PUSH by Sapphire

Push by SapphireTitle:  Push

Author:  Sapphire

Paperback:  192 pages

Published:  1996

Acquired:  bought new from Walmart

Challenges: New Author Challenge 2010, We Didn’t Start the Fire 2010 (AIDS), POC Reading Challenge

I don’t have nothing to write today – maybe never.  Hammer in my heart now, beating me, I feel like my blood a giant river swell up inside me and I’m drwoning.  My head all dark inside.  Feel like giant river I never cross in front me now.  Ms Rain say, You not writing Precious.  I say I drownin’ in river.  She don’t look me like I’m crazy but say, If you just sit there the river gonna rise up drown you!  Writing could be the boat carry you to the other side.  One time in your journal you told me you had never really told your story.  I think telling your story git you over that river Precious.

I still don’t move.  She say, “Write.”  I tell her, “I am tired.  Fuck you!”  I scream, “You don’t know nuffin’ what I been through!”  I scream at Ms Rain.  I never do that before.  Class look shock.  I feel embarrass, stupid; sit down, I’m made a fool of myself on top of everthing else.  “Open your notebook Precious.”  “I’m tired,” I says.  She says, “I know you are but you can’t stop now Preciuos, you gotta push.”  And I do.

-Push by Sapphire, pages 96-97

wow.  I mean really, WOW.

Push by Sapphire is a book of truth.  It is raw, heart-breaking, and hard.  It is inspiring, hope-filled, naked and honest.  It is not the kind of book that will appeal to everyone, not that happy beach book many want, it is stark and dark and real and beautiful.  It could’ve been exploitative, could’ve been depressing and hopeless, could’ve so easily become an anti-white, anti-men rant, but Sapphire managed to weave the story together, as told by the main character, Precious Jones, into an emotional tale of how education can give hope for a chance at freedom and a better life.

I knew a bit about the story from the movie based on the book, Precious.  I haven’t yet seen the movie (are you kidding?  There’s no way the theater owner of our little 2-screener would’ve had THAT movie in HIS place!  Heck, he wouldn’t bring in a Tyler Perry movie, and they’re funny with a little “let’s get real” on the side), so I have to way until it comes out on DVD next month (already in my Netflix queue), but I have seen the trailers and watched the interviews and heard the awards buzz about it.  From the few scenes I’ve seen, and after reading the book, the movie should win every award it could qualify for, and if it doesn’t, I’ll be irate.  I also knew about this book from seeing it being checked out… always out and never in… at the library, and from reading Kathy at Bermudaonion’s review back in December.

So when I wandered (drifted mindlessly, to be more accurate) to the book section at Walmart the day before yesterday and saw it on the shelf, it was in my cart before Maggie could say, “No more books, MOM!”  Now, my policy for buying new books at full price is that it HAS to be a book I will read immediately.  Not next month or next year, but this week or sooner.  I was already several pages into Push before I left the store, and finished a little more than 24 hours after buying it.  Push is the kind of book that, as soon as you put it down, you pick it back up and start reading again, forgetting why you’d put it down in the first place.  The kind of book you forget to eat because it’s so engrossing.  I could barely go to the bathroom, and would worry and wonder what was going on with Precious while I was gone from her.  It will, without a doubt, be one of my top 10 books of 2010, and on my favorites list forever.

Okay, so enough gushing….  Let’s deal with the book itself.

One of the first things I got out of Push, was the realization of what it was, exactly, that I’d hated about The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine.  Both Precious and Batuk narrate their respective stories through writing in a journal.  Both books deal with the loss of innocence, sexual abuse, the sacrifice of the child by a parent, animosity between mother and daughter, and that education is the only hope and chance of escape.  But where they differ greatly is in the voice of the narrator.  Precious is pissed.  She’s upset, emotional, and expresses her sense of injustice at the terrible hand life has dealt her.  WHY? is her question over and over.  And understandably so; you expect these feelings.  Batuk, on the other hand, falls flat.  She’s accepting of her situation, barely registers emotion, occassionally expresses that she misses her father (the same man who sold her) and waxes nostalgic for the past.  Aarti of B O O K L U S T tweeted that she felt Batuk was a strong character, but I never saw any strength in her.  I do, however, agree that the overall voice of The Blue Notebook was despair and hoplessness, as Batuk knew she could never escape the situation.

Another thing I can tell you, with personal authority, is that the feelings and experiences Precious expresses from the standpoint of being an incest survivor is very real and very true.  There are things that Precious says about the sex with her father that are difficult for a child to wrap their own head around, let alone have the courage to say outloud, even in a journal.  Things like the shame you feel at feeling physical pleasure during this situation that you know in every fiber of your being is WRONG.  It’s one of the things that totally screws up the person’s ability to relate sexually for the rest of their life.  Also, Precious’s reference to genitals, hers as well as others, reflects how deeply incest survivors view their own objectification as a sex object.  “I am of no value nor worthy of love except through sex.”  is the personal worth statement of many, no matter how long it’s been since the last occurance (it’s been over 10 years for me, and he’s now dead, and yet it still that thought pervades), and the longer the abuse went on, the more pervasive and rooted that feeling becomes.

Besides the sensitive subject of molestation and the emotional affectation of the book, there is also the racial side of things.  This is where my brain spent more time, because it’s the only part I don’t share with Precious (well, that and I didn’t have children by my abuser).  I would say, “I hope I don’t offend anyone,” but then would holding back in an attempt to be non-offensive honor my Flavor of the Week, Amy, or create dialogue?  No, it would not.  So let the offense commence!

Push by Sapphire – on Race and racism

This review may become my longest ever (except The Book Thief, and may surpass that and the companion post), but I don’t care.  It deserves the length and the discussion.  Let’s get real, as Dr. Phil says.

Precious has a poster on her wall of the famous leader of The Nation of Islam, and often refers to him as the only real man she knows.  One of his sentiments that she echos more than once is, “problem is not crack but the cracker” (page 83).  I will heartily admit there are far more white people who have put their feet on the back of the neck of blacks throughout history than have helped, but maybe I’m naive in hoping things are better now than before.  I grew up in with a racist father who told offensive jokes and used the N word often, though he was not as bad as a lot of my friends parents.  It’s the way things were then.  It should NOT have been, and it was wrong, but it was what it was.  I’ve done my best to free myself from all that biggotry and to unlearn the prejudice, but it’s still something I’m aware of.  My hope is that my children will never think multiculturalism an oddity, but that it comes as natural to them as sunshine and breathing.

As the story progresses, Ms Rain, Precious’s teacher, shows her that not ALL Farrakhan’s ideas are right, like his anti-semitism and anti-homosexual beliefs, and Precious understands and sees her point.  She still hangs on to him as an inspiration and hero, citing him in her poem at the end of the book “Get up off your knees, Farrakhan say”, which I think is maturity in anyone.  As I’ve gotten older, read more, and learned more, there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about people.  We want a quick and easy, singular answer.  Life is anything but that, though, and no one person has the answers to everything, nor is he or she right all the time.  You have to sift and take away what’s worthy and leave the rest.  Most of the people you glean from aren’t good or bad, but a mixture of the two, and we must see their humanity and avoid the temptation to adulation or hate.

Other moments in the book that show the sense of distrust and dislike of whites are things like Precious’s feelings in the school counselor’s office, or the social worker’s office in the halfway house.  Precious, as well as the others in her class, express distrust, fear, and blame the white people in charge of her case.  This, I think, is the sentiment that sticks in my heart and throat as I try to wrap my head around it and put myself in her shoes.  Everywhere Precious would turn, there is a white wall blocking her escape.  No one stepped in to take her out of the situation after her first baby was born.  Who stood up to help her learn to read?  Where was the teacher when Precious was having such emotional problems (other kids in the class, her mother’s abuse at home, and the main start of the sexual abuse) in the second grade that she was wetting her pants?  Ugh!  I can understand the blame and anger she feels toward whites, and it breaks my heart to know I myself, my kids included, are judged the same, though we would NOT be like that.

And maybe it’s that that makes the racism in this book painful.  I’m being judged by the color of my skin, too, and it isn’t fair – it is never fair.  And with that thought, I have to bump Push by Sapphire up another notch, because reading it has given me a glimpse at what it feels like for African-Americans all the time, and they can’t close their book at “The End”.  They live it all the time, while I get to go back to being white in a white world.

I really love this book and, but for the explicit language and the mature subject matter, think it should be read by everyone.  Okay, so it’s not likely to be a classroom read for a high school, but definitely a college study.  I wish I’d known about it when I was in college, I could’ve had another 13 years of mulling it over and letting it work through me.  Of course, obviously, I give Push by Sapphire 5 out of 5 stars.

Here is the author Sapphire in an interview with Katie Couric discussing the journey of the book Push to the movie Precious

And, I couldn’t resist a trailer for the movie.. k, now I’m weepy.

TSS ~ Oh, the Book Gluttony!

The Sunday Salon.com

This weekend, my local library held their first book sale since before Thanksgiving, which meant I had gone TWO WHOLE MONTHS without being able to peruse, pet, and purchase previously loved (some more lightly than others) books.  I LOVE the library sales!  If I could, I’d just pack them all up and take them home.  As it is, I have to limit myself for two reasons:  1)  We always walk to the library, and it’s about 6 or so blocks, so I have to carry home everything I buy.  2)  I would go broke if I didn’t watch myself.  So I went in with a self-imposed $10 cap on my total, and I left having forked over $9.50 for two sturdy bagfuls of lovely books. 

Library Book Sale Loot

One of the things I love about the book sales is that I can get books that I might not otherwise ever know about, and they often turn out to be quite a treasure.  This weekend’s loot has introduced me to Angela Thirkell, who has quite a pedigree and a life well-worth reading her biography (and I hate biography books!).  As I was looking through the titles on the tables, my attention was caught by Wild Strawberries

A witty romp through English Country-house life at its most delightfully absurd. At Rushwater House in West Barsetshire, Lady Emily Leslie and her family are entertaining an assortment of house guests, hangers-on, and French monarchists. Amid a perfect welter of rapturous embraces and moonlight madness, a marriage is finally arranged. A glittering summer party provides a hilarious climax to the various intrigues. -from product description at Amazon.com

As soon as I picked it up, I noticed there were three more by the same author, so they all jumped in my bag.  I also found some wonderful treasures I had previously heard of like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and the box set of James Herriot’s All Things first four books.  I also picked up a couple books that I’ve read before and loved, but no longer own like The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.

A couple of books I picked up just to put on BookMooch and PaperBackSwap.  Obsession and Intimidation by Wanda Dyson are the second and third, respectively, in Dyson’s Shefford-Johnson Case series.  The library didn’t have the first book in the series, Abduction, but the books looked nice and new and I thought someone some where would appreciate them.

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Goldman GelmanA couple books I picked up I did so after reviewing Islands Apart and making the statement that there were no women authored Waldens out there.  Care of Care’s Online Book Club commented that Eat, Pray, Love (one of her favorite books in 2007) was one such book, so when I saw it sitting in one of the boxes, I snatched it up.  Then, as if by fate, the title Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman caught my eye.

I am a modern-day nomad. I have no permanent address,  no possessions except the ones I carry, and I rarely know where I’ll be six months from now. I move through the world without a plan, guided by instinct, connecting through trust, and constantly watching for serendipitous opportunities.  -from the author’s site.

After separating from her husband, 48-year-old Gelman looked around at her well-to-do life and her soul cried out for change.  She took off to explore the world and hasn’t had a permanent address since 1986.  As you would expect, she initially got flak from her friends and family for running away.  Of course, her kids were in their early twenties when she began her new life as a nomad, which still leaves me saying that if it were a mother instead of a father who took off to explore the world like McAlpine did, she would get hate mail from readers, society would label her a bad mother, and she’d likely lose her children.  And YES! I am still jealous that they can jaunt all over and see the world ;-)

I had to do the book-victory dance when I found a book that I have wanted for a LONG time, and was the basis for one of my all-time favorite movies:  The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.  I was initially “forced” to watch the movie when Turner Classic Movies first showed up on our cable box and my dad never changed the channel again.  Ingrid Bergman is one the greatest and most beautiful actresses of all time, so it didn’t take too much coaxing.  When I found out it was based on a book, I made my way to the library, only to discover they didn’t have a copy.  Years have passed, and I’ve never forgotten I wanted to read the book, but never found it in the bookstores or library.  So seeing it in the book sale was quite a surprise.  Where have they been hiding it all this time?

POC Reading ChallengeA couple of the other books I picked up in response to the Persons of Color discussions and The POC Reading Challenge that will be, I’m sure, the last challenge I sign up for this year, as I’m getting to where I can’t remember which books are for which challenges and what challenges I’m doing.  The books for this challenge are to be either by authors of color or are about persons of color.  The levels are:

Level 1: Read 1-3 POC books
Level 2. Read 4-6 POC books
Level 3. Read 7-9 POC books
Level 4. Read 10-15 POC books
Level 5. Read 16-25 POC books

I’ve committed at the 3rd level, though I’ll probably read more than 9.  I’ve never really sat and specifically thought consciously about the race of the author or characters, though I’ve generally leaned toward POC books anyway.  So, now that it’s something that I’m more aware of, I snatched up the following books:

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah.

Mah revisits the territory she covered in her adult bestseller, Falling Leaves, for this painful and poignant memoir aimed at younger readers. Blamed for the loss of her mother, who died shortly after giving birth to her, Mah is an outcast in her own family. When her father remarries and moves the family to Shanghai to evade the Japanese during WWII, Mah and her siblings are relegated to second-class status by their stepmother. They are given attic rooms in their big Shanghai home, they have nothing to wear but school uniforms, and they subsist on a bare-bones diet while their stepmother’s children dine sumptuously. Mah finds escape from this emotionally barren landscape at school, but the academic awards she wins only enrage her jealous siblings and stepmother, and she is eventually torn from her aunt, her one champion, and shipped off to boarding school. That Mah eventually soars above her circumstances is proof of her strength of character. The author recreates moments of cruelty and victory so convincingly that readers will feel almost as if they’re in the room with her. She never veers from a child’s sensibility; the child in these pages rarely judges the actions of those around her, she’s simply bent on surviving. Mah easily weaves details of her family’s life alongside the traditions of China (e.g., her grandmother’s bound feet) and the changes throughout the war years and subsequent Communist takeover. This memoir is hard to put down. -from Amazon.com

 

Journal of Emperor BaburBabur Nama -The Journal of Emperor Babur abridged, edited, and introduced by Dilip Hiro and translated from the original Turkish by Annette Susannah Beveridge.

The “Babur Nama”, a journal kept by Zahir Uddin Muhammad Babur (1483-1530), the founder of the Mughal Empire, is the earliest example of autobiographical writing in world literature, and one of the finest. Against the turbulent backdrop of medieval history, it paints a precise and vivid picture of life in Central Asia and Afghanistan – where Babur ruled in Samarkand and Kabul – and in the Indian subcontinent, where his dazzling military career culminated in the founding of a dynasty that lasted three centuries.

Babur was far more than a skilled, often ruthless, warrior and master strategist… [This is] a unique historical document that is at once objective and intensely personal – for, in Babur’s words, ‘the truth should be reached in every matter’. -From the back of the book

This sounds like it might go good with The Art of Warfare.

Maya Angelou's Heart of a WomanThe Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou -  I love Maya Angelou!  She’s a fabulous woman and writer, and I always have to chuckle when I think about Nikki Giovanni.  When I was in college at IUK, Nikki was a guest professor, though I never had the privilege of being a student in her classes.  I had never heard of her as an author, so when she donated her time as a tutor in the math and language lab, I just chatted with her like you would with any normal person.  One day, we were all talking about her upcoming trip to a writing conference for African-American women (I still hadn’t realized Nikki was, herself, an author) and she asked me if there was anyone’s autograph I’d like.  “Maya Angelou” was quickly off my tongue, as I’d recently read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and was, to be honest, the only black author I’d known of at the time other than Alex Haley (I read Malcolm X a couple years before, and who hasn’t heard of Roots?).  I spent the whole school year never realizing the secret treasure that was in my friend, and didn’t know until the school held a book signing at the end of the year.

Nikki is one of the people God had put in my life at a perfect time period in my life who helped combat the racism I had grown up with.  The names of some of the others I’ve forgotten now, not realizing at the time how important they were to me.  Phyllis and Manny, good friends when I desperately needed some.  Nikita, who patiently answered every stupid question I had ever wanted to ask and my mother forbade me ask (“Why are your palms white?  Are there other spots that are like that?  Can you sunburn?” among others).  Kisha, who opened my eyes to the fact Jesus was NOT white with blonde hair and blue eyes, and who told me flat out, “God didn’t put me on this earth to answer your questions about being black.”  Scotti, who was a friend and fellow mom, who was there for me when I was stressed out beyond belief.  And the Professor Emeritus, whose name I’ve long-since forgot, who challenged my thinking that I’d inherited and made me see the world in a different way.  I am eternally grateful to all them :-)

Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Helen OxenburyOne last look around before leaving yielded the last 50 cents spent.  A beautiful copy of Alice in Wonderland (I now have 3 different copies of this book) by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.  It’s an updated version of this classic, and I thought Maggie would love it.

A quick look through shows a more modern Alice, colorful illustrations, and larger print than my other two copies.  I have loved this classic since I myself was a little girl, and remember my mom reading it to me.  So I thought Mags would be able to enjoy this book as much as I had, and maybe we could enjoy it together :-)  AND it’s worth 12 AR points ;-)  which made her smile.

The only book I haven’t mentioned is The Stolen White Elephant and Other Detective Stories which is a collection of Mark Twain’s detective stories, including Tom Sawyer, Detective.  I adore Twain, and have since I first discovered Tom and Huck.  I actually had a book crush on Huck for about 3 or 4 years as a kid :-)

So are you a book glutton, too?  Do you go to your library’s book sales?  Do you like used books? or do you preffer all new ones?

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