books | what i’ve been reading lately – Kayo Chingonyi, Rupi Kaur + more
Updated: Jun 3, 2020
Amara Amaryah | travel + books + poetry, always poetry. a platform for story-telling, visuals, positive self-talk and empowerment.
another book post because if i understand anything about autumn it is the requirement to drink 4+ cups of tea, candles lit, by the heater with the best book life can supply.
earlier on in the year i wrote a post reviewing a selection of books that meant much to me in the moment. i’m gonna do that again here, but for this moment. and in this moment, i find myself reading a lot of books that i’ve saved or put off. a lot of what i’m reading no longer has the buzz or novelty that it might have had a year or six months ago. delay + pause are key sometimes. i’ve always appreciated being able to discover things in my own pace or time. plus i get to be excited all by myself on the morning train without everyone being on that high with me. which is very great too.
i have been reading:
Kayo Chingonyi – Kumukanda
Rupi Kaur – the sun and her flowers
Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race
Kahlil Gibran – The Prophet
Jesmyn Ward – Sing Unburied, Sing
and this is what i thought …
Kumukanda. kayo chingonyi.
book one// kayo chingonyi.
i picked this up without knowing anything about the author or about the book itself and it turns out to be the balance that i need. i’m writing a poetry book, about girlhood transforming into womanhood and about the difficult and beautiful corners of that existence. so when i read warsan shire’s recommendations on the front of kumukanda, celebrating it for it’s ‘nostalgic and at times darkly hilarious exploration of black boyhood, masculinity and grief […]’ i take it to the till without second thought. i think as someone deeply invested in narratives around black girlhood/womanhood, i felt refreshed to see the same attention given to black boyhood/manhood. the word ‘kumukanda’ translates as initiation in the luvale tribe and this is a constant reflection in each page.
i enjoyed the collection because chingonyi gives voice to all the experiences that we expect black boys and black men to bypass. he speaks back in a voice that is so delicately articulate and noiselessly observant but present and full. and funny. it brings out the kind of laughter that is shared solely with family or close friends about things we only discuss in our homes. it feels personal, like the voice of an older brother sharing himself as himself rather than as a stereotype he has never agreed with. maybe this is why the poems about grief and the poems about everyday experience can sit amongst each other because we are waiting to hear this black boy voice in any form. i also appreciate the references to garage music, theatre casting as a black man, dating as a black man and fatherhood.
favourite poem: alternate take.
kid brother, we breathers have made an art
of negation, see how a buckled drum
is made from a man’s beating heart
and a fixed gaze is a loaded weapon.
the sun and her flowers. rupi kaur.
7 book two// rupi kaur.
i enjoyed milk and honey a lot. this was the poetry collection that taught me to feel comfortable telling stories in three lines or three words. i loved the way that kaur spread her vulnerability across the pages and made me feel able to speak in that same way, without trembling. and so when she announced the launch of her second poetry book i should’ve jumped to journey again with kaur. but i didn’t.
in the summer that the sun and her flowers was released, i found myself shying away from it. i was a little suspicious of how commercial it may have become. (as in if it’s sold in urban outfitters i get funny about it, as a rule). i also started to have conversations about how commercial instagram has made poetry. i got a little suspicious of how much substance was going to be left in this generation of poetry books if they’ve all been made with instagram consumption in mind. also, i read about how hypersimilar rupi kaur’s writing was aside nayyirah waheed’s. it became too familiar a situation – the plagiarism and erasure of black women’s writings. so i stayed away for a bit.
and yet still, a few months later something happened and i was reading the sun and her flowers on my delayed train home. just like that. i mean don’t give me an extra 15 minutes in the train station.
reading the first chapter, i wasn’t sure if kaur assumed that she could present an extension of milk and honey for the remaining 200 pages of this collection. it felt as though i had read everything before. and then the middle chapter happened to me. the chapter ‘rooting’ does something very special. i think it puts kaur back into the book; i forget about my issues with insta or waheed because this story is authentically kaur. it is her mother, her ancestors, her ode’s to the artists who have meant much to her culture and world, her pain and frustration and that is something that feels entirely hers.
i started reading the poetry book in doses. i stopped reading it consecutively and let it become the poetry book that spoke a truth about a woman, rebuilding and repurposing herself, watering the seeds to become again. and i trust that journey. to be real, there isn’t a line that we can ever conceive that is exclusively ours- everything has been said before. but this collection of poems tells me kaur’s story as though she hasn’t found anyone who could even whisper her truths.
favourite poem: advice i would’ve given my mother on her wedding day.
why i’m no longer talking to white people about race. reni eddo-lodge.
book three// reni eddo-lodge.
the entire nation needs to read this, if only the opening of the book. i’ve recommended it to everyone who hasn’t already recommended it to me. i feel a need to read more essays and non-fiction writings and with the variety available at the moment (thank you kehinde andrews, thank you afua hirsch, thank you yomi adegoke and elizabeth uniebinené) it is definitely going to be a long winter. i think the nuanced discussions about race in britain are shifting to centre-stage and this book has much to do with that.
funny story. when i go to waterstones to finally join the rest of the nation and buy this book, i am reminded why it is definitely needed. i’m at the counter, ready to pay and read this very indiscreetly on my journey home. the cashier is a white man with past-shoulder length hair and a gentle but loud voice. the kind of loud that is not arrogant (intentionally) but is confident enough to have all discussions aired for the bookstore to hear. cool. when i have finished listening to the entire previous conversation of the customer before me, he calls me to be served. he seems pleased when he sees that i’m buying this book and lets me (everyone) know. overjoyed, he tells me – ‘this is such an important read. we all should read it’. i think i just smile at him. i’m from london and sometimes choose this personality over my new brummie personality. he doesn’t know this so continues ‘ have you read akala’s ‘natives’?’ i haven’t yet and i tell him. no sooner do i tell him this, he launches into a story about how he prefers natives, how it is excellent because it is just so true, not just angry but actually backed up, you know?’. he tells me a story about how there weren’t enough seats at the book launch because the theatre was packed. feeling guilty, he gets out of his seat because ”someone else should have the seats”. he insists that it wasn’t right for him to have the seat and waits for me to agree. there is too much to say so all i manage is ‘oh really’ and then pay and then leave.
moments like these, where conversations about race are being had with me just because i am black and buying this book make me appreciate it’s existence. as in, i don’t know if the cashier felt he had something to prove or if he would have gone to such efforts to have that same conversation if i were white and buying the book? i don’t know how to address or if i need to address situations like these where, even if you’ve decided that you’re no longer talking to white people about race, the conversation is still being had with you. the book gives you the language to articulate and validate such experiences.
originally an essay on her blog, eddo-lodge felt that there was scope for it to become a complete book. i would describe it as a black british history book. necessary reading. in fact, reading the book reminds me of ‘the heart of the race: black women’s lives in britain’ by beverley bryan, stella dadzie and suzanne scafe because it details the undocumented black british experience. racism in britain is so subtle, unassuming and therefore remains hard to articulate. this is the book to really call out the many ways that britain hides behind it’s pretences, institutionalised racisms, colour blindness and all the rest of it. i still have the final chapters to finish, but i know this is a book that i will constantly draw from my book shelf.
the prophet. kahlil gibran.
book four// kahlil gibran.
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountaintop, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
– On death
there is something about this book that has such a resonance to the book of psalms. as someone whose writing and reading preferences were shaped by victorian literature and psalmic verses, this was a beauty to come across. the prophet is comprised of several chapters that disclose the wisdoms of a revered prophet wandering through Orphalese. it discusses love, children, faith, freedom, beauty and every specific detail of our material and spiritual existence. this is the type of literature i could have benefited from having on my curriculum- from secondary school or university. gibran writes so visually. published in 1923, the prophet was and continues to be a text that carries truth through generations. reading in chunks or even in seasons works well; bulk reading can be overwhelming because philosophy and poetry needs digesting. some favourite chapters include: on children, on love, on prayer and on death.
sing unburied, sing. jesmyn ward.
by far the greatest read of 2018. sing unburied, sing was my second jesmyn ward book after salvage the bones and has put her up there with angelou and baldwin for me. an important mix of everything i adore in a book – deserving of an entire review on it’s own. (see book review here).
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