Shannon’s Reading List: You Got Anything Stronger?; Luster; The Other Black Girl

You Got Anything Stronger? by Gabrielle Union

You Got Anything Stronger by Gabrielle Union
You Got Anything Stronger by Gabrielle Union

I loved Gabrielle Union’s previous book We’re Going to Need More Wine so the September pre-order for You Got Anything Stronger? was a no-brainer. 

I read her latest collection of essays over four days in the lingering warm sun of early October. With her trademark raw wit, Union explores societal biases and injustices.

In “The Audacity of Aging (with Hope)” she examines the bias against women who are older than their romantic partners. She would know:

“Check any recent magazine article about ‘Older Women, Younger Men’—we are usually the stand-by Black celeb couple.”

She focuses on the idea that when a couple breaks up, sympathy that would normally be afforded the injured or ‘dumped’ party is waived in the case of an older woman. Because she really should have known it wasn’t going to last. This attitude is unfair and unkind, Union asserts: 

“Nobody has some punishment coming simply for falling in love with another adult… I reject this idea that the younger person isn’t accountable for their actions because the older woman is expected to be Miss or Mrs. Congeniality.”

—Gabrielle Union

Thanks to the essay “Escape from King’s Landing,” I’ve officially crossed Croatia off my future list of countries to visit before I die. Can’t hit up all the countries. Just the justification I needed to weed this European one out.

Get there, I thought. It’s safe there. My best friend Larry was behind me, still gripping the beer bottle he had broken to use against the neo-Nazis chasing us. He was the only one of my friends not crying.”

From You Got Anything Stronger? by Gabrielle Union

It’s a hell of an opener. A wild and depressing reminder that American style anti-Blackness has migrated across the globe.

Don’t you worry, though. Union’s book is not all traumatic events and social justice treatises. “Thanksgiving” is a hilarious recount of a family get together that ends with hella hijinks, all because of a freezer full of limoncello:

“We were all on Ten immediately. Like the alcohol gods had snapped their fingers on Mount Olympus and said ‘Let’s watch them get really f***ed up.’”

From You Got Anything Stronger? by Gabrielle Union

Luster by Raven Leilani

Luster by Raven Leilani

I read Luster because a review said it was hot and also it was on Obama’s 2020 fave books list.

My online copy is full of highlights of passages that made me pause and marvel with rueful recognition. In the following one-two punch, the main character has just had an accident involving her bike and the cheesecake she was delivering to a customer. Then she gets a text from her beau requesting a p-pic: 

“As I watch my roommate leave, the idea that I have a p***y seems preposterous.… I rinse the cheesecake from my hair and get back out on my route, where the men who line the street remind me that technically yes, I do have a p***y, and that I will live with the terror of protecting it for the rest of my life.”

from Luster by Raven Leilani

Beautiful writing, evocative journey. In the vein of fiction that leans literary, the story is not so much about character development as it is about how the protagonist views the world and her plight. 

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

 I read The Other Black Girl during the height of its publication back in June. It gave me flashbacks to working in an office. Can’t even go to the kitchen to get a desperately needed cup of coffee without being waylaid by interrupters and saboteurs. It all seems benign and unintentional, or is it?

“Nella offered up one more laudatory phrase regarding the mug and, as Hazel turned to doctor her tea, a brief goodbye. She needed every second of the remaining three minutes to prepare for her phone call. 

She’d started to make a subtle run for it when she heard Hazel say something else.

Nella paused mid-step, considering her options. She was far enough away to pretend that she hadn’t heard Hazel speak. But she had.”

from The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

All I can say about this book without giving too much away is that it is a damning indictment of how the effects of racial oppression and microaggressions are pernicious, pervasive, and inescapable.

What stand out books did you read in 2021?


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