Inspired by Memoirs

The word memoir, used to sound like the most boring thing ever when I was younger. I stayed away from those types of stories. But within the last year I’ve read more of them and it has grown into one of my favorite type of narratives. I think there’s something so inspirational about reading someone’s story (dead or alive) and learning how they navigated life. Life is full of ups and downs and we don’t have an instruction manual for it. Sometimes we all get confused about our place in it or if we will ever achieve our goals, but when you read how others navigated their lives and see that their situations were no different from yours it gives you a sense of hope and sometimes may even inspire you to take risks and go after dreams. I am one of those people who google the age of celebrities that I admire to compare where they were at my age. I know this is an odd thing to do, but I do it, to make sure I am on the right track. Most times I realize that I am, but there’s always that extraordinary person who’s killing it in their teens or twenties. For me, some of the key elements of really good memoirs are:

  1. Transparency: I love memoirs where the author is transparent about their life and their mistakes. No one wants to read a memoir that they can’t relate to.
  1. Started from the bottom: I love memoirs that take you on the journey of life staring from the beginning. Society and social media tend to show you what success looks like without showing what it took to get there. I like when authors take you on the journey from the bottom up and not just the “up”.
  1. Evolution or Growth: As humans we are constantly evolving and growing. I love memoirs that shows a person’s growth. If you are the same way at the beginning of the story that you were at the end, something is wrong. Life should always push you to be better, greater, stronger. We are constantly learning and evolving and I love memoirs that illustrate that.

Some of the memoirs that I read recently have all three of these characteristics:

Autobiography of Malcom X by Malcom X

Assata An Autobiography by Assata Shakur 

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock 

The Education of Kevin Powell by Kevin Powell

My Voice by Angie Martinez 

A memoir that I am looking forward to reading this year is: Foxy: My Life in Three Acts by Pam Grier. I absolutely love her and I know she has a powerful life story.

What are your favorite memoirs?

February Reads

I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual  by Luvvie Ajayi -Review coming soon.

My Voice – Angie Martinez – Review coming soon

Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P Frankel – Review coming soon

The Power Play Book by Lala Anthony – Review coming soon

We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel – Review coming soon

By Ky Books: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

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The Mothers: A Novel

Religion. Suicide. Abortion. Sexual Abuse. Failed First Love. Grief. Depression. This book does not hold back on the issues it addresses. But although those topics seem heavy, the author Brit Bennett, does such an excellent job with her writing and character building that you don’t feel weighed down by the story once its over. It feels real. At the core of this story is an abortion that beautiful Nadia Turner, the main character feels like she must have. She doesn’t confide in anyone including her boyfriend, she’s just hell bent on getting one. This book tackles the choice women make when they either have an abortion and pursue the rest of their lives and their dreams or not to have one and birth life. The idea is that both choices comes with costs and for Nadia, having a child would mean halting her dreams of going to college and becoming successful to stay at home, where being home meant dealing with grief and depression that her heart could no longer take.

I would identify this as a coming of age story that is representative of reality not those coming of age stories where characters jump in lakes and try to soak in the last real summer before adulthood, this story is hits home for several reasons and really illustrates the reality of young adulthood for some people. It tackles real life issues while intertwining religion and often time the hypocrisy of it. I don’t want to give too much away, but I liked this book, I didn’t like the ending that much but I enjoyed reading it overall and loved how the author developed such powerful relationships that may or may not withstand the test of time.

If you’re into podcasts, For Colored Nerds on itunes has an amazing interview with the author Britt Bennet who gives further perspective into the narrative of this story.

By Ky Books: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Americanah is the best book I have ever read. After 27-years of life and reading, I finally have a favorite book. I’ve been searching for it all my life and finally it’s here! I can’t describe it because I actually want you guys to read it, but the book follows the lives of Ifemelu and Obinzie, two lovers who first meet in secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria. The couple eventually separate as Ifemelu moves to America to go to school, while Obinze moves to London in search of work. They are smart, charismatic, and hopeful in Nigeria, but their new lives as immigrants in these sensationalized countries prove to be hard and ultimately they lose touch. This book illustrates the power of first love. No matter what transpired between them, their love still loomed over them like a cloud until it eventually brought them back together. A love story at its core, but a culturally important book that explores race, immigration, navigating adulthood, education, relationships, culture, culture clashing, assimilation, and so much. Like I said, this is the best book I’ve ever read in my life and I do it no justice by talking about it. Here’s a PDF of it online if you don’t want to buy the book – read it! Also check out the below concept trailer for the movie:

By Ky Books: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

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Another Brooklyn: A Novel

Jacqueline Woodson wrote a beautiful coming of age story,  set in Brooklyn in the 70s which felt familiar to me. Her main character August, is telling this story of her childhood as an adult. She’s a successful archeologist but has to come back to Brooklyn because of her father’s death. Seeing an old best friend triggers memories of the borough that made her who she was. The story is charming but very short. It deals with themes that include grief, friendship, poverty, religion and so much more. If you’re interested in a short read that feels like soul food, this would be it.

January Reads

I’m challenging myself to read more this year. This year I would like to reach my goal of 24 books, so every month, I will update my reading list, in an attempt to share great books with you guys. I will try to do reviews for all.

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi – Read review here

The Mothers – Britt Bennett – Read review here

Another Brooklyn –Jacqueline Woodson – Read review here

Americanah – Chimande Ngozi Adiche – Read review here

The Originals – Adam Grant – Read review here

By Ky Books: Favorite 2016 Books

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Super late with this, but still wanted to share. In 2016 I challenged myself to read two books a month or 24-books. In turn, I only read 20, not reaching my goal, but still setting a new standard in my book intake (In 2015, it was only 14 books). I read books about race, self-help, financials and spirituality. I read books that built me up, motivated me to change my life, and taught me about my history. I learned things about Malcom X that I never knew and Assata Shakur became my hero. I learned how important purpose and destiny was and to avoid complacency all together. My life reached new heights as a result. Each book on this list was great, some better than others but none not leaving a permanent mark on my mind and my heart. Let me know your thoughts and let me know if you’re interested in reading whats on my list (click the picture of the book to be linked directly to Amazon):

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

I wanted this book to be better. Maybe it’s because I am used to unparalleled depth and history in Toni Morrison books and this was one of the first books she’s written set in modern day. It tells the story of Bride, who has blue-black skin, born to a light-skin mother, and her struggles with becoming successful and finding what she thinks is love in spite of her insecurities. I read a similar book, The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman a few years back and that one was similar but had a bit more depth than this.

Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
Funny. Relatable. So Issa. This book is a series of essays that navigates Issa’s upbringing in California. Daughter of a Senegalese father and American mother, Issa tells stories of her summer adventures in Senegal, her first relationships and the days of AOL AIM, where she (we) chatted with friends before Iphones and Group text messages were even a thought. Honest, comedic, and so darn good, Issa tackles race, the early beginnings of Awkward Black Girl, and what it really means to be “different” as a black woman. One of my favorites by far.

The Education of Kevin Powell by Kevin Powell
I went to a Kevin Powell event at the Brooklyn Historical Society and it was almost obligatory to buy his book. I am happy I did too. It was one of the first memoirs that I read from the perspective of a man which was interesting to say the least. A man that was raised by an unattached single black mother, who had been let down by the system and the men in her life and in turn took her resentment out on her son. A man who would grow up to become a writer, an activist and apart of the first season of the groundbreaking reality show “The Real World.” But a man who was troubled and lacked the guidance of a positive male figure who would’ve been able to show him right from wrong when it came down to his treatment of women, especially his girlfriends. If you like good memoirs, I recommend this one.

The Autobiography of Malcom X by Malcom X
Malcom X autobiography is required reading. If you read it as a kid, I believe you should read it again as an adult. I loved everything about this book. I write a full review here, that you can check out. HIGHLY RECCOMENDED and one of my favorite memoirs…ever!

Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
A close second to the Autobiography of Malcom X is Assata Shakur’s autobiography. Try as I may, I wanted to write a review about this book but for me it defied description and I knew my review would do it no justice. I was left feeling angry, empowered, and moved after reading this book. Angry because of the injustices that went behind getting Assata convicted. The right to a fair trial was not given to her. They treated her like an animal left to die in jail, the abuse was inhumane and I was disgusted. Empowered, because of the ownership and agency she took over her life and over the situation she was in. She eventually escaped her prison hell and received asylum in Cuba. Moved, because her story matters. Our stories matter. We can’t let others manipulate and tell our stories, we ultimately have to write our own and I am moved to this day by her power and her spirit.

You’re A Badass: How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
I read this book during a very vulnerable time in my life. It was the perfect pick me upper. I do a full review of this book here.

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Hmmm. Good book, but not great. I like the concept of the book, especially for what saying Yes did for Shonda. Basically, what she’s trying to get across is that we have to say yes to living. Say yes to opportunities. At times she came off a little bit haughty and other times pretty humble. I will be the first to say I am proud of Shonda Rhimes and all that she’s accomplished. I loved learning about her journey and listening to her words of encouragement. I guess I was looking forward to a book about Shonda’s trajectory, how she got to where she was, and not how she overcame her insecurities and social anxieties once success came. It just seemed like more of a second book, as opposed to the first. Nevertheless one of the most poignant moments in the book for me was that in the midst of saying Yes to everything, she said No to marriage, an engagement proposed by her then boyfriend, ultimately saying yes, to herself, her children, and her own happiness not the happiness defined by society.

What I Know For Sure by Oprah
This book is better via Audio than reading…just saying! Oprah has the perfect audio book voice. This book navigates a series of things that Oprah knows for sure. It takes you on a journey through her life including epic recaps of birthdays and first jobs, relationships and career ups and downs. What I loved about this book was Oprah’s ability to be transparent about her mistakes and triumphs. If you’re not already in love with Oprah, this book will make you fall.

Between the World and Me by Ta’neshi Coates
Required Reading in present times, also keep a highlighter handy. I wanted to write a full review on this book, and I still might. Coates, explores race in America in an explicit way so his son, whom this book was written for, is not disillusioned by his place and position in this world as a black boy-soon-to-be-man. Ta-neshi explores “the dream” and the different connotation it takes on for someone who is white vs. someone who is black. He navigates gentrification, and the freedom whites have to walk through our streets without fear, while we constantly live in fear for our lives. He talks about black bodies and how devalued they are in America. Most importantly, he addresses violence at the hands of police, as he consoles a friend’s mother who has lost her son at the hands of a senseless police officer when he was just a few minutes away from his girlfriend’s house. He didn’t deserve to die but he did. And so, with so much more to say but at the risk of giving too much away, I would recommend this book to any and everyone.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Redefining Realness was eye-opening. Janet Mock is fabulous. She’s has brown skin, big spiral golden brown curls, and an amazing body. Upon looking at her you would never think she was born a boy. This book takes us on a journey through her troubled childhood in Hawaii, born to a mother who put her boyfriends before her children and a drug-addicted father. Janet explores the perils of sexual abuse, human trafficking and the plight of her transgender identity which ultimately shapes the successful woman she is today. I loved what this book did to me. It opened my mind to the struggles of the LGBTQ community and how hard it is to be true to yourself when society is telling you how you feel is wrong. There’s still so much for me to learn, but I am proud that I tackled this book and have an understanding of this community that have been silenced and ostracized for so long.

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki’s
Rich Dad Poor Dad was a good book. It taught me that you should never judge a book by it’s cover as the first couple of pages unveils who Robert’s rich dad was and who his poor dad was and it’s definitely not who you would have expected. Money consciousness and financial awareness is very important if you want to secure your financial future. I learned many important lessons. One of them being that you must pay yourself first. Bills will always be there, but if you don’t pay yourself out of your own paycheck, you’ll be in a cycle that benefits your bill collectors but does not benefit you. I also learned the importance of entrepreneurship, owning something. Being the boss, not working for one all your life. Finally, I learned how dangerous complacency is. I was moved by this book, and would like to read more books about financial awareness in the future.

Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I expected a bit more from this book than I received. After all it was an Oprah’s favorite. What separates this novel from others of its kind is that the author Colson Whitehead, actually makes the Underground Railroad, a railroad. Another unique characteristic of this book is that the main character is a black woman named Cora. This book tackles mental health, the horrors of slavery, the medical experiments performed on blacks both dead and alive, and the hopelessness of many blacks whenever they thought the system was on their side (and it wasn’t). I was empowered by the main character Cora but slightly disappointed in the ending.

You Can and You Will by Joel Osteen
One of the most transformative books for my mind. I read You Can and You Will, while I was interviewing for a new job. When you’re in such a vulnerable position, you immediately want to be hard on your self. You want to tell youself, you will never make it and that you will mess up during the interview. You say a bunch of things to yourself so you won’t be disappointed when the rejection email comes through. However Joel wouldn’t allow me to do that. This book encouraged me. It helped me to realize that I have to think positive and change my outlook on life. Good things will happen to me. In fact he encourages you to say that every morning “Today something great will happen to me” and it’s that type of upbeat positivity that has changed my life. I don’t have to be miserable like everyone else. I don’t have to think negatively. I want amazing things to happen in my life and because I believe it will…it will. I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of this book. It will change you for the better.

Destiny by T.D Jakes
Destiny by T.D Jakes was good but not earth shattering great. I think listening to his sermons every Sunday was more transformative for my 2016. One thing this book made me realize is how your ego could get in the way of destiny. When we’ve been hurt by someone, we can’t forgive them because our ego won’t allow it, but we have to. I was also amazed when a powerhouse like Corretta Scott King revealed that her destiny was being the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It made me realize that sometimes our destines have nothing to do with us, but how we can impact and help others. I really enjoyed the stories in this book and the different way it made me look at destiny. Not all of us will be huge superstars and that’s ok. Getting to your destiny is a process but we have to remain faithful through it.

Colliding with Destiny by Sarah Jakes
Colliding with Destiny dissects the bible story of Ruth, which some believe is about love, but Sarah characterizes it as a story about Destiny and Purpose. She takes the book of Ruth and intertwines it with her own personal stories. It was important for me to read this book because I am constantly on the search for purpose and what this book showed me was that having integrity, humbling your self in rough times, keeping faith, and always looking to God will eventually allow God to do a work in you, leading you to his plan for your life. In Ruth’s case it was her Boaz, a man that was equally upright and equally yoked with Ruth. At the heart of the story is a beautiful love that was ignited as a result of loss and pain, but God abundantly restored everything that the devil tried to take from Ruth.

 Negroland by Margo Jefferson
Eh! It wasn’t the best memoir I read this year, but it served its purpose in teaching me about the life of elite blacks or as they refer to themselves the third race. Margot Jefferson is raised privileged all her life during the 1950s but learns that money and class does not erase your blackness in the eyes of whites during the civil rights era. She takes us on a journey through her childhood, sharing experiences about her awkward but funny habits and we follow her into adulthood as she becomes more conscious of race and advocates against the injustices of her people. I learned a little more about the origins of Jack and Jill and organizations like it so the upper class blacks could network with one another. I still wasn’t moved by it. Maybe it was a bit pretentious for me. Maybe it was because I couldn’t relate.

By Ky Books: The Originals by Adam Grant

I read this book for a book club put on by the Women’s Forum. At first I was super excited to read it, caught up in fact, that Originals do exist and I could be one of them. Adam Grant uses his book to discuss extraordinary individuals and what makes them special. He addresses procrastination as a positive trait using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an example because he waited until the twelfth hour to craft his world-renowned “I Have a Dream” speech (which was actually an improvisation). He talked about the dangers of Group Think and the failures and successes of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. I was excited to learn about these movers and shakers but about halfway through the book, it all became unbearable; reading case study after case study. Great information, but it lost me. I put the book down months ago and picked it up again a few weeks back just to force myself to finish this book. I am happy I did, and if you’re interested in learning about creative people who changed the world this book might be for you!

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By Ky Books: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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I read this book in about 4-days which is shocking to me because I didn’t want to read it at all. Let me just say I REALLY enjoyed this book and learning that the author was my age was a proud moment for me. Homegoing is an amazing novel about our ancestry and the significance of returning back home, wherever home may be, in the case of these characters, Ghana. The book starts with Effia and Esi, half-sisters who were not only beautiful, but didn’t know each other existed until their familial histories were revealed to them by family members and foes. Unknowingly, their lives would cross paths through generations. The book takes place in both Ghana and America chronicling the trajectories of both Effia and Esi’s descendants as they navigate tribal wars, slavery, Jim Crow South, Chain Gangs, British Imperialism, Drug Wars and Mental Health. The book navigates history through the eyes of its characters and bring us to a full circle moment at the end. Homegoing filled me up with pride. It made me want to go to Ghana to understand what my ancestors went through. Yaa Gyasi is such an excellent writer. Reading her work, you can only wonder how she’s able to articulate her words with such detail and vision. The characters she created have depth, their stories similar to my own. I can say with certainty this is one of the most captivating novel’s I’ve read. Although our culture and history was taken from us, we should try to understand our family history from mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and  family friends before it dies with them.

Book Review: What I Know For Sure

 


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Before reading this book, What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey, I set out to answer that very question for myself. In the beginning my answers were pretty cryptic. I know for sure that I’m going to die (as we all should know). I also know for sure that I believe in Jesus. But what else did I know for sure? I was stumped. If this book was anything like my answers, I was in for a rude awakening. So I decided to figure out what it was all about first and then try to answer the same question once I was done.

What I Know For Sure, made me fall in love with Oprah. It humanized her, as she talked candidly about her 20’s and 30’s, building a career, feeling worthless and even dealing with bad guys in relationships. There were a lot of things that I didn’t know about her life, that I was so happy she shared. For her 58th birthday, Oprah’s friends surprised her with one of her favorite singer’s Snatam Kaur. I know what you’re thinking, big deal, its Oprah, but the beauty of this story is that she didn’t think she was worthy enough to invite the singer to perform at her own birthday, and she only felt remorseful about not doing so when one of her other friend’s exclaimed how much she loved this singer as well. She went to bed kind of disappointed in herself, only to find out a few hours later her friends had the singer come to her home and serenade her with her favorite songs. It was a beautiful story.

This book is filled with the advice only Oprah can give. She is transparent, infusing personal stories with life lessons. She talks about her relationship with Gayle and how supportive she’s always been as a best friend. She also talks about aging, how she chooses to celebrate growing older as opposed to begrudging it because it represents more opportunity to live. There are a couple of things that Oprah knows for sure, which now serve as life lessons for me which you can find below:

  • Reading opens you up and exposes you to access anything your mind can hold.
  • Love A relationship built on real love should feel good most of the time, it should involve bringing who you are to the table and walking away with more.
  • Encountering Obstacles Every experience is a valuable teacher. It’s a blessing to be able to survive them and make the climb up life’s mountain.
  • Unworthiness Unconscious feelings of unworthiness shows up in everything you do or don’t do.
  • Combating Shame When you know who you are and what you stand for, stand in wisdom.
  • Haters Naysayers will always feel threatened because they don’t believe they are enough and will never feel satisfied.
  • Fear What would you do if you weren’t afraid of feeling rejected, making a mistake, looking foolish, or being alone? When you remove the fear the answer you’ve been searching for comes into focus.
  • The Journey Never lose faith in the path. Changing the way you think about your situation is the key to improving it. Learning to appreciate your lessons are a clear sign you are moving in the right direction.
  • Prayer If the only prayer you ever said in your entire life was thank you, it would be enough.
  • Gratitude Sometimes we get so focused on the difficulty of our climb that we lose sight of being grateful for having a mountain to climb. When you focus on the goodness of your life you create more of it.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for some encouragement in their lives. Oprah’s outlook on life is simply magnificent. She find’s beauty in everything around her and is willing to share with us, some of her mistakes and triumphs that made her the wise woman she is today. Make gratitude a priority.

P.S I asked myself the same question, what I know for sure, after completing this book and now with the inspiration of Oprah’s stories, I feel like I know a lot. I’ll share my thoughts in an upcoming post.