A look back at 2017 (in books)!

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crushable.com via pinterest

It’s hard to start a new year without, well, properly closing out the previous one. Last year was a big one. I moved houses, changed continents, pretended to write a PhD thesis, became a mom, and reconnected with loved ones. I moved back to the DC area while public servants and politicos are under a microscope. But this town is tougher than it looks. Between Ta-Nehisi Coates book launches hosted by Sankofa Bookstore and Solange concerts at the Kennedy Center, haters are going to have to come harder. Even with all the crazy politics afoot, 2017 was quite good to me.

Despite all the changes, one thing that stayed the same, however, was my love for books. In 2017, an audible subscription and a lengthy vacation contributed greatly to my successful consumption (I dare not say “reading” since, I audio-booked it out a lot) of 50 books over the course of the year. There were countless articles and excerpts mixed in there too, but that’s neither here nor there. “I done good,” if I may say so myself. You can see the full book list here, so you can say so too.

In keeping with tradition, here are my top 5. Perhaps you’ll want to pick them up for your own 2018 challenge!

(I have to apologize in advance to you fiction lovers out there, I’m a non-fiction aficionado. Novels aren’t really my schtick.)

34556334.jpgBraving the Wilderness – Brene Brown

You should already know that anything by Brene Brown is enlightening and well worth the cover price. In this text, she explores vulnerability even further, by contrasting it with the idea of belonging.  She goes into her own family experiences, as well as a confrontation with someone who assumes she’s an NRA supporter. Yea, it’s worth reading.

 

18540613.jpgSettled Strangers – Gijsbert Oonk

This text is a really interesting read about Indian immigrants to East Africa. The premise of the book is a bit novel in that it tries to contest the idea that all Indian immigrants were success stories. Oonk brings in the notion that the stories of failure simply never get told, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. For research and for history, I see this book as a significant contribution to the body of literature about Africa’s diversity .

 

13073498.jpgUnsettling Memories – Emma Tarlo

I’m learning a lot about what I don’t know about India. Yes, you heard me. The more I read, the less I know. I had no idea that the world’s biggest democracy had a period when it suspended democracy.  Did you? During this period, there was an extensive effort to incentivize sterilization in exchange for urban resettlement for the poor. Sad, but true. This book explores it all, so get your tissues ready.

 

368593.jpg The 4-Hour Work Week – Timothy Ferriss

Anyone who has talked to me in 2017 knows how much I am fixated on retiring at the earliest possible opportunity. I discovered that that’s my lot in life after reading this book. A friend gifted it to me and it’s been a signpost of success ever since. It helps combine my inner productivity nerd and my outer personal finance ambassador, for a balanced life.

 

25744928.jpgDeep Work – Cal Newport

This book tells us to quit multi-tasking. We actually suck at it (even though we think we don’t) and it’s draining (even though we think it’s a time saver). I loved reading it and should probably re-read it every quarter, because I’m a horrible and compulsive multi-tasker. I’ve already relapsed, but you should save yourself!

 

Since there weren’t any flat out duds this year (woo hoo!), I’ll share some honorable mentions in recommended categories:

13642929.jpgI read lots of memoir & essay by people of color this year, namely Phoebe Robinson‘s break out You Can’t Touch My Hair, Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, Trevor Noah‘s Born a Crime and Sonia Sotomayor‘s My Beloved World. This is a new genre for me, especially since most of these folks are considered too young to really have a story to tell. I mean, Phoebe is 33! Even Justice Sotomayor only writes about the earlier part of her life, pre-Supreme Court. Anywho, it goes to show that the canon is changing. Just as Roxane Gay is redefining what it means to be a Bad Feminist, so too are emergent writers shifting the meaning of what is worth writing (and hence, worth reading) and that seems to include the experiences of younger voices.

723122.jpgLast, but not least, I’ve done a lot of reading about birth and parenting lately. For any expecting parent, I’d recommend Hypnobirthing, by Marie Mongan. It helped me immensely to prepare for and to experience labor (with no medication of any kind). It worked very well for me. I also took a 5 session course to practice the techniques. Find a hypnobirthing class near you.

All thumbnail pics lifted from goodreads.com

Best Books of 2016!

Like I do every year, I signed up for Goodreads’ 2016 Reading Challenge and failed miserably. My plan was to read 52 books and just yesterday, as I read the final chapter of Paulina Chiziane‘s Niketche – a novel  in Portuguese language novel about polygamy in Mozambique – I closed the page on my 39th book of the year. Thirteen books behind, I could feel guilty, but why? I discovered audible and listened to 3.5 books (not counted), saved so many life minutes that I would have spent listening to garbage music or actually reading Mindy Kaling’s horrible book. I would say that’s a victory. And so, I will only feel, but so guilty before I share with you my annual book review…

First, I have to say that my reading heavily focused on the two areas – productivity and my PhD. So, while both may seem boring as hell to you, they were fascinating to me and really pushed me to my professional limits. Second, you can imagine why this year is extremely difficult for me to judge – naming favorites across vastly different genres is really hard to do. Third, I apologize in advance because many of the books I read are not readily available. Last, if anybody is particularly interested in reading in Portuguese, I suggest you get very familiar with wook.pt and their global shipping rates.

So, let the fun begin…

My top five are as follows:

978-0-8223-4191-8_pr.jpgLiving with Bad Surroundings by Sverker Finnstrom

You can read the book if you want to know what it’s about, but I particuarly enjoyed it for its excellent writing. As a PhD student struggling to contextualize and explain how everyday violence affects individuals and their life choices, I plan to fully mimic Finnstrom’s writing techniques and adapt them to my own study.

African Workers and Colonial Racism by Jeanne Marie Penvenne51ZX1QEahZL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

As I wrote in my amazon.com review: “I found this study to be utterly fascinating and eerily relevant to the contemporary labor constraints in the capital of Mozambique. Anyone looking for a serious text about Mozambican economic and social realities should read this closely. It is not about the countries beaches and it doesn’t wax prophetic about the Portuguese colonial system, which I’m sure damages some people’s idyllic view of Mozambique as a country and Portugal as a racially proximate colonial master. But, with Portuguese colonialism lasting well into the 1970s, anyone living, studying or working in the country could well benefit from reading this text and understanding how it affects present day realities.”

514B-YWWBmL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOur Black Year by Maggie Anderson

While every year I have tried to become a more mindful consumer, this book taught me how hard that can be. For those of us who live in food deserts, it’s hard. For those looking to support small businesses it’s hard. But, this family’s quest to try to exclusively patronize Black owned businesses while living in a predominantly Black neighborhood really showed me that the economics of poverty and patronage in the U.S. context are more complicated than I thought. I, for one, am taking a second to check the owners and competitors of businesses and products that I buy regularly. Entrepreneurship is to be praised and supported. Now, many years after this book was written, it’s even easier to support – no excuses. Your funds fund corporate ideologies and empires, the choice is always yours, consumer.

This Present Darkness by Stephen Ellis* 41y5BdSQ5sL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

This book was written by a dead man. Really! He died while doing the research, but the study was so valuable and fascinating that his team continued his work. The study focuses on Nigeria’s black market scams and underworld. If you know anything about my interests, you know that mob movies and illegal activity are my schtick, so this story strikes a chord in my intellectual and entertainment soul. You’ve got to read it!

Essentialism by Greg McKeown514M9KlQKQL._AC_US218_.jpg

I have become a productivity addict and while listening to Asian Efficiency’s Productivity Podcast, I heard Mr. McKeown speak. Basically, he takes a 100 years after your death approach to prioritizing what you should do daily. By his definition, you can throw away half the stuff on your current to do list and never look back. It’s very freeing to pay attention to your legacy rather than your inbox, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. Once you figure out what you want your contribution to humanity to be, there’s really no looking back.

The bottom dwellers:

The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read by Daniel R. Solin

The 7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Retig

The Americanization of Goans by Ladis da Silva

Actually, all of these books suck, so I won’t waste more time on them than is necessary. They all have great premises and are about really riveting subjects, but they are poorly executed in my opinion. So, read them if you must, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

I look forward to a 2017 without a goodreads challenge, but still with a lengthy reading list…

I welcome your suggestions. Leave ‘em in the comments.

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (49)

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Welcome to the 49th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

Let’s throw it on back to one of my favorite soup songs from India. I have no idea what ever happened to this guy, but even though its a sad song about a boy not getting the girl he wants it gets me bopping. And I hope it does the same for you. Have at it – all day long!

Modest Fashion for the Soul

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Muslimah on We Heart It

This is officially the first year that I haven’t been able to fast for the month of Ramadan and it’s been a hard learned lesson in both humility and faith. In being denied participation in the one genuine act of Islamic practice that I’m committed to wholeheartedly, I found myself reminiscing about the days when it was much easier to be Muslim in this world. Easier because extremism wasn’t so pervasive, because stereotypes were less biting, and because – frankly – people couldn’t tell a Muslim from a Persian from a Sikh and, so, there was a certain peace in being able to be ignored by default. But now, things have changed, and not for the better for anyone. It feels scarier to be a Muslim now more than ever and I’m sure it also feels scarier to not be.

While everyone all over the world is worried about terrorists in Orlando and in Dhaka and in Istanbul there are other movements coming from the Islamic world’s women that should be taken just as seriously. The #modestfashion movement is something I stumbled on while trying to get my Ramadanian dose of Muslimah love via the internet. And love I found…

When most people think of Muslim women, they think of hijabs (head scarf) and burqa/burkahs (and I won’t even start on a niqab). The debate around these two articles of clothing seem to be the majority of what you might find on Muslim women – period. But, Islam is the world’s second largest religion and is estimated to have about 1.7 billion believers. Trust me, they don’t all dress the same, much less share the same beliefs about religion or religiouswear. As #blackandMuslim will tell you, most people have stereotypes in their heads of Muslims that subscribe to the belief that all Muslims look like they are Arabs or Middle Easterners. But actually Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population and there are even videos about the growing population in places like Chiapas, Mexico. Needless to say, there are variations in faith, practice, and aesthetic.

Most people believe that Muslim women are wearing the equivalent of a brown paper bag. There are no curves, there is very little femininity in the idea of a burqa/burkah. Yet, there are many brands that are bringing color and joy to clothing that bears less skin. For women who actually observe covering, there are subtle differences in how much hair is shown, how much ankle is shown, how much of the face is seen that can typically help you identify which country she might hail from. Many, like me, don’t cover at all. In any case, there’s a whole body of fashion that goes forgotten, like abayas and fabulous shoes, that are both standard fare and fashion statement. Rather than debate about how much of a woman’s body is shown as an indication of her liberties or lack there of, there are many women who are owning the decision to wear what they choose and owning the choice to wear more.

Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Atheists and a variation of women all over the world, of various religious and ethnic backgrounds, have been uniting around the idea of being covered. There’s something appealing about gravitating away from the fatshaming  that’s so common in the London Tube and all around us, and embracing our capacity to be beautiful, mysterious, appealing, and amazing with a less (skin) is more aesthetic to match our attitude. Rather than continue to sing the praises of a movement you may not have seen, I’ll show you what it looks like and maybe, you too, will find a reason to get on board with embracing the freedom of femme that comes with bearing less skin. All of you with maxi dresses in your closets are halfway there already…

The (hijabi) American fencer, Ibtihaj Muhammad, is perhaps the most prominent example in the U.S. at the moment (woo hoo and she’s from the great state of New Jersey!) through her brand LouElla , which focuses on being covered AND fashionable. The idea is that you don’t have to be Muslim to enjoy not showing every inch of skin you own… Not that there’s a problem with showing all that skin… but hey, it’s not everybody’s thing.

For more ideas: London just had a Modest Fashion Show in Feb & so did Istanbul. The fabrics, the textures, man… I’m having a #fashiongasm over here. And if hijabs aren’t your thing, imagine yourself in the rest of the outfit. Use a lil’ imagination people!

 

 

 

…a freewriting on fieldwork and Black Britain’s inspiration…

What was supposed to be a week spent reading and writing about the Indian Diaspora somehow became one consumed with fascinating books about Blacks in England. Oddly enough, my curiosity brought me to three books in the library that I devoured with speed and interest. All short texts, Roy Kerridge’s The Story of Black History, Phil Cohen and Carl Gardner’s It ain’t half racist, mum, and Tessa Hosking’s Black People in Britain 1650-1850, consumed my week with a whole new world of history, racism, quirky nostalgia and well earned pride.

It may seem odd that this combo of white advocacy and white criticism was entertained fully by my skeptic brain, but the excuses it provided to procrastinate and also to empathize shouldn’t be underestimated. Sifting through Kerridge’s thinly veiled superiority complex as both a historian and a bastion of knowledge on black authenticity, I learned about the SS Empire Windrush that brought many West Indians to England in 1948. And while pondering Melissa Harris-Perry’s most recent departure from MSNBC in response to their lack of support and undermining behaviors, I read Cohen and Gardner’s account of Alex Pascall’s experience with his radio show Black Londoners in the late 1970s and 1980s. I learned the names of Ignatius Sancho, Tom Molineaux, and Francis Barber from Hosking, and experienced a burst of reminders about white sympathizers like Granville Sharpe.

More important than names and dates, these texts resurrected Pan-African understandings that I have – for a long time – not explored. They also reminded me that while so many people draw inspiration from African-American images, they know very little of African-American realities and instead cling to stereotypes at both extremes of the socio-economic spectrum. These texts mentioned the many African-American British loyalists who found themselves in England at the end of war for independence, only to be treated as unwelcomed hangers on. They made mention of the Sierra Leonians and the diversities of experience and histories between those returned from the Americas and the natives who took them in as neighbors *unclear if done so willingly*. All told, one thing all these British texts had in common was a reminder that Black British history wasn’t African-American history. In fact, Kerridge makes it a point to remind people that African-American history, no matter how Nubianized, has become revisionist history for Blacks all over the world – something he deems wrong and historically inaccurate.

What do I take from this? Probably not what you’d expect. I take the pride in being of the ancestry of slaves and deep pride that that history has been exported, invented, reinvented, spread and mimicked around the world and infused into daily actions of people who barely know our names. I take great pride in realizing that while we may be greatly misunderstood, domestically and internationally, we are ever present. In British history books our presence is to be countered. On the mainstage of MSNBC our presence is to be critiqued. And somehow, being present is an act of militancy.

I suppose this take away speaks more about where I am in life, than what these authors expected their readers to absorb. As an African-American who is often asked about my expat lifestyle, about my identity now that I am married to an African, about how African I feel, I have struggled to find responses that I am not later ashamed of. They could have been better worded. They could have paid homage to multiple realities. They could have been more open, more closed, more accurate, more imaginative, more or less…entertaining. I have to ask, am I making a Diaspora of my own in my travels? Is that question, in itself, self-serving or trivial?

I’m pondering greatly what my presence means. Whether or not being an expat makes me a migrant, an immigrant, an interloper or an interpreter. Being present has been a privilege, but it hasn’t been without responsibilities. Living while Black isn’t easy anywhere, but living while Black in Africa, representing a politics of the West, studying a people of the East and eeking out, dangerously, some semblance of normalcy in the short 24 hours I’m given daily – feels militant. It feels defiant. It feels counter to expectation, counter to understanding and, for me, just surreal.

People have asked me to start talking about my experience more – as a traveler, as an academic, as a professional. To be the story has always been my goal, but never my lived reality. To do so would be to be exposed. To do so would be to show vulnerabilities in a veneer of strength, to expose a brain behind the face of so many transposed expectations, to give words to deliberate, self-preserving, silences. Silent presence helps to hide self-consciousness and inarticulate descriptions of what it means to be me, today, in this world of worlds, in these spheres of power and in the banal spaces of daily life.

So what started out as a week of reading about a series of others has been a very critical site of academic and personal metamorphosis. It’s the moment when I learned to write my presence, not just in the stories about me, but in the stories that have come my way by virtue of my presence – in the workplace, in the interviews, in the academic spaces that I transit.

In the coming year, I hope to be less preachy and more exposed. I hope to share my field notes here – explaining diversions that make no sense to me – and expressing feelings that Psychology Today may say have no name. What all these three writers have given me  this week is a history that demands a voice. It demands that trivial events are written, in the hopes that they will later become a history – a history of boring questions, fleeting moments, principal characters – as complex and confusing as the lived experience.

I hope to give you mine… and one day, may it become a history, so that those same voices who silence us daily won’t plain write us out forever.

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (20)

Welcome to the 20th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

This next tune is a reggae mashup from a band that hails from former home of New Delhi, the Reggae Rajahs and illibilly hitec from Berlin. I have to say, I think the animated video is is pretty cute… Hope this keeps you bopping all day long!