“Why did people ask ‘What is it about?’ as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”

Books on Tap met virtually to discuss Americanah  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  We chose this book because it’s exploration of race and racism in America, originally published in 2013, remains piercingly relevant this summer. The novel follows Ifemelu from her childhood in Nigeria to her education in America and her return to Nigeria as an adult Americanah, a Nigerian who has been Americanized. Through her popular blog, Ifemelu explores what it means to be Black and African in America, the politicization of the Black body and the precariousness of womanhood  worldwide. 

The length of the book prevented many of the members from finishing it before we met. However, even though we found the first two thirds more compelling than the end, we couldn’t point to sections that could have been omitted outright. We delved into the framing story of Ifemelu in an American hair salon shortly before she returns to Nigeria. It was both a clever way to organize the sweeping story and a way to focus on how Ifemelu remains distant from African Americans but exposed to the worst of racism in America. Indeed, her blog becomes popular after she writes about wearing her hair naturally. Comments and criticisms flood in, proving that even innocuous choices are politized in a Black body. By remaining anonymous in the blog, she can tightly focus on her personal story as a African in America and  refuses her African American boyfriend’s request to use it for his social justice goals. 

Ifemelu cannot get legal work in America due to immgiration law, even though she enters the country legally. She must use someone else’s identity to take low paying jobs, including sex work. Her child care job reminded some book club members of Such a Fun Age. Her high school boyfriend, Obinze, loves American culture but due to personal connections, migrates to the United Kingdom for work. Britons claim that migrants there don’t experience racism as they do in America, but Obinze’s experience proves otherwise. Both Ifemelu and Obinze are embarrassed by things they are forced to do as migrants, which exacerbates their separation over 15 years. This called to mind Normal People for some readers. 

Both the author and narrator are dedicated to honesty. It’s this truth telling that attracts Ifemelu and Obinze to each other and keeps them apart when they cannot share the full breadth of their lives outside of Nigeria. Their reunion as adults ends the novel on a hopeful note without distracting the reader from the uncomfortable truths of racism in America.  

Books on Tap will meet again on August 6  via Zoom. For information, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org).  We’ll be reading  The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth. JMRL owns this book in print and as a downloadable book from Freading. Please contact Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download. 

More Information:

About the author 

Other works by the author

Interview with the author 

 

Interview with the author

 

We Should All Be Feminists TED Talk 

 

Onyeka Onwenu music

 

Fela music

 

More Nigerian Fiction 

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham 

Blackass by Adrian Igonibo Barrett

Everyday is for the Thief by  Teju Cole

Open City by Teju Cole

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Measuring Time by Helon Habila 

The Travelers by Helon Habila

Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya 

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma 

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi 

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Titilola Alexandrah Shoneyin

The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson

 

Multiple titles by  Chinua Achebe 

Multiple titles by  Nnedi Okorafor

 

Next Meeting:

August 6th The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth 

 

“I never understood why people thought my color, any color, needed fixing.”

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On June 18th, the Central Library Brown Baggers book group met virtually to discuss
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson.  

The Brown Baggers took time to bid a fond farewell to librarian Katie Gorrell, as this was her last meeting as a facilitator as she moves on to other things back in her home state of Pennsylvania.

A work of historical fiction, the book tells the story of the WPA Pack Horse Library Project through the experiences of Mary Cussy Carter, one of the last of  the Blue People of Kentucky and a packhorse librarian. Because of her blue skin, Mary suffered discrimination from the community just as her African American friend (and co-librarian) Queenie did.  The local doctor convinces Mary to subject herself to hospitalization and testing to “cure” her of her blue skin.

Most readers were not aware of the Blue People of Kentucky.  Originally from France, these descendants of the Fugate family had a hereditary condition called methemoglobinemia  that caused their skin to have a bluish tint. This led to discussion of how skin color and other outward-presenting markers can form identity just as much as invisible things can, and how removing appearance is a form of erasing identity.

When the group chose and scheduled this title, we of course had no idea that it would be so timely with the Black Lives Matter protests and ongoing current coverage of the history of racial disparities in the US.

Several Brown Baggers expressed surprise at the violence of some scenes of the book, and the threats of attack or mistreatment against the main character. There was much conversation around the tone of the book, with some praising the happy ending, and others condemning it as unrealistic when compared to the rest of the book. Some readers also found the “love interest” element wrapped up a little too early.

 A story of poverty, prejudice and isolation, as well as the power of literature. In the end, most of the Brown Baggers agreed it was a good read, and the overuse of expository writing actually helped keep their interest, as the setting of the book is one not often seen on the page.

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on July 16th to discuss Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant. Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

Books mentioned :

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Links:

Horse-Riding Librarians Were the Great Depressions Bookmobiles – from Smithsonian

University of Kentucky’s Packhorse Librarian Presentation (great photos!)

Interview with Kim Michelle Richardson from LA Public Library

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on July 16th to discuss Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant. Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

“The truth was that lately, she had not had quite enough happening in her life.”

clockdanceBooks on Tap met virtually to discuss Clock Dance by Anne Tyler.  A dramatic change in tone from last month’s title, this story of an old women’s examination of her life during an unexpected trip to Baltimore to care for her son’s ex-girlfriend was pleasant, but few of the book club members could remember the details a few weeks after reading it. As a wise librarian once said, these books are like muffins – nothing wrong with them and pleasant while you consume them, but not something you’d rave about. 

So why did we like it? It was uplifting. The characters were vibrant and Tyler’s opening flashback grounds the main character Willa and her family and provides motivation for the decisions they make later in the book.  Willa marries two overbearing husbands, mirroring the go-along attitude of her father. Her mother’s volatility teaches Willa to be small to avoid attention and conflict. She has a learned helplessness, barely able to handle travel logistics for planes or cars. But Tyler’s writing is so clear, kind and funny that Willa isn’t pathetic. We in the book club were rooting for her to upend her life. However, after 200 pages, we get two ambiguous paragraphs about her decision to stay in her old life in Arizona or to move to Baltimore  to be with her new logical family who value her for herself and contributions and not for her looks or willingness to stay quiet. 

We discussed this book during the protests and uprisings in all 50 states in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmad Abrey and police violence more generally. Tyler sets this book in Roland Park, a neighborhood in Baltimore that, according to data from the last census (and borne out by recent estimates), is dramatically more white than the rest of the city.Residents of Baltimore as a whole are 63% Black, while only 7.6% of residents of Roland Park are. The Baltimore that Tyler writes about in this book is 99% white as far as we could tell. The book was a brief respite from the real world but didn’t help us to discuss the issues of race and inequity that are at the front of our minds this week. 

Books on Tap will meet again on July 2nd via Zoom. For information, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org).  We’ll be reading  Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. JMRL owns this book in print, CD, downloadable audiobook from RB Digital and downloadable book from Overdrive. Please contact Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download. 

More Information:

About the author 

About the book 

Interview with the author 

 

Next Meeting: