Behind ‘Jozef Book and Brew’: What we’ve been reading, brewing, and enjoying

The Jozef Syndicate is a cooperative of creators, writers, illustrators, journalists, artists…mostly importantly, we are readers. Well-read, pleasure seeking, erudite readers. We select the books as part of our Jozef Book and Brew. We recently took on a challenge to use a reading journal while we indulge. Some of us have while others tapped out at the second book. The bullet journalists among us have stayed steady. Nonetheless, here are a few of the books we’ve enjoyed reading and reviewing over the last few months. Our reviews are tagged @Jozefsyndicate and posted with the hashtags #JozefBookandBrew, #JozefBookandBreakfast, #JozefBookandBurger or #JozefBooks. They are unpaid reviews that are shared on Barnes&Noble, NetGalley, GoodReads, Amazon, and author’s webpages. Enjoy and feel free to browse our bookself.

Wintry mix covers Louisiana February 16-20 the state. There’s no electricity in the office. Laptop battery depleted. Writing and editing were quickly done. With about three hours of sunlight left for the first night, ZORA AND LANGSTON brought chocolate-covered strawberries from Ponchatoula, La. We gave in, of course, and indulged by candlelight, and were glad we did. This non-fiction, historical account by Yuval Taylor of the relationship between Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes revealed layers of challenges the talented authors faced to create their “primitivist” writing during the birth of the Harlem Renaissance and the Niggerati. Their individual family relationships, childhood, love lives, conflict among other writers, and strife to stand up through their writing and identity as writers without the Negro label (for Langston) and with the boldness of the Negro label (Zora). Bonus historical facts are tucked into the book, especially about the literati, the fledging publishing opportunities, the short-arm reach of Black journals like the Urban League’s Opportunity and NAACP’s The Crisis that published Zora’s stories and Langston’s poetry, and the tensions around cultural/racial representation in their work and those of Alain Locke, Countee Cullen, Wallace Thurman, W.E.B. DuBois, and illustrators Aaron Douglas and Richard Bruce Nugent, Taylor isn’t a creative storyteller–rightfully so–but he is crafty in blending Zora’s and Langston’s lives independently and as friends. Sensual lovers of many, openly and secretively lovers of many including Locke and Thurman, but the Zora and Langston were not lovers of one another. This is a gem, one to keep on the shelves and share with students of literature and writers of the culture.

PERFECT PEACE We attempted to enjoy it as an audiobook but the intonations and speed in our minds were better than the ones of the 2016 narration. Nonetheless, for this #JozefBookandBrew, we paired this 1950s-centered novel with a icebox cold RC Cola. The synopsis: “The heartbreaking portrait of a large, rural southern family’s attempt to grapple with their mother’s desperate decision to make her newborn son into the daughter she will never have.” There are so many layers in PERFECT PEACE by Daniel Black…entitlement, rural love/relationships, gender roles and identity, child abuse, defining beauty, evolving friendship, and a drop of mental illness. Although the homophobia and resulting abuses are expected, the lessons therein for many of the characters (and readers) are bold. Most enjoyable were the historical and cultural personalities. They were refreshingly accurate. Be ready to see friends, family, and self. If there were a must-read-list for parents of gender-transferring or LGBT young adults, PERFECT PEACE should top the list and be read within a safe discussion group. Yes. Safe. Discussion.

Experiencing something new, sweet, and savory with a brief lesson on Japanese culture. we recognize the cultural clash and proudly share with you all the extremes of our intellectual and cultural appetite. We welcome all delicatessens and look forward to a year of exploration. Black History month reading begins with CASTE and two bites of Delimanjoo as we continue HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST which we paired deliciously with Thai milk tea and tapioca and ANGER IS A GIFT with crystal boba in a strawberry ice blend at Teatery in Baton Rouge. Quick breaks like this bring out the most interesting discussions: can a people redefine their culture if the one they prescribed to is false? Welcome February. Welcome Black History. Perhaps we should also say “welcome” to the unlearning process.. What cultures –including your own– will you explore more deeply this year? What are you reading? What will you write?

Breakfast and books. Isn’t this the best way to start an early morning writing session. We were gifted MAMA RUBY after hours long conversations about a “good” fiction series featuring Black main characters. Of course Kimberla Roby’s Rev. Curtis Black series was mentioned. But, we settled on Mary Monroe specifically because it begins in Shreveport, Louisiana with scenes and references to Baton Rouge and New Orleans. At 360 or so pages MAMA RUBY is a smooth, enjoyable read. It is a story about a friendship between the prostitute’s daughter and the preacher’s daughter, their sexual escapades, and the consequences. Sure there’s scandal, murder, and a lot of sex, but Monroe writes with ease, weaving in very accurate racial attitudes, colorism, and ableism. They are underlying themes found in the nearly every scene, even in the whorehouse and circus. They sting but they don’t take away the wit and humor in the right spots. You have to love Mama Ruby’s fierceness, her switchblade, and her gun even when your heart breaks for her and baby Maureen. BuyTheBook

At the first line, Alyssa Cole pulls you into WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING. Her storytelling is rhythmic like your favorite cousin stirring you to laugh, roll out a “pssht”, throw a shoe, yell, and react unexpectedly. The most uncomfortable and sensitive conflicts in the novel are gut clinching. Cole stabs and digs into the open wound that gentrification, divorce, and caring for a sick mother causes. Even love’s not love when it’s consumed within those pains. To say Cole is a genius writer is not far-reaching. It shows up immediately and continues with all emotions. That extra intelligence and seriousness as a writer who researches are revealed in her descriptions of complicated and quite frustrating power plays to destroy and save Gifford Place, as well as in the attentiveness Cole gives to Sydney as she rediscovers the valuable roles her neighbors (friends, lovers, and others) have in watching over the community. Parts of WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING is a whirl as is expected from the raw, frank place Sydney is in emotionally. This is our first read of Cole’s books primarily because of early release hype around it, but it won’t be the last. Do you enjoy reading books that everyone is reading? This is one of those books.

“…the person who controls the narrative of history also controls their own fate.” That’s on the jacket. Already, Walter Mosley is reeling us in with JOHN WOMAN. Enigmatic is the best way to describe JOHN WOMAN by Walter Mosley. Although Mosley’s writing is once again amazing, the theme of JOHN WOMAN is complicated and vague. The desire to identify a theme only surfaced because of the continuous messages, dialogues, and lectures on the value and truth of history–learned and retold and as it’s being lived. Few incidents allow the reader to attach to the protagonist who becomes more cryptic. It’s a book read, a story told, and not one experienced. We prefer to read, hear, and experience Mosley. Be sure to add a little dessert.

Starting another “best seller” with the expectation that BLACK BUCK will live up to the hype. This is supposed to be comedic, ambitious, and hilarious. Satire isn’t a genre we often read so this is a first for the year. Are you switching things up in your reading? The satire on Black Americans’ code-switching is an intriguing plot. Here’s a tip going into BLACK BUCK: Remember it is satire. Satire = The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. Let the fun begin. (Yes, the BlackBerry is here and always ready for notetaking.)

The first charge of any historical reader is to accept with regard many new awarenesses that conflict other accounts. That charge is front and center in Roger Biles’ biography, MAYOR HAROLD WASHINGTON: CHAMPION OF RACE AND REFORM IN CHICAGO. To only know the success of Washington as an American politician who gained national prominence as the first Black mayor of Chicago lessens the hard-fought work that led to his election as well as the push for economic and political changes through his term. Biles presents Washington’s political life with authority and newness. For a man known for intensely pushing for progress, it was most interesting to read with scrutiny how Washington faced racism, corruption, and what Biles called “thuggery.” It’s easy and unfortunate to leave this book with insight and sad appreciation for the loss Black Chicagoans felt at his death in office.

End of the day treats. Books and baking. Have you read any of Yaa Gyasi’s work? She continually delivers the depth of emotion and thought concerning family, religion, and society. In TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM, she brings in advance science, and within the boarders of fiction, explores the limits and flaws of them all. Then, the impact of culture, mental illness, intimacy, and racism is woven within Gifty’s story. It’s all there. Gyasi’s storytelling is at its best within Gifty’s lab, with her mice and reflections. Through Gifty, we see Gyasi’s literary strength, connecting the mice research to broader human decisions. She writes TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM as strong but creatively different from her first novel, HOMEGOING. Some called her writing in TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM captivating, haunting, and the like. For us, it falls short of those although HOMEGOING nailed it. (And yes, the cinnamon roll is homemade and delicious)

Read more and follow us on social media @jozefsyndicate. Feel free to browse our bookself.

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