Mini Reviews | Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime & Letter to My Daughter

Hey everyone!

Last year, thanks to finals week, I wasn’t able to review the books I read by legendary mothers – J. California Cooper and Maya Angelou. Below are mini reviews of two books written by two brilliant, African-American literature pioneer writers.

Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime: stories by J. California Cooper

J. California CooperDate Read: December 26th 2015

Published: 1996

Publisher: Anchor Books / Doubleday

Pages: 273

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Whether through her stories or her legendary readings, J. California Cooper has an uncanny ability to reach out to readers like an old and dear friend. Her characters are plain-spoken and direct: simple people for whom life, despite its ever-present struggles, is always worth the journey.

In Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, Cooper’s characteristic themes of romance, heartbreak, struggle and faith resonate. We meet Darlin, a self-proclaimed femme fatale who uses her wiles to try to find a husband; MLee, whose life seems to be coming to an end at the age of forty until she decides to set out and see if she can make a new life for herself; Kissy and Buddy, both trying and failing to find them until they finally meet each other; and Aberdeen, whose daughter Uniqua shows her how to educate herself and move up in the world.

These characters and others offer inspiration, laughter, instruction and pure enjoyment in what is one of J. California Cooper’s finest story collections.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

I discovered J. California Cooper back in 2013. But the announcement of her passing in 2014 had me wishing I’d read her work earlier. After reading Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, I realized I had really been missing out on Ms. Cooper’s yummy ways of storytelling! As I was reading the stories in this collection, I felt as if I was chatting with a good friend in my living room. Cooper’s stories have a juicy, gossipy-feel that make for an exciting, yet comforting read!

My favorite stories were:

‘Femme Fatale’ – In this story, readers are invited into Darlin’s life as she tries to find herself. After losing both parents and her beloved grandmother, Darlin does all she can to be happy and to be loved by a good man, while in the process grooming herself to be a ‘femme fatale’. This story was an emotional rollercoaster and I loved how it ended. J. California Cooper puts a lot of sass into this story!

‘Sure Is a Shame’ 

You know, it’s a fact and I seen it, sometimes when you think you taking a bite out of life, chewing hard on it, life be done taken a bite out of you and done already swallowed. Sho is a shame, sho is (pg. 159)

This is a cautionary tale on the consequences of taking the little things and good people for granted. It was a long-winded story, but also a wake up call and good reminder to appreciate each day in life, as well as the people placed in it.

Most of the characters in Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime are either 50 years and older or they grow well into old age as they recollect different events of their lives. All the stories have an element of self-help to them, as J. California Cooper drops lots of wisdom on how to live a fulfilling life, through the characters in the stories. But I wished some of the protagonists were younger and that there was more variety to the stories in this collection. Honestly, I can only remember about 3 stories out of this collection. I found the rest of the stories redundant, predictable and quite simple – without much depth. With that said, I still look forward to reading some of J. California Cooper’s full novels – like Family and The Wake of The Wind in the near future. Definitely read this if you’re in the mood for a chatty, comforting collection of stories!

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

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Purchase Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime on Amazon


Letter to My Daughter (ebook) by Maya Angelou

Letter_to_My_DaughterDate Read: November 27th 2015

Published: September 2008

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 166

 

 

The Blurb

Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter reveals Maya Angelou’s path to living well and living a life with meaning. Told in her own inimitable style, this book transcends genres and categories: guidebook, memoir, poetry, and pure delight.

Here in short spellbinding essays are glimpses of the tumultuous life that led Angelou to an exalted place in American letters and taught her lessons in compassion and fortitude: how she was brought up by her indomitable grandmother in segregated Arkansas, taken in at thirteen by her more worldly and less religious mother, and grew to be an awkward, six-foot-tall teenager whose first experience of loveless sex paradoxically left her with her greatest gift, a son.

Whether she is recalling such lost friends as Coretta Scott King and Ossie Davis, extolling honesty, decrying vulgarity, explaining why becoming a Christian is a “lifelong endeavor,” or simply singing the praises of a meal of red rice–Maya Angelou writes from the heart to millions of women she considers her extended family.

Like the rest of her remarkable work, Letter to My Daughter entertains and teaches; it is a book to cherish, savor, re-read, and share.

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Maya Angelou is one of the writers who got me truly interested in African-American literature and reading in general, back when I was 13 years old. When I was younger, I wasn’t particularly excited about the ‘classics’ I was forced to read, like – Black Beauty, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, To Kill A Mockingbird, Little Women, The Catcher in the RyeAnn of Green Gables, just to name a few. I appreciated those books, but I didn’t deeply connect with the characters of the novels. When my mother suggested for me to start reading Maya Angelou’s autobiography series which she owned in her bookshelf (my mother is an original bookworm. Me and my siblings will inherit a whooole library of books!), I started with – I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Angelou’s storytelling grasps all of your attention with her vivid descriptions, poetic writing style and punches of wisdom in each chapter of her work. *sigh* I’m still bitter that she passed away on my birthday in 2014. I really wanted to meet her or just be in her presence at a literary event.

Letter to My Daughter is my sixth read from Maya Angelou’s work and I believe it’s a timeless gem of essays!

My favorite essays were:

‘Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer’ – This story was very familiar, as I’ve read a similar version of the account in Angelou’s final book in her autobiography series – Mom & Me & Mom (2013). In ‘Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer,’ Maya Angelou takes readers back to when she dated a physically abusive man and the (emotional, physical) pain it caused her life as a young woman. To think Angelou could have died in the serious brawl she describes in this essay is horrifying. However her fierce mother – Vivian Baxter, is the real MVP of this account as her love and fearless nature save Angelou. In this account, readers ultimately learn that Maya Angelou believed in the power of prayer.

‘Violence’

Too many sociologist and social scientists have declared that the act of rape is not a sexual act at all, but rather a need to feel powerful… The sounds of the premeditated rape, the grunts and gurgles, the sputtering and spitting, which commences when the predator spots and then targets the victim, is sexual. The stalking becomes, in the rapist’s mind, a private courtship, where the courted is unaware of her suitor, but the suitor is obsessed with the object of desire. He follows, observes, and is the excited protagonist in his sexual drama… I am concerned that the pundits, who wish to shape our thinking and, subsequently, our laws, too often make rape an acceptable and even explainable social occurrence… We must call the ravening act of rape, the bloody, heart-stopping, breath-snatching, bone-crushing act of violence, which it is. The threat makes some female and male victims unable to open their front doors, unable to venture into streets in which they grew up, unable to trust other human beings and even themselves. Let us call it a violent unredeemable sexual act… (pages 39-41).

This is an excerpt from ‘Violence,’ one of the powerful (and self-explanatory) essays from this collection which is ever so relevant to us today in 2016. I wonder what Maya Angelou would make of the several, deeply upsetting rape cases that seem to be pushed under the rug today – especially the terrible Stanford rape case. Angelou picks readers’ brains and questions society’s complacency in combatting violent acts against women. This was a compelling, necessary essay.

Mother Maya Angelou can do no wrong in my eyes! This collection of essays is uplifting and familiar if you’ve read any of her autobiographies. Even if you aren’t familiar with her work, this is nevertheless a riveting collection to start with, as readers can get a feel of her storytelling, essays and poetry. Maya Angelou was a well of wisdom who touched many lives through her wonderful words – she will always be one of my favorites!

P.S: Has anyone seen the Maya Angelou Documentary yet – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise ? It was released June 7th of this year!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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I hope to purchase the physical copy of Letter to My Daughter soon! Above is my Mom’s super old Maya Angelou collection from our personal library. I have two books left to read from this pile 🙂

Purchase Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou on Amazon

All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou

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Date Read: April 29th 2015

Published: 1991 (first published in 1986)

Publisher: Vintage Books

Pages: 208

 

 

 

 

 The Blurb

In 1962 the poet, musician, and performer Maya Angelou claimed another piece of her identity by moving to Ghana, joining a community of “Revolutionist Returnees” inspired by the promise of pan-Africanism. All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is her lyrical and acutely perceptive exploration of what it means to be an African-American on the mother continent, where color no longer matters but where American-ness keeps asserting itself in ways both puzzling and heartbreaking. As it build on the personal narrative of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together In My Name, this book confirms Maya Angelou’s stature as one of the most gifted autobiographers of our time.

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is book five of Maya Angelou’s autobiography series. I read books one, two and three when I was younger; I’ll dig through my Mom’s old books and read book four soon! Check out the books in her autobiography series – here.

This autobiography takes place in Ghana (mostly Accra) in the 1960’s, shortly after Ghana’s independence in 1957. In All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, Maya Angelou joins a community of disenfranchised African-Americans/Negro Americans (they called themselves the ‘Revolutionist Returnees’) on their quest to explore, understand and aid the Motherland in any way they can. While in Ghana, Angelou finds a job as an administrator at the University of Ghana – Legon and at a local newspaper as a journalist. Angelou takes us through the different conversations and interactions she has with the kind-hearted Ghanaians during her stay. I loved how most Ghanaians made her feel at home; Ghanaians are very hospitable – especially to foreigners, and this book definitely highlights this fact. My country did me proud in this book! I was glad that Maya Angelou was living with a community of African-Americans, but mostly interacted with Africans throughout her stay in Ghana – there was a good balance.

An interesting part in the book is when Angelou and the other African-Americans protested in front of the American Embassy in Accra on the same day of the March On Washington, lead by Martin Luther King Jr in the United States. The purpose of the March On Washington and the simultaneous protest at the American embassy in Accra were to demand the equal rights of people of all colors, as well as desegregation in the United States. W.E.B DuBois was also in Ghana at the time – he gained Ghanaian citizenship and lived in Ghana during the latter part of his life. My favorite part of the book is when Malcolm X arrives in Ghana and Angelou along with the other ‘Revolutionist Returnees’ do their best to make him feel at home, arrange various talks for him around Accra and even pull some strings for him to meet President Kwame Nkrumah. The historical snapshots in this book are awesome! It was amazing to read about these iconic leaders being regular people while making history, through Angelou’s lens.

Angelou struggled a lot in this book with her identity and facing the facts of the past. It constantly angered her to recollect how Africans sold other Africans into slavery, giving rise to present day African-Americans and other people of African descent in the diaspora. Maya Angelou couldn’t even visit the Elmina Castle – which housed millions of slaves at the Cape Coast of Ghana, because the dehumanizing ordeals her ancestors endured at this historical venue prior the Trans-Atlantic journey nauseated her. I appreciated her quest to live and understand the ‘black experience’ in Africa – Ghana, which is a place where almost everyone is black. This is truly an informative, fun, fast read, as Angelou articulates her experiences with such ease and humor. This memoir ends on a satisfying note for me. I recommend this to anyone who appreciates Black history and those who wish to travel to the continent of Africa on the quest for his/her identity.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

My Mom’s lovely Maya Angelou collection above. These books are super old!

Purchase All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes on Amazon

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

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Date Read: July 1st 2014

Published: April 2nd 2013

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 224

 

The Blurb

The story of Maya Angelou’s extraordinary life has been chronicled in her multiple bestselling autobiographies. But now, at last, the legendary author shares the deepest personal story of her life: her relationship with her mother.

For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence—a presence absent during much of Angelou’s early life. When her marriage began to crumble, Vivian famously sent three-year-old Maya and her older brother away from their California home to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, but their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call “Lady,” revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.

Delving into one of her life’s most rich, rewarding, and fraught relationships, Mom & Me & Mom explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives, the love that fostered Maya Angelou’s rise from immeasurable depths to reach impossible heights.

 Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

In Mom & Me & Mom, Maya Angelou’s prose is very engaging and flows easily. Maya Angelou never disappoints me with her writing. This was a fast read and rather comforting as well!  Even though this book had several repeated incidences (such as Angelou initially addressing her mother as ‘Lady’ since having a mother figure was new to her because she had lived with her grandmother in the South before moving to California to live with her mother, The birth of Guy- Angelou’s only son, Angelou’s failed marriage, Angelou’s near death experience with an abusive lover etc) from her three autobiographies I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Gather Together In My Name, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, this is a wonderful memoir centered around Maya Angelou and her mother- Vivian Baxter.

I love how the book is laden with pictures of Vivian Baxter, Maya Angelou and other loved ones during different occasions discussed in the book. A mother’s love is indeed a powerful thing! Maya’s mother’s love certainly made Maya Angelou into the phenomenal woman she was. Vivian Baxter was not a woman to mess with! She was always busy and was adored and respected by everyone in her hometown – even the police officers! She owned a gun, had a casino in Alaska, ran a boarding house in California and owned other businesses. She was a sharp businesswoman with a well of wisdom which guided and gave Maya Angelou sound direction.

Vivian Baxter was not a perfect woman but she was definitely a strong, stern, hip, inspirational, loving, jovial mother to her children (Maya and her son, Bailey). I loved reading about all the ups and downs Maya and her mother faced in their lives. Throughout the lessons Maya and her mother learned, readers also learn about the power forgiveness and survival with regards to mother-daughter relationships. Vivian Baxter was surely blessed with a daughter with impeccable memory, for Maya Angelou painted her mother in an admirable light. I will surely re-read Mom & Me & Mom again before the year ends.

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

Purchase Mom & Me & Mom on Amazon