'Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI' by David Grann

Review #129

I want to give you all a big virtual hug for getting through another week of social distancing and isolation:

I know everyone is having a tough time right now, myself included. My mood is up and down, and sometimes I have difficulty concentrating on my work and my reading because I’m worried about Donna or me losing our jobs or getting sick. (It’s happened to us before, which makes the anxiety more intense.) What’s helped me has been checking in with friends and relatives, doing some Zooms and writing this newsletter. I’m hoping to sustain weekly publication throughout this coronavirus crisis to keep myself busy and to tell you about great books you can order both to enjoy and to support struggling independent booksellers. And if any of you want to do a Zoom with me to talk about books or just to connect, I’m happy to set something up. Let me know by email:

Are you into true-crime podcasts or those deep-dive documentaries that always pop up on Netflix? Or have you read ‘The Devil in the White City’ by Erik Larson? If so, I think you’d like this Sunday’s selection, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI’ by David Grann:


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I’ve promised this review for months, and I’m kicking myself for not getting to it sooner because this National Book Award finalist is riveting and excellent. It’s actually two books in one: part historical narrative, part investigative journalism detective story. In the first part, Grann uses reams of historical and police records to illuminate the forgotten and dark history of a series of murders of members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma during the oil boom of the 1920s. At that time, the Osage had become some of the richest people in the world thanks to leasing the rights to oil fields under their reservation. One by one, however, the Osage began to die mysteriously and sinisterly. Some were gunned down. Others poisoned. The story is told from the perspective of Mollie Burkhart, a wealthy Osage woman who, over the course of the book, loses several sisters and her mother during the murder spree. The deaths were big news back then, and attracted the attention of the fledgling FBI under direction of a very young J. Edgar Hoover, who sent an old-school western lawman turned G-man, Tom White, to solve the case. In the second part of the book, Grann goes beyond the historical material and unearths new information to broaden the scope of the killing spree and implicate additional people in the plot. I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, but you will be shocked, SHOCKED, to find out that white people in Osage territory play a nefarious role in undermining, swindling and murdering the Native American community, like:

A few newsletters ago I reviewed ‘Barracoon’ by Zora Neale Hurston, which I said ‘should be taught in schools, if it isn’t already, and universally read’ as an important historical document in America’s unfinished reckoning with its oppressive origins. The same goes for ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ which is an important reminder of nearly century-old crimes, and also that America’s mistreatment of indigenous peoples continues to this day. Here are some recent examples:

  • Just yesterday I came across this post that as the coronavirus continues to spread across the country, the Department of the Interior has apparently ordered the Bureau of Indian Affairs to disestablish the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation in Massachusetts. The issue is over a casino, a new source of wealth among Native Americans, who struggle with our country’s highest rates of poverty, substance abuse and other issues.

  • Literary Hub published a piece this week about voter suppression that Native Americans, particularly in Utah, have faced over the years up to the current day.

  • The Wall Street Journal and PBS’s Frontline teamed up in 2019 for an investigation into how the federal government’s Indian Health Service failed to stop a pedophile doctor from preying on young boys on reservations for two decades.

It’s a tough pill for many to swallow, but remember:

I strongly believe that a way for us to overcome the things that divide us is to be informed. This book can help. It’s as packed with information as a history textbook, but written with the easy flow of a magazine feature. You should read this book.

How it begins:

In April, millions of tiny flowers spread over the blackjack hills and vast prairies in the Osage territory of Oklahoma. There are Johnny-jump-ups and spring beauties and little bluets. The Osage writer John Joseph Mathews observed that the galaxy of petals made it look as if the “gods had left confetti.” In May, when coyotes howl beneath an unnervingly large moon, taller plants, such as spiderworts and black-eyed Susans, begin to creep over the tinier blooms, stealing their light and water. The necks of the smaller flowers break and their petals flutter away, and before long they are buried underground. This is why the Osage Indians refer to May as the time of the flower-killing moon.

On May 24, 1921, Mollie Burkhart, a resident of the Osage settlement town of Gray Horse, Oklahoma, began to fear that something had happened to one of her three sisters, Anna Brown. Thirty-four, and less than a year older than Mollie, Anna had disappeared three days earlier. She had gone on “sprees,” as her family disparagingly called them: dancing and drinking with friends until dawn. But this time one night had passed, and then another, and Anna had not shown up on Mollie’s front stoop as she usually did, with her long black hair slightly frayed and her dark eyes shining like glass. When Anna came inside, she liked to slip off her shoes, and Mollie missed the comforting sound of her moving, unhurried, through the house. Instead there was silence as still as the plains.

Mollie had already lost her sister Minnie nearly three years earlier. Her death had come with shocking speed, and though doctors attributed it to a “peculiar wasting illness,” Mollie harbored doubts: Minnie had been only twenty-seven and had always been in perfect health.

My rating:

‘Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI’ by David Grann was published by Doubleday in 2017 and by Vintage Books in 2018. 377 pages, including notes, bibliography and illustration credits. $15.25 at Strand Book Store.


More things worth your time:


Next week you’ll get a review of ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk. Also in the queue are ‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jokha Alharthi, ‘Good Talk’ by Mira Jacob and ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry, among others.

In case you missed it: Books on GIF #128 featured 'The Book of X' by Sarah Rose Etter. I also published recently a special edition containing ‘9 Novels to Help You Endure the Coronavirus Crisis.’

Shoot me an email if there’s a bestseller, a classic or a forgotten gem you want reviewed.

Please click the heart button above if you enjoyed this newsletter. You can also share it with a friend:

Share Books on GIF

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this newsletter!

Until next time,

MPV

With GIFs from  @hibreadtree and others via Giphy.com.

'The Book of X' by Sarah Rose Etter

Review #128

I hope you are all doing OK amid our ongoing exercise in social distancing. Sarah Rose Etter’s novel might be a welcome respite for you because there is no coronavirus in the world she creates. Instead, there are quarries where meat (blood and all) is mined from the ground like limestone, thighs swim in rivers (yes, you read that right), throats grow in fields like corn and dresses fall from the sky like rain. One of the most surreal books I’ve ever read is this Sunday’s selection, ‘The Book of X’:


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This book is the literary equivalent of throwing a chair through a window:

It gives us a breath of fresh air by smashing the conventions of typical novels: There are no happy endings, there are no heroes, no one is redeemed. This book is weird, intense, brutal, disturbing and oddly beautiful.

Cassie X was born with her torso twisted into a knot, a trait inherited from her mother and grandmother. We meet Cassie in adolescence on her family’s meat farm and then follow her through adulthood working as a typist in a city. We see her form a friendship with a girl, experience a sexual awakening with her, pine after a boy, get abused by that boy and have a conflicted relationship with her mother, who encourages her to suck on rocks to lose weight. Later, we see her pick up men in bars who are either repelled once they see her knot or who view it as a sexual novelty item. She also seeks out medical means to have the knot removed in an attempt to be normal. Though Cassie is the main character, the real protagonist of this book is the female body as a living, breathing, corporeal thing that feels pain and pleasure by its owner, and is observed, touched, abused, judged, objectified and cut into by others. Roxane Gay said this book: ‘Brilliantly, viciously lays bare what it means to be a woman in the world.’ My response:

I thought this book was fascinating and offered an exploration of issues surrounding women’s bodies—from body shaming to sexual consent—in a way that is unsettling and original. Etter writes beautifully and searingly, and structures the book in an interesting way. There are short bursts of paragraphs arranged somewhat like vignettes. Interspersed are sections called ‘VISION,’ where Cassie often replays a scene we’ve already read in a way it could have, or should have, gone. There are also bulleted lists of factoids relevant to Cassie’s story. I just opened the book at random to page 204, and the top bullet reads: ‘Greek women believed they would miscarry if they fainted, got scared, or had strong emotions.’ All of this will make sense when you read it:

Before I go, I want to say that Two Dollar Radio might be one of the most interesting and exciting publishing houses around these days. You may remember that they published my favorite novel of last year, ‘The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish’ by Katya Apekina, and one of my new favorite writers, Hanif Abdurraqib, also has published a collection of essays with Two Dollar Radio that I very much want to read. But while I dig through its back catalog for a future newsletter, you all should read this book.

How it begins:

I WAS BORN A KNOT LIKE MY MOTHER and her mother before her. Picture three women with their torsos twisted like thick pieces of rope with a single hitch in the center.

The doctors had the same reaction to each birth: they lifted our slick warped bodies into the air and stared, horrified.

All three of us wailed, strange new animals, our lineage gnarled, aching, hardened.

Outside, beyond the bright white lights of the hospital, the machine of the world kept grinding on, a metal mouth baring its teeth, a maw waiting to clench down on us.

My rating:

‘The Book of X’ by Sarah Rose Etter was published by Two Dollar Radio in 2019. 284 pages. $16.19 at Strand Book Store.


More things worth your time:


In two weeks you’ll get a review of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ by David Grann (finally!). Also in the queue are ‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jokha Alharthi, ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk and ‘Good Talk’ by Mira Jacob, among others.

In case you missed it: A special mid-week edition of Books on GIF featured 9 Novels to Help You Endure the Coronavirus Crisis.

Shoot me an email if there’s a bestseller, a classic or a forgotten gem you want reviewed.

Please click the heart button above if you enjoyed this newsletter. You can also share it with a friend:

Share Books on GIF

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this newsletter!

Until next time,

MPV

With GIFs from @raintome and others via Giphy.com.

9 Novels to Help You Endure the Coronavirus Crisis

We will get through this, friends

I know everyone is stressed and freaked out about the coronavirus, so I thought I’d send you a little book-related care package. I got this idea from the good folks at Two Bossy Dames, who have been sending daily newsletters full of interesting pop-culture stuff to help their readers get through these crazy times. (Their latest edition features one of my favorite podcasts, ‘You’re Wrong About,’ which Danielle turned me on to.)

Below are some books I’ve reviewed that I’d recommend you read while riding out this virus-induced home arrest and staying at least six feet away from everybody like:

There is also information about independent bookstores where you can order for delivery. (We gotta help the indies survive this!) Plus, I’ll show you the books I’ll be reading over the coming weeks in case you want to read along with me.

Hopefully you’ll see something you like. Here we go:

Relevant to our current mood

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles

This is the essential stuck-inside story, with an aristocratic protagonist who, after the Russian Revolution, is forced to live out his days stuck inside a hotel. Although I had some quibbles about character development and the plot, I wrote: ‘“A Gentleman in Moscow” is a charming book, and I enjoyed reading it.’ I especially loved the main character’s secret room where he spends time reading. I think about it often. Order it from Strand Book Store in Manhattan: $15.30.

‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ by Ottessa Moshfegh

I’m sure we all wish we could sleep until this year is over. That’s what the main character does in this polarizing novel. I know some people couldn’t deal with this downer of a book, but I thought it was a profound exploration of post-9/11 America. Here’s what I wrote: ‘To me this is a great book that’s delightfully dark and a quick read.’ Order it from The Writer’s Block in Las Vegas: $16.

Escape into great stories

‘Pachinko’ by Min Jin Lee

There are two books that I will not stop trying to get everyone to read. This is one of them (the other is ‘The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish’). I absolutely adored this ‘epic and heartbreaking story that covers four generations of a Korean family forced to emigrate to Japan.’ Everyone I’ve recommended this book to has loved it, too, including Donna and my mother. What more can I say? Order it from Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts: $15.99.

‘The Shipping News’ by Annie Proulx

This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. It ‘has great scenes involving murder, hard winters at sea and the newspaper business,’ and every sentence seems to demand to be read aloud. Order it from Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine: $17.

‘The Moor’s Account’ by Laila Lalami

This is a fascinating and fantastic work of historical fiction that tells the story of the first African to explore the Americas. It’s a story about racism and colonialism that begins in Morocco, winds through alligator-infested Florida and ends in Mexico, and I was riveted every step of the way. Order it from Skylight Books in Los Angeles: $15.95.

Catch up on the classics

‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier

This novel ‘casts such a spell of suspense, malevolence and psychological terror that I believed it caused me to have an anxiety attack. I’m not kidding.’ This book is so good that it instantly became one of my all-time favorites. Order it from Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago: $7.99. 

‘Moses, Man of the Mountain’ by Zora Neale Hurston

'Moses, Man of the Mountain' recounts the story of Moses with all the familiar plot points. But Hurston incorporates the folklore of Africa, Haiti, the West Indies and Asia to show Moses as a complex, interesting and human character. Order it from Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn: $14.99.

Be restored by positivity

‘The Dud Avocado’ by Elaine Dundy

‘The Dud Avocado’ is a smart, funny and engaging book. It follows Sally Jay Gorce, who’s fresh out of college and is bent on conquering Paris. It’s a fun book to read, and you’ll love it. Order it from The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle: $15.95.

‘My Boyfriend is a Bear’ by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris

‘I adore the positive energy emanating from Ribon's writing and in Farris’s drawings.’ This graphic novel about Nora and Bear teaches us an important message about acceptance while also giving us the warm fuzzies. Order it from Powell’s City of Books, in Portland, Oregon: $13.95.

There are so many other books I want to recommend, like ‘Siddhartha’ by Hermann Hesse, which is my go-to in times of stress and uncertainty, but Substack tells me I’m running out of space.

What I’m currently reading:

‘Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI’ by David Grann

I know I’ve been promising to do a review of this book for months. It’s not a novel, but it reads like one. I’m 70 pages in, and I can’t wait to tell you about it soon.

What’s on deck while I’m sheltering in place:

I’ve ordered a copy of ‘The Decameron’ by Giovanni Boccaccio, which was written centuries ago during the Black Plague, from Books Are Magic in Brooklyn. When I placed the order last week, it seemed like a good idea to do store pick up to save them the costs of shipping. Now that appears to have been a stupid call by me. Who knows if I’ll be able to go there to get it!

‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk

Donna bought me a copy of this book while she was on a recent work trip to London. (Don’t worry! It’s been over two weeks and she has no symptoms.) I have absolutely no idea what it’s about, but I’m dying to read it based on the title alone. Fitzcarraldo Editions, its publishing house, fascinates me. It seems like everything it publishes is in the running for a major award. I’m thinking about subscribing to its fiction service this year.

‘Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations’ by Mira Jacob

I got interested in this graphic memoir after following Jacob on Instagram, but I only recently learned what it is about when I included a listing in last week’s newsletter for an event the author was doing in The Bronx. I recently snagged a copy, and I’m excited to dig in.

‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry

This book was on a list of recommendations given to me by Radhika while I was on a trip to Thailand. That was three years ago, and this copy of ‘A Fine Balance’ has been in my bedside pile ever since. No better time to tackle this thick novel of ‘compassionate realism’ that ‘captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India.’


More things worth your time:


On Sunday you’ll get a review of ‘The Book of X’ by Sarah Rose Etter. I’ve already listed above the other books I’m reading.

In case you missed it: Books on GIF #127 featured ‘My Sister, The Serial Killer’ by Oyinkan Braithwaite.

Shoot me an email if there’s a bestseller, a classic or a forgotten gem you want reviewed.

Please click the heart button above if you enjoyed this newsletter. You can also share it with a friend:

Share Books on GIF

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Let’s be friends on Goodreads.

Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this newsletter!

Until next time,

and

MPV

With GIFs from @sherchle and others via Giphy.com.

'My Sister, The Serial Killer' by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Review #127

I had been looking forward to reading this Oyinkan Braithwaite novel because it seemed like an exciting tale of suspense and murder. Though there are intense moments, and even humor, I didn’t love this Sunday’s selection, ‘My Sister, The Serial Killer’:


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Braithwaite’s novel is set in Lagos, Nigeria, and centers on sisters Ayoola and Korede. Korede, who narrates, is a nurse at the local hospital. Ayoola is a beautiful Snapchat-using fashion influencer who has a habit of stabbing boyfriends. The book opens with the sisters dumping the body of her latest victim, Femi, into a river. Korede helps her sister clean up the blood, hide all traces of the crime and coaches her how to behave to not arouse suspicion. She also encourages her to quit murdering men, but with about as much success as a parent trying to get a finicky child to eat broccoli. Still, Korede is plagued by guilt, and confesses her role in covering up the killings to Muhtar, a comatose patient at the hospital. With this basic setup, I was excited for the possibilities of where the story could go, like:

Without giving too much away, because there is some real suspense that I don’t want to spoil, I feel the book doesn’t live up to its promise. Some parts are too obvious. For example, anyone familiar with the concept of ‘Chekov’s Gun’ could guess right away what will happen with Muhtar. Even so, I feel his subplot didn’t add much, and it was a missed opportunity not to use his ability to expose the sisters’ crimes to ratchet up the suspense. I also wanted to see Korede’s sense of guilt explored more deeply, and to have the stakes be higher for her inability to stop her sister’s killing spree. In addition, I wanted to know more about Ayoola and her motivation. We get glimpses of a backstory involving an abusive father and the makings of an arranged marriage, but I wanted to get inside her head. Was her violence a coping mechanism for abuse? Or was she in it for the thrill? My guess is that her murders were more of a political statement meant to strike back at patriarchal societies that perpetuate violence against women. When it comes to things like that:

I have often criticized books for running too long. The opposite is true here. As you’ll see below, where I quote the entire first chapter, the book feels clipped. ‘My Sister, The Serial Killer’ had the potential to be great, but it needed to be more fleshed out, particularly at the too-abrupt ending. It’s often said it’s a good thing to leave people wanting more, but in this case:

How it begins:

Ayoola summons me with these words—Korede, I killed him.

I had hoped I would never hear those words again.

My rating:

‘My Sister, The Serial Killer’ by Oyinkan Braithwaite was originally published as an ebook titled ‘Thicker Than Water’ in Nigeria by Qamina, Lagos, in 2017. It was published in the United States by Anchor Books in 2018 and 2019. 223 pages.


More things worth your time:

  • Read this: The ‘American Dirt’ controversy that I mentioned a few issues ago has spread to another book. Vulture has a good piece on how a debunked plagiarism claim motivated Oprah’s Book Club to drop its March selection, ‘My Dark Vanessa’ by Kate Elizabeth Russell. Apparently Oprah’s team didn’t want the aggravation of dealing with another flare-up, even a minor one, so they moved on from the book.

  • See this: I’m very excited to see ‘The Booksellers,’ a documentary that provides ‘a lively tour of New York’s bookworld, populated by an assortment of obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers.’ For those of you in New York, it’s playing at the Quad Cinema in Greenwich Village. Here are the showtimes.

  • Read this, too: The coronavirus has sparked an increase in sales in Italy for ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus, reports Le Monde. I love this lede: ‘A chaque tragédie, son livre de chevet.’ According to my high school French (and Google Translate), this means, ‘For every tragedy, there’s a bedside book.’ Sounds better in French.

  • Do this: The Bronx is Reading, which promotes literary events across the borough, is hosting a brunch with bestselling author and illustrator Mira Jacob about her recent memoir/graphic novel ‘Good Talk.’ In the book, which is high on my reading list, Jacob tries to answer myriad questions posed by her half-Jewish, half-Indian 6-year-old son. To do so, she ‘has to think back to where she’s gotten her own answers: her most formative conversations about race, color, sexuality, and, of course, love.’ The event will take place on Sat., March 28, at 2 p.m., at The Andrew Freedman Home. Tickets are $50. Click here for more information.

Thanks for the shoutout!

My true friend @danielleiat out here with an iconic T-shirt. Thank you for your support and guidance!! Posted @withregram@danielleiat I know none of us need more email but I really really really recommend the @booksongif newsletter—it’s excellent way to get reading recommendations! unpretentious, charming book reviews from a tremendous writer and editor.
——
#bookstagram #bookmerch #bookblog #friends #book #bookstoread #booksofig #booksofinsta #booksofinstagram
February 21, 2020

In two weeks you’ll get a review of ‘The Book of X’ by Sarah Rose Etter. Also in the queue are ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ by David Grann, ‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jokha Alharthi and ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk, among others.

In case you missed it: Books on GIF #126 featured ‘Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”’ by Zora Neale Hurston.

Shoot me an email if there’s a bestseller, a classic or a forgotten gem you want reviewed.

Please click the heart button above if you enjoyed this newsletter. You can also share it with a friend:

Share Books on GIF

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this newsletter!

Until next time,

MPV

With GIFs from Giphy.com.

'Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"' by Zora Neale Hurston

Review #126

A rare and precious voice from our nation’s past speaks to us through this book. We would all do well as individual readers and as Americans to heed the story narrated in this Sunday’s selection, ‘Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”’ by Zora Neale Hurston:

The voice belongs to Cudjo Lewis, born Oluale Kossola (also spelled Kossula), who was the last survivor of the last ship that brought enslaved Africans to the United States before the Civil War. Hurston visited the elderly Lewis in his Alabama home in the late 1920s to hear and relay his harrowing and heartbreaking story. It unfolds in an as-told-to style, with Hurston quoting Lewis at length and phonetically to capture his way of speaking, and his narration feels like he’s telling his story to us directly. He was a teenager when the army of the Dahomey kingdom, with its head-severing women soldiers, sacked his village and took him prisoner. After a stop in a barracoon, or slave barracks, in what is now Benin, he was stripped naked and crammed with more than 100 other people into a slave ship called Clotilda bound for Alabama, even though importing slaves into the United States had been outlawed for decades. In America, he was ostracized and mocked for being foreign by fellow slaves who were born here. After Emancipation, Lewis is nominated by his fellow former slaves to approach their ex-master about giving them some land on which to form their own independent community. The master is indignant: How dare he be asked to compensate them after he treated them well while they were in bondage, and had spent so much money and effort to bring them here? Nope, they were on their own. Eventually, Lewis and the others scrape together enough money to buy the land to establish Africatown outside Mobile. Lewis started a family, but his wife and most of his children predeceased him. Two sons died violently, one at the hands of law enforcement. His wife and daughter fell sick and died. His loneliness in his twilight years is palpable. He deeply misses his family as well as Africa. He wonders if after six decades anyone there still remembers him. It feels glib and weird to use GIFs to punctuate his narration, so I will leave traditional spaces between paragraphs.

My one frustration with ‘Barracoon’ is that it felt padded with more supporting materials than actual text. There are multiple intros and prefaces—the ‘beginning’ quoted below doesn’t appear until almost a quarter-way into the book—and even a foreword AND a reprinted article from Alice Walker. Don’t get me wrong, all of these are valuable, particularly Walker’s piece about Hurston’s sad journey from Harlem Renaissance luminary to an unmarked grave in Florida. But I wanted to hear more from Lewis than everyone else.

‘Barracoon’ is the second book I’ve reviewed by Hurston—you may remember that I enjoyed her novel ‘Moses, Man of the Mountain’ back in 2018. It’s incredible that ‘Barracoon,’ completed in the 1930s, didn’t find a publisher until recently. It contains a rare perspective of the Middle Passage told by someone who survived it, and is a vital historical record. America’s unfinished reckoning with the legacy of slavery is our inheritance, and this book is an important reminder that we all have a lot still to do to fix and heal this country. ‘Barracoon’ should be taught in schools, if it isn’t already, and universally read.

How it begins:

It was summer when I went to talk with Cudjo so his door was standing wide open. But I knew he was somewhere about the house before I entered the yard, because I had found the gate unlocked. When Cudjo goes down into his back-field or away from home he locks the gate with an ingenious wooden peg of African invention.

I hailed him by his African name as I walked up the steps to his porch, and he looked up into my face as I stood in the door in surprise. He was eating his breakfast from a round enameled pan with his hands, in the fashion of his fatherland.

The surprise of seeing me halted his hand between pan and face. Then tears of joy welled up.

‘Oh lor’, I know it you call my name. Nobody don’t callee me my name from cross de water but you. You always callee me Kossula, jus’ lak I in de Affica soil!’

My rating:

‘Barracoon: The Story of the “Last Black Cargo”’ by Zora Neale Hurston was published by Amistad in 2018. 201 pages including a foreword and a reprinted article by Alice Walker, an introduction from editor Deborah G. Plant, a glossary, bibliography and notes. $16.99 at Barnes & Noble.


More things worth your time:

  • Watch this: PBS NewsHour aired this story last year when the wreckage of the slave ship that brought Cudjo Lewis to Alabama, the Clotilda, was found in the Mobile River. The Clotilda was burned after arriving in Alabama to cover up its purpose.

  • Read this: Human trafficking is still a major issue worldwide. For more information about it and what’s being done to stop it, check out Donna’s article in Business Travel News: ‘Moving Human Trafficking Awareness Beyond the Travel Industry's Front Lines.’ As she writes, ‘The travel industry is, unfortunately, a key component in human trafficking. Airlines transport victims and hotels provide places not only for potential sexual exploitation but also for forced labor.’ Another good resource is this episode of the You’re Wrong About podcast.

  • Read this, too: ‘Can Reading Make You Happier?’ by Ceridwen Dovey in The New Yorker was recommended by Carla. I enjoyed this piece because it delves into how reading books, particularly fiction and poetry, can heal us when we grieve or feel lost. It made reference to a book I often turn to in those times that I reviewed 100 newsletters ago: ‘Siddhartha’ by Hermann Hesse. I loved this quote from Dovey’s story: ‘In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks.’ I also agreed very strongly with this quote from a bibliotherapist:

    “We feel that though more books are being published than ever before, people are in fact selecting from a smaller and smaller pool. Look at the reading lists of most book clubs, and you’ll see all the same books, the ones that have been shouted about in the press. If you actually calculate how many books you read in a year—and how many that means you’re likely to read before you die—you’ll start to realize that you need to be highly selective in order to make the most of your reading time.” 

    The main reason I started Books on GIF is to be an outlet for books that haven’t been blessed by the Times or the New York Review of Books or Book Twitter. BoG is here for the the offbeat writers and the overlooked publishers. Sometimes I lose sight of that as I try to grow this newsletter’s audience. But this story in The New Yorker, ironically enough, has restored my focus. Thank you, Carla.

  • Look at this: Scientific genius Justine Haupt has created a rotary cell phone for all us Gen-Xers and Boomers who miss them. She says: ‘I wanted something that would be entirely mine, personal, and absolutely tactile, while also giving me an excuse for not texting.’ I want one.

  • Do this: Booker-Prize winning author Bernardine Evaristo will discuss her new novel ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ with Safiya Sinclair at Strand Book Store on Thursday, March 19 from 7-9 p.m. The book ‘spans decades and is comprised of interconnected stories of a group of Black British women of different generations, faiths, classes, politics, and heritages.’ Tickets are $15. More information can be found here.


In two weeks you’ll get a review of ‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’ by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Also in the queue are ‘The Book of X’ by Sarah Rose Etter, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ by David Grann and ‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jokha Alharthi, among others.

In case you missed it: Books on GIF #125 featured ‘Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest’ by Hanif Abdurraqib.

Shoot me an email if there’s a bestseller, a classic or a forgotten gem you want reviewed.

Please click the heart button above if you enjoyed this newsletter. You can also share it with a friend:

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Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this newsletter!

Until next time,

MPV

With GIFs from Giphy.com.

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