Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn lays out a meandering history of two prominent Atlanta families: the Allens and the Dobbs.
Both instrumental in guiding Atlanta toward living into its promise. Both local royalty in their own right. Both produced Mayors of the City Too Busy to Hate.
One was white. One was black.
Through this whopping 550 page narrative, Gary M. Pomerantz masterfully wove storytelling and history. Each page was a delight.
Reading this tome beefed up my understanding of Atlanta history. And it laid bare the wounds of racism that, at times, have almost torn the city apart. But it also uncovered brave acts by members of each family-that lead Atlanta toward a more egalitarian footing. But the little glimpses of the BIG names in Atlanta being so utterly human—for better and for worse—are what really immersed me in the saga.
I was completely taken with both these families. I admire Ivan Allen, Jr. wholeheartedly for the way he shifted his views on race through his life. The quiet ways he did the right thing resonated with me.
And Maynard Jackson, Jr…. Let me tell you, I would give almost anything to zip back in time to be at his first inaugural address—to see him do what the old school white establishment said he could not. To see him win.
But I’ll have to settle for sending my daughter to the Southeast Atlanta High School that bears his name. And that feels pretty good, too.
Amy Bloom’s collection of stories, Where the God of Love Hangs Out, sucked me in right away. I didn’t even mean to read the dang book. I was just moving it to a new location and, on a whim, flipped open to the first page. By the end of the first paragraph, I was hooked.
It’s not magical writing. Quite the opposite. The realism of her prose that drew me in. Not gritty. Just straightforward. The simple moments that slip into big ones. The miniscule choices we make that amount to a life upturned, broken wide open to make room for something else. In Bloom’s stories, things don’t turn out like you want them—they turn out the way they likely would if they were unfolding in my life or your own. I found myself nodding, thinking “yes, yes, that’s the way things are sometimes.” It was therapeutic to read a world so unromanticized. Bloom seemed to be nodding at her readers, reminding them that they aren’t alone, that no one’s life works out exactly as they had planned. But still, we all press on. And manage to live vibrant, imperfect lives.
Some of Bloom’s stories build off each other. Those were my favorites. The ones that explored grief, loss, parental relationships, and the ways that love is both more than we expected and so much less. But they all brought forth a nugget of truth for examination. And I loved them for that & for their utter relatability.
I meant to read one of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books, because I think they’re Urban Fantasy, and I’m supposed to be checking that out. Like field research for the bookstore.
But this one caught my eye instead. Because Shakespeare’s Trollop is about the best title ever. So, I read it. In just over 24 hours.
This is the kind of book people like to pigeon-hole as frivolous reading–“beach reading” people call it when they’re being polite. But all reading is important… because books will speak to you, if you let them. They’ll meet you where you are and teach you.
Shakespeare’s Trollop made some pretty strong observations about human nature: our willingness to judge others without considering the life events that shaped them; our desire to be in control constantly battling with our need for connection; our drive to categorize and label other people, without acknowledging that people can be multifaceted, complex, and human.
The truth is I didn’t love the protagonist, Lily Bard (but what a GREAT name for a book set in Shakespeare, Arkansas), or feel any real connection to her. Which is usually a deal-breaker for me. But there I went, turning one page after another because I needed to know who had committed the murder in Shakespeare and WHY. Ultimately, I appreciated Harris’ glimpses into human nature (including my own). And her writing. Which is smooth as butter.
The first time I read Rubyfruit Jungle, I was 19 years old, recently out, and head-over-heels in love with my girlfriend. I devoured the book. It was mouthy, cocky, and brash—most of the things I wasn’t but really wanted to be. But most importantly, Rubyfruit Jungle offered me the gift of seeing some of my own life experiences, my thoughts, my pain reflected back to me on the page. I was represented in this book. And I was there for it. 100%.
24 years later… Rubyfruit Jungle did not disappoint. I’d forgotten about the immediacy of the narrative, the precise turn of phrase that feels like a gut-punch, the poignant moments that remind me who I am (and how far I’ve come). It’s all still there.
But, as a grown-ass woman, Molly Bolt read different. I saw less of her bravado and more of her tenderness. One scene with her mother toward the novel’s end slayed me—and it hadn’t really even been on my radar the first go-round. But it spoke so clearly to my own pain in coming out and navigating fractured familial relationships… I wonder how I could have missed it. But another interlude between Molly and a young lover, that I’d played up in my mind so much that I was sure the entire novel revolved around this relationship, seemed entirely insignificant to me.
Turns out that Rubyfruit Jungle was still speaking to me after all these years… but offering entirely different insights.
Sometimes I get too big for my britches. That’s just cold hard truth.
In a short, succinct, and damn powerful book, Austin Channing Brown managed to make me take an honest look at my relationship to whiteness and how I manage that in spaces where I’m working toward racial justice—hell, in any spaces at all. And she kinda took me down a peg.
This book is a hard read. Because it’s honest. But it’s crucial for white folks invested in ending racism. Because that shit is pervasive. And difficult to stamp out, even with the best of intentions. And what will render me totally ineffective–and even harmful–is thinking I understand what it’s really like to move through America as a person of color. And thinking that the systemic racism that pervades America culture has somehow been washed clean from my psyche. This book fully disabused me of that notion. And reminded me that it is a fight every day to undo the assumptions, the misconceptions, the prejudice engrained in me as a white woman.
I champion reading because I believe it changes us to our core. Books can offer perspective entirely different from our own. And because books expect nothing of us, we can process our feelings, our confusion, our defensiveness in the quiet of our own mind. Which is what, if you are white like me, you are going to want to do with this book.
I was in the library, minding my own business, when Capitalism in America: A History called out to me. No kidding. I saw it and tried to walk away. But I was pulled back to the shelf—completely against my will.
I am whole-heartedly uninterested in economics. And I’m skeptical of capitalism, in general. Also, it was written by Alan Greenspan, so I figured I’d die of boredom before finishing all of its 450 pages.
Good news! I’m still in the land of the living. And I couldn’t get enough of this book. It’s strong history component keeps it infinitely readable. Which, co-author, Adrian Woolridge likely deserves the credit for—since he’s a historian and a journalist. Capitalism in America broke down the basics of the upward and downward trends of a capitalist economy in a way I could digest without my eyes glazing over.
But the best part was that the argument so skillfully posited in the book ran counter to some of my most deeply held beliefs. So, it did what great books should do: it made me think and question my position. Ultimately, it made me want to know more and prompted a desire to seek out an alternative viewpoint to Greenspan’s. Which means reading more about economics. By choice. How very odd.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this one. It’s a great primer on both American History & economics. And it’s surprisingly engaging. And you’ll feel smarter if you read it. Pinky swear.
I spent the last 2 days hanging around writers, booksellers, and publishers.
I think, as humans, one of the very best things we can do for ourselves is find our little group of like-minded weirdos. Everybody is weird (some prefer “unique,” but whatever). Being in a group of similarly weird people makes you feel connected and understood. You don’t have to explain yourself, or search for just the right words to make someone understand your point of view. Your Weirdo Tribe is just going to GET IT.
Me, I walk through the world thinking about words about 85% of the time. See, weird. But I’m a writer and an aspiring bookseller–that’s, like, ALL the words.
But 2 things happened during my sojourn with these bookseller/writer types that gave me that blissful feeling when you see something of yourself in someone else–when the very innermost parts of you feel represented and seen:
#1: One of the presenters from Southern Fried Karma (“a multi-media production company developing projects in music, films and books”–but c’mon, isn’t that just the best name?!?) started talking about the power of books to establish community. Because we know that reading builds empathy. And empathy paves the way for community and connection. The more you read, most often the wider your worldview. The more you see similarities and understand the way other people experience the world, the less strong your impluse to “other” people. The more likely you become to reach out, to seek diverse communities, to support people–even those seemingly unlike yourself.
And that’s precisely what the dude from SFK was expressing when he told the story about white supremacists coming to his small, Georgia town to have a rally–and the black and white communities uniting to keep out the white supremacists, creating a space where hate could not thrive. And as he talked about the power of books to create this kind of empathy, to unite two seemingly disparate communities in rural(ish) Georgia, he began to tear up.
And OH. MY. GOD. Yes.
I tear up when I talk about books all the time. Because they are so powerful. And stories–every story–can change the world (that’s why the tagline for Bookish is “Every Story Matters.”) And hell yes, that’s something to get emotional over.
We need change. Books ARE that change. We just need to get them into the hands of the people and remind them about the magical ability of stories to change lives.
#2: On the Bus Tour of Atlanta Bookstores, I met an author from North Carolina who’s debut novel is coming out this Summer. That’s a BIG DEAL. We chatted about how tough the writing process can be (there are no bon-bons involved. It is NOT, in fact, a cakewalk). And I gave her the brief rundown about the progress on my middle grades novel. Honestly, I’d never talked to someone who was just a short stretch ahead of me on the road to becoming published. Most folks I meet are either established authors… or they are going to write an book someday. But this woman had just emerged from the trenches of rewriting, revising, and editing… and now she had a BOOK that other people were going to READ. I just found it all so hopeful. Like maybe it would happen for me, too.
The next day, the same woman was a presenter at the conference I attended. She spoke about the blurry line between memoir and fiction that is autofiction. And that was amazing in and of itself, because I’ve been thinking about memoir writing, but hesitating because–for real, y’all–once upon a time, I drank so much that my memory isn’t entirely trustworthy. But autofiction opens up a whole new world where things can be true AND not true. Whoa.
But, also, in describing the ways that readers react to autofiction (often by trying to determine how much of the fiction is “true” and how much authority you really have two write about certain themes), she shared part of her story with us. And I swear, it was just like my story. And nothing like my story. And the things she said made me feel so visible, and I thought she was so brave to have shared them, that I ran right up to her afterwards to give her a hug. Because how often does someone tell your story that isn’t your story and remind about so much of what was and what isn’t but what always is?
Rarely. And oh my Lord, is it a gift.
Stories are so much bigger than us. They take on a life of their own. They reach people in ways we can’t begin to fathom. And they do change lives. Hell, they can change the whole world.
(And, yes, I totally cried the whole time I wrote this. Whatever.)