Birthdays, Books, Men & Vegas

It’s two days post-birthday. My second during this global pandemic. Last year, I sat in my living room solo, dressed up in a colorful jumpsuit, donned a crown, and stared into a Zoom window as family and friends across the country and my then-deployed, then-boyfriend wished me a happy birthday. It was cute, but it was lonely. I have memories and a story. Highlight: my cousin-in-law Zelled me money to buy dinner from a favorite nearby soul food restaurant. After the Zoom call, still wearing my crown and with a makeshift face mask using a Crips-blue bandana, I moseyed on down less than two blocks to Peaches Hothouse to scoop my fried chicken, cornbread, pickle, grits, and rum punch to go. Nobody batted an eye when I walked in wearing the crown. I love New York.

Second pandemic birthday aside, this year’s birthday was great. For starters, I spent it in Vegas with a friend and her husband. There are legal dispensaries here. I purposely arrived on 4/20. Prior to my trip, I had smoked exactly once, and enjoyed a corner of a brownie edible, and the head of gummie worm. All years apart. This week alone inflated my lifelong stats. My other trips to Vegas were special for their own reasons.

Even after witnessing my weirdness in high school, H-h-h-hessica, as I call her, (still) accepts me as I am. She’s been reaching into the memory banks and to pull out random memories, that I don’t remember, but sound like me. If I still had a FitBit, it would tell me that I exceeded my daily 10k steps. We’ve done the touristy things, like walking The Strip, but the highlights are the non-touristy parts of Vegas, especially restaurants. I am eating my way through Vegas. I’ve had Cuban, Chinese, Mexican, Brazilian-Peruvian-Japanese fusion. I have strayed from my mostly plant-based life this week. No regrets.

Being the book nerd that I am, I of course requested a trip to a bookstore. Unfortunately, there aren’t any reasonably nearby Indie or Black-owned bookstores. There is a Barnes & Noble and I sure darkened its doorstep. H-h-h-hessica was working a half-day in-office, so her husband (poor guy) drove me. He was bored out of his mind as I frolicked through a bookstore for the first time in over a year.

I was so happy to be in a bookstore that my brain short-circuited. I couldn’t remember nary a book on my bloated TBR list. I opened and closed the Goodreads app. The display tables did nothing to entice me, and the endcaps were as uninspiring. I’m used to New York bookstores that specifically have Black displays, of all genres. I’ll read almost anything, but I’m intentional about spending MY Black dollars to support Black creatives. I picked up and put back so many books. I had to be mindful of suitcase space. I patiently waited at the Info Desk for help locating Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. That book is a doorstopper and absolutely would not fit in my already-overstuffed Samsonite carryon or backpack. Young adult novels are also thick, so they weren’t viable candidates. There was a BOGO half off sale, but it was limited and I didn’t like the options.

I walked out with an unimpressive book haul of one: The Coldest Winter Ever. I read it over twenty years ago. The funds could’ve gone to an unread book. I do plan to re-read Coldest Winter. Last month, the long-awaited sequel was finally published. It tops my wishlist. My real birthday wish is a BBBM (big, bald, Black man, or big, bearded, Black man. Bonus if he’s bald and bearded, but Triple BM sounds better than Quadruple BM. Anyway, since getting new books is more easily attainable than getting a new BBBM, here’s a snippet, and I do mean snippet, of my Birthday Book Wishlist (that I can remember).

Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson
This woman is Hollywood, specifically Black Hollywood, royalty. I can only imagine the stories she’s lived through. I was floored after reading an excerpt of her volatile relationship with Miles Davis. Who knew? I’m intrigued.

The Coldest Winter Ever and Life After Death by Sister Souljah
Sister Souljah had all Black teen girls and women carrying the infamous pink, purple and yellow book The Coldest Winter Ever. That’s why we were all excited to learn that decades later, she finally blessed us with a sequel. I decided when I saw the cover reveal then that I would re-read The Coldest Winter Ever (something I rarely do) so I could devour Life After Death. Its cover is a subdued black version of the original, but still gorgeous.

Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins
I mainly want to read this because it is a Well-Read Black Girl book club selection. I have yet to be disappointed by one after all these years. A snippet of the summary:
Laila desperately wants to become a mother, but each of her previous pregnancies has ended in heartbreak. This time has to be different, so she turns to the Melancons, an old and powerful Harlem family known for their caul, a precious layer of skin that is the secret source of their healing power.

Girl Gurl Grrrl: On Womanhood and Belonging in the Age of Black Girl Magic by Kenya Hunt
Speaking of Well-Read Black Girl, author Kenya Hunt spoke on one of the panels at last year’s Well-Read Black Girl Festival. It was virtual, and sho’ nuff I sat on my couch, logged on to Crowdcast, furiously scribbling notes on future reads. This is at the top of the list. Whenever a friend and I have something juicy to share we start the text with “Gurl!” so I know this will be a good read.

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
First of all, that’s a beautiful book cover. Yes, I judge books by their cover, but I do give them a chance by reading the summary. In this case, I didn’t have to because Greenidge was also a panelist at WRBG Fest. The novel takes place in both Brooklyn and Haiti. I currently live in Brooklyn and I’m Haitian. Sure, I’m in.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
I listened to this short story collection as an audiobook in a single day. I was doing chores, and never wanted to hit pause to switch over to music. The stories were so juicy and trifling. Some were heartwarming. Most, if not all, revolved around sexual relationships. That’s what made it a joy. I and fellow bookstagrammers DM’d each other about it. I know it doesn’t make sense to buy the book after I’ve already read it, but I want it. *said in a whiny voice.*

When We Free the World by Kevin Powell
1. Yes, that Kevin Powell of MTV Real world fame, but the former reality TV personality is also a writer and activist.
2. Kevin Powell’s fourteenth and latest book.
3. New York Times excerpted the essay, ”A Letter from Father to Child,” in which Powell warns his future child about violence and all the -isms as a so-called minority. All the feels. It reminded me of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
4. This man provided me the opportunity to be a first-time published author in the anthology 2020: The Year That Changed America. I will stan and support Powell all I can. I’ve been meaning to read his memoir The Education of Kevin Powell forever. (I own it) I’ve donated to a few of his crowd sourcing for his future film endeavors.

Love in Color by Bolu Babalala
Another book with a gorgeous cover. And it’ll be a kinda-sorta buddy read with my niece, a fellow book nerd.

What’s Yours and Mine by Naima Coster
I loved Coster’s debut novel Halsey Street. I constantly think about it as I walk down Halsey Street in my Bed-Stuy neighborhood and note all the gentrification. There’s no end in sight, which is a theme in the novel. Halsey Street and Yours and Mine both also deal with family. Novels that revolve around whole families are never boring.

Jasmine Guillory books
I read heavy Blackity Black Black books that tend to cover the traumas we deal with in this messed up country. A welcome break comes in the form of what I call rom-com novels, but are deemed romance. I’ll take Jasmine Guillory over cheesy Nicholas Sparks any day. I was bamboozled into reading The Notebook years ago. I’ve read two of the five books in Guillory’s The Wedding Date series. I thoroughly enjoyed The Wedding Date and The Proposal. Next up are The Wedding Party, Royal Wedding, Party of Two.

Talia Hibbert books
In the vain of Jasmine Guillory, these are rom-com reads. My desire to read them was reinforced when the aforementioned book nerd niece told me she thinks I’d enjoy them. Also, like Guillory’s books, they don’t have to be read in order, but are loosely linked by vague references to each other’s characters. I still want to read Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Take a Hint, Dani Brown, and Act Your Age, Eve Brown in order.

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