Overdue Books (and Zombies)

When I was organizing my bookshelves a couple weeks ago, I gathered together all the books I own that are half-finished and unread, some still unopened with that “new book” fresh paper smell. I bought many of these books during their first week of release in a rush of excitement to support a friend or after hearing a review on NPR. (Plus, it is hard not to get excited when  Carleen, Zetta, or Color Online have a new recommendation!) The books, over a dozen, now have their own shelf in my home. And then there’s another shelf, one hidden in a back room with older classics that I always meant to finish, but didn’t. Top of this list: Melville’s Moby Dick and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Now is the time to read them – and if I feel the urge to “1-Click” my way to a new Amazon.com order – to get reacquainted with my local library. I’m particularly excited about these overdue books: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and Nalo Hopkinson’s New Moon’s Arms. I also have A Wish Before Midnight on my iPhone Kindle (for when I’m in the doctor’s office waiting room) and Jabari Asim’s A Taste of Honey.

It is this last book, a short story collection, that I’m reading now and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s hilarious in places, contemplative in others, and very well crafted. Asim has a lighter touch than Colson Whitehead, but is just as perceptive. In some of the stories, the narrative voice of nine-year-old Crispus Jones reminds me of a late 1960s version of the TV show, “Everybody Hates Chris” (or maybe “Good Times” from Michael’s point of view?)

Take this paragraph:

Soon after my mom finally agreed to let me cross the street by myself, I forgot to look both ways while returning home and was nearly blindsided by a fast-moving Ford Fairlane. I escaped harm, though, until I reached our front proch. That’s when Pristine pulled me inside and commenced to clobbering me with the closest thing handy – a flip-flop that seconds before had been dangling from her foot. For a brief, merciful moment I was able to break free. I wrenched open the screen door and lunged for the porch, but Mom caught me by the ankles. Across the street, Petey and Choo-Choo bore astonished witness to the strange sight of me disappearing backward through the front door, an invisible force sucking me in like I was one of those anonymous doomed crewmen in a Star Trek episode. They got a final glimpse of my tear-streaked, horrified face frozen in midyell before it vanished behind the screen door.

Afterward, Petey told me that all he could make out through the mess was the dim outline of my mother and “that flip-flop going up and down, up and down.”

I love that this passage comes at the start of a story called “Zombies” with Crispus at the center of his own version of The Night of the Living Dead. And what begins as a comical scene about buttwhippings moves into a wonderful story about the relationship between brothers and about being curious, vulnerable, and young. Let’s hope that all my overdue books are as enjoyable as this one! Read an interview with the author of A Taste of Honey at Carleen’s blog.

What are you reading this summer?

14 responses to this post.

  1. I’m so glad I’m not the only person/prof who never finished Moby Dick! Normally I don’t do short story collections, but if he’s better than Colson at telling a story–I’m in! And thanks for adding Wish to you queue…


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by djbuddha, TBoH. TBoH said: Overdue Books (and Zombies): http://wp.me/pjzwn-12y […]


  3. Posted by giovanna on June 22, 2010 at 9:39 PM

    i’ve been winding my slow way through the super mesmerizing and super intense The Known World. i am still some way from the end because at some point the book felt so soul-deadening to me that i had to delve into mysteries and forget all about unfinished stories and everlasting grief. i read john hart’s The Last Child, a sure-whatever thriller about abducted kids. generally what truly restores the life of my soul is wealth of language, but The Last Child has nothing on The Known World language-wise. so i realized that sometime what we (i?) need is narratives that guide us assuredly toward a Certain Resolution rather than narratives that take us through a fraught trip into the contradictions and irresolutions of humanness. which, in turn, made me think about fiction — can it be that The Last Child is more fictional than The Known World? is fiction something that can be more or less? if so, what is the role of fictionalization in our making sense of the world? why do some narratives feel more pleasurable to us than others?

    in this case, you see, it’s very much a question of genre, or form. both books deal with sad topics, and both books deal with very real topics. so i’m thinking, are some narrative structures more “fictional” and thus more escapist?

    and, to throw another iron in the fire, is postmodern literature inherently less “fictional,” in this sense?

    this is where i’m at. :)


    • Well, gio, I wasn’t expecting you to lay down something this heavy! So, hmm. I think that the postmodern sensibility would say that it is only through fictionalization that we can make sense of the world. Even the “very real” is subjective and relational, right? But perhaps this is not what you mean.

      In the case of the The Known World (a TBoH favorite!), I think you’ll find some resolutions in the novel that you didn’t expect. But Jones does something especially crafty in that novel by giving his plot a very obvious veneer of fabricated historicity – references to historical books that don’t exist; a narrator who reveals a character’s past and future all at once. It creates a little distance between us and awful truths about what humanity is capable of. Even Jones, it seems, draws on these elements of escapism to aid the reader. I know historians who are actually a little irritated with the novel for exactly this reason, but for me, it makes it even more wonderful.

      And not to be funny, but do you mean “soul-deadening” is a good or bad way (in terms of the language, maybe)?


      • Posted by giovanna on June 23, 2010 at 5:40 PM

        sorry, this is totally heavy. in fact, i just came back here to apologize. i didn’t expect ANYONE, not even you, claudia, to engage! i have been trying for a while now to make sense of the fact that, recently, i seem to need mysteries, a genre that i have never enjoyed or sought out.

        soul-deadening is neutral. the language of The Known World is beautiful, but i was finding the existential devastation pretty tough. now, thanks to your kind willingness to talk to me even though i got heavy, i will finish it. :)


  4. Posted by Rich Watson on June 22, 2010 at 10:24 PM

    You’re gonna review ‘A Wish Before Midnight’ here, right?


    • …only if I can get a guest post from you about your current project(s)????


      • Posted by Rich Watson on June 23, 2010 at 9:12 AM

        Ehhh… there’s not that much to say. I’ve written the script to a graphic novel, I’m currently drawing the pages, that’s it really.


        • You say that like it’s nothing! Well, look. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to know more about your graphic novel. I’m still recovering from the loss of the Glyphs blog and I miss hearing your opinions about things. The offer still stands!


  5. Posted by Danielle on June 23, 2010 at 6:55 AM

    I just finished reading Intuition by Allegra Goodwin. Someone recommended it to me about three years ago and it finally made it off the shelf. It was wonderful. The characters were vivid and it managed to keep my interest in a story about cancer researchers working in their lab. I am also finishing 212 by Alafair Burke. She writes amazing thrillers set in New York. Next on my list is to finish the Taylor Branch trilogy on Martin Luther King Jr. That should take me the rest of the summer. :)


    • Thanks for these recommendations, Danielle! You are on a mission with the Branch trilogy. I have the first one, but (*hides head*) haven’t read it yet either. It sure looks good on my shelf, though….


    • Posted by giovanna on June 23, 2010 at 5:42 PM

      Intuition is one of my all-time favorites. i can’t believe goodman can take lab research and write a compelling book about people’s emotions rotating around it. i found it astounding.


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