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Reader Review by Kayla: Desert of Solitude

Kayla Pompey of Milwaukee, WI reviews Desert of Solitude: Refreshed by Grace written by LaShawnda Jones. Kayla openly shares how the book has helped her in her life.

“In this book, LaShawnda explains how she felt she was not enough. I think a lot of people feel like that and they don’t even realize how much they really are. They are enough. I realized I am enough. This [book] just came out a few months ago. Within that time I have been able to completely change my life around. A lot of choices I make now don’t revolve around what other people will think. I’m not trying to be so much of a people pleaser anymore. I am learning to please myself and be happy with the choices I make. In that, other people are feeding off my confidence.”

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Reader Review by Kayla: Desert of Solitude

Kayla Pompey of Milwaukee, WI reviews Desert of Solitude: Refreshed by Grace written by LaShawnda Jones. Kayla openly shares how the book has helped her in her life.

“In this book, LaShawnda explains how she felt she was not enough. I think a lot of people feel like that and they don’t even realize how much they really are. They are enough. I realized I am enough. This [book] just came out a few months ago. Within that time I have been able to completely change my life around. A lot of choices I make now don’t revolve around what other people will think. I’m not trying to be so much of a people pleaser anymore. I am learning to please myself and be happy with the choices I make. In that, other people are feeding off my confidence.”

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Book Review: BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah

Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the back of the book, his bio states simply: Trevor Noah is a comedian from South Africa.

Enigmatic is a word I would add. This is not the story of Trevor Noah’s rise to fame. Indeed, there’s no clear connection from the stories he shares to where he is now.

I’m sure a great deal of the book was intended to be humorous and purposefully irreverent, but I read undercurrents of resentment and extreme selfishness. At some points there was incredible incongruity in the retelling. He writes that he felt (and still feels) no guilt for the enormous repercussions others faced for his actions (i.e. unemployment, homelessness and jail time)…. when those others were Black South African domestic workers and their children. However, he then writes how guilt ridden he was when one of his buddies brought him a stolen digital camera to resell (as part of his regular hustle) with images of a white family vacationing. He actually went into detail about how that one thing, so insignificant compared to other stories he shared, had the power to make him evaluate the direction his life was going in. He was devastated by the thought of a well-off white family being robbed of their vacation photos… even as he sat on a corner in the Alexandra slums taking advantage of his fellow oppressed Black South African neighbors. That was difficult to read and hard to swallow.

Instances like this and others made it feel as if he were playing to an audience. Throughout the book, he played to several different audiences: Americans, Black Americans, the World, South Africa, white people. All large scale and somewhat large in scope with little to no intimacy.
That being said, Born a Crime is a good read. The pacing is consistent throughout. Noah’s commentary on various cultural and societal norms as well as the history of South Africa is insightful and at some times, eye-opening. There’s no real chronology to the stories, he actually jumps around quite a bit with no solid grasp of time period or age, but the stories flow well together.

Early on the book comes across as a loving tribute to his mother. He shared some beautiful moments and teachings from his mom. Towards the middle the underlying resentment becomes quite prominent. I got the sense that there’s quite a bit he has yet to come to terms with, to accept or to forgive. He explains situations and rationalizes experiences but he doesn’t really express any real understanding or empathy for the people he’s writing about. Which is surprising, considering how he prefers to talk about his mother’s courage and devotion to providing for and protecting her children. There are also stunning moments when he belittles his mother on the sly… while propping himself up. His intelligence. His speed. His independence. His logic and realism. Eventually, at a very young age, he became better than his mother. He doesn’t explicitly say this, but it is implied throughout. Ironically, one of his biggest tributes to his mother is her insistence that he learn to think for himself, that he question authority and systems. It becomes evident that his critical thinking and questioning led to an internal rejection of his mother, her faith and cultural beliefs. Due to the way life flows, there is also hope that his thinking will bring him full circle to a wholesome appreciation for everything his mother is and represents.

Common Themes:

Church and faith: Christianity as a white man’s religion. Trevor Noah appears to have equal low regard for the practice of Christianity and tribal mysticism. He writes a great deal about his mother’s faith but nothing of his own. In this way he provides the scope of a panoramic image (mother, tribe, cultural history) without the intimacy of his details (is he a Christ believer, follower, practitioner?).

Critical thinking and breaking cycles of bondage: Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah is a rebel with a cause. She didn’t so much spend time questioning the systems and norms as much as figuring out how she could get around them to live her life on her terms. From an early age, she made decisions for her life and grew from the consequences and results of her decision. She was determined not to live in her mother’s home on tribal homelands in obscure servitude as the second girl child in the family. She was even more determined not to raise children who were beholden to the past and the tribe. Her intelligence, her perseverance, her dexterity, her independence allowed her to venture where most Black people did not dare in apartheid South Africa. Bit by bit, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah carved out a space for herself in a world that was completely against her. Then she made room for her son, Trevor. Eventually, she enlarged that space to include her growing family. When I first read the below passage, I thought, “Even if showing Trevor that the ghetto was not the world was all she had done, she would have indeed accomplished a great deal.”

People thought my mom was crazy. Ice rinks and drive-ins and suburbs, these things were izinto zabelungu – the things of white people. So many black people internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own. Why teach a black child white things? Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom. “Why do all this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?”

“Because,” she would say, “even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.”

Ms. Noah, you’ve done a superb job!

Independence and outsider: Trevor Noah writes about being an outsider everywhere he went at each stage of life he shares about. Perhaps more from that feeling than his mom’s teachings, he grew to be fiercely independent. It also seems clear that his fondest days were when it was just him and his mom. Before the family expanded and he became an outsider in his own home. In some instances it seems the idea of independence and being an outsider morphed to mean the same thing and become somewhat interchangeable in the retelling of his stories.

Power and impact of choice: At one point he writes: “Nobody wants to be rich. People want to have choices. Money gives you choices.” Perhaps overall, he dissected his movement through the world as varying levels of opportunity and choice. On some level, he may truly believe that money equals choice and translates to power. Perhaps he thought as he took advantage of his opportunities he could create the power to choose his life as well. Ultimately, he has. However, the glaring power moves he made in Born a Crime were when he accepted the benefits of being mixed/colored/lighter skinned in black and white communities when doing so put other black people at a severe disadvantage and occasionally harm’s way.

My mother used to tell me, “I chose to have you because I wanted something to love and something that would love me unconditionally in return.” I was a product of her search for belonging. She never felt like she belonged anywhere.

Love, discipline and rebellion: Noah thinks his mother was too hard on him, but it seems like she let him get away with a lot just from exhaustion. In many ways he parallels his life with his mothers’ life. Her quest for love and belonging became his. Her need to discipline him birthed his need to out-maneuver her and perhaps show her how little he needed her in general. On the flip side, he also viewed her rebellion as his natural inheritance.

Freedom: There is a strong cord of freedom flowing throughout the stories Trevor Noah shares. As a concept, reality, illusion, wish, hope… as something somehow always out of reach. A couple of times, regarding his own troubles and the poor Black South African community in general, Noah writes, “They’re free, they’ve been taught how to fish, but no one will give them a fishing rod.” At one point, he thanks someone from a privileged class for giving him a rod. The analogy has a false ring to it. Or perhaps it’s simply incomplete. The poor, oppressed and disadvantaged people of the world are not incapable of enjoying their freedom because the lack the tools to nourish it. The poor, oppressed and disadvantaged people of the world are prevented from accessing resources (farmable lands, drinking water, washing water, bodies of water with fish, etc.). He actually writes about how the South African government purposefully removed groups of people from their tribal lands and forced them onto near barren lands and locked them in with walls and guns. When apartheid fell, the people pretty much stayed where they had been put for the last century, i.e. Soweto and Alexandra. The irony of looking to your oppressor for a handout is painful. The way around that is to exercise your freedom. Make your way to the resource you need and figure out how to nourish yourself with the tools on hand. Usually the only tools we have are our own two hands. However, necessity is the mother of invention. The poor, oppressed and disadvantage people of the world have been made to think that their better life is on the other side of a wall. In other words, that they need their oppressors. They don’t. They only need access to resources that cannot be owned, but that men the world over continue to capitalize on and create barriers around.

Language and Communication: One of the most beautiful illustrations in Born a Crime, is Trevor Noah’s use of language. He speaks several languages and learned at an early age that language, not skin color is the true indicator of belonging and community. When you speak a person’s language you are able to speak to their heart (paraphrased). Even as he shared how he was able to switch from being an outsider to an insider by speaking the language of the group he was attempting to appear like or to infiltrate, he also showed how speaking the same language with no common understanding is as disastrous as speaking different languages while working towards the same goal. In some ways, Born a Crime is a micro study of how communication between and within groups can go awry and also how it can tie us all together.

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Book Review: BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am not a fan of this book. I thought it was more contrived and pretentious than delivered from an authentic place. I read it over a year ago for a book club I host. For that reason I am sharing my discussion notes in lieu of an in depth review.

LaCelia Book Club
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
January 11, 2016 Discussion

Who is he speaking to?
Addressed to his son, but that sense is lost almost immediately – yes/no?

“Your body can be destroyed.” (p 9)
“Other worlds where children do not fear for their bodies.” (p 20) **Interesting use of body rather than life.

Felt wrong to comfort you…. this is your country, this is your world, this is your body you must find some way to live within all of it.

Howard University: only Mecca he will ever need. (p 39)

Doesn’t believe in “God”. Compares Christianity to Western civilization (“their god”). But uses faith-based terminology: belief, The Mecca, calls his son his god

The body as the ultimate expression of being and existence.

“…burning and looting as Christian charity.” (p 101)
– deep-seated hatred of Christianity
– deep seated fear of living free as he is

Spirit and soul as body and mind are destructible/perishable (p 103)

“Dreamers” should be “Destroyers”
We all have dreams, but we don’t all destroy others for our dreams. (p 111)

What is acting, talking, and being “white?” (p 111)

Mrs. Jordan’s words sum up my response to this book. (p 113)

A book suggestion that came up during our discussion was to read The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. I read it. I was able to see what Coates was attempting to do, but it clarified that Between the World and Me was more an attempt at mimicry than authenticity.

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Book Review: DAVID AND GOLIATH by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath Cover
David and Goliath Cover

It’s been years since I’ve completed a book. My goal for the holidays was to get through three. The holidays have been over for three weeks and I’ve only just finished one of the two books I started. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants  was a holiday present to my boss. It arrived with a card while she was already home on her holiday vacation, so I started reading it. I was drawn to the subtitle. I am an underdog and every obstacle I’ve overcome in life has been one no one even considered I could come close to approaching, let alone overcoming. This was my first Malcolm Gladwell book and I must say, he has interesting concepts and tells a good story. Here’s my book report.

Gladwell breaks the book up into three parts:

  • The Advantages of Disadvantages (and the Disadvantages of Advantages)
  • The Theory of Desirable Difficulty            
  • The Limit of Power

Quite honestly, I almost gave up on the book in the first chapter. Gladwell re-imagines the fight between David and Goliath, which is fine, in and of itself. I do a lot of re-imagining when I write too – that’s where the magic happens. However, his re-imagining was part history lesson (somewhat believable) and part television reenactment with modern-day expert commentary (not at all believable). He writes about how skilled David was with his sling and how all the soldiers of the day would have recognized the sling-thrower as an able and fearsome combatant. The way the Bible describes David’s reception at the army camp of King Saul, suggests plainly that he himself, and his weapon of choice, were not respected at all. In fact, King Saul tried to give David a sword and his heavy armor. David wasn’t comfortable with such and said he’d battle the giant with his sling and pebbles and he could do it because he had taken down a bear and lion with the same (1 Samuel 17:34-37).

Unfortunately, the revisionism didn’t stop there. Gladwell writes that “many medical experts now believe… that Goliath had a serious medical condition. He looks and sounds like someone suffering from what is called acromegaly – a disease caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary glands. The tumor causes an overproduction of human growth hormone, which would explain Goliath’s extraordinary size…. And furthermore, one of the common side effects of acromegaly is vision problems.” Gladwell goes on to claim the reason David was able to run towards Goliath and get off a perfect hit with his sling was because Goliath was blind! He couldn’t see David coming. And because he couldn’t see David coming, he was slow to defend himself.

Truly, sometimes it’s best to just read what the story says and not add anything to it (1 Samuel 17). For indeed, if David had been seen as a fearsome combatant who was a deadly master slinger, what would be the value of the story of David and Goliath? If Goliath was a blind swordsman, would an entire army truly have feared him (1 Samuel 17:4-7)? More than that – would his king have made him the champion of their nation? Probably not.

I managed to get through the first chapter which, in my opinion, made a mockery of faith by trying to explain it with “scientific” assumptions.

The rest of the stories in the book were new to me. Each chapter focused on one person and the huge way they succeeded in the world despite, or because of, their disadvantages. These stories are intriguing and for that reason, I am glad I stuck with the book to the end. I can’t say that I learned anything new about advantages or disadvantages (I reached similar conclusions long ago based on my own experiences), but the stories reconfirmed that all the challenges in my  own life have been blessings. Certainly, in the short-term, pain does not feel like a blessing. But the way you process your pain and build from it over time, strengthens you and adds wisdom and insight that you otherwise would not have. In one chapter, Gladwell points out a correlation between the high achievement of world leaders (British prime ministers and American presidents) and the number of them who lost a parent to death during their youth (under age 20). He explores the same correlation with famous poets and writers. To that end, the passage that struck the deepest chord with me is a quote from Pastor André Trocmé as he recalls losing his mother in a car accident as a child:

If I have sinned so much, if I have been, since then, so solitary, if my soul has taken such a swirling and solitary movement, if I have doubted everything, if I have been a fatalist, and have been a pessimistic child who awaits death every day, and who almost seeks it out, if I have opened myself slowly and late to happiness, and if I am still a somber man, incapable of laughing whole-heartedly, it is because you left me that June 24th upon that road.

But if I have believed in eternal realities…if I have thrust myself toward them, it is also because I was alone, because you were no longer there to be my God, to fill my heart with your abundant and dominating life.

And later, when his eldest son committed suicide:

Even today I carry a death within myself, the death of my son, and I am like a decapitated pine. Pine trees do not regenerate their tops. They stay twisted, crippled…. They grow in thickness, perhaps, and that is what I am doing.

Overall, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is a good read. It makes you think about the world as it is and how it formed from what it was. It openly discusses socially acceptable situations that are morally reprehensible and that were overcome in morally compromising ways. But those who overcame did not see themselves as morally ambiguous. For that reason, this book makes you think: if I want to change my world (or something in the world or my life) today, is anything too radical for me to do?


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BOOK REVIEW: Promise: Inspirational Fantasies by Jeannette Drake

This review is from Amazon: Promise: Inspirational Fantasies (Kindle Edition)

Promise: Inspirational Fantasies is more inspirational conversation than fantasy. Much of the book is a transcript of an ongoing conversation between the author (Me) and God. The rest of the book is descriptive prose about encounters where Ms. Drake sees or hears God in other people, wildlife and nature. Promise is engaging and insightful. To some people it may seem fantastical or other-worldly, but to me it resembles my own experience with God in conversation.

Ms. Drake discusses topics ranging from weather, animals, the universe, career success, finances, fear and death. If any one thing struck me, it was the numerous times the author acknowledged the control fear had over her even as she spoke with God and sought His guidance. I had hoped there would have been an indication before the book ended that described how Ms. Drake let her many fears go. But understanding this is a work from a life in progress, I can only trust that in the years since writing this work, the she has indeed conquered the demons crouching at her door. That being said, Ms. Drake’s emotional honesty is refreshing to experience in Promise: Inspirational Fantasies.

LaShawnda Jones
Author & Independent Publisher
My God and Me: Listening, Learning and Growing on My Journey
The Process of Asking for, Receiving and Giving Love & Forgiveness (MeatyWord Series)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author in exchange for writing a review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”