Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

RhimesDate Read: January 14th 2016

Published: November 2015

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 311

 

The Blurb

In this poignant, hilarious and deeply intimate call to arms, Hollywood’s most powerful woman, the mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How To Get Away With Murder, reveals how saying Yes changed her life- and how it can change yours too.

 

Review –  ★★★★ (4 stars)

Who would have thought Shonda Rhimes’ sister’s six words: ‘You never say yes to anything’ during their Thanksgiving dinner preparations in 2013 would push her to a Year of Yes Challenge? Shonda Rhimes – television producer, writer and Hollywood powerhouse is a hard worker and used to drown herself in work to keep her two, super popular television shows –Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal on ABC (television network). Work was Rhimes’ excuse to avoid attending interviews, red carpet events, speaking engagements and the like. Shonda Rhimes was just your typical introvert: focused on reading, writing and just sticking to herself without being in the spotlight. Her sister’s words pushed her out of her comfort zone to dare to say yes to everything and all the invitations that came her way. Through this challenge, she learned to become more comfortable with herself, to love herself more, to have less awkward conversations, to take her health seriously and to even speak at Dartmouth College – her alma mater, during commencement in 2014.

Year of Yes: How To Dance It Out, Stand In The Sun And Be Your Own Person was a relatively easy and entertaining page-turner. I finally understand the magic behind Rhimes’ badass career (in the book, she coins the word ‘badassery’ haha), especially after her Year of Yes challenge to herself. This was an inspiring read with lots of positive affirmations and quotes. Some of my favorite quotes were:

Lucky implies that I was handed something I did not earn, that I did not work hard for. Gentle reader, may you never be lucky. I am not lucky. You know what I am? I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and I work really, really hard. Don’t call me lucky. Call me badass. (pg. 181)

An awesome quote on what she wishes to achieve through her television shows:

The need to hear the words: ‘You are not alone’. The fundamental human need for one human being to hear another human being say to them ‘You are not alone. You are seen. I am with you. You are not alone’. I get asked a lot by reporters and tweeters why I am so invested in ‘diversity’ on television. ‘Why is it so important to have diversity on TV?’ they say. I really hate the word diversity. It suggests something… other. As if it is something…special. Or rare. Diversity! As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women, people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV. I have a different word: NORMALIZING. I’m normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50 percent of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television NORMAL. I am normalizing television. You should get to turn on the TV and see your tribe. Your tribe can be any kind of person, anyone you identify with, anyone who feels like you, who feels like home, who feels like truth. (pg. 235)

 

I especially appreciated the commentary on the challenges of balancing motherhood and being a successful career woman. Having 3 successful shows on prime time television AND being a mother of 3 young girls are not easy feats! Rhimes constantly has to find balance when it comes to either being in the studio during writing and filming sessions or finding time to attend her daughters’ recitals and simply spending enough time with them at home. With more women in the workforce nowadays, I feel a lot of women readers who balance motherhood and their careers would identify with Rhimes’ hilarious and thoughtful discourse on finding balance.

I have been a faithful fan of Grey’s Anatomy since 2009, and the writing style of this book is quite similar to that of the show – chatty, funny and conversational. But one thing that bugged me about Year of Yes was how chatty Rhimes’ thought process was in the beginning of the book. It reminded me of the ever so annoying Dr. April Kepner character of Grey’s Anatomy and I was almost put to sleep at times by this. But all in all, I admire Rhimes and I can’t wait to see what other groundbreaking projects she has up her sleeve in the future. Even if you aren’t a fan of her shows, please do read this – its a motivating, brave memoir by an incredible black woman. You might even want to try the Year of Yes challenge for yourself!

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

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Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit: A Culinary Memoir by Austin Clarke

Austin ClarkeDate Read: July 22nd 2015

Published: April 2000 (was re-released in 2014)

Publisher: The New Press

Pages: 248

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Praised as “masterful” by the New York Times and “uncommonly talented” by Publishers Weekly and winner of the 1999 Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award, Austin Clarke has a distinguished reputation as one of the preeminent Caribbean writers of our time. In Pig Tails ’n Breadfruit, he has created a tantalizing “culinary memoir” of his childhood in Barbados. Clarke describes how he learned traditional Bajan cooking—food with origins in the days of slavery, hardship, and economic grief—by listening to this mother, aunts, and cousins talking in the kitchen as they prepared each meal.

Pig Tails ’n Breadfruit is not a recipe book; rather, each chapter is devoted to a detailed description of the ritual surrounding the preparation of a particular native dish—Oxtails with Mushrooms, Smoked Ham Hocks with Lima Beans, or Breadfruit Cou-Cou with Braising Beef. Cooking here, as in Clarke’s home, is based not on precise measurements, but on trial and error, taste and touch. As a result, the process becomes utterly sensual, and the author’s exquisite language artfully translates sense into words, creating a rich and intoxicating personal memoir.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Since today is Thanksgiving Day (in the U.S) and some of you will be feasting in honor of this day of giving thanks, I thought this would be the perfect time to post my review of the culinary memoir, Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit and talk about food!

Barbados born, scholar and writer Austin Clarke takes readers on a ride to explore different Barbadian (or Bajan) foods and aspects of Barbadian culture in Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit. It was insightful to read about the origins of various Bajan meals from the days of slavery and how people of different socio-economic backgrounds cooked differently with different ingredients (or as Clarke says ‘ingreasements’). Austin Clarke’s mother who was known to be a superb cook, is the real MVP of this memoir and she proudly cooked all the meals Clarke enjoyed sans measuring cup and cookbook:

Cooking food is not characterized by strict attention to ounces and grams, cups and liters. A pinch of this and a pinch of that added to a pot, at first by trial and error, and then perfected through history and constant usage, from one generation to the next, is the way I remember food being cooked… It is ironical to be suggesting a book about food cooked in Barbados, because in every self-respecting Barbadian household the woman (who does most of the cooking, whether she is wife, daughter or maid) would not be caught dead with a cookbook. To read a cookbook would suggest that she has not retained what her mother taught her; that she does not know how to cook; that she does not know how to take care of her man… (page 3).

Readers go back to Clarke’s childhood when he used to watch his mother and aunts cook meals like: Oxtails with mushrooms; ‘Priviledge’ (also known as ‘slave food’; contrived from a mixture of random foodstuff. Clarke actually had the privilege of eating this popular meal with the president of Barbados and other members of his cabinet during his stay at Duke University as a professor); ‘Cou-Cou’ (a doughy mélange of cornmeal, okra, fish, peppers); ‘Pepperpot’ (a stewed meat dish, spiced with cinnamon and peppers); ‘Swank’ (a molasses & water drink) and ‘Pelau’ (rice pilaf).

Meats like mutton, lamb, beef, chicken, flying fish and pork make up a large component of Bajan foods and every part of a pig is eaten – from the snout to the tail! Once Clarke moved to Canada to further his education (as a college student), and later to teach in various universities in the United States, he grew homesick and longed for these meals as well the Caribbean sun. From the way the scrumptious meals and the atmosphere of Barbados are described in this novel, who wouldn’t be homesick?

Clarke uses a lot of dialect in his writing as he expects readers to be familiar with the meanings of some dialect words. Even though this was a light read, the heavy use of dialect required me to concentrate in order to fully understand what Austin Clarke was writing, which was not easy as he usually went off on a tangent while he discussed the origins of foods. I think this book would have been more engaging for me if Clarke included pictures of the meals he discussed and maybe even some recipes. I found myself bugging some of my Caribbean friends with questions, as well as Googling and YouTubing most of the meals mentioned in this book. Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit is an insightful book but not as engaging as I had anticipated. This is more of a 2.75 stars rating for me.

But I have a question: do African culinary memoirs exist? If they do, please let me know of some good ones! I would absolutely love to read an engaging culinary memoir/novel on Kenyan, Malawian, Ghanaian, Eritrean, Rwandan, South African, Ivorian, Liberian, Zambian, Congolese, Moroccan… AFRICAN food! There are so many different foods available on the continent, and we all use different cooking techniques and ingredients! I wish our foods were showcased more. Maybe the more we write on our own foods, the more our foods would be recognized and cooked worldwide.

Every time I watch Top Chef, the chefs mostly cook Asian (Korean, Thai, Japanese, Chinese), Italian, Greek, French and of course various American dishes. Back in 2012, on an episode from Season 5 of Top Chef, one of the chefs (Chef Carla Hall) made fufu* and the meal turned out looking far from the fufu us West Africans know it as haha! It would be great to have our foods taken seriously. In Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit, Austin Clarke did an admirable job at revering the foods of his native land – Barbados. Maybe one day an African culinary memoir/novel (not just a recipe book) would be published and foods from the motherland would be put on a pedestal as well. I hope so. 

fufu* – Fufu is a West African dish that consists of pounded boiled yam, cassava, plantain or coco-yam tubers; usually pounded into a dough-like consistency and eaten with soup.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Eat an extra plate for me!

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

Purchase Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit on Amazon

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The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

Date Read: May 25th 2015Issa Rae

Published: January 2015

Publisher: 37 INK / ATRIA books

Pages: 204

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Being an introvert in a world that glorifies cool isn’t easy. But when Issa Rae, the creator of the Shorty Award – winning hit series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, is that introvert – whether she’s navigating love, the workplace, friendships, or ‘rapping’ – It sure is entertaining. Now, in this debut collection written in her witty and self-deprecating voice, Rae covers everything from cyber-sexing in the early days of the Internet to deflecting unsolicited comments on weight gain, from navigating the perils of eating out alone and public displays of affection to learning to accept yourself – natural hair and all.

Reflective of the millennial experience yet wholly universal, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is a book no one – awkward or cool, black, white (or other) – will want to miss.

 

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

I love Jo-Issa (aka: Issa Rae) even more after reading this book! I wouldn’t call this book a memoir… its more like a collection of essays where Issa Rae talks about her life happenings. From the reviews I’ve seen on Goodreads, some readers seemed disappointed that this book wasn’t as funny as they had expected, since Issa Rae is hilarious on Youtube. I started this book with no expectations at all; I am simply a fan who wanted to support Issa Rae’s brand, and I must say I was not disappointed! I learned a lot about Issa Rae from The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl: Issa Rae is fluent in French, she grew up in Maryland, Los Angeles and Senegal, she went to Stanford University, she has 4 siblings (they are the Diop 5!) and her father is a Senegalese doctor in Los Angeles.

My favorite chapter, entitled ‘Halfrican’, is where Issa Rae talks about her (half) Senegalese heritage and upbringing (in the United States and frequently in Dakar, Senegal). I commend Issa Rae for writing a chapter on her father – entitled ‘African Dad’, where she discusses her family dynamics and the divorce of her parents. She really poured her heart out in some of these chapters, and I was impressed! Another thing I like about this book is how Issa’s claim to fame ‘awkwardness’ lingers throughout every chapter, even as she candidly discusses her college experiences (where she produced and directed four theatrical productions), love life, experiences of being a black actress/writer and weight issues (once you read the book, you will understand what I mean by this).

It was great to finally read a narrative of a black woman, who is of a privileged background. The ‘started from the bottom’, impoverished childhood narrative most people of color claim is not generic to all people of color. Some black folks actually grew up well-off, and that is perfectly okay! The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl was a great jump-start to my summer reading as it was enjoyable, light-hearted and of course some bits were hilarious – duh, it’s Issa Rae!

 

More on Issa Rae

Issa Rae 3With her own unique flare and infectious sense of humor, Issa Rae’s content has garnered more than 20 million views and hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers (and counting). In addition to making Glamour magazine’s ’35 Under 35’ list as well as Forbes’s ‘30 Under 30’ list, and winning the Shorty Award for best Web Show for her hit series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae has worked on web content for Pharrell Williams, Tracey Edmonds, and numerous others. Issa has received national attention with major media outlets, including the New York Times, CNN, Elle, Seventeen, Rolling Stone, VIBE, Fast Company, MSNBC, Essence, Fader and more.

 

If Issa Rae 2you are not familiar with Issa Rae, please watch her YouTube web-series: The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl and have a good laugh. I eagerly look forward to Issa Rae’s future projects and her breakthrough to television!

 

 

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

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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!

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Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

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Date Read: March 22nd 2015

Published: 2010

Publisher: Vintage Books

Pages: 256

 

The Blurb

Ngūgī wa Thiong’o is born the fifth child of his father’s third wife, in a family that includes twenty-four children to four different mothers. He spends his 1930s childhood as the apple of his mother’s eye, before attending school to slake what is considered a bizarre thirst for learning.

As he grows up, the wider political social changes occurring in Kenya begin to impinge on the boy’s life in both inspiring and frightening ways. Through the story of his grandparents and parents, and his brothers’ involvement in the violent Mau Mau uprising, Ngūgī deftly etches a tumultuous era, capturing the landscape, the people and their culture, and the social and political vicissitudes of life under colonialism and war.

Review  ★★★★ (4 stars)

I didn’t think this book would have such an impact on me. I was a bit emotional by the end of the novel. Every time I read a Kenyan novel, I’m hungry to learn more about the country’s past. This is a very touching memoir. Ngūgī wrote this with such love and care and I admire him a lot – especially his family, which was headed by his resilient mother.

Kenya’s history plays a large role in this book, for obvious reasons. It’s as if Kenya was a separate character on its own, being abused by colonial masters (the British) while tolerating several ethnic group divisions and tensions from its fellow citizens. Commentary on the civil war, Jomo Kenyatta – Kenya’s founding father, Mbiyu Koinange – a highly educated politician and Kenyatta’s right hand man, Mau Mau guerrillas, the politics of the Kenyan educational system, the role of the Indians in Limuru etc are all discussed at length in this memoir. If you are not familiar with Kenyan history, prior knowledge is not necessarily needed to enjoy this book because Ngūgī does a great job at thoroughly explaining various historical events. I was thrilled to read on how Black Americans like Booker T. Washington (through Tuskegee University), Martin Luther King Jr. and Marcus Garvey supported and played vital roles in encouraging Kenyan independence. I loved how there was unity of all peoples of African descent in demanding their freedom from white rule.

Don’t worry- this memoir is not all about politics. Readers get insights into the dynamics of Ngūgī’s polygamous family and the effects the family structure had on him. Family members like his mother, Good Wallace (his older brother), Kabae (one of his half brothers who fought in World War II) were important in shaping Ngūgī into the man he is now, for various (polarizing) reasons. Family units play a huge role in the future of children and this memoir demonstrates this heavily.

Ngūgī’s dedication to following his dreams even during Kenya’s unstable state was truly admirable. He had a passion for learning and thanks to a pact he made with his mother, he vowed to pursue his education – even in the times of war. The vicissitudes of life Ngūgī and his family faced in Kenya during the 1940’s will encourage you to keep fighting to achieve any personal goals or dreams you have. It’s wonderfully inspiring.

I feel like I’m a member of Ngūgī’s family now that I’ve read this! The only problem I had with this book was that there were too many different names to keep up with. Try and read this book in a couple of days in order to keep track of all the names mentioned. If you haven’t read any of this great novelist’s books yet, this could be a great place to start. I absolutely recommend this. Please pick it up if you can!

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

Purchase Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir on Amazon