A close friend of mine said they read books because books "made him feel less lonely in the world." The sentiment resonated. Books also make me feel less lonely in the world--and it's because they give me the language that brings me closer to people. With this book club, I try to pick books that not only gives people the language they didn't know they were looking for to help them understand themselves and others. I try to pick books that give people a sense that the time taken to read them is worth it. The conversation that took place last month about Olivia Laing's The Lonely City (Picador) was one that showed me how communal it is to talk about loneliness. If "speaking," as Laing wrote, "is almost as terrifying as being ignored;" being in a room where you're listened to allays the terror of being ignored. The world opens up when we allow ourselves to listen. When we make ourselves vulnerable to what it has to say. That work is never easy, but it's necessary. The path towards freedom is not one of least resistance, but it's the most vindicating. And every month is a step in the right direction. We lit!!!
As I'm always trying to pick books that will be of value to the people who read them, I chose Olivia Laing's The Lonely City because Laing writes and thinks about loneliness in a very empathetic and sincere way. "You can be lonely anywhere," Laing writes in the book's opening pages, "but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city surrounded by millions of people. . . and yet mere physical proximity is not enough to dispel a sense of internal isolation." This political climate—with its rhetorical violence and vitriol—has done a lot to exacerbate those feelings of loneliness. While it's relatively easy to allow ourselves to fold in on ourselves when we're enveloped by intense fear, it's important to understand that a life lived in fear is its own suicide note. "Your suffering does not isolate you," James Baldwin said to Nikki Giovanni in a conversation once, "your suffering is your bridge." Our suffering, like our fears, must be used as bridges if we're to ever see that we're never as alone in this world as we think. For those newly coming into the fold of what I do regarding Literaryswag Book Club Picks: every month I buy ten (10) copies of the title we'll be reading for the month and including them (FOR FREE) with the first ten (10) orders of Literaryswag Enamel Pins. It's my way of helping people say money while also adding some swaggy titles to their libraries. This month, the dope people over at Picador helped the young god out and sent over 10 copies of Olivia Laing's The Lonely City, for the culture. So if you want to save some funds and come up on some swag at the same damn time, hit the link in the bio and do the damn thing!
There's no better book I can think of starting 2017, and continuing the revolution, with than the best book of 2016. Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing is a novel that elucidates what's so unnerving about time. Time is not just something we move through; it moves through us. More than the measure of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years, time is a matter of what's done with it. Gyasi's way of depicting this is by following the lineages of two half sisters, Effia and Esi, born into different villages in Ghana. While Effia is married to an Englishman, her lineage remaining in Ghana; Esi is sold into slavery, where her descendants grow up in America. Each chapter alternates between the descendants of the sisters, taking us deeper into parallel circumstances unbeknwonst to the characters who are grappling with what it means to be a consequence of a history they are trying to make sense of. Gyasi bestows each character with their own inscrutable dignity by writing into each of them the conundrum of the human condition. Whatever the circumstances, none of us have asked to be here. Fewer of us decide how we go. Yet here we are, living life the best way we know how. The tragedy of this book is seeing how "better" and "best" is contingent upon one's time, one's family, and one's own history. Understanding what life has given us requires us to live. Gyasi's gift to her characters and to this book is remaining true to the private lives of people who were believed to not be in possession of them. What else makes us family with one another besides knowing that which few other people do? If life is a bitch, and time a motherfucker, Homegoing is the family heirloom that lets us know we're all related. We'll be meeting to discuss Gyasi's Homegoing at The Brooklyn Circus, Thursday, January 26th, 7pm at 150 Nevins St. The Book Club is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC! Come Through!!!
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but allow me to add a few more. Earlier this month I received an email from NBC, notifying me that, for everything I'd been doing to help make reading lit (pun partially intended), I was to be featured as part of NBCBLK28, their annual list of "young, gifted and Black futurists redefining what it means to be Black in America today through their work and accomplishments." They came to the crib, chopped it up, shot the #literaryswaglibrary, but they also wanted to get footage of the Book Club. While I was down with the idea, I was also a bit nervous about the presence of the camera making people feel like they couldn't be themselves. Something that would undermine the very reason for why the club exists. So when I sent out the newsletter, letting people know that NBC was pulling up, I was low key worried people weren't going to. We speak of faith as the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things unseen. Seldom do we speak of faith as a muscle that, like all muscles, only gets stronger with exercise. And what is exercise besides a commitment to the practice of work? This is why it'll forever be hard to practice faith. Part of any job is believing the work can be done. But you still have to do it. May not always be your best, or even good, but it's the belief that the work is worth it what makes you commit. Not the result. The work itself. It's a mistake to believe I'm the only one who's working though. Without knowing what's going to happen, who's going to be there, or what someone's going to say, people still come through, often by themselves, every month. So while we can say faith is the evidence of things unseen, faith is also its own proof that the belief in a vision is worth it, if you're willing to do the work. We were deep on Thursday. Not only in number but in thought. We lit!!!
A year in review: Here are the picks of this year's 2016 Literaryswag Book Club Meetings. There's only 11 books because we started in February. If books are their own worlds, the book club was the sun for which these books revolved around. Ideas, insights and revelations were in constant orbit. Thank you to the writers who penned these books. The editors, publishers, publicists, agents, and whoever else produced these books. The critics who galvanized these books. The cultural institutions who championed these books. The booksellers who sold them. And the biggest thank you to us: the readers. We are the home books live in; and the vehicle books move through. Let us continue the revolution!!!
2016's last meeting of The Literaryswag Book Club was everything, more than that, and then some. A smaller group meant a deeper dive into Clint Smith's Counting Descent. We each read our favorite poems from the collection. Talked about the nuances of excellence. That as long as excellence is defined by anyone else besides the person aspiring for it, it's not excellence. Least not yours. One of the newest members, Lonnie (back right), found out about the book club after reading the 30 Under 30 article in Brooklyn Magazine, came through and even participated in our White Elephant gift exchange. One of the best publicists in the literary game, Dawn Michelle-Hardy, came through and blessed the whole club with a bunch of books for the team. And I will never be able to thank The Brooklyn Circus enough for providing a reliable space to be lit. This has been an excellent year. For us. See you next year!!!
Considering that this is last book of the year, that we'll be meeting next week Thursday, and that we've yet to read a poetry collection, I figured we kill three birds with one book: Clint Smith's Counting Descent. It's 70 pages of the fiercest language afforded to what it means inherit a history, identity and body you're expected to be responsible for even when you don't fully know what that responsibiity means: "I still have a habit of trying to make up/for things I can't understand/by removing all of the evidence." My difficulty with a lot poetry had always been informed by this nagging suspicion that what I was reading wasn't rooted in anything real. I'm talking less rooted than a vase covered bamboo plant. You see the words, but they don't mean anything. Or they mean "whatever you want them to," which is I've always taken to mean that even the poet don't fucking know. Counting Descent is a book whose words run deep with meaning. And I have no one to thank but @dream_girl_14who gave me this book, a shovel, and told me to start digging. So make sure you're at The Brooklyn Circus, next Thursday, December 22nd, at 7pm, 150 Nevins St., for the last lituation of the year! Also, all those who plan to come to next week's book club meeting: please bring a book that you'd want someone to read. It can be old. It can be new. Just so long as it came from the heart, and it's wrapped (very important!) it's all good.At the end of the book club meeting, we're going to play a game called "White Elephant." Because I was only recently introduced to the concept and barely understand it myself, I'm not gonna make myself look stupid trying to explain here. Just come through to the club with a gift-wrapped book and we'll take it from there. See you next Thursday!
The more book club meetings there are, the more I'm learning to divorce myself from the concept of "tough love." Using tough as a modifier for the word love insinuates that love, itself, is easy. That anyone can do it. And anyone can. But there's a reason why many of us aren't about that life. Most of us knew James Baldwin was the best to ever do it, one of the nicest with the typewriter. But spending two hours only discussing the ways in which water is wet wouldn't have been wavy. To read Baldwin in this way also would've been irresponsible to his legacy. Not just as a writer; a human being. He spent so much of his time and energy and ink trying to convince white people of his humanity, so much energy and ink and anger defending his manhood, there were times when you weren't sure if the things he was saying were for others, or reminders for himself. Though it may not feel like it in the moment, sincere critique is an act of love. An act that removes the masks we fear cannot live without but also know we cannot live within. Last Thursday was spent removing Baldwin's mask, while also interrogating why he felt it necessary to don in the first place. To do this, we had to remove our own masks; explain why we felt it necessary to wear them and for who. Were we being our full selves, or were we each our own divided houses, barely standing? It was one of those conversations you don't expect to have with people you hardly know, because you barely have them with the people you do --and yet, you're appreciative for the opportunity. It's never easy; but always necessary. For that reason I am forever and always removing the term "tough love" from my vocabulary. Love is tough by design--and for good reason: by virtue of its difficulty, it lets you know when it's real. Also, that it's worth it. This book club is both and I couldn't be more appreciative for the opportunity. Thank y'all!
There are many of you, in the book club and beyond, who probably want my head for taking so long with this month's pick. I understand. Besides the fact that my job as a Content and Social Media Director at MakersFinders demands a great deal of time, picking a book that compliments the many subtleties and nuances of our conversations aren't getting easier. Every month the bar is being raised, which is why I felt it's time for the literary god, James Baldwin.
Instead of reaching for a book that captures Baldwin when the world was beginning to love him (or at least his writing—Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time), I wanted to pick a book of essays that documents what happens when the love faltered: "The general reaction to famous people who hold difficult opinions," Baldwin writes in the opening pages, "is that they can't really mean it." It's a sentiment echoed throughout the book. You either die a hero or live long enough to watch yourself become the villain, and since Baldwin was surviving that which many of his contemporaries weren't—Malcolm, JFK, RFK, Edgars, King, The Panthers—he was now being examined, and had to examine himself in ways he hadn't accounted for. This is a book you'll want to read and a conversation you won't want to miss.
Usually we do the last Thursday of every month, but because of the holiday, we will meet the first Thursday of December, 12/1, 7pm at The Brooklyn Circus. As always, it's opened to the public. As always, Martinelli's will be served. And if you buy a pin now, you'll get a free copy of this month's book club pick! Two birds one stone.
I've also added a link to those who may just want the book, for the low.
In last month's discussion on Random Family we discussed how poverty wasn't a circumstance but a condition. More than the physical representation of where you lived, went to school, how much money was in your bank account and who you knew. Poverty is about the way you understand and internalize your own self worth. Many of the characters in the book were trapped in many ways by poverty. They tried to escape in the ways they could but no one knew the way out. This doesn't mean poverty can't be escaped, it just means there needs to be a deeper interrogation of what it means to be poor in the wealthiest nation in the world. There are many valuable lessons poverty teaches you—humility, the importance of family, sticking by your word (cause that's all any of us had). All these lessons came with a price—so the question for many of us, who grew up poor, became which of those experiences are valuable enough to keep, and which ones do you leave behind? It's the conundrum of moving on, which is why I felt that Margo Jefferson's NBCC award-winning memoir Negroland would be a great pick for this month's Literaryswag Book Club.
Even though Jefferson is a product of the black middle class, you get to see how the fear of failure creates for her and her family the unfair pressure to succeed and be a "credit to the race" at all costs. This pressure ironically also locks them in an impoverished condition akin to the characters in Random Family. In what ways? You'll have to attend the next book club to find out. Our next meeting takes place Thursday, October 27th at 7pm at The Brooklyn Circus (150 Nevins St., Brooklyn, NY). Be there!
Also, the first 10 people to buy a Literaryswag Enamel Pin get a free copy of this book along with their purchase!!!
And if you just want to buy the book, and not spend a lot of money, I got you. Below are two links. One for affordable paperbacks. Another for affordable hardcovers. See you on the 27th!
One of the first questions I remember being asked about this book club when it was still an idea was, "Who are you gonna get to come?" The more it was asked the more I realized what the real question was: "Why should I come?" On more than enough occasions it had been suggested that I get a high profile writer to attend. "A lot more people would come if they knew someone else they cared about was coming," I was told. Keeping it 100: those are the people I could care less about. Someone who was only gonna come because they heard someone else was gonna be there wasn't gonna be there for the right reasons—and I much rather have 5 people who were there because THEY wanted to be there than 500 people being there taking up space because they heard so-and-so might show. A lot's been done to get us into a mindset where we feel we're not enough. That we need a reason outside of ourselves to do the things we want to do. So we namedrop celebrities and big name brands not necessarily because we care about them. We just want people to care about us.
Care is an inside job—and it's the reason why I worked overtime making sure there was always a space every month for people to take time and realize that something is dope because they're there. No one else. In the last twelve months we've had meetings in everywhere from the Trap (Strand Bookstore) to Eva's Supplements on 11th Ave but I knew as long as I kept the club alive, it would eventually find a place to live. That's what happened Thursday when the big homie Ouigi announced at the 1 Year Anniversary that The Brooklyn Circus could be the home for The Literaryswag Book Club!!! Of course I accepted. You no longer have to worry about where the next book club will be, because we have a home. So this toast is not only an acknowledgement of everything it took to get here; it's a celebration, recognizing that it was all worth it. Every movement needs a home. We found ours—and it's lit!
I could talk about how the Park’s Department played me out with the event permit. I could talk about how I checked the Yahoo weather app the whole week hoping it wouldn’t rain even though it showed thunderstorms. I could talk about how there was more money spent than raised or budgeted for. I could talk about the intense panic I felt the morning of when I saw that there was a whole event going on in the spot we were going to use; about the fear that someone was going to shut the event down before it started. Or worse: while it was in full swing. I could talk about the food being late; about how I spent more time in a Fly Cleaner’s van than at the actual BBQ; and about how I missed the cameos of some of my closest friends.
And even though I finessed a rhetorical structure which allows me to talk about these things anyway, entertaining those things would detract from the fact that, even without an event and sound permit, yesterday was the very definition of a lituation. No one ever hated and tried to call the boys on us. The weather app may have forecasted rain but we never got a single drop. Even got some sunshine. Because of the event on the other side, we actually got to be on the nicer side of the park—and when their event ended, they actually blessed us with their extra snacks and waters. Although the food was late, everyone enjoyed it when it came. We got to feed the families who were in the park. And some homeless heads too. Me not being there for most of the event did little from keeping the event from running smoothly. The team held it down. They were the real MVPs. I was able to present this year's winner of the 2016 Literaryswag Competition, Christina Santi with her check and book of choice in style. I was able to get the extra fancy plastic wine cups, and a few cases of the Nelli's to pour everyone up to celebrate her and us. Mike got to do his interpretation of "Blue Steel." I couldn't write a better yesterday than the one that exists and I wouldn't want to. Give God the glory, I'll settle for this bottle of Nelli's.
In the past few weeks I've learned a lot about managing expectations, remembering where and what I came from, and most of all trusting in God. When I first set out to do this BBQ, the original idea had been simple. Something chill and lowkey for people to pull up to, get a plate, chop it up and celebrate the winners of the Literaryswag Competition. Then, as I am one to do, I started to go overboard with shit: "There needs to be bouncy houses, and sumo wrestling suits, and inflatable Olympic courses and--" all this other shit that was besides the point and had nothing to do with the original vision. I forgot about what it meant to just pull up to the scene and make the best of what we had. We had a grill, a sufficient boom box, a cooler full of quarter water juices (remember those, the ones that looked like grenades?), a football, some double Dutch rope, a deck of cards, dominoes, or both, but mainly each other. The people made the BBQ. Sometimes all we had was $50 worth of food and we built as the day went on. Juice ran out? Send so-and-so up the block to grab some more. Need more hot dogs? Go catch the supermarket before it closes and bring me back my change. As y'all can see I'm getting a bit nostalgic but that's what the purpose of the BBQ was: to revisit the moments in our lives when things were relatively simple. With all my clicks and whistles I complicated shit--park permits, sound permits, $7,500, blah, blah, blah (wtf was I thinking?). But God works in mysterious ways because the way we used to do it then is the way we gonna do it now. We just gonna pull up, set up and have fun. And what's dope: the BBQ is right next to the Brooklyn Book Festival so you can cop you some books over there and then come through and grab you a plate. If you hungry, we feeding you. Simple as that. I've cut the budget to a way more realistic number ($2,500) and am already more than half way there ($1,750) so if you can put $5 on it cool. If you can't, cool too. We gonna make the best of whatever we got and send someone to the store for whatever we don't.
It's all about timing. Comedy. Life. Your swag. It's all about things coming together at the right moment; the right time. In our previous meeting at #literaryswagbookclub we spoke about the time it takes to get to know ourselves, and how many of us don't have the time because we're too "busy." A buzzword which CAN mean we don't have time but often means we don't want to take the time. To ask the questions that may not be answered that day, but because they've finally been posed, they can be grappled with. Our jobs don't afford this time. In a heartbreakingly ironic way, our schools don't either. If we're blessed, we have somewhere--a church, the barbershop, hair and nail salon--where we can take time, but in American life: we're terribly suspicious of time. Especially if we feel it's too much. I remember taking my first vacation from work. Waited one whole year to get a week off and instead of enjoying it, I obsessed over how much work I'd have to do when I got back 😒. That's not a way to live. Yet so many of us navigate this way. And we're proud of it. I started this book club a year ago to provide people with the space and time to do the work that we're usually to busy to do. It hasn't made me any money but it's worth it. Other people recognize the value which is why I'm able to write this post almost a year later. It's also why the big homie, Ouigi Theodore, of The Brooklyn Circus is allowing us to use his shop as the site for the 1 year anniversary of the Book Club 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾, where we'll be reading Adrian Nicole Leblanc's narrative non-fiction masterpiece, Random Family. Sometimes it takes seeing what not having time actually looks like to finally begin appreciating the time you actually do have. We meet Thursday, September 29th at 7pm at 150 Nevins St. in Brooklyn. If you need to purchase the book and don't have a lot of money, I got you. The links below take you to Amazon, where you can cop the book for a little less. Thank you all for supporting in the ways that you have. And if you find that you have a little time that day, please come spend it with us. It'll be worth it 💪🏾📚😎
This is the first of many Literaryswag Enamel Pins. This is the Literaryswag Enamel Pin 1. Most known as the Literaryswag Logo. Each pin comes numbered and signed, along with personalized packaging to ensure authenticity! Make sure to get yours! Keep it lit!
The Literaryswag Book Club is about picking the books that can offer language which will help bring clarity to the realities we live while also assisting us in articulating the things we want and haven't yet learned to say. I'm seeing that being able to talk through books with people who don't necessarily think like me is challenging me to think in nuanced ways. This made itself evident is last month's meeting when we talked about Claudia Rankine's Citizen. If you've read Citizen you know that most of the book is written in the second person. I'd initially taken this to be a statement about how racism estranges us from our bodies. That when black bodies encounter racism we are no longer a first person "I" but a second person "you." The beauty of having a conversation allows you to see the same masterpiece through a different pair of eyes. Through these eyes I realized that the second person is used to show who's really estranged from their body when a racist act is committed--and it's not black bodies so much as white ones. In every slight the book recollects, the person of color knows they're being slighted; knows they're not seen. The person who's unaware of the slights is "the other." Usually we think of the other as anyone who isn't white, but this book subverts that expectation. Racism isn't the fault of the injured body; it's the fault of the body doing the injuring. The assumption has always been that only bodies of color are the ones to blame for racism. This book along with the conversation last month suggests otherwise. So to continue the momentum of last month's convo I've decided to pick Paul Beatty's The Sellout for August. This book may be the best novel I've ever read, simply because there's a freedom in where it allows itself to go. Not to mention it's funny af. If Dave Chappelle wrote literary fiction, he would've written this. Really good comedy makes you think, so if you're down for good laughs, good convo, and a really good time, we meet Thurs, 8/25 @ Washington Sq. Park at 7pm. Come through.
Links to where you can get the book on the low, below:
As Literaryswag grows, we'll continue to grow with it. This year will mark the first Literaryswag BBQ!!! In addition to the BBQ serving as the culminating event of the Literaryswag Competition--the winners will be presented with their prizes there--the BBQ is a way to enjoy good food, good music and have some good fun before the summer ends. (We're still waiting for the park permit, but it will be in Brooklyn). To ensure this fun I started a gofundme for the BBQ. I'm looking to raise $7,500 to cover the food, music and everything else to make it a lituation. So help out if you can!
If you're unable to give money, I'd greatly appreciate your time and energy as I'll need all the help I can get making sure everyone has a good time. If you're interested in being a Literaryswag BBQ volunteer, click below.