Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Read Harder Challenge #17-- A classic by an author of color

For this part of the reading challenge, I chose James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room. Having recently seen the remarkable documentary I Am Not Your Negro, and always meaning to read James Baldwin (unfortunately and sadly unsurprisingly, my literature degree never once required me to read this essential author) and the need to meet the challenge to "Read a classic by an author of color," this was the perfect opportunity.

Giovanni's Room, published in 1956, tells the story of David, a young American man living in Paris, awaiting his girlfriend's return from Spain. While she is away, he meets Giovanni, an Italian expatriate and is undeniably drawn to him. Giovanni is a lost soul, wanted by nearly everyone he encounters and through him, David begins to understand his own sexuality. Their relationship unspools over the course of the novel as the story is told in David's voice while he looks back on meeting, living with and, ultimately, losing Giovanni. David grapples with his own identity, his love for Giovanni as well as his love for his missing girlfriend, Hella and it all takes place against the backdrop of a gorgeously vivid Paris.

I loved this book. I knew, from learning about and hearing Baldwin speak over the years that I would love his writing. He is poetic and insightful about human interaction and internal struggle and the complexities of romantic relationships and how it all fits into the struggle of discovering one's identity. To wit, when describing a scene in which David and Giovanni are fighting:

I was vividly aware that he held a brick in his hand, I held a brick in mine. It really seemed for an instant that if I did not go to him, we would use these bricks to beat each other to death.

Yet, I could not move at once. We stared at each other across a narrow space that was full of danger, that almost seemed to roar like flame.

"Come," he said.

I dropped my brick and went to him. In a moment I heard his fall. And at moments like this I felt that we were merely enduring and committing the longer and lesser and more perpetual murder.

"...the longer and lesser and more perpetual murder." It is a quote that runs around in my brain.

And this quote:

Much has been written of love turning to hatred, of the heart growing cold with the death of love. It is a remarkable process. It is far more terrible than anything I have ever read about it, more terrible than anything I will ever be able to say.I

Baldwin is able to capture a great deal in a little amount of space and I would recommend this book to everyone. I imagine that they don'w assign it in high school due to the ass backward viewpoint that sexual identity is a taboo subject but that remains a shame, since I think it is not only a beautiful example of the character study novel, but it also touches on themes that are complicated and relevant to any human who has ever struggled in love and with identity. So, that is pretty much everyone.

Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge for 2017:

1. Read a book about sports.
2. Read a debut novel.
3. Read a book about books.
4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.
5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
6. Read an all-ages comic.
7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.
8. Read a travel memoir.
9. Read a book you’ve read before.
10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.
11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.
12. Read a fantasy novel.
13. Read a nonfiction book about technology.
14. Read a book about war.
15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.
16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
17. Read a classic by an author of color.
18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
19. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel.
20. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey
21. Read a book published by a micropress.
22. Read a collection of stories by a woman.
23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.
24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.

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