Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Room 222: The Book

Her first novel, Freshwater Road, was published by Agate Publishing, in August 2005. it received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was selected as one of the best books of 2005 by The Washington Post, The Detroit Free Press, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Newsday and The Chicago Tribune. The novel won the Zora Neal Hurston/Richard Wright Award for debut fiction in 2006, as well as the American Library Association's Black Caucus Award for debut fiction the same year. Freshwater Road was reprinted by Pocket Books.
Brown University commissioned Nicholas to write a staged adaptation of Freshwater Road, which was presented in May 2008.

It's a pleasure to be able to read again.  Limitations remain, mostly due to pedestrian concerns such as eye fatigue, blurry vision after intense Tea Party-induced marathon sessions of Mahjong solitaire,  and the steady weeping from this bleeping "inflammatory reaction," as well as a highly technical Boo Hoo and Creepy Red Veined Response to the eye medications that are treating it.  No, I will NOT parse that sentence.

The first book I read was one that came "highly recommended." When shall I learn that this is a phrase for dopes?  Do I not notice that the person pronouncing it has abdicated his personal recommendation in favor of some abstract compilation of... sigh... testimonials?  Freshwater Road by Denise Nicholas.  It's a sketchy narrative about a middle-class African-American college student from Detroit who joins in the voter registration drives in Mississippi during the 1964 Freedom Summer.  People are beaten. People die.  People disappear. Children die. People are intimidated.  People rise above.  There is a dalliance with the very sexy question of what it means to be black in American, according to geography.

It's very poorly written but I figured my estimations were off, that my reluctance to pick it up again had more to do with my river of inflammatory tears than with the quality of the prose.

And my innate liberalism bullied me, pushed me around, made me finish this lousy book.  So she wasn't penning a great work.  But she was pecking her way through an important period of history in which I've great interest.  I did not learn anything, except on those occasions when I stopped to check for symptoms of Narcissistic White Liberal Diseases.  Even on those occasions, I proved remarkably healthy.

The ultimate pan?  I wouldn't even suggest this for youth as yet not introduced to the 1960s' history of civil rights' struggles.  Even factual detail is hesitantly presented, the author coming across as being as out of place in her own narrative as the protagonist facing her first use of an outhouse.

I've moved on -- to a creepy book Fred read, extolling its excellent style as well as its induction of spine shimmies.  People have been pushing books at me for the last two years, the rough period of time during which reading was a great difficulty and no fun at all.  I've a dear new friend who has authored several books, two of which I began.  I intend to finish but I am still waiting for the return of the glory days of reading -- when the words don't swim in the glare of the page, when I'm not guessing at the words instead of actually reading them as written, when I have that sense of delight to crack open the volume, yogurt at the ready, a cat leaning in (they all love "yogurt time"), and giving in to another world until my eyelids get heavy.  Now I start with fluid-laden eyelids, and often hook up to my music before making it through a single printed page.

It'll get better.

But if you have to whip your eyes back into reading shape?  Don't fall for the testimonial, the glib and slick "it comes highly recommended..." There are many senses involved in the choosing of the next right book to read, and as rotten as it sounds, relying on others' recommendations (be it the Library Journal blurb or your cousin Jan's brilliant cousin) is but part of the mosaic.

Never underestimate the cover.

Or the feel of it in the hand, the heft.

Or the "Surprise Me!" option on

I'm also, forgive me, partial to the publishing house.

And do not fear nonfiction when what you need is... nonfiction.  Aha.  There, I DID learn something.

Photo Credit:  Modern American History

© 2013 L. Ryan

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