Lit I Love, Title 16: The Color Purple

I apologize for the lengthy nature of this post, but bear with me, I think it’ll be worth it. 

Regardless of which side of the political lines you find yourself on, these are uncertain times. It extends farther than just the boundaries of the United States, North America, and the oceans. These uncertain times are global. Even if the uncertainty isn’t political, Earth is itself uncertain, rocking the coasts of New Zealand and Japan with earthquakes and the threat of consuming waves. As humans, we really don’t do well with uncertainty.

Many of us feel drawn to crawl under a thick duvet and hide there until our footing is more solid. Some want to run screaming into the unknown with tight fists in balls, ready to bash whatever demons they encounter. Then there are those of us who know that our beds won’t protect us any better than our balled-up fists and we try to figure out what can be done. It is human. It is not new.

I’m in that last group. While part of me is lulled into the comfort of soft sheets and oblivion, the bigger part of me needs to know what’s expected of me, and what I can do.

My first step is always reading. I read everything I can get my hands on. And in this particular moment in time, there is one request I am reading over and over. Listen. Listen. Listen. 

There are plenty of us co-dependent sorts out in the world that have a desperate urge to superhero things up. We want to swoop in and da-da-da!! save the day. There, I made it all better, now we can be happy. Yay! Certainty. Alas, that plan leaves out all kinds of reality and at the very least, it’s not what’s needed.

What’s needed is our ears. We have to listen to the stories of those who are in front of us hurting. We have to listen to the stories of their ancestors. We have to listen to the parts of the stories that overlap with our own, the parts where we aren’t always the good guys. It is crucial.

Author David Augsberger says, ““Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

tcp2coverAnd now, more to the point of this blog, THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker, is one of the first books I ever read that really exposed me to the lives I knew nothing about. I first read this in high school, but have read it several times since (which is rare for me). It exposed me to the personal history of a black woman growing up in slavery, a survivor of rape, a woman living in an abusive household, and of a woman with a sexuality more fluid than my own. These narratives will never be mine, but thanks to Ms. Alice Walker, I have a much greater understanding of women who have lived these stories.

This is the power of story. Sharing non-fiction in a compelling way is vitally important, but fiction has a power like none other. In it, we can name names, we can expose all the ugliness that lurks in the dark, and we can show how in spite of the battering, humanity doesn’t just survive, but it can thrive. It shows that no one is confined to live under the weight of prejudice or abuse, but instead they are free to become who they were meant to be. If that doesn’t inspire hope in you, you might need to check your pulse.

This story of Celie, Nettie, Sofia, and Shug, inspires me. They each find a way to stand on their own feet as women and say to the darkness, “you don’t scare me!” They each find a way to wriggle out from under the oppressive forces and bloom. Nothing that bound them defines them. They are shaped by it, but not defined by it.

We can’t support our living sisters and brothers if we don’t know their stories. We have to listen to them, we have to read their cultural histories, and we have to find fiction that can help us fill in the rest of the story. Only then can we even start to grasp where help and support should begin.

This should make those  of you who are still bunkered-down under your covers happy. Pull your e-reader under the sheets with you and read. Read everything you can find on people who are living in the margins: people of color, people who have disabilties, the LGBTQIA community, and those of other faiths. Then start conversations over cups of coffee with people that are different from you with the sole intention of just listening to their story. Maybe you’ll discover where your gifts and skills can fill a need, but know that just listening and trying to understand is a way of extending love.

I apologize for the break from my standard form here, but breaks are good sometimes. To Ms. Alice Walker, I thank you for being a teacher for me. I thank you for helping me better understand others. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world. I believe we, your readers, are all better humans for it.

What books have helped you step into the life of another to better understand them? What have you read recently that has helped you gain some perspective on the world? 

Thanks for reading!





Lit I Love, Fresh Ink: The Perfect Son

fresh ink

tps-bcwA few months ago, a challenge was put forth to a writing group in which I participate. The challenge was to read more books in the same genre in which we write. I am a Women’s Fiction writer, so I started compiling a list to read. (You can find a growing list here on my Goodreads’ profile.) I’m almost 10 books into the list since the challenge, and I am both excited by what’s available and also humbled enough about my own work to make sure it’s as good as it possibly can be, because the competition is fierce.

The first book I read in this genre was THE PERFECT SON by Barbara Claypole White. This is a story about a woman, Ella Fitzwilliam, who is the hub of her family. The other members are orbiting planets and she is the sun. In this story, the sun loses its power to hold her planets in place and they have to reorient or be cast into the splintered, dark abyss of a broken family’s space. The disorientation of this known and predictable system is complicated by the fact that the son in the story, Harry, has Tourette Syndrome, which is inherently erratic and uncontainable. It disrupts the father’s, Felix Fitzwilliam, desire for order and perfection. The story follows this unlikely reorientation for worse and for better.

Barbara Claypole White has a gift for communicating the humanity of her characters, and they felt so real to me that at one point I shouted out loud at Felix, and throughout the story, I felt a need to protect Harry and Ella. I was squarely stuck in this story and that is an unusual place for me as a reader. Normally I know I’m a bystander. So, hats off to you, Barbara.

THE PERFECT SON is a great example of how a person can be in a state of constant redemption, never fully who we’re meant to be, and yet, a state so much better from where we began. That feels sincere to the human condition, to me. I hope I can emulate that in my own work.

Have you read THE PERFECT SON? What books have you read that stayed true to the human experience? Have you read titles that show what it’s like to live with disorders or mental illness that rang true to you? 

Thanks for reading!

Fresh Ink: Debut Author Natalie Baszile, Queen Sugar

fresh inkIn prepping for the Association of Writers and Writing Professionals Conference (a.k.a. #AWP2016), I started looking up what some of the panelists had published. My list of to-read books grew drastically, and though I will likely never make it through that whole list, a title did pop out at me.

51e5qNUYc0L._UY250_Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile, cast a spell over me, and apparently I’m not the only one. Oprah Winfrey loved it so much she’s picked it up for a television series.

This novel is exquisite. Baszile scoops up her readers up and sets them down in the thick, damp heat of rural Louisiana, near New Orleans. The story begins with Charley Bordelon moving from Los Angeles to her extended family in Louisiana. Her father has just died and in order to meet the terms of her father’s will, Charley will have to revive his dying sugarcane plantation. This should be no problem except that she’s a woman, she’s black, she’s broke, she knows nothing about farming, and she’s trying to raise her daughter on her own. Add to that, there’s her half-brother Ralph, a troubled man with a good heart, who believes he’s owed a piece of this promised land, too.

Baszile deftly paints her characters in a way that in your heart you feel you know these people, even if no one like them has ever graced your own life’s circles, but the wonder of this novel doesn’t stop there. Baszile brings rural Louisiana alive. You feel your t-shirt clinging to the sweat that’s running down your back, you smell the fresh-baked bread wafting over the petrichor* that lingers in the sugarcane fields. It is a gift I am exceedingly jealous of and it makes me want to work harder to craft that kind of quality from my writing.

Queen Sugar is a story of perseverance, second-chances, self-doubt, social injustice, and the power of hope.

Warning: I tried to get other things done while I read it, but I couldn’t. I had to keep reading. So make yourself comfortable and dig in. You’ll be glad you did.

Have you read Queen Sugar? Are there other novels that have pulled you in so deeply that you didn’t want to leave? Tell us about it. [Caution: no spoilers in the comments, please]

Thanks for Reading!

*petrichor: a word I adore but rarely get to use in context