Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cover turn offs (a.k.a. Read Platinum)

One of my least favorite things is seeing a display in bookstore that prominently displays “urban” fiction, when the kinds of stories by and about people I want to read are harder to find.

What I like to read are usually literary novels, mysteries and pop fiction. Unfortunately urban fiction has the reputation of being poorly written and edited. I can be a book snob and I am learning to tame that way of thinking a bit.

Really if someone wants to read something labeled “urban” that also may not be up to my standards, it’s none of my business. (Yes, I need to continue to repeat this).

What does bother me are the following:
Seeing books that don’t belong carelessly placed under an “urban” fiction display (ZNH’s novels do not belong there)
Covers art that trends toward “urban”

Covers on books make a difference. I have walked away from books based on the cover. This is not just about urban fiction. If I see a cover that indicates the book is just about finding a boyfriend or shopping, I often won’t even read the description. Often those covers are just too pink for me. A cover that evokes historic wars will usually be passed over as well – I don’t usually read military stories.

So when I saw Aliya S. King posting on Twitter about her disappointment in the cover for her next novel, I was intrigued. I haven’t been following her on Twitter very long, so I’m really just learning that she has a novel. (And if you write, go follow her - @aliyasking-, she gives great tips on writing via Twitter). Her first novel is titled “Platinum” and here’s the cover.

The cover for the sequel, Diamond Life, is here. The sequel focuses on four men. And there are no men on the cover. Kind of odd and misleading I think.

But based on these two covers, I probably wouldn’t have picked up her books in a bookstore. I am a big library user, so maybe I would pick it up at the library. If it was on display in the front where I couldn’t miss it.

However, King is very engaging on Twitter. She writes a lot of helpful and encouraging content for writers and artists. And after the cover discussion, I read about Platinum and it sounded interesting.

By the miracle that is the Kindle sample, I downloaded it to my iPhone and read it one night before bed. My phone is in airplane mode while I’m in Hong Kong, so I only download when I have access to WiFi. I was reading and really getting into the story and thinking, OMG why is Beth Saddlebrook living this way and wait, what? Is this other character, Kipenzi dead? What is going on?

That’s where the sample ended. And I was just through – stuck not able to download the novel. I knew I had to read it. Even though I had to wait until the next day to download it.

Platinum is a good read – it’s fun, based on characters in hip hop and the music industry. So much drama. But well written drama, not something that hasn’t been crafted or edited. It is what I would think of as an airplane or beach book – and I don’t mean that as a slight at all. It’s the fun book you read when you want to escape and tell your friend, “Girl! You have to read this book. You will not even believe this … “

And yeah, if that book had been on the “urban” fiction table, I never would have read it.

So I have some work to do to change my bias. But maybe the publisher could give us some covers that are a better match for the work.

When has a cover turned you away from a book that you later read and loved?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Love, Land, Legacy - If Sons, Then Heirs

Have you read any of Lorene Cary’s books? She’s the author of Black Ice, an important memoir about a Black woman coming of age and making it through prep school. She also wrote the wonderful The Price of a Child, a novel set during the American slavery era that is a powerful evocation of a mother’s love.

She has a new book, released in April, If Sons, Then Heirs. Before I read even a synopsis of the book I was hearing that it was amazing. We were so happy to be able to schedule her for #blacklitchat on Twitter.

The novel is about the Needham family and opens with Jewell Thompson, an estranged daughter, in Philadelphia. She is out of sorts after hearing from her son, Alonzo Rayne (known as Rayne to everyone, but Lonnie to her).

Rayne wrote to Jewell, hoping that he’d found the right woman – that is, the mother who abandoned him.

When you begin reading If Sons, Then Heirs (and you really should), you’ll notice right away that Cary’s writing is beautiful and her descriptions of even simple details elevate the story. For example, describing a building as “this shiny black cookie jar of a building.”

Without giving away too much detail, I will say that of all the very complicated and strained relationships in the story, Cary renders them beautifully. The love and respect between Lillie and Rayne; the memories Selma has of King; and the painful, but short history between Rayne and his mother, Jewell.

And the growing bond between Rayne and Khalil, his girlfriend’s son, is inspiring. You can feel how much their family of three wants the man and the boy to be father and son and how tricky and terrifying it is to state and live the connection. The possibility of heartbreak is so strong in the story – with Rayne and Khalil, and it echoes Rayne’s seven-year-old abandonment.

What’s also wonderful in this book is the use of history, land ownership and the impact of family separation and northern migration to drive the story. It’s a great story that relies on research but doesn’t get bogged down in it.

During our chat, Lorene Cary mentioned that someone had said that the American story (or American novel?) has driving as a theme. And that is certainly a theme in If Sons, Then Heirs. Rayne and Khalil go on a road trip and the trip, the time they spend down South changes their lives and the entire family.

There is so much more I could say about this rich story. Well worth reading and sharing.

(By the way, I purchased my copy of this book. I did not receive a review copy. I need to start making that clear in my posts).