Books on Tap met virtually to discuss The Receptionist: And Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth. As a 19 year old, Groth used her connections to get a job as a receptionist at the New Yorker and stayed in the same position for twenty years, while pursuing a PhD after hours. We were excited to get a snapshot of New York City in the 1960s and 70s and a behind-the-scenes look at the famous names who wrote for the magazine. Continue reading
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 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
August 6th The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker by Janet Groth
Books 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.