Mini-Reviews: Hendrix, G’Orge-Walker, Morriseau

27Feb14

It’s about that time: these books are due back at the library today, no excuses, so here are my mini-reviews.

Starting At Zero: His Own Story, Jimi Hendrix. Peter Neal, one of the editorial brainchildren behind this project, thought it would be a good idea if somebody rounded up Jimi Hendrix’s personal writings, edited them together, and released them as the closest thing we’ll ever get to an autobiography of the late, lamented genius. The result, achieved with the help of producer Alan Douglas, is an enchanting look inside the mind of an intensely private man. The texts include letters written, interviews given, transcripts of filmed comments, notes written on napkins, song lyrics, and other ephemera. That might sound clumsy, but it works: the reader gets a sense of the man behind the masks, someone shy who loved sci-fi and fantasy, someone passionate about world peace and human development…and who really liked giving concerts in Sweden (apparently the audiences were very attentive).  For a slightly different take on the book, here’s the mini-review I posted for work.

Image spotted at bloomsbury.com - click through to visit site.

Image spotted at bloomsbury.com – click through to visit site.

Sister Betty Says I Do, Pat G’Orge-Walker. Christian readers of color will most likely get a kick out of long-suffering Sister Betty, who has just agreed to marry her longtime sweetheart, Freddie. The course of true love, however, never does run smooth, and Sister Betty’s church family, including her pastor, prove to be some of the biggest obstacles to her happiness.

Image from rtbookreviews.com - click through to read a review from the New Pittsburgh Courier.

Image from rtbookreviews.com

What makes this book really fun is that the protagonists are in a late-life relationship, something you don’t see nearly enough of in chick lit, women’s fiction, or the garden-variety romance novel. What makes it an interesting book to read, however, is the way the characters live their faith: going to church, prayer, and quoting the Bible are a natural part of the characters’ experience, not just something tacked on to fit a particular fiction genre. Lessons are learned, but the reader is shown, not told, what they are. And because it’s chick lit, you know that Betty and Freddie are going to make it to the altar–it’s the getting there that makes for laugh-out-loud fun. Part of a series, but you don’t necessarily have to read them in order. If this kind of book is your cup of tea, you’ll blaze through it in about an hour or so, with a smile on your face the whole time (some of the jokes and puns are wonderfully awful).

Sunset Baby, Dominique Morriseau. Nina–named by her parents for Nina Simone–has a choice to make: give her estranged father access to her dead mother’s letters, or cut him loose forever. What complicates matters is that Nina’s parents were legendary political activists, and researchers and scholars from all over the country will pay good money to read and write about Ashanti X’s letters. Kenyatta Shakur, for his part, knows he’s failed as a father, but has never lost his belief in the revolutionary causes he and Ashanti fought for. Nina’s boyfriend Damon wants to make a lot of money fast, so they can just run away from it all. But what does Nina want, and what will she do?

Image taken from Amazon.com

Image taken from Amazon.com

Morriseau packs a great deal into eight scenes. In her playwright’s notes, she muses, “How can my generation be so brilliant and so self-destructive at the same time? This is the question that guides my play.” And, indeed, while the play is rooted heavily in the past, the question of what to do with the legacy of the past rests solely in Nina’s hands. Nina and Damon have a profitable robbery scam going on, but they are both aware that they could be and do more. Why they don’t–or, more accurately, can’t–is complicated, and their feelings for each other can’t quite bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be. Kenyatta, for his part, is a lost soul, with nothing except his beliefs and dreams to comfort him. But they are strong dreams, and he does his best to convey his vision to Nina.

The triumph of the play is that Nina finally achieves autonomy. The false dichotomy–will she choose her father, or Damon?–is resolved when, in the final scene, we finally hear the voice of Ashanti X, as Nina reads a letter out loud. It is in listening to the voice of the mother, not the father or the lover, that Nina finds the strength to become fully Nina. With crackling, passionate dialogue, and the kind of interesting stage directions that will have a producer itching to mount a performance, Morriseau’s play is a thought-provoking, self-assured declaration of her talent.

Three very different books, for three very different kinds of readers! Special thanks go out to the Dickinson College Waidner-Spahr Library, for graciously lending Sunset Baby all the way over here for reading/review.

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