The Sunday Salon: Random Bookish Things

So here is a random assortment of interesting bookish things.

#Diversiverse

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Recent events in Ferguson and the ones that preceded it, are a kind of unsettling reminder that racial prejudice is alive and well in the world. Any vaguely conscientious reader would be aware that it is also very much alive in the publishing industry. Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour is a kind book blogging activism that is very reminiscent of the We Need Diverse Books movement that took off earlier this year.

For Aarti’s blog tour, all you really need to do is to read and review at least one book by a person of colour in the last two weeks of September, so that’s between the 14th to the 27th.

I will be participating, but I have no idea what I will be reading yet .

Reading Australia
Being the bibliophile that I am I’ve always felt that reading is the best way to learn about another culture. On that note, there is a possibility of my wife and I moving, some time the near future, from our humble little Caribbean island to the largest island in the world, Australia. Reading Australia is my personal reading challenge to learn a few things about my future home through its writers.

Having said that, if anyone feels like participating or have any good reading recommendations feel free comment at any time.

I’ll be putting up my first post for this challenge next weekend.

Talamak: Dessa Darling’s Memoir

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Memoirs are usually a written collection of memories based on fact, but Amanda Haynes’ e-publication are dreamlike fictional narratives grounded in emotional truths.

Talamak: Dessa Darling’s Memoir was released earlier this week for free! It was written and directed by the Fresh Milk Books Team leader Amanda, it features illustrations by Fresh Milk Books member Versia Harris and the cover was designed by Kimberly St. Hill.

Stuff I’m looking forward to
There are two things that I’m really excited about; Book Riot’s upcoming new website called Panels for those people who love comic books and I’m anxiously waiting for my copy of Building Stories by Chris Ware.

That’s it for me, hope you guys are having an awesome Sunday.

Kwame

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On Reading Derek Walcott

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Looking through my twitter feed I saw that Commonwealth Writers tweeted a link of a month old BBC broadcast, where British poet Glyn Maxwell was interviewing my favourite poet and playwright from St. Lucia, Derek Walcott, on his birthday.

Honestly, the interview was kind of boring. Walcott usually says the same thing in every interview, and not much of what he said in this one was much different to things he has said before, but I always enjoy when Walcott reads fragments of his own poetry, which he did.

Hearing him read reminded me of the first and only time I heard him read his work live. It was an evening in 2008, when Mummy and I went to the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination. Memory is a funny thing; I remember that there was supposed to be some kind of presentation/discussion about a project between between Yale and the Cultural Studies Programme at University of the West Indies, but all I really remember was him reading his poetry.

After sitting near the back in a packed auditorium for a few minutes, an old man with mostly white hair walked to the front of the room and took his seat near the microphone. He didn’t look like he was big on smiling; Mummy told me that when she was teenager in Trinidad, they used to have to call Walcott’s house to buy tickets to whatever play may be happening in the Little Carib Theatre (Trinidad’s first theatre established by performance artist Beryl McBurnie in 1948). She and Granny didn’t really like having to call or go to his house for tickets because he always seemed so grumpy.

In the auditorium he read extracts from familiar favourites like ‘The Schooner Flight’ and, what would have then been his newest book of poetry, Tiepolo’s Hound (2000).

Walcott is important to me because he is the first poet whose work I enjoyed reading before I had any inkling of how to critically approach a poem. I would just read his poems out loud, trying to hold the imagery in my mind.

Hearing him read that first time six years ago, somehow added another layer to his work. Since then I always try to read the poetry the way I thought he would read it. I still read the poems out loud a few times, but then I also read quietly trying to imagine his voice and how he would linger on certain words.

To make a long story short, Walcott was my gateway poet, my starting point when it comes to reading poetry. His poetry is a safe place that I can return to again and again.

Kwame

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The Sunday Salon: Comic Books and the Question of Diversity

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The new Thor

Recently Comic Book Resources Managing Editor Albert Ching made himself a target for the internet trolls, when his only negative comment in a glowing review about the Guardians of the Galaxy movie was, “While it is a little disappointing that a movie with such an eclectic cast still has a handsome white male as its lead, it’s hard to take issue with [Chris] Pratt’s actual performance.” I’m not even certain that it counts as a negative comment, it seems more like a suggestion.

In a follow up post he quoted the winning negative response (which at the time of the post had 45 likes), “Why is that disappointing? Star-Lord is white. It’s that simple. And he’s the only ‘white guy’ on a very diverse team of aliens. So, while I get that CBR feels the need to stroke the mane of the diversity unicorn to appease…someone…that statement seemed completely out of left field.” Apparently another detractor even went as far as to email CBR and request the removal of the review because of “the racism towards white males.”

Ching should have expected some negative feedback, even though the shifting of race and, more recently, sex and gender is not unprecedented in previous adaptions of comic books or even new reboots of comic book characters, like Thor becoming a woman. There seems to be a progressive vein in the comic book industry which has been slowly changing from the white male heteronormative tradition to something more diverse. Sadly, not all comic book fans and/or superhero fans appreciate this shift.

I’m no expert, but it seems to matter because superheroes are more like ideas than characters. In some cases they can represent the notion of hidden potential; underneath the guise of the clumsy bespectacled reporter is a man of steel. Vicariously a comic book reader can feel a kind of strength that he/she doesn’t feel in real life, and it is probably easier to identify with a superhero who looks like you.

This would probably explain all the excitement that surrounded last month’s release of the The Shadow Hero by graphic novel and comic book writer Gene Luen Yang and comic book artist Sonny Liew. I haven’t read it yet, but The Shadow Hero is the story of the first Asian American superhero called The Green Turtle, who, when originally created in the golden age of comic books, defended American allies in China from the invading Japanese army. According to an interview at NPR, the character only survived about five issues, and apparently there may have been issues with the representation of his race.

So the obvious question that jumps to my mind is, why don’t they just create new superheroes that reflect the diverse cross section of comic book readers or potential comic book readers? The answer is that new superheroes have been created, but changing the race or gender of an established superhero from the popular culture pantheon, like in reboots or other media adaptations, would have way more impact.

I don’t think Ching’s criticism of The Guardians of the Galaxy is unreasonable, but equally I don’t think it was a call to arms either. If anything, it could be a great opener to what could be an interesting debate, but that’s just me.

Kwame

Image Credit: BBC

After posting this I realized that there is a great post about diversity and Marvel Now at BookRiot by Jessica Pryde, which you guys can check out if you want to read more on this topic.

 

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The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out by Francesco Francavilla

 

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Francesco Francavilla’s The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out is the re-invocation of the classic hard-boiled costumed vigilante blasting and exploding his way to the truth. From battling the Werewolf Corps (a Nazi sect) who are hunting down occult artefacts to facing down Colt City’s criminal element (Galazzos and the Fierros), The Black Beetle (not to be confused with the Beetle from the DC Universe) is the ultimate tribute to the pulpy melodrama of the 1940s. In the top left hand corner of the of one of the covers are the words “Presented in Cinescope Technicolor”. If it were actually a movie from the era, the Black Beetle would probably be played by Humphrey Bogart.

The most striking thing about Francavilla’s graphic novel is that it is not a reworking of an established character. Not exactly. Colt City does have a kind of Gotham like feel, and the ‘Beetle’ in the name brings to mind the Blue Beetle. All the traditional elements that makes the superhero genre so exciting are present. Like Batman, the Black Beetle is bit of a detective, with a few gadgets of his own. The difference is that there is no origin story, not yet anyway. There is no psychological explanation for why this man would dress like a vigilante to fight crime or tackle a major Nazi conspiracy. He just is, which is kind of refreshing. His secret identity remains secret even from the reader.

However, there is a hint that the hero has been around for a while. In the penultimate panel in the second chapter of ‘Night Shift’, the head of a robed figure says, “black beetle”, then in the last panel the robed figure is slanted and silhouetted against that ominous orange light that permeates the entire graphic novel. The only thing that can clearly be seen on the shadowy figure is the symbol of a circular labyrinth on his chest, and he continues “So we didn’t kill you in Haiti…I’ll make sure to correct that error”, which raises questions about the relationship between the cloaked figure and our vigilante.

With night time gunfights at a museum to sleuthing around a mobster jazz club, the Italian comic book artist does not disappoint. Francavilla’s artwork is beautiful and I think there is tight narrative thread that keeps it all together.

The only thing that sucks is that I don’t know what happens next.

Kwame

 

Story, Cover Art, Art, Colours: Francesco Francavillo

Lettering: Nat Piekos

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The Sunday Salon: The Athlete and the Artist

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He pelting stars, he pelting the sun
He skipping stones to Buckingham Palace
He pelt down the gold mango
from the tallest tree,
as I pelt this pen to the sky.

Christian Campbell
The Crown Prince of Pelters

Scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday I stumbled across a poem by a Canadian based Trinidadian-Bahamian poet, Christian Campbell, called The Crown Prince of Pelters. Under the poem Campbell comments that “A group of poets were commissioned to write sports poems for young people (11-16) by the Cambridge Caribbean Project/Commonwealth Education Trust.” Campbell goes on to say that his poem, along with other sports poems by other poets, have been published in an anthology called Give the Ball to the Poet: A New Anthology of Caribbean Poetry.

The poem was written for Keshorn Walcott, a Trinidadian javelin thrower, who is the first black male athlete to win Gold in a throwing event at the Olympics.

Below Campbell’s comment is a photo of Keshorn Walcott in a stadium leaning back on his right leg. His left arm pointed towards the sky with the left hand looking like an arrowhead, while his right hand is drawn back with the javelin; poised to pelt/throw.

This juxtaposition of sports and art, the conversation between Campbell’s poem and Walcott’s poise, reminded me of Trinidadian writer and intellectual C.L.R. James and his work, Beyond A Boundary (1963). James portrayed cricket as being more than a sport, but as legitimate viewfinder for looking at things like culture, class, race and the effects of colonialism.

I haven’t read it years, but what stuck with me is the idea of cricket being an art form. Not only does James lovingly illustrate for the reader the swing of the batsman or the motion of the bowler, but he also connects everything back to Ancient Greek dramas and the interaction between the audience and the players/actors, who are emotionally invested in the spectacle that they have come to witness.

In Campbell’s poem the javelin thrower is transformed into a performance artist, traversing and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. However, for me, the interesting part of the poem is the last three lines in the final stanza, “He pelt down the gold mango/from the tallest tree,/as I pelt this pen to the sky.” Here it seems that the poet/the artist is carried away by his own emotional investment and transforms into something more than a poet, or maybe the poet and athlete become one.

I’m not a big fan of sports, but I do think it’s interesting to think of them as having some underlying social importance.

Kwame

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First Post at Fresh Milk Books

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The General In His Labyrinth is the first work by Marquez that I’ve read since he passed away in April. It is also the first review that I’ve written as a Fresh Milk Books contributor.

I chose my first Fresh Milk Books book a couple of weeks ago, a process that probably took the better part of an hour.. a problem most bibliophiles seem to have when in a space filled with good books. I couldn’t even decide between fiction and non-fiction.

At first I was going to write something about Paulo Nazareth: Arte Contemporanea/LTDA, the first book I read at the Colleen Lewis Reading Room, a book filled with beautiful, sometimes unnerving, photographs. I didn’t think I knew enough about art and writing about art though; I’m working on that.

If you’re facing the exit of the CLRR then the fiction section is a tall bookshelf to the left of the door. The book shelf is filled with novels, short story collections, poetry collections and hidden in the depths lie a few memoirs, autobiographies and biographies about fiction writers. After scanning shelf after shelf, I finally stumbled across some works by Marquez, some of which I’ve read (and enjoyed) before. I picked up the book and the first thing I thought was that I’d stumbled into the centre of the labyrinth; this was the right book.

You can check out my review, or any of the reviews by the awesome Fresh Milk Books team (Katherine, Versia, Ronald and Amanda) on the blog.

Any book or magazine that has been reviewed at Fresh Milk Books is available upon request at the CLRR.

Kwame

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Heart Man: The Bayker’s Ridge Horror by Matthew Clarke

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I remember my first centipede sting. I was still in primary school and it was a week night. I’d already settled in and was probably sleeping when I felt a sharp pain on the right corner of my mouth that caused me to bolt into a sitting position, and something black fell from my face, landed on my arm and I was stung again on my forearm. I knocked it off with my other hand, and it landed on the bed and wriggled in a s-like motion to the foot of the bed. It was then I saw it under the glow of my nightlight and I screamed.

The theory was then that the centipede had crawled through a hole of the screen of the only window in the room which was at the head of the bed. Every night after that I always made sure that no part of my bed was touching the walls.

Reading the first issue of Clarke’s Heart Man reminded me of that creeped out feeling that I felt weeks after the centipede bite. What does a centipede have to do with Clarke’s graphic novel? Well his demonic version has a thing for getting under skin… literally. If I hadn’t read this then Shining Girls, by the South African writer Lauren Beukes, would have held the title of the creepiest thing I’ve read all year.

In Barbadian folklore the heart man kills children and offers their hearts to the devil. Clarke reaches down in to recesses of collective cultural memory and creates a version that has a more Jack the Ripper feel to him. He seems to go after young women. That Jack the Ripper vibe is highlighted by the fact that the heart man was ‘De Doctor’ from England who had come to work on Bayker’s Plantation in the 1800s.

The story then fast forwards to 2010, to the abandoned Bayker’s Mill that some teenagers on the wrong side of the law break into, accidentally unleashing this folkloric evil.

Clarke’s red, black and greyscale front and back cover set the ominous tone for the novel. Once you turn the cover there is no colour. It’s all shades of grey (this not a tongue in cheek reference to Nigel Lynch’s and Matthew Clarke’s All shades of Grey, which I’m still yet to read).

Clarke makes excellent use of panels to slow and speed up the pace of the story. My favourite is nightmarish two page spread where a long black arm is reaching out of the stomach of some kind of demon baby. It begins with two large horizontal panels on the left page, where I imagine (while squirming and breaking out into a cold sweat) the hand is slowly reaching out. Then on the right page the action seems to speed up with four vertical panels that look like broken glass.

The only negative thing I can say about Heart Man, other than the side effect of some really disturbing nightmares, is the language. I give credit where it’s due, I think he made an excellent attempt at bringing out the Barbadian vernacular, but his illustrations definitely tell a better story than his words.

And if you’re wondering whether I left on the lamp and made sure the bed wasn’t touching the wall after reading this title, yes I did.

Kwame

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The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

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“The bowl slipped. he snatched at it, but only deflected it so that struck on the side of the water jug and broke just in time to entangle his chasing fingers.”

The Best of All Possible Worlds is a story about loss, mourning, discovery, love, a little ‘mytho-poetic’, with a sprinkling of humour and new beginnings. Lord’s second novel begins with the destruction of Sadira, the home planet of a human race known as the Sadiri. The few survivors are left with the burden of starting over. Led by Dillenahkh (a name I never want to have to say out loud), a small group of Sadiri become refugees on another human planet, Cygna Beta.

The problem is that the majority of the survivors are men and they need suitable women to provide them with offspring that will still have their ‘psionic’ abilities intact. And so, with the help with the local Government, particularly a snarky civil servant by the name of Grace Delaura (also the protagonist and narrator for most of the tale) they embark on an anthropological road trip across the landscape, looking for suitable Cygnian cultures with the right biological make up.

Despite the SF guise, you can flip to any international news channel and see stories of entire cultures under threat by either natural disasters or genocide. In her Acknowledgements and References section she directly references the tsunami in 2004 in the Indian Ocean. Stories of cultures fractured like the broken bowl. The victims can only try their best to pick up their cultural fragments and try to stick it all back together.

As they sift through Cygna Beta’s cultural melting pot, the Cygnian and Sadiri explorers begin to realise that they are not as different from one another as they thought. Delaura’s precociousness and kindheartedness begins to chip away at the Vulcan-like stoic nature of the Sadiri.

For me Lord is an important writer because she is Caribbean writer who writes SF that has depth. There aren’t many Caribbean SF writers out there. During this years’ Boca Lit Festival, the Peepal Tree Press founder said that Caribbean writers have predilection towards literary fiction, what wasn’t said was that genre fiction is often seen as shallow and unimportant.

However, she vindicates Ray Bradbury when he told the Paris Review in an interview that science fiction is a genre of ideas, and shows that SF has the potential to tackle real issues. Her narrative repeatedly crashes against the shore of culture and identity; eroding and reshaping to show its malleability.

While I liked how the story shifted from the third person to the first, I wasn’t always convinced by Delaura as a narrator, and sometimes just saw her a a viewfinder or narrative tool to tell me about the other cultures and other characters.

I also thought thought that Lord’s use of language was a little clumsy at times, and as result some of the significant plot points fell a little flat. I think her writing in her first novel, Redemption in Indigo was stronger and more convincing.

All in all, it was an interesting story and I look forward to reading the sequel; The Galaxy Game.

Kwame

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An afternoon in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room

 

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After weeks of following the reviews by the team at Fresh Milk Books, I finally got a chance to browse the Colleen Lewis Reading Room (CLRR) at the Milking Parlour Studio.

Last week, Fresh Milk Founding Director, Annalee Davis, invited me to come and check out the reading room and meet the FMB team, so this Tuesday I dropped in.

Only one member of the team was missing. When I got there artist and writer, Katherine Kennedy, was already there. Eventually artists Ronald Williams and Versia Harris filtered in. Sadly, Amanda Haynes wasn’t there, but with good reason. Anyway, everyone who was there seemed pretty busy, so I had time to browse and do some reading.

However, like in any good library I was faced with the paradox of choice; the more there was to choose from, the harder it was choose. I moved from shelf to shelf picking up books and putting them back, until eventually I had to tell Annalee that I didn’t know what to choose.

Fortunately, she was prepared for this and had selection of books that she apparently recommends indecisive people like me.

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From her selection, the one I chose was Paulo Nazareth: Arte Contemporanea/LTDA. It follows artist Paulo Nazareth whose travels highlight the subjectivity of ethnicity and identity amongst other things. I almost finished reading it but I had to leave, so I’ll probably finish it next week.

I felt a bit guilty about reading it when I could have been reading War and Peace for Classics Club Spin. My excuse is that I don’t think that I’m in the right mindset for long literary journeys, but don’t worry I’m not done with Tolstoy yet.

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I read to the tinkling of wind chimes, the rustling of leaves and to the roar and horns of the ubiquitous World Cup 2014 being streamed on someone’s laptop; it was Algeria versus Belgium. I read to the reverberation of footsteps on a paint splattered floor of what used to be Annalee’s studio.

It was really great to just browse and read, it’s the first legitimate library experience I’ve had in a long time and I’m looking forward to finishing the book next week. I’m also looking forward to attending the Barbados book launch next Thursday of something called See Me Here: A Survey of Contemporary Self-Portraits of the Caribbean at the last Fresh Milk event before the summer break, Fresh Milk XVI.

All in all, there are some interesting things to look forward to, and I think I have a new Tuesday spot.

Kwame

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Wordless Wednesday: The Colleen Lewis Reading Room

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Kwame

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