There was a dusting of snow last night, but it’s mostly melted away and I suspect this may be the last snow we see until the end of the year. It’s overcast now but the sun is supposed to come out this afternoon, so I’m planning to take a long walk once I finish this post. But for now I’ve got a steaming cup of chai, a delicious Date Bar and a slice of homemade Date Loaf... yum!
My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, and it was a very interesting, very lively discussion. Harris’ debut novel focuses on twenty-six-year-old Nella Rogers, an editorial assistant at Wagner Books in Manhattan. She is the only black employee in the office and feels strongly that Wagner Books, and the publishing industry in general, needs to become more diverse. She’s an active member of the Diversity Town Hall Committee, although since attendance is no longer mandatory, she’s often the only person who shows up at the meetings. Her efforts to diversify seem to be ignored by management, which only adds to Nella’s frustrations at being overlooked for promotion after two years of dedicated employment. So she is thrilled when Hazel-Mae McCall is hired as an editorial assistant, sure that she will finally have an ally in the all-white office. Nella grew up in a middle-class family where she and her mother straightened their hair for years, and Nella worries about not being “black” enough, but Hazel is Black with a capital “B”, having grown up in Harlem, and she has always had “natural” hair. Nella offers to help Hazel settle in and takes her under her wing, and at first, Hazel seems to appreciate this, but slowly, insidiously, Hazel begins to undermine Nella while at the same time appearing to encourage their solidarity as sisters, and Nella is left wondering what to believe. Nella has been inspired by a book she read as a teenager by a black author and the editor who helped make it a bestseller, but this editor, Kendra Rae, disappeared shortly after the book’s publication and has been missing for decades. Harris weaves these two stories together as chapters shift in time from 1983 to 2018 and are told from various characters’ points of view, and the tension builds until the propulsively riveting ending. I had no idea what to expect from this novel, but it was heavily promoted in all the e-newsletters I get and it was on all kinds of book club lists, so I added it to our list, too, and I have to say that it was one of the best discussions we’ve had. We all had similar responses to this novel. We found it confusing and difficult to follow, but felt that it was a good book and we were all glad we read it. We thought that it exposed us to what it would be like to be a black girl trying to live in a white world. The book offered a lot of information about black culture and black thinking. We also learned a lot about black hair care - hair was VERY important in this novel. We talked about code-switching, something I’d never heard of before, but which was also a significant component of the plot. We talked about so much more, but I can’t tell you anything else because I don’t want to spoil the ending. I’ll just say that, although it starts off slowly and is quite frustratingly confusing for the first half of the novel, the story really takes off in the second half and I guarantee it will have you turning pages and staying up late just to find out how it all comes together.
That’s all for today. Happy Reading!!