The 10 Best Books I Read in 2020

1. THE NICKEL BOYS – Colson Whitehead

I have to start by saying I am the ultimate Colson Whitehead fanboy. I have read everything he has written; most of them more than once.  While The John Henry Days is my favorite Whitehead book. The Nickel Boys is definitely in my Top 5 Whitehead books. Writing something fictional about Nickel was pretty amazing. It didn’t have the mystical moments of The Underground Railroad. There is a scene of a boxing match that made me think of the battle royale in Ellison’s Invisible Man.


2. THEMES AND VARIATIONS – David Sedaris

I am not one to read a book and laugh out loud. Somehow, David Sedaris does it to me every time. The book is the shortest book I read in 2020,  but I could not stop laughing.



3. INVISIBLE MAN – Ralph Ellison 

Ellison wrote this book in the ’50s. It is sad, stunning, and soberingly reminds me not a lot has changed since almost seventy years later. One of my favorite parts is Ellison’s homage to Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground which transitions into his battle royale scene.

4. THOSE WHO RIDE THE NIGHT WINDS – Nikki Giovanni

If you haven’t read Nikki Giovanni, I feel sorry for you. Her poetry is heartsy, spiritual, and sensual. Reading her poetry is like listening to a Jill Scott song. Nikki is the Jill Scott of poetry or Jill Scott may be the Nikki Giovanni of Neo-Soul.

 


5. OTHER PEOPLE’S TRADES – Primo Levi

This was one of my favorite books of the year. Levi writes beautiful prose and you can tell from his observations, he sees the world in a deeply insightful way.

Our future is not written; it is not certain: we awakened from a long sleep, and we have seen that the human condition is incompatible with certainty.

6. SALINGER – Shane Salerno

This starts with a confession….I have never read A Catcher in the Rye. Salinger is one of the most intriguing Americans of the 20th century. He was part of the New York elite. He saw some of the worst parts of World War II.  He wrote one of the most amazing novels of the 20th century. Then he became an eccentric recluse who had a thing for very young women.

The format of the book is probably as interesting as the subject.

7. THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYCH AND OTHER STORIES – Leo Tolstoy

The novella about the death of Ivan Ilych is an amazing work about a man who has an accident and slowly dies. Tolstoy has such a mastery of the inner dialogue of man. He writes the inner workings of a man like no other.

There remained only those rare periods of amorousness which still came to them at times but did not last long. There were inlets at which they anchored for a while and then again set out upon that ocean of veiled hostility which showed itself in their aloofness from one another.


8. THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD – John LeCARRE

I decided to read the John LeCarre spy novels in chronological order in 2020. My kids were binge-watching Marvel and Star Wars in chronological order, and I decided to binge-read. I read the first four books: Call for the Dead, A Murder of Quality, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and The Looking Glass War. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is by far the best I read. It has the most action by far.

9. AFRICAN FOLKTALES – A. Kwada

A brilliant collection of folktales from all over the continent. The folktales are very entertaining and have some deep wisdom. I found my favorite stories were the origin stories of different animals or ways of the world.


10. THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES  – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I don’t know if I can say enough about The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. They are brilliant and Holmes is the character that is the base for so many other fictional characters moving forward. 

One of my favorite stories actually involves the Ku Klux Klan.

10 Thoughts For the Week of September 13, 2020

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1. 9/11

After 19 years, it is pretty amazing how 9/11 feels as fresh as yesterday. I still remember when I first heard about the planes hitting the tower. I remember going to work and being sent home. It was confusing and slowly developing for someone living in California. I guess that is what they mean when they say “We Will Never Forget”.

2. MILWAUKEE BUCKS

For the second year in a row, the Bucks have had the best record, the best defense, and the best player in the league. For the second year in a row, they didn’t get to the NBA Finals. The Miami Heat played inspired basketball and Giannis got hurt. Outside of Game 4, it didn’t appear the Bucks had the next gear that championship teams have to make it to the next level.

When I look at comparisons, I think of Jordan’s Bulls and Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers. They were both teams that had spent two or three years to get over the hump.

3. DANUEL HOUSE

When I heard about Danuel House being expelled from the NBA Bubble because he was entertaining one of the on-site testers, I thought of the Morris Day song “Gigolos Get Lonely Too”. The players were in the bubble for two and a half months and I guess it was too much for House; or was it love at first sight?

4. LAKERS ARE BACK IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

Due to Danuel House’s indiscretions, the Lakers destroyed the Rockets en route to the Western Conference Finals. This is the first time the Lakers have been in the playoffs since Kobe hobbled off with an Achilles injury. I would like to think of them as the favorites but their play has not inspired me they will steamroll the rest of the competition. Truth be told, they are a Dame Lillard injury and a Danuel House expulsion from being in two tough playoff series.

5. R.I.P. TOOTS HIBBERT

The music world lost a legend this week when Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals passed away. Their music was so joyful and Pressure Drop is a classic.

6. BLACK REPUBLICANS

This week, I listened to an interesting podcast about Black Republicans. It was a great conversation about the movement of African Americans from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in the last half of the twentieth century. 

What I found most interesting is that as a people African Americans are conservative. They have conservative views, but they have zero tolerance for racism.

7. A COMPETENT PRESIDENT

Last week, I mentioned the challenging opinions of how many people in the United States would have died of COVID. Well German Lopez, of Vox, claims if the US had the same response to COVD that Canada did, 100,000 would still be alive.

8. THE NFL IS BACK

The NFL is back at a time that does not feel as strange as baseball and basketball. After watching the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday, I think they are the favorites by a lot. Tom Brady lost his first game as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Bill Belichick looked like he didn’t miss Tom Brady. It’s only Week 1.

9. DOG MAN

Dog Man is a family favorite at my house. The latest installment of the Dog Man saga Dog Man: Grime & Punishment has been the best selling book in North America for the last three weeks.

10. SOCIAL MEDIA & POLITICS

A recent poll from the Pew Research Center asked Americans their opinions about social media platforms’ ability for raising awareness was very surprising to me.

10 Thoughts on George Floyd

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  1. Rodney King — This is where it all begins for me. It always goes back there for me.
  2. Ahmad Aubrey — The spark of the latest fire. A jogger is harassed and shot. The video released two months after the fact. I can still see Ahmad trying to run away and collapsing to the ground.
  3. Breonna Taylor — In the past a number of people have died resisting or fleeing from arrest. The death of Breonna Taylor was an example of pure incompetence. The officers who killed her were trying to serve a warrant on the wrong address. The address had actually been canceled earlier in the day.
  4. George Floyd — Another name that I should not know. I am disgusted I know his name the same way I know the Kardashians. I know George Floyd because he died needlessly. I know the Kardashians because they are famous for being famous…I guess.
  5. 8:46 — Eight minutes and forty-six seconds was the amount of time Derrek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck. I listened to the audiobook for Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book, Gladwell interviews the officers who tortured Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of 911. The torture exercises were timed and extended for the terrorist. The time is there to make sure they torture but do not kill the party. It seems there should be a time limit for kneeling on someone’s neck to make sure you apprehend them but not kill them.
  6. Mama — George Floyd called for his mama while all of this was happening. That indignity angers me more than I can put words to at this time.
  7. Protests — I have watched and taken part in protests in the last couple of weeks. The diversity of the protesters has surprised me in a good way. My inner cynic wants to know where all the “woke” people will be in six months. At first, I was creeped out when I see white people chant “Black Lives Matter”. Then I started thinking that if racism is taught, anti-racism needs to be taught as well.
  8. Trump and His Bible — DISGRACEFUL!!! What was that photo-op supposed to achieve? What was the message supposed to be?”I use violence so I can show the new media I am all about peace”? I am amazed at how many people can’t see through this garbage.
  9. Candace Owens — I appreciate Candace Owens making sure the whole world knew that George Floyd had a criminal record. I guess that makes it ok for what happened. Did he deserve to die? She is up there with the Kardashians for me.
  10. Rashard Brooks — Another name I should not know. He fell asleep in a Wendy’s drive-thru. Then he was shot in the back by a cop. He did struggle and he did run away. Is falling asleep in a Wendy’s drive-thru the type of crime that puts the whole city in danger? If he got away, couldn’t you arrest him later?

10 THOUGHTS ON TIGER WOODS WINNING THE 2019 MASTERS

  1. Caddyshack – When I was in high school, I worked as a caddy at a private golf club. A majority of the caddies were African-American kids trying to make some pocket change. The club had zero African-American members. The members were nice, but we were always treated like the “help”. Working there I never imagined a golf player like Eldredge Tiger Woods.
  2. Poetic Justice – Tiger won his first Masters at age 22. He then dominated golf for the next nine years. This old caddie felt like justice was served.
  3. The Heavyweight Champion of the World – I see a lot of similarities between Tiger and Jack Johnson. They were two black men who dominated what was a white man’s sport with a swagger that enthralled and angered the masses. Both men were taken down by their sexual indiscretions. You can also include Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson in that narrative.
  4. Last year at this time – I was hoping for redemption for Tiger. He was in the hunt and then things fell apart again. Things had been falling apart for the last nine years. He suffered many injuries and appeared to have lost his edge. I still remember his comments about getting his buttocks to engage in his swing. I wondered if a day like today was going to come.
  5. The Day Came – It was Tiger’s first win at a major tournament in more than ten years. I remember the last time he won was the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines beating Rocco Mediate on one leg.
  6. 15 & 3It was Tiger’s 15th major win. He needs three more to tie Jack Nicklaus.
  7. Five Green Jackets – It was Tiger’s 5th victory at the Masters. Fourteen years after his fourth.
  8. There is a First Time for Everything – It was the first time in his career to win a major championship when he was not winning after 54 holes. He had been close in the past, but never closed the deal until last week.
  9. A Family Affair – I remember Tiger winning the Masters and hugging his father. I also remember when Tiger won the Masters shortly after his father passed. Those were touching moments. Seeing Tiger hug his kids after winning on Sunday brought tears to my eyes.
  10. Implicit Bias Sucks – Earlier last weekend while I was leaving my son’s baseball game, I saw a black man taking his son to a lacrosse match. Ironically, I had all sorts of thoughts about this guy and his son playing a white man’s game. I had to put my implicit bias in check and say maybe this kid will be the Tiger Woods of lacrosse.

10 Thoughts on How It Feels to be Colored Like Me: Hurston and Confronting Race and Racism 90 Years Later

Recently I How It Feels to be Colored Like Me by Zora Neal Hurston in an essay anthology I am reading. I struck by all the different dimensions Hurston addresses being colored in 1928. The essay inspired me to come up with 10 Thoughts on How It Feels to be Colored Like Me. Off we go:


  1. Why I am Colored – I can trace my lineage to slaves and Holocaust survivors. While I am proud of both lineages of my family, I carry the mantle of being black. If I were in an elevator with you, you would not think I was white. I do not operate with the caucasity of white privilege. I operate with a sense of defiance. 
  2. Speaking of Lineage – Hurston wrote, \”I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief.\” I have always been amazed at black peoples\’ affinity for their Native American heritage. It made me wonder if Native Americans have a similar affinity for multiculturalism. Are there Native Americans on a reservation in North Dakota claiming lineage from Malcolm X, Nat Turner or Frederick Douglass?
  3. What Are You? – People often ask me “what are you?” like they are trying to figure out whether I am the lemur or the meerkat at the zoo. I have heard the question so many times that I know what is really being asked. Still, I would prefer if these people said “what is ethnicity?” or “what is your racial background?”.
  4. Day One – When it comes to being colored, we all have a Day One. \”I remember the very day I became colored,\” Hurston wrote. My Day One occurred on some playground in the third grade when some ignorant kid called me the n-word.
  5. Tragically Colored? – While she has jumped on the mantle of being colored, Hurston wants you to know she is not tragically colored. \”There is no great sorrow damned up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes.\” I love how this description goes against the grain of how black people are characterized and depicted. 
  6. No Race – Something I can relate to from the essay is when Hurston writes “At certain times, I have no race. I am me.” It is not often enough I feel this way; but when I do, it is pure bliss.
  7. White Backgrounds – Something else I can relate to is when Hurston writes I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” I have always felt most colored in, a good and a bad way when I have been thrust against a sharp white background. 
  8. Scary Smile – I  operate under the assumption that a majority of the white people I deal with are scared of me. Check the pic…am I all that intimidating?   always try to smile and be friendly to put them at ease. I also know I have the intimidation card if I want to play it. 
  9. Strength Overcomes – Racism or not, Hurston believed in the strength of a person and so do I. \”I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less.\” There are some that are going to discriminate and fight you no matter what. However, there is a lot to be gained by exercising one\’s strength.

  10. Discrimination – When it came to discrimination, Hurston wrote “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” Well said, Ms. Hurston!