Monday, February 23, 2009

Do You Expect More From Your Own Kind?

Somebody gave me a gift certificate to a certain giant bookstore for my birthday. So, on my birthday, I headed to said bookstore giddy with excitement. To have free money to spend on books, you couldn't make me any happier.

I ended up buying three books. A cookbook, a bargain, "How to Play Your Guitar" book (I still dream of being a street musician, but that's a story for another day.), and a novel by an author I'd never heard of, a Black British woman named, Dorothy Koomson.

The novel is called, Marshmallows for Breakfast and judging from the cutesy, pastel-heavy cover, I knew I was buying chick-lit, but it was the image on the cover that hooked me. The cover shows the backside of a woman and child holding hands. The woman is Black and the child is White. Goodie, I thought. Chick-lit with a multiracial cast. Something new. Characters that looked like me. A story-line with a twist! The cover also noted that Ms. Koomson is an "international best-selling author," so I thought that guaranteed a bit of quality. Boy was I wrong!

I don't want to make an enemy of Ms. Koomson. I might meet her one day. And she's probably a lovely human being, but this book was so bad I wanted to put it under the wheels of my car and roll over it several times. I'm not even going to waste this cyberpage to write why I thought it was so bad. But here's why I'm so annoyed. I REALLY WANTED TO LIKE IT. I gave it my all and read the whole damn book. I put my faith in Ms. Koomson that somehow the convoluted story line would eventually make sense. Why? Because she's Black. Is that wrong? Of course it is, but here's why I did it. I figure with the way the publishing industry pigeon holes Black authors, if you are a Black author and have managed to achieve international bestseller status -- especially in a category like mainstream chick-lit -- you must be really good. Plus, she's Black (I said that already, didn't I?) Don't you just expect more from your own kind? I just knew the book would touch on issues that matter to me: that Ms. Koomson would explore the subtle nuances between Black and White in romance and modern-day relationships. She'd slyly refer to hair issues and ashy skin. But no. And don't get me wrong, that's not why I give the book two big thumbs down. The omission of those details just made it worse.

Why do we expect more from our own kind? Do you do that? In what context? Are you constantly disappointed or have you learned to temper your expectations? Feel free to chime in.

And just because I know my opinion means nothing in the big scheme of things, please feel free to check out Ms. Koomson's website to read more about her and her books. And just to show that I can't really give up on her-- I still want to believe-- I may try to read another one of her books. Maybe Marshmallows for Breakfast just wasn't her best effort. Anybody out there a Dorothy Koomson fan? Please tell me why you love her.



Spring @ forever spring said...

I do expect more from my own, but luckily, I define "my own" narrowly.

I think that when it comes to high quality lit about multiracial families, you and I are going to have to write it! I just don't see all that much out there.

I would have bought the book because of the pic too, with heart in hand and high hopes...

susan said...

My gut response is yes, I do expect more. Maybe I should say I hope more. Why, because if the quality is poor, then I fear if someone who does not normally read black authors reads the poorly written book they will assume this is typical of black writers. I realize that assumption is wrong, but like you said, if an author has managed to get published by a major house and heralded as an international writing star, you expect it to be good.

I read Off-Color by Janet McDonald. It was about a young white girl discovering she was bi-racial. The author was black. Like you I expected it would be good. It was gawd-awful. When I googled the author I discovered she was a respected author of other books. I shook my head and told myself,"Well, even good authors miss the mark one time or another." I have not read more by her.

Nif said...

I have no idea what "my own kind" would be. There's a whole world of experiences I've never had embedded in that phrase. 40 year old biracial lesbians are pretty thin on the ground, even in Mt. Airy.

I just try to keep in mind the old aphorism about science fiction: 90 percent of everything is crap. It applies to everything, really.

JBH said...

I think I do expect more from my own kind. Whatever "kind" it is.

I was very involved with a church - and I know that the hurts were deeper within that group. We expected "christian" behavior, and when it didn't happen...ouch!

I don't buy too many books - usually get them from the library first...I save my money for the "guaranteed good ones" - like yours!!!:-)

Angwalk said...

My Best Friend's Girl is so much better than Marshmallows for Breakfast-which I really wanted to like. But I ended up skipping to the end of the novel just to see what happened.

Try My Best Friend's Girl and let me know what you think.

LT said...

Spring, I hear you. Let's do it!

Susan, thanks for sharing your experiences. I think I reviewed Janet McDonald's memoir and it was wonderful. Go figure.

Nif, I will totally keep that in mind. The 90 percent thing!

Jenny, Thank you:)

Angwalk, Thank you for speaking up. I'm so glad someone else understands what I'm saying about this book. Because you say so, I'll try My Best Friend's Girl. But to protect myself from greater harm, I will look for it in the library!

ieishah said...

today i told a colleague about my goal of taking the DELE, like a spanish proficiency test, in may. said colleague, who is also black and female (there are only 2 of us) gave me a sidelong look and said, 'of course you can do it! i've seen, like, the japanese come, study for a months and pass. and you're . . . if they can do it, you'll definitely do it'. and with that, i thought about this post. i felt like she just came short of saying, 'and you're a sister!'

Anonymous said...

As a young(ish), white, gay man, I have very little in common with you as a person, outside of a history of discrimination...but coming from a family that has several Black members, and having witnessed what they've gone through, that same discrimination has led me to explore the issues of equality and the like in my life....though I have to confess to doing so, at least in the literary sense, more via memoirs and non-fiction books rather than fiction. (that's not from a bias against fiction, mind you) I actually found my way here via Goodreads, where I'd read some reviews of your book, and thought you seemed like an interesting person.

Anyhoooo, that's a rather longwinded intro to yes, I think we frequently expect more from our own, whomever they may be. We want the best face put forward to the public, for *everyone* to represent what we would consider our best and most important qualities....but the truth of the matter is, we're obviously all human, and we come in all shapes, colors, creeds...and abilities to write. (or whatever)

Out of curiosity what fiction books regarding race would *you* recommend? Just don't say Octavia Butler, as I've already read everything she's written!

Anonymous said...

Oh, let me clarify the book request, since I realized that seemed kind of a goofy request given that your blog is full of books...what would you say are your top three "must read" books?

susan said...

Now, this is what I mean. lol Of course, I'm going to have to give Ms. McDonald a second look now. Thanks.

LT said...

ieishah, I hear ya.

Cynjon, Thanks for joining the conversation and I hope you keep coming back. I don't feel qualified to give you top three, but I will just shoot off three of my favs. And anyone else reading here, please give cynjon your suggestions for fiction books regarding race.
Caucasia by Danzy Senna
Anything by J. California Cooper
Cane River and Red River by Lalita Tademy.

Susan, The Janet McDonald I'm talking about wrote the memoir Project Girl. And then she moved to France and then started writing fiction. And then, tragically died at a young age a couple of years ago from cancer.

ieishah said...

on race book recommendations: i love anything zadie smith. white teeth is of course the classic of all contemporary classics for me, even though it's set in the uk. i also liked 'on beauty' a lot, which is set in the states.

Nikeshia said...

Of course I'm late :-(

But yes, I do expect more of "my own". I find myself annoyed and a little disappointed when I meet a multiracial family that does not embrace and/or acknowledge their multiracial goodness.

At the end of the day I wonder if it's hypocritical to do so since that sort of plays into a plague where certain groups

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Janet McDonald died? I'm off to Google.

Carleen Brice said...

Interesting take you got from the cover. My initial reaction was yet another mammy-child relationship. Please tell me it wasn't, tho?

Anonymous said...

Dorothy koomson sucks,no seriously she does.