Sunday, June 26, 2022

Back to the Classics 2022: Maud Marth by Gwendolyn Brooks

I felt like one of the cool kids when I listened to the most recent Backlisted podcast and heard that the very well-read Andy Miller had only just come across this book. And here, I read it months ago. 😆 Both Andy and I liked it a lot. 

Gwendolyn Brooks received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry on May 1, 1950, the first Black poet to receive that honor.  Though born in Kansas, she moved to Chicago when just an infant and was made Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968. This is her only novel and it does read like a very long prose poem, so I suspect anyone who enjoys her poetry will also enjoy Maud Martha. Normally, poetry is not my thing. I often find it inscrutable. But not so Gwendolyn Brooks. Here is a sample:

"But I am certainly not what he would call pretty. Even with all this hair (which I have just assured him, in response to his question, is not "natural," is not good grade or anything like good grade) even with whatever I have that puts a dimple in his heart, even with these nice ears, I am still, definitely, not what he can call pretty if he remains true to what his idea of pretty has always been. Pretty would be a little cream-colored thing with curly hair. Or at the very lowest pretty would be a little curly-haired thing the color of cocoa with a lot of milk in it. Whereas, I am the color of cocoa straight, if you can even be that "kind" to me. 

He wonders, as we walk in the street, about the thoughts of people who look at use. Are they thinking he could do no better than - me? Then he thinks, Well hmp! Well huh! – all the little-good lookin' dolls that have wanted him – all the little sweet high-yellows that have ambled slowly past his front door – What he would like to tell those secretly snickering ones! – That any day out of the week he can do better than this black gal. "

It is split into vignettes depicting trajectory of Maud Martha’s girlhood to womanhood in midcentury Chicago. Her homelife and childhood is happy, though she is somewhat in the shadow of her prettier older sister. When she marries and moves in to her own apartment, life definitely takes a bit of a turn. Her husband leaves a lot to be desired. But both he and Maud Martha are also worn down by the sometimes casual sometimes blatant racism of the era. 

The middle section titled “kitchenette folks” is the longest, depicting the residents of the building Maud Martha lives in with her husband. It reminded me some in its scope (but not style) of The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor.

My edition of the novel was only 180 pages long. This is  a short novel but one which tells volumes despite its brevity and simplicity of the language.  I read this for the Back to the Classics category "Classic by a BIPOC Author" for the challenge hosted by Karen at the blog Books and Chocolate.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Back to the Classics 2022

Hello bloggin friends! A little late to the party but let’s see if I can read and blog about a few of these in 2022. A few I have actually already read. I just need to make the time to write up the blog posts!

1. 19th Century Classic: I have a few Anthony Trollope novels on my shelf that I could read here. Cousin Henry, The Kellys and the O’Kellys, John Caldigate or The American Senator are what I can choose from if I stick to what I already own. But I've been pretty strict limiting my book purchases in the past two years and now I feel like indulging. BUY BUY BUY. So maybe I will read something I don't own yet. 

2. 20th Century Classic: For now, I am going to leave this open. I read plenty of backlist but would like to reserve this spot for one of the 27 books I have left to read from Modern Library Top 100

3. Woman Author Classic: I read a Furrowed Middlebrow imprint title from Dean Street Press every two months with a group on the reading app Litsy. I will probably pick one of these, since they are always mid-century novels by lesser known British female authors.

4. Translation Classic:  I might stick with Zola for this. The next title in the recommended reading order is La Curée (The Kill). So far I’ve read the free editions available on Gutenberg but I think Oxford University Press has them all in print. I might start buying them. For the annotations and for the unexpurgated versions, since Victorian translators often edited out parts of novels to assuage British sensibilities. 

5. BIPOC Classic:  I've already read this month the book that will fit perfectly for this category. It is the American poet, Gwendolyn Brooks' only novel: Maud Martha.

6. Mystery/Detective/Crime Classic: Well, I have one more Josephine Tey novel, The Singing Sands, to read. Maybe I will pick that. On the other hand, I have a hankering to re-read some Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

7. Classic Short Story Collection:  I have two beautiful Virago naked hardbacks with Daphne DuMaurier’s short stories. This is what I should pick.  I’m not much of a fan of short stories in general. I might not manage this one at all. 

8. Pre-1800 Classic:  I have already read The Golden Ass by Apuleius in February which was “published” in the late second century CE and will fit the bill. 

9. Nonfiction Classic: This is tough for me since I avoid nonfiction. Maybe I will pick Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. If any of you have a suggestion, I am all ears. 

10. Longest on your TBR: I think here I will pick another from Modern Library Top 100.  I have a print out of this list and have been working on it since 1998, so pretty long! 

11. Classic Set in a Place You'd Like to Visit: This is subject to change, but I might pick Norman Collin’s London Belongs to Me or Rumer Godden’s The Greengage Summer.  

12. Wild Card Classic: I recently bought a copy of Wilkie Collin’s The Law and the Lady. I haven’t read any of his books in a while and I love a good Victorian sensation novel.