1970) and follows a young girls search for a religion in the confusion of her Jewish/Christian family. She often talks to God, and begins her prayers with ‘‘are you there God?” Her pre-teen concerns are a main factor of this novel, however throughout there remains a fierce confusion between two faiths, which causes conflict in Margaret’s family, making her angry at times. This I believe to be a poignant novel in Blume’s career, due to its popularity, but also its subject matter.
”Who says March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb? That’s a lot of bull. All it’s done this March is rain. I’m sick of it.” –Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (1971)
“Then Again, Maybe I Won’t” (1971) was a different spin on earlier Blume novels, because the point of view changed. It was the adolescent voice and life of a teenage boy. Blume’s success from “Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret” was the catalyst for this pleasant surprise. Tony and his family move to a new town due to his father’s promotion, and his family’s abrupt changes being to annoy Tony. He keeps all his emotions inside, causing him emotional anguish and pain. The false pretence of people in his life, he views as fake, and so he searches for reality through his binoculars, into his neighbour’s bedroom window, where he soon becomes known as a peeping tom.
“When Deenie sees the brace for the first time, she wants to scream, Forget it…I’m never going to wear that thing! But the words won’t come out. And beautiful Deenie, who everyone says should be a model, is stuck wearing a brace from her neck to her hips.” – Deenie (1973)
Deenie (1973) deals with a young girl of the name Wilmadeene, nickname Deenie who suffers with Scoliosis but also has big dreams of becoming a model. When the doctor diagnoses her with Scoliosis and she has to wear a brace for her condition, the four year wait to take it off, begins to take a toll on her. Her decision to ditch modelling and become a Orthopaedist is not taken lightly by her pushy mother.
”Now, besides being best friends we’ll also be neighbours. And moving just a few blocks away really isn’t like moving at all. I think the only reason we moved is that our house needed a new roof and Mom and Dad just about passed out when they learned what it would cost.” – Just as long as we’re together (1987)
My personal favourite “Just As Long As We’re Together” (1987) deals with the teenage melodramatic reaction of a teenage girl who is moving home, dealing with new friends, compulsive liars, a new school, and boys. Stephanie Hirsch is living with her family in a new home in Palfrey’s Pond, Connecticut and deals with an array of ups and downs with her two best friends, Rachel and new girl Alison. On a more serious note, this novel highlights the fears children have about their families and their future well-being. Divorce plays a large role here, as well as the strength of friendship and trust. In a spin off story, ”Here’s to you Rachel Robinson” (1993), best friend Rachel Robinson is a straight-A student. She practices the flute 45 minutes a day and strives for perfection in everything she does. But she grinds her teeth at night and dreads dinnertime, now that her troublemaking older brother, Charles, has been thrown out of boarding school and is now back home, acting up to get attention as usual. Her resentment for him is clear, and his attempt at breaking the family apart is obvious too. Counselling and a trip to Ellis Island, New York may put the family back together, or it may tear them apart.
Other popular Judy Blume novels include “Tiger Eyes” (1981), “Forever” (1975), and many more young adult novels dealing with similar themes. Blume’s simple yet fascinating writing style encapsulates even adults today who have read her novels in the past. “Letters to Judy. What your kids Wish They Could Tell You” (1986) revealed secrets and opinions from Blume’s readers, in an attempt for parents to walk in their children’s shoes. It contained thousands of letters sent by fans, pouring their hearts out to their favourite author revealing her very profound effect on many lives.
Small town murders have always been a topic of public interest and curiosity. There’s something chilling about the quiet careful killer, this person who sets people on edge, the fascination of their everyday psychology. These crimes initiate feelings of horror, a realization, no – a possibility that it could be you or your own, that a normal everyday person could kill you at any moment, for no reason at all. Simply wrong time, wrong place. In literature, a murderer is depicted as the most frightening form of human in tales of myth read as fiction, perhaps becoming a safe house for the reader, knowing this person may not exist exactly – only in the writer’s imagination. In non- fiction, true accounts strengthen the underlying beast in our minds awakening the reality; a blood red smack in the face that these monsters do in fact, exist and may possibly be very much alive in your community today.
Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ I found particularly painful considering its label as a nonfiction novel, raising the intensity even more so. It explores brutality in a very real sense as well as neglect, violence and pain in more ways than one. Capote’s tale is impressive and begins following the news of a family of dead victims with no leads or clues, and no motive for death- extremely well. The reader too is occupied, researching along with Capote; we are left feeling stunned and bewildered, angry and hurt yet Capote manages to reach certain destinations before the reader, soothing us through his journalistic investigation skills which answer so many questions throughout. He is the fly on the wall driving along route 66 with the suspects, at the Cutler’s neighbor’s house next door and throughout the town he explores through the thoughts of the community. He is also immersed in the very clear memories of the characters he so brilliantly portrays, reinforcing the quality of research he submitted to this story.
Constructed from a narrative which residents in Holcomb Kansas were already discussing over tables, Capote managed to awaken, unpick and magnify the murder of the Clutter family from an article he spotted in a newspaper. The chronological build up works well and shapes up the anticipation of what’s to come which is appreciated by the reader by the time the murder smacks you between the eyes. Capote’s portrayal of the Clutter family was realistic – a lovely family, led by a hardworking father with a sick wife. I believed that the Clutters were pillars of the community, wrapped in cotton wool by the townsfolk before and literally after death.
In come the petty criminals in search of easy money. Perry Smith and Dick Hickock both emblematic of stereotypical criminals. They are predictably greased up, smoking, drinking, covered in tattoos, journeying from state to state with dreams of money and Mexico on a whim. These hopes liquidize into nothingness, their reckless plan landing them in a major predicament which eventually leads to their death. The stupidity and rash decision to choose the Clutters home is in itself laughable, a somewhat weak reason I thought for two men to risk their lives fresh out of jail on a guess and a search for a unconfirmed safe.
During the process of writing ‘In Cold Blood’, Capote did mention that he wanted to keep an ‘emotional upper hand’ over the material which I believe gave the story a consistent pace in parts but was not apparent all the way through. I wasn’t certain what Capote was trying to achieve by diving into the lives of the criminals considerably more than he seemed to in comparison to anyone else. I say this because it did not make me feel any form of sympathy for Dick and Perry, nor make me understand, which I assume was part of Capote’s reasoning. The clutters were already dead when the criminals history came pouring out. There was also a very obvious, almost abnormal focus on Perry. Perry was clearly a troubled young man, from a complex and very difficult family life. Capote however drew on Perry’s gentle qualities like- tucking in Nancy to make her more comfortable, stopping Dick from raping her, even his acknowledgment that there was ‘something wrong with us. To do what we did.’’ Capote comments that Perry had sharp intuitions too, favoring him clearly as he was ‘Perry, little old big hearted Perry.’’ It was only after watching 2005’s Capote that my initial thoughts were strengthened. Did Capote see himself in the reflection of the misshapen man child that was Perry? Perry was the same man who boasts about killing a black man; he wished death on his sister and did eventually kill members of the Clutter family. I’m not sure if he is as smart as we may have been led to believe by Capote in parts. Perry’s childhood pain was also repeated in parts reinforcing Capote’s possible fondness of him, humanizing him further, away from the monster that he really was.
Dick on the other hand is portrayed as a smooth-talking womanizer, a pedophile and an ungrateful son. His use of ‘baby’ and ‘honey’ toward Perry only solidifies Perry’s position as feminine, the woman in this couple, Dick’s role being that of the breadwinning man. Perry was the softie who remained easily offended but reasonable to an extent, he was the singer and performer, the one with the conscience in this strange double act. Both are described by Capote as ‘bewildered’ and ‘virtually clueless’ which I would agree is an accurate representation.
Peter Sutcliffe now more commonly known as the Yorkshire Ripper is also humanized simply by the title of the novel ‘Somebody’s Husband, somebody’s son’. This dark story begins with Peter’s history and important figures in his life at the start; his family. The reader is braced for horror, the front cover comparing it with Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. Burns is very matter of fact throughout and too distances himself from any emotion. This could be because he spent three years in Bingley researching the truth and dealing with facts, instantly making him dependable to the reader unlike Peter Sutcliffe.
Peter too is portrayed from the start as a paranoid and a strange outcast with physical drawbacks similar to Perry. The build up from Peter’s birth even, begins with undesirable characteristics of the main character, making the reader doubt and ostracize the innocent child he was – only because we are fully aware of the man he will grow to be. Burns comfortably portrays a gloomy and repetitive tight knit community in Bradford, immersing the reader in Bingley and the simple life Peter so easily slipped back into. The chronological order of the murders though frustrating for the reader in reference to the police investigation, tolerates the case holdups in convicting Peter, as we know Peter will inevitably be caught soon. Burns does make it a point to also clarify Peter’s thoughts objectively throughout in some ways rationalizing the madness.
In parts, I didn’t feel Peter was portrayed as a murderer at all. Instead he was depicted as so normal, such a mama’s boy that I too believed him- even knowing he was inevitably a murderer. His brilliance at fluctuating from Peter to Ripper was disturbing as the Ripper seemed to explode out of his skin at random unexplained times, reinforcing his mental state. There were several moments that Burns revealed to the reader e.g. moments in the bathroom, the way he looked at women, the comments that he made, which may have been an afterthought to his friends and family, a confession even to Burns after the case, which clearly expose him as unquestionably ‘strange’, even in the confines of his own home. Burn is also able to clearly expose the misogynistic ideals which flowed ordinarily through Bingley’s pubs and homes, and shows us how these views took a seat on a metal swing in Peter Sutcliffe’s brain. Before reading ‘Somebody’s Husband’, and having not known much about this case myself, I found Peter’s hatred for prostitutes in link with his sudden need to murder cowardly and nowhere near a strong enough excuse, to begin and to continue with these excessively violent and unsettling murders. The violence of Peter Sutcliffe’s murders was startling. May we never forget that the moment when he returns to stab a victim again out of anger over a fiver making her intestines fall out.
The theme of mental illness is a current and relevant theme in both stories and there is a point to be made about all the criminals past ‘accidents.’ Peter’s violent murders in link to a previous motorcycle accident, allegedly triggering depression and ultimately schizophrenia. Perry is also said to have psychological damage after also a motorcycle accident while with the Army. Dick had also been in a car collision shifting features on his face, possibly causing lifelong damage.
Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed both texts. In regards to ‘In Cold Blood’, I found if one was to look between the lines this story was somehow, in comparison, more opinionated though possibly not Capote’s intention. It was coated in facts but sprinkled with sympathy; sadly I did not feel enough sympathy for those who deserved it. I happen to have respected Burns’ account of Peter a tad bit more, only because he allowed me to make up my mind- not on whether Peter was a murderer- this was fact, but whether his life had built up to the person he had claimed he’d become in his mind.
I began writing this post even before I’d finished this book simply out of excitement that I’d found her! I’d found the essayist who reminded me of myself, the one who I viewed like that friend. The one with tunnel vision, the one who notices every teeny tiny detail turning them into words that puncture my soul in the best way, cupping my entire mind. Afterwards, in my head, she invites me to have food.
”I counted them and double-checked because extra-small things bring out the extra-small person in me who sometimes even triple-checks things; who still chances certainty might exist in asking, “Promise me?”
Named after a Virgina Wolf diary entry, ‘Too Much and Not the Mood’ is a book of essays channeling Chew-Bose’s most inner thoughts and home to her insightful critique of ”what it means to be a brown girl in a white world” and ”the beautiful dilemma of being first-generation Canadian.” Too Much and Not the Mood is fresh, insightful and unbelievably true to our lives. It brings to mind the noises at dinner, the safety of your parents’ house, the quiet of living alone or the experience of cinema – this is how vast her scope is. Chew Bose writes earnestly about the things we neglect as things frankly; things we don’t acknowledge as important to the bigger picture, but they are just that, important.
“Because writing is a grunt, and when it’s good, writing is body language. It’s a woman narrowing her eyes to express incredulity.”
Who knew taking everyday tangible moments and heightening them to mean so much more, could make us think of things like the meaning of comfort, the psychology of Build-A-Bear Workshop or of fishing as a child in such a profound way. Chew Bose is the queen of weaving neatly through her thoughts, explaining and analyzing but always concluding with bite.
“It’s an elbow propped on the edge of a table when you’re wrapping up an argument, or to signify you’re just getting started. An elbow propped on the edge of a table is an adverb.”
This book will make you go back, go back and finite the things in your life you have taken for granted, make you want to tell your family you love them, maybe even make you want to understand how your family thinks you view them. Ask how they view you? It will make you remember, remember smells and trips, remember what you have done, little things you do all the time. She calls to mind movies and love, perspective, and understanding. This book also chronicles Chew-Bose’s critical feelings of displacement being Indian and Canadian and living in Montreal and New York. This book creates a sense of solitude, and as Chew-bose remarks ”that life that you’re living alongside your life.” She initiates a voice, so true and real, it may wake up the person you know you are, the one you are meant to be or simply, the unheard voice inside of you. Her power is in her prose, but best of all, her power is coated in her questions.
“Isn’t it fun to read a sentence that races ahead of itself?”
Chew-Bose’s observational skills may distract slightly, but whenever she goes slightly off-kilter, she returns with gusto. She opens up, lets us in her ‘heart museum’ to start and then frolics to pronunciations of her name, her parent’s divorce, skin tone and high school memories. Her thoughts are intellectual and her nostalgia is rich with character and sentiment, reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s essays where she wavers always returning with an objective or even Joan Didion’s haunting style of shock. As much can be said for her chapter titles, her stories drift, possibly delayed even but pertaining to a celestial style that she owns authentically.
I first heard of Joshua Bennett on a YouTube crawl at what feels like a very long time ago now. It was a typical night; bedtime routine, candles and some light reading then, Def Jam Poetry before sleep came. He appeared on my feed as a recommendation, and I first encountered a young man from Yonkers, NY reading a spoken word poem called ”10 Things I Want To Say To A Black Woman.” He called out to the female viewer, ”I’ve seen you crucified too, spread out on billboards to be spiritually impaled by millions of men with eyes like nails.” I’ve been preoccupied with his words ever since.
Next, Russell Simmons’ Brave New Voices based in Philadelphia where a nineteen-year-old Bennett performed ‘Adam and Eve’ so passionately, how were we ever to forget him? They called him the grand slam champion and he went on to prove why. “It’s no longer physical chains that bind. It’s this mindset that forces me to TEVO rap videos and press rewind.” Weeks later, and I was still hooked. I listened faithfully to ‘Balaenoptera’ on a loop, whilst working at a job I hated, memorizing the sweetness of this narrative he pieced together so beautifully. ‘Darling. Did you know, that a blue whale has a heart the size of a car?” Then ‘Transatlantic Love Manifesto’ revealed his tenderness, his patience, and his delicate need and want for love. He asks his woman “how about we write a joint letter to the Department of Age and ask for a refund?” His poetry was fresh, daring and exceptionally memorable, his words making fans identify with his predicaments, groan in approval of his stanzas, and click, click, click at the live shows in awe of his talent.
To me, Joshua is king of spoken word. He’s elevated the craft; the distinguishing feature always being that he expresses knowledge and sense through his own eyes. He understands and absorbs his craft, pulling at readers/listeners heart-strings by way of language. This is the making of a great poet.
We were introduced to his family through ‘Levi’ and ‘Tamara’s Opus’, both wonderful and sentimental visions of his siblings.
was patient numberless years
anticipating the second
her ears would open like lotuses
and allow my sunlight sentences to seep
into her insides
make her remember all those conversations
we must have had in Heaven
back when God hand-picked us
to be sibling souls centuries ago.”
- Tamara’s Opus
Levi’s story is revisited in ‘The Sobbing School’ through ‘Still Life with Little Brother’ and Bennett’s take on understanding autism and it’s place in the world. His angle both times on his brother Levi is beautiful and will for sure stir your insides.
”Levi is my brother’s name
& I wrote a poem
about him once
& it wasn’t about him
as much as how fear stalks me
like an inheritance, how I fear
for him with all of my love,
how I know the world
like I know the names
of famous poets & the world
has claws, Levi.”
- Still Life with Little Brother
Bennett’s parents play a vital role in his writing, starring roles even. He dedicates his published book to his loving mother and father ‘who dreamt of other worlds.’ Their influence on him is rich, resulting in some wonderful poems emerging in ‘The Sobbing School’ centered on family relationships. Bennett revisits his past with his mother and father often but also recalls his parents historical telling of their own upbringing and surroundings. Here, Bennett creates a captivating narrative where his poems reference ”back in the day” or ”my mother claims”, as well as his own memories of his parents like ”I knew Mama was nothing to be fooled with” and ”my father showed up that day dressed up as a man with a son with a rage problem.” His family life is reflected in an open and honest fashion, Bennett giving a true insight into his surroundings growing up in a Latino neighborhood and attending a predominately white private school. His world is vibrant and his probing and examining of it is sensational.
Joshua Bennett was once a member of spoken word group, ‘The Strivers Row.’ He introduced the world to such pieces as “Praise Him”, “In case of an emergency: Letter to my nephew”, “Still life with Black Death” and “16 Bars for Kendrick Lamar.” Even amongst a very talented group of six poets, (including Miles Hodges, Alyssa Harris, Jasmine Mans, Zora Howard and Carvens Lissaint) Bennett stood out for me. It was his importance, the urgency to hear his poetic voice. On stage, he is a force. His readings are bound to give you chills; his passion and emotion lingering through his words like electric currents, never seizing to impress and educate. Most importantly, the subject matter is always significant and didactic. Bennett’s poetry has always been alive with current American culture, and a fascinating perceptive understanding of the world. This is also reflected beautifully in his published work.
What makes Bennett so remarkable is that he is unafraid to question American society, white or black. He is at his most impressive and true when discussing race, and his tumblr account “square dancing with giants” is a good place to feel this. His poignant interest in race is clear as the theme of blackness is explored through images and quotes.
To put it simply, Dr Joshua Bennett’s voices resonates. As an admirer of his poetry, my admiration for spoken word poetry has been heightened and has allowed me to invoke a poetic voice within myself, I never knew existed. ‘Algorithm & Blues’ and ‘The Sobbing School’ have become my most treasured collections of poetry. Through these racially charged anthologies, Joshua reflects the youth and their challenges at school and the workplace in light of being black in America. His delivery not only echoes the astonishing beauty of language, but he is also able to convey clarity, personality and powerful messages in his words. Many can strongly identify with his working-class family background but also his passionate voice, his intriguing stories, and his New York vision. As a black African, I feel his work is notable and current in light of police brutality, but also culturally I feel his work is able to respond to other types of discrimination.
To say I am an admirer of Dr Joshua Bennett, would be an understatement. In my eyes, he is crucial to poetry and vital to young black readers. He is most definitely notable and a force to be reckoned with. His work thus far has changed me; influencing my daily writing and moving me beyond words. Dr Bennett has affected me greatly since that first night I watched his spoken word poetry online. Due to his inspiration, I went on to study a masters in English and Creative Writing and write poetry of my own. In my personal statement when applying, I wrote with his work and voice in mind.
”I’d like to take my writing to a critical place; a place where through honoring myself, I’m able to create work with the potential to change the perceptions of every form of me. Be that for women, Somalis, Black and African people, Muslims and twenty-somethings. I write for my love of the process, the craft and the contentment it brings me. My great joy derives from reading the work of writers who rouse something in me, the ones whose names I can never forget. Staying true to my childhood self (who was a dreamer), I intend to make myself proud by creating work others can love just as I have. My primary responsibility is to write with a sense of vulnerability and at times a reckless imagination so that I may make my work, to a stranger, worth remembering.”
Joshua Bennett greatly opened my eyes to the use of language. Through his work, I’ve been washed over with the creativity of poetry, viewing blackness as a study and of believing in my own vision, my words and life events now becoming art. He has the power to show young black people, wherever they reside, that they too can become a doctor. They too can choose to not be a stereotype or a statistic and are able to use their life experience on the page. Through his inspiration, they can excel, educate themselves and dream big.
I’m sure there are people out there with their own stories on how they discovered Joshua Bennett’s greatness. Comments on countless videos begging for written lyrics of his poems, requesting for more or simply showing him love. I’m the most intrigued by his mind. I’d like to read what he reads, understand his vision even more and watch his career soar to whichever plateau it takes him.
If you ever read this Dr Bennett, I’d like you to know you are one of my heroes and you have made a change in someone. You are so important not only to me, but to poetry.