Saturday, February 3, 2018

Bookish Tweets and Book Reviews













































































Okay I take that back. I put thought and effort into my reviews and really do hope that whoever reads them gets something out of them. If anyone has decided to take a chance on a book based on what I wrote about it, I'm honored. Below are my most recently written book reviews.



PymPym by Mat Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting book that made for a quick read. It is filled with Mat Johson's trademark humor regardless of the seriousness of topic at hand. The plot revolves around a recently fired African American Literature professor. Why was he fired? Because his primary focus was on examining a novel by Edgar Allan Poe, the only full length novel written by the brilliant but definitely not African American author. The name of the book is The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I had never heard of Poe's lone novel before reading Johnson's Pym. The narrator studies and teaches this book to his detriment because he believes it holds the key to understanding White-Black race relations. After being fired, the professor and his also unemployed best friend (who has his own obsession with a painter of landscapes, specifically, with finding the precise physical vantage point that each of his paintings are based on) end up on a quest that takes them along with the narrator's cousin and ex-girlfriend and her current husband among others to Antarctica. It is on this frozen terrain that they discover a lost race of creatures representing Whiteness. This means its opposite, a tropical island representing Blackness that Poe also wrote about in his novel, is possibly out there as well. When the world as we know it seemingly comes to an end, the narrator and his motley crew perhaps being the lone survivors of Armageddon only to have become slaves of the primitive creatures in Antarctica, the search is on for whatever paradises (whether man-made or otherwise) may still exist. That's about as well as I can describe Pym's quirky plot. Best to read this enjoyable book for yourself.

View all my reviews The MothersThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exceptional novel. Brit Bennett writes with a steady hand as she immerses us into the minds and lives of three people. Nadia and Aubrey are the best of friends. Luke is the man they both love, at different times as well as simultaneously. He is the man who would have made a mother out of Nadia had they chosen to parent, and the one who eventually makes a wife and mother of Aubrey. He is the first love of both of them, but choices of course need to be made and not everybody can get a happily ever after out of such a situation. Or maybe not anyone. Luke's mother is the first lady of the church that plays a prominent role in the lives of all characters in this book. To varying degrees, her son and the women who love him succeed and fail at obtaining her approval. Nadia and Aubrey are both abandoned and motherless. Aubrey's mother chooses an awful man over being in the lives of her daughters. Yet Aubrey proves to be the character who is the best at maintaining loyalty, possessing an innocence that remains untouched no matter how ill she is treated. Nadia's mother chooses the release of death, and in so doing fills her daughter with undeserved guilt and a restless soul, forever on the look-out for whatever clues and remembrances may have been left behind. Both girls are haunted to womanhood by maternal abandonment. Nadia at least still has a father willing to be there for her, but the hurt caused by her mother's unexplained suicide pushes her away from those who love her. And so she is not a particularly dutiful daughter. And after both her child and relationship with Luke are aborted, relationships with the men who follow are destined to fail. But it is Nadia's betrayal of Aubrey that is at the heart of this novel. The mothers in Bennett's novel do the best they can, are hurt and betrayed by callous men and by each other, and some of them manage to persevere while others do not. I was very much absorbed by this book, in part because it examines central themes that I dive into in my novel Matters of Convenience, in much larger part because it is a wonderfully written book by an author who is off to an impressive start.

View all my reviews The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel is a grand literary achievement, well deserving of its accolades and the Pulitzer Prize. It is a story of American slavery, and of daring to dream of freedom. It depicts the shackles that physically held people in bondage as well as mentally chaining them to the inescapable past. Slaves who did not have their spirits broken by enforced servitude had one chance to claim a life worth living. They could run and hope to make it to the underground railroad. Colson Whitehead makes the interesting choice of depicting it as an actual railroad running beneath the ground, giving the story somewhat of a science fiction feel. But for the most part the narrative is a gritty, realistic one. A woman named Cora is at its center. She escapes bondage much as her mother, who was never heard from again, did before her. Freedom is fleeting. Just as Cora has grown comfortable and believes she has found a permanent place for herself, she ends up imprisoned in an attic, hiding until found and recaptured. Once again she escapes and this time she finds a utopia, a community of black people living prosperously and independently. But paradise found is only a sweet respite until it is lost. A slave catcher named Ridgeway relentlessly pursues Cora even after the man who hired him to find her has died. His determination to return Cora to bondage is a match for her desire to live on her own terms rather than those dictated by a barbaric society. Yet he can hold Cora captive to no greater degree than one can grasp the wind. Once again she is on the run, riding the subterranean rails towards a future that is beyond the reach of slavery. The story is told at a pulse quickening pace, with quiet moments interspersed that resemble freedom and present the possibility of Cora choosing a lifelong home, until she finds herself being hunted again. We hope for Cora's fate to be merciful, knowing that the railroad's journey to a better tomorrow is mighty long, continuing in certain ways to this very day.

View all my reviews The SelloutThe Sellout by Paul Beatty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sellout is a tricky book to review. Is it brilliant satire or biting social commentary delivered with excessively over the top weirdness? I can easily see why one might lean one way or the other. It wasn't until after reading this book that I read the author's bio and learned that he started out as a spoken word poet who launched his career by killing it at Nuyorican Poets Cafe. This came as no surprise given the style of Beatty's prose. Nearly every sentence is a rambling, poetic, rapid fire joke with multiple punch lines delivered. I have never listened to an audio book, only read ink on paper novels. But The Sellout is definitely a novel that seems written to be listened to as much if not more than it was written to be read silently to yourself. The wacky plot involves a black man who was home schooled by his social scientist father, with every lesson being about racial identity. After his father is murdered by cops, the son inherits the family farm along with acquiring settlement money. Not that they live in farm country. Where they live is in a California town that has literally been erased from the map. So in addition to providing his neighbors with incredible fruit, stellar weed, and crisis counseling in times of mental emergencies, the narrator is also on a mission to bring the town back into existence. Or rather, into recognition that it's still there. He is friends with the last living cast member of the Little Rascals, a man named Hominy who voluntarily insists on being the narrator's slave. Yes you read that right, and no I don't have an explanation for motive beyond this book is satirical with every line meant to be taken with a grain of salt. Or perhaps a boulder of salt. In addition to being a slave owner, the narrator also decides to attempt to bring racial segregation back to their town one location at a time, starting with a city bus. If what I'm describing sounds bizarre, you've got the right idea. Beatty hits readers with every cultural reference under the sun along the way. The Sellout seemed to me less of a story than someone showing off how witty he can be on the topic of our national obsession with race. There is a bit of a romantic subplot involving the driver of the aforementioned bus that's barely worth mentioning, except to make it clear in this review that while throwing everything out there, Beatty did not forget the kitchen sink. I enjoyed this book, yet reached a point where I was mainly reading to accomplish the feat of finishing what had been started. I suppose I personally prefer my satire in shorter doses. I suppose that as much as I love expertly delivered, thought provoking spoken word poetry, I look forward to a different form of artistic experience when reading a novel. I'm going to round up from the 3.5 stars that goodreads won't allow me to give and select 4 stars as my rating while fully appreciating why it would be a 5 star read to others, and why awards such as the Man Booker Prize would be bestowed upon it. I don't know if I'll read another Paul Beatty book, but I'd love to listen to him read from his work or just hear him talk about whatever comes to mind.

View all my reviews

Matters of Convenience

Friday, January 26, 2018

XFL REVISITED


There are highly anticipated remakes/re-imaginings (for example, Bladerunner 2049) and then there's Vince McMahon recycling an idea that flopped the first time around with an added side of MAGA family values. Are you ready for some XFL football?!!  No? Well, I can't say that I blame you. Maybe we'll be pleasantly surprised the second time out, but I wouldn't bet much more than a wooden nickel on it.



In case you're too young to remember the original XFL, or have worked really hard on forgetting it over the past couple decades, here's a refresher course - REMEMBER THE XFL?

But times have changed of course, since that is precisely what times are built to do. The upcoming XFL will be vastly different from the original version according to P.T. Barnum, I mean, Vince McMahon.


































At least one guy doesn't think that the XFL will actually come back. That would be the writer of this piece.




There is SO MUCH going on in the world in 2018, SO MANY diversions, distractions and diverse forms of entertainment vying for our limited attention spans. 2020 will look no different except that there will be even more going on all at the same time, even if much of it is in the same place, that being the smart phone in the palm of your hand. So the XFL has a very steep uphill climb to become a thing that actually sticks around for a few years.  The task ahead of Vince McMahon will be almost as difficult as this one...


Saturday, January 20, 2018

FAIR TRADE


Below is the first one of my short stories to ever be published. The time feels right to present it here at A LINE A DAY as my first #ShortStorySunday entry of 2018. Now that so many of my tales have been presented here, I'll need to write some new ones soon to avoid running out of material. I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to let me know if you do since writers are fueled by compliments.  😍





                                        
                      FAIR TRADE



       A short story by ROY L. PICKERING JR.




The plan was perfect.  Simple and effective, so dependable in outcome you could set your watch to it.  The four adolescents had pulled this off numerous times previously, always without a hitch.

Rodney had the most mature sounding voice of the group, so it was always he who placed the call.  Always to a Chinese take-out restaurant for a variety of important reasons.  Reason number one was that the delivery guy was typically smallish, frail seeming, and quite clearly scared to death of black people.  At least when he was surrounded by four of them.  Reason number two, they never arrived in a car, always on a beat up old bicycle, so they never tried to run for it.  The third and fourth reasons were that all four of them liked Chinese food (who doesn't?) and there were about half a million Chinese restaurants in the area.  This might seem odd to some, since very few Chinese people lived in the neighborhood so far as they could tell, but the four young men didn't spend much time contemplating the enigma.  They tended to accept things as they were without excessive questioning.

"What's taking this guy so long?" asked Cognac, who was named after the beverage responsible for his conception.  His running joke was that if other parents in the neighborhood used the same method of name giving as his parents, there would be a whole lot of Malt Liquors running around.  Cognac was in love with gold.  It adorned his fingers, wrists, neck, ears and one tooth.  His nickname, as if someone named Cognac needed a nickname, was Glitter.

"If he doesn't show up in the next two minutes, I say we don't tip him."  As usual, Coletrane's joke cracked up none other than Coletrane.  His laughter was a sight to see due to a great quantity of loose flesh that bounced and jiggled in every which direction.  He claimed to not really be fat, merely too short for his weight.  Coletrane planned to correct this situation by having a growth spurt to go along with his newly grown chest hairs.  What he failed to realize was that in order to be of average weight, he would need to shoot up to about seven feet.

If somehow this did happen, he still wouldn't be much taller than Jerome, who seemed to grow about a foot per month. Jerome held a basketball in hand, his trademark.  It had been signed by three current members of the New York Knicks. The game of hoops was the most important thing in his life.  It was his school, his church, his lover, his mother and his child.  Jerome could recite from memory the statistics of just about any player in the NBA.

Rodney's memory was equally impressive, only with a different subject matter.  Roaming around in his head were the lyrics for pretty much every rap song ever recorded, as well as close to one hundred songs he had composed.  The customized headphones around his neck were as constant as a tattoo.

The four friends killed time by bragging about the numerous girls who were allegedly into them, and recycling insults at each other.  All in the name of fun.  Any moment now their latest victim would arrive, supplying them with much needed (or certainly wanted) cash, an antidote for their boredom, and some never to be taken for granted free food.

"Here he comes."

The delivery man approaching appeared to be about a thousand years old.  He looked too antiquated to walk ten consecutive steps, much less be peddling a bike laden with food uphill.  As soon as he hopped off the bike (yes hopped, the man was startlingly agile) and started looking for the fictional address Rodney had given to lure him, the four young thieves made their move.  Their move was simply to surround the delivery man.  Nine times out of ten, food, money and the bike were willingly offered without them having to say a word or make a single threatening gesture.  Their mere presence was sufficient.  They never actually wanted the bicycles, being that they were always pieces of crap, and often the most difficult part of the crime was convincing the delivery man of this fact.  Occasionally they had to be a bit more menacing to convince the guy to forfeit his goods.  Once Rodney had pulled his knife, which was how they learned that he carried one on him, but that was as dramatic as it had ever gotten.

Coletrane didn't look particularly menacing on this day.  His mother dead and father in whatever unknown location he happened to be, he had been raised by his grandparents on his mother's side and taught to respect the elderly.  Coletrane didn't have the nerve to threaten someone who made his grandparents look like teenagers, but he didn't want to appear cowardly to his friends.  He walked up to the delivery man along with the others, but instead of staring into the man’s eyes as was custom, looked sheepishly down at the ground.

The four of them waited patiently for the old man to realize he was in the same shoes that Custer had found himself in, probably during this guy's childhood.

"Food for you?"

"Hell yeah, food for us," Jerome growled.

"Twenty two fifty."

"How about for free and we let your old ass live?" said Rodney.

"Twenty two fifty."

"How about one ass whipping?" asked Cognac.  "Or you can just hand over that food and the money in your pocket and we'll call it even."

"You boys should be shamed of yourselves."

"Who you calling boy?" asked Jerome, who towered ridiculously over the little, fearless old man.

"You boys need a spanking.  Your mammas raised you better."

"Now I know you ain't talking 'bout my mother," Rodney said, taking a step forward with intent to intimidate.

"Give me money or we make trade."

"What?  You senile or something, Grandpa?  Hand over my mother fucking Moo Shu now."  Rodney was clearly getting agitated, and he had a nasty temper that could ignite quickly when situations unfolded unexpectedly.

"Money or trade," the delivery man insisted.

"Fine," said Cognac.  "We'll trade you those bags and whatever cash you have on you for your life.  Sound good to you?"

"No good."

"You ain't 'fraid to die, fool?"

"I ninety seven years old.  Sometime I think death scared of me.  Twenty two fifty or trade."

"Trade what?" asked Cognac.

"I take one of your gold chains, your headphones, your basketball, and ...  What you have for me round boy?"

"Let's just let the old guy go," said Coletrane, still studiously examining his sneakers. 

"I'm getting tired of this bullshit," said Rodney.  "This is a robbery, not a negotiation."  Rodney tried to grab a bag of food from off the delivery man's bicycle but his hand never reached its destination.  The old guy quickly and firmly slapped it away.

"Not a smart move, Gramps.  Now I'm gonna have to jack you up."

"Let's just leave the man be," Coletrane said.

Rodney raised his fist and started walking towards the old man.  "No, I don't think ..."

Suddenly Rodney was laying on the ground in fetal position, statement left incomplete, his hands between his legs covering the vulnerable area he had just been kicked in.  That alone was ample cause for amazement on the parts of the three would be robbers who remained standing.  What really shocked them though was the old man removing the headphones from around Rodney's neck.

"This pay your share."  The delivery man turned towards Jerome.  "Now you."

Jerome was unsure of himself, that much was apparent by the look on his face.  Cognac and Coletrane half expected him to run off.  Instead he started to bounce his basketball.

"You want it, take it."

Jerome was an excellent ball handler for his height, for any height in fact.  On the basketball court he was unstoppable.  He would come racing down the floor dribbling the ball with the dexterity of a Harlem Globetrotter, then go soaring over his lesser opponents in Michael Jordan-like manner and slam the ball through the hoop with Shaq-like authority.  He was a shoo in for a college scholarship and would probably end up being one of the rare success stories from their neighborhood.

Cognac and Coletrane watched Jerome expertly dribble the ball at a dizzying speed, through his legs, around his back.  They were rather surprised to see the old man assume a defensive position.  They were stupefied when he cleanly stole the ball from Jerome.

The old man tucked the ball under his arm.  "This pay your share."

A dejected Jerome hung his head in embarrassment but did not protest.  Anyone who could humble him in the game of basketball deserved no disrespect.  As much as he cherished that ball, he knew that sometimes in life you have to pay what you owe.

The old man turned towards Cognac, but before he could even say a word he was being handed a gold necklace.  Cognac had seen enough to convince him that it was preferable to glitter a few karats less brightly than to deny this old man his due.

"This pay your share."

The delivery man placed his newly acquired goods on the ground next to his bicycle.  Then he turned towards Coletrane who was still determined to avoid the man's gaze.

"What you have for me?"

Coletrane remained silent, his shame at harassing such an elderly, although quite spirited man placing a heavy burden on his tongue.

"You no deaf or dumb, so you answer me.  What you have?"

Coletrane raised his arms helplessly.  "I don't got anything.  What you see is what I have."

The delivery man stepped towards the rotund lad and lifted his chin so that their eyes may meet.

"What you tried to do to me was wrong.  You should know better.  You should never do anything that don't make your mamma proud."

"My mother's dead."

"She still watching.  My mamma watch me.  Your mamma watch you.  You understand?"

Coletrane did understand and nodded to convey this.

"Good.  Now you pay me your share."

Coletrane bowed his head in shame again.  Not because of his guilty conscience, but because he felt that he did owe the old man something, but he really had nothing to give.  From the corner of his eye he noticed Rodney quietly rising to his feet and extracting a switchblade from the back pocket of his jeans.

Rodney sprung forward, the blade of his knife pointed towards the small of the delivery man's back.  Coletrane had come to believe that the old guy possessed supernatural abilities learned in some Tibetan monastery.  What other explanation could there be for the stunts he had pulled?  But he didn't seem to notice a thing as the end of his existence grew violently near.  So it was up to Coletrane to brush past the man, deflect the path of Rodney's outstretched hand with its deadly attachment, and knock his friend unconscious with an elbow to the head.

When Coletrane turned around he saw the delivery man taking the bags of food from off his bicycle.  He walked over to Coletrane and lay the bags at his feet.  The old man glanced down at the prone body of Rodney, then turned his attention back to the boy who had saved his life.

"This pay your share."

The ancient delivery man went back to his bicycle, hopped on, and rode off into the proverbial and literal sunset.  Coletrane, Cognac and Jerome watched him in wonder until he was gone from view, then proceeded to retrieve and devour the food.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Questionable Attire











I don't know. I don't even much care, really. I remain capable of seeing a black kid reading a book & not thinking of monkeys, and of seeing a white kid hanging from a branch & thinking "look at that 'little non-literal monkey' having a blast". No insult intended towards either kid.


 In this case I mostly see the point of those who are pissed at the ad because it's too hard to believe H&M didn't know better, that they didn't realize the nerves that would be hit. Certainly there are a fair number of people who see these things before someone presses send for it to go live. Not a single person at H&M voiced concern over how the photo would be perceived, particularly in this day and age, with amateur self-appointed PC police carefully scanning social media for any misstep? They had to know people would take offense and raise a fuss over this. Either they didn't care (highly unlikely) or they were courting the obvious response it would elicit. Bad publicity is better than no publicity? Like I said, I don't pretend to know H&M's motives nor do I much care. It's all too deju vu. I've seen this movie quite a few times before. The end is not going to take me by surprise AT ALL.






Here's a suggestion - Here's another.



And now for the "ending" that could be seen coming a mile away...


Amazes me how quickly the power of social media can make a company apologize and plead for mercy, yet when it came to getting the right person elected president a year ago, it was powerless. Minor accomplishments got folks puffing out chests while the achievements that most matter stay undone.