My Thoughts: Accra Noir

Accra Noir was a really enjoyable anthology. I have no regrets about it being my first official introduction into the noir genre. Heaven knows my dark soul enjoys a few grim and occasionally grisly tales here and there.

I had the privilege of receiving a copy of this book directly from Nigeria-based Cassava Republic publishers, and of attending the launch event for this book at The Library of Africa and the African Diaspora (LOATAD), where I met a few of the awesome contributing authors, Ernest (whom I would probably pay to read me to sleep), Gbontwi (whom I know personally and who contributed the only speculative story to the anthology, ayy, represent!), and Eibhlin (a truly delightful Irish-born lady who reads well enough to make me forget I’m in the real world). I even got their signatures!

[Another contributor, Ambassador Anna Bosman, was there too, but I didn’t get to snag her autograph. 😞]

I’m afraid that maybe I read too much, because for most books I’ve read recently, I’ve found it too easy to predict the ends of stories. Probably because of that bias, my favorite stories in this anthology were the ones whose endings I didn’t quite expect – in particular, “Chop Money,” by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond (an *excellent* story to start the collection with!) and “Kweku’s House” by Ayesha Harruna Attah. My absolute favorite, though, was “Intentional Consequences,” by Anne Sackey. I don’t know if the ending was entirely unexpected, but this story aroused the most emotions within me just because of the deep flaws and feelings of the characters themselves. They felt so alive and so real, and the plot was just a tad bit Nollywood/Ghallywood, which made it even more entertaining for me.

I haven’t read any other books in the Akashic Noir series (yet, hehee), so I don’t know if this is unique to Accra Noir or not – but I realized that most stories tended to take up a lot of time just being explanatory. I suppose the purpose was to introduce readers to the character and history of the individual Accra communities featured in the stories, but sometimes, these explanations felt distracting. It was like taking me out of the story and into a textbook, and then back into the story. But God knows that writing is hard, and trying to integrate any sort of exposition into a story naturally can be quite a hellish endeavor even for veterans in the writing game.

Altogether, reading this book was a pleasure. The stories were diverse in form and content, and generally easy to read. I highly recommend it!

-Akotz 🕸

Thoughts on Frank Herbert’s Dune

I will fully admit that I decided to read this book because Zendaya is in the upcoming movie, and as usual, I insist on reading the book before watching the movie.

I know it’s a sci-fi classic, but even after combing through Goodreads reviews, I can’t say that I fully understand why—except maybe that the impact has something to do with the era in which it was published.

Since I’m pretty ambivalent about the entire book, I thought a list of the things I enjoyed and the things I didn’t would be more useful than an essay-like review. So, here we go:

Things I enjoyed:

  • The depth of Herbert’s worldbuilding.
  • The intricacies of Fremen religion, and religion in general, throughout the book. They feel simultaneously derivative and very well-thought out.
  • The amalgamation of cultures. Among those I picked up on, particularly in the names and non-English words: Arabic, Judeo-Christian, Asian.
  • Bene Gesserit superpowers and their partiality to women.
  • The idea that the man who is prophesied as a savior will or must be adept at things generally considered feminine. I would like more shattering of gender barriers, please and thanks.
  • The slight transcendence of the “reluctant hero” trope (which I love) into a “hero who wants to actively resist the fervor that would come about as the result of his heroism” trope, which is largely new to me in fiction. Considering the way real-life history has occurred, this seems the most logical type of hero trope that could possibly exist in science-fiction, and now that I’ve read Dune, I’m shocked that the trope isn’t overwhelmingly popular already. This is the first time in real or fictional religion that I’ve seen the central figure of that religion deeply consider in advance the violence that his worshippers could wreak around the world.
  • The idea of investing in a sustainable future whole-heartedly, even though you know that your generation isn’t the one that will live to see it. We love environmental/climate justice.

Things I did not enjoy:

  • The stiffness of the dialogue between the characters.
  • The way the plot progresses but hardly seems to twist. It felt like I was always told what was going to happen, so that when it happened, I felt nothing because it was impossible to be surprised. A lot of this, I think, is Princess Irulan’s fault. And, perhaps, the gifts of prescience that some of the characters possess. In any case, I wonder how the book would have read, if Irulan’s excerpts came at the ends of chapters, and not the beginnings.
  • The lack of readable romance between people who clearly have great love for each other. For instance, I could infer that Jessica and Duke Leto were in love, but I couldn’t feel it. Same thing with Paul and Chani.
  • It felt like homosexuality and obesity were weaponized through their uses as characteristic of the book’s central antagonist.
  • The fact that the author chose to continuously document the inner thoughts of the characters in italics, instead of leaving me to infer. It felt like spoon-feeding me as a reader, as if I wasn’t smart enough to figure certain things out on my own. Besides, just like Irulan’s excerpts did, it severely detracted from the consequently nonexistent mystery of the plot.
  • The way the book was written made it difficult to understand what should have been basic transitions between places, times, and events.
  • The entire book was just much, much longer than it probably needed to be.

So, Dune may be a classic, but I can’t say it would be anywhere close to high on my recommendation list. But that’s just how I feel.

-Akotz the Spider Kid

My Thoughts: The Water Dancer

I’ve had an overdose of slavery writing lately, by virtue of having been enrolled last semester in an English class literally called “The Slave Narrative and the Novel.” So, goodness knows why, at the dawn of the decade, I thought it would be a good idea to go read yet another slavery novel.

For quite a while from the beginning, The Water Dancer was going, content-wise, the way I expected it to, and so I had thoughts of abandoning it until I felt capable of engaging with a slavery book again. The thing that changed my mind halfway through, which got me to commit to finishing, was this one narrative spin: superpowers.

36A8BAEE-59D3-4976-8183-CEE731620D5E

I’ve read quite a bit of Coates’ nonfiction. I know, though, that he is also a comic book writer, particularly of one of Marvel’s Black Panther series. I still haven’t read any, like the disgrace that I am. Either way, just by knowing Coates’ reputation for writing superheroes, I sat up a lot straighter when I saw the hint of superpowers in The Water Dancer. This man knows the genre well, I thought. He’s about to give me a superhero slavery novel and I have never in my life read a superhero slavery novel. Turns out, however, that in this regard, the joke was on me. The Water Dancer turned out to be more of a coming-of-age story by way of magical realism, than a superhero story. So, there, I suffered from a bit of unmet expectation. It’s hard to say whether my expectations were even valid or not, seeing that I don’t actually know how Coates deals with superpowers in his other texts. Regardless, I enjoyed the book and am glad I finished it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an amazingly poetic writer, which made the prose a genuine pleasure to read. Now, this feature worked spectacularly in the narration and inner thoughts of the main character, Hiram. There was also something quite fascinating going on in the combination of racial and class-based language into categories unique to the world of The Water Dancer. Slaves were generally referred to as “the Tasked” and slavery itself as “the Task”; slaveholders and powerful whites were generally referred to as “the Quality.” I’m sure Coates would be able to give some brilliant explanations for his decision to use such language, which can scarcely escape the notice of any reader who may be desensitized to the more commonly used words/categories.

Where the language seemed to fall into awkward confusion was in the direct speech. The way slaves talk in The Water Dancer is very different from how slaves have talked in any other text I have read. It felt weird. Not necessarily a good, creative weird like with Toni Morrison’s characters, but weird like, “You can’t possibly expect me to believe they said this like that.” I don’t know what the difference is that made the words come off so, but I can’t deny that I felt uncomfortable with it sometimes. One critical reviewer said that all the characters sounded the same, and I can definitely see how that opinion came about.

There were many other things I loved, though. One of them was the recurrent messages of freedom and individuality, both in the institutional sense—regarding the Task/slavery—and in the personal sense of being allegiant to oneself. Two of my favorite quotes came from the characters Corinne and Hawkins.

“But freedom, true freedom, is a master too, you see—one more dogged, more constant, than any ragged slave-driver,” she said. “What you must now accept is that all of us are bound to something. Some will bind themselves to property in man and all that comes forthwith. And others shall bind themselves to justice. All must name a master to serve. All must choose.” –Corinne


“But I think this is the lesson in it all. We forget sometimes—it is freedom we are serving, it is the Task that we are against. And freedom mean the right of a man to do as he please, not as we suppose. And if you have not been as we supposed, you have been as you were supposed to be.” –Hawkins

Another thing I found wonderful was the lexivist themes woven so integrally into the story. The novel presented the power of story, storytelling and memory as mediums for the supernatural, and the power of good, crafty writing as a liberating, dangerous tool utilized by the defiant Underground.

Besides these, I thought Hiram was a sufficiently complex character. His internal struggles, thoughts and moments of cognitive dissonance came across as extremely realistic. The dangerously potent attachment to his owner’s family, property and town, for one. Then there was his immaturity and then maturity, callousness and compassion, desire for proximate power, fear of freedom, complicated relationships with women.

Speaking of women, possibly my favorite thing about The Water Dancer was how the women in the novel refused to be owned. Especially Sophia and Moses/Harriet. I thought the Harriet character was very congruent with how she was portrayed in the recently released movie Harriet (which did the superhero slavery thing excellently, I might add!). As for Sophia, the hurt she harbored regarding men was so profound, I felt it in the depths of my soul. She seemed to me to represent how, after you have been traumatized by a man, being any man’s woman, even in love, is sometimes too terrible to contemplate. Her fear, which even Hiram picked up, was so powerful and relevant.

“What I did understand was that she was terribly afraid of something—something in me, and the thought that I would, in any way, exist to her in the way of Nathaniel, that she would fear me as she feared him, scared and shamed me all at once.” –Hiram

And I am glad Hiram was ashamed.

My greatest discomforts with The Water Dancer come from, interestingly enough, how the novel reads as being extraordinarily nice to white people. Something in me is already weary of the whole biracial-slave-owned-by-his-white-master/father protagonist thing. On top of that, Hiram’s love for his father—whom he consistently referred to as, and wholeheartedly and delightedly claimed as his father—was a bit sickening to me. Furthermore, the white characters, particularly Hiram’s father and Corinne, only got called out a couple of times each, and none harshly enough that I really felt anything. The white characters felt kind of like heroes. I don’t know what that means for a slavery novel. I do know what that means in terms of being palatable to the mainstream publishing industry, though, so I don’t know what to think about that. The one time I was struck in a positive way by Hiram calling someone out was in this case:

All of these fanatics were white. They took slavery as a personal insult or affront, a stain upon their name. They had seen women carried off to fancy, or watched as a father was stripped and beaten in front of his child, or seen whole families pinned like hogs into rail-cars, steam-boats, and jails. Slavery humiliated them, because it offended a basic sense of goodness that they believed themselves to possess. And when their cousins perpetrated the base practice, it served to remind them how easily they might do the same. They scorned their barbaric brethren, but they were brethren all the same. So their opposition was a kind of vanity, a hatred of slavery that far outranked any love of the slave. –Hiram

I thought this a necessary and refreshing perspective to bring to the consideration of white abolitionists and Underground agents. But Coates definitely has the creative license to do what he wants, and I don’t know half of the crap that goes on in the publishing world before a book comes out, so I choose, this time, to refrain from any explicit judgment. Life is hard and weird.

Despite the many someway things, I did think The Water Dancer was a good novel and enjoyable read. And I really like when Black people have superpowers.

-Akotz the Spider Kid

BTW, follow my reading-dedicated Instagram account, @SpiderKidReads!

My Thoughts: The Nickel Boys

I owned The Nickel Boys for months before I dared read it, because I was afraid that it would be too heavy to engage with in the middle of an already challenging semester. I thought it would rip me apart and break my heart with all its potential horror. After reading it finally over break, I don’t know how else to say this, but it turns out that The Nickel Boys was not nearly as harrowing as I expected. Although I consider it a good read, I don’t feel anything particularly strongly about it.

148F5644-75CB-41D3-A8E5-271F50EE5C4EFor those unfamiliar, the book is about a boarding school in Florida that operates more like a detainment center for delinquent boys than an institute of education. Neither teachers nor administrators give a whit about the wellbeing of the boys. I don’t know whether the book really was written in a way that wasn’t as painful as I expected, or if my relative stoicism came from myself, being familiar with Ghanaian boys’ boarding house horror stories. The Nickel Academy certainly felt awful, but not even close to unimaginably so. Only once while reading do I recall being stunned enough to pause and reevaluate my decision to keep reading.

The Nickel Boys was my second ever Colson Whitehead read. The first was The Underground Railroad, which I read in 2018. The Underground Railroad was a bit of a publishing hit. Before all the publicity of its release, I didn’t even know who Colson Whitehead was. I suspect that book’s success was both a good thing and a bad thing for The Nickel Boys, published in its shadow. The fortunate part is that after the preceding book’s popularity, people were eager to get their hands on The Nickel Boys. The unfortunate consequence, though, is that too many people seem to want to interpret The Nickel Boys as another Underground Railroad­­­—essentially another American slavery novel—whereas I think it just isn’t

My reading experiences between The Nickel Boys and The Underground Railroad were vastly different. I experienced the former to be better than the latter, both in relevance and enjoyability. While I remember thinking The Underground Railroad was full of Black academic jargon that I only recognized because I myself am an Africana Studies major, The Nickel Boys used simple language which was beautifully lyrical while being easy to work through. The book itself was brief, but I also read it very fast in the way I can only do when I am able to swim through the writing style with barely any resistance. Additionally, there are many, many books about American slavery, both in fiction and nonfiction. But a topic such as this—the Nickel Academy being based off the very real Dozier School for Boys—is not one that you come across often. That alone made the subject matter more interesting for me.

I came across quite a number of The Nickel Boys reviews that treated it as a slavery novel, and for the life of me, after reading it, I couldn’t see it as one, no matter what the critics said. The main characters are certainly Black, and a significant portion of the time setting is the Civil Rights Era. The experiences of Elwood and Turner are definitely horrifying and the circumstances by which they landed in the Nickel Academy were specifically racial. But if the novel must be treated as a critique, I see it as more of a critique on the US’s way of dealing (or not dealing) with delinquency—or what a dysfunctional system thinks delinquency is—than of slavery or racism. The Nickel Academy, though segregated, is a house of horrors for unfortunate teenage boys, Black, white, and in Jaimie’s case, Mexican. Although the main character, Elwood, is Black, and his story and his friend Turner’s are consequently stories of Black horror, the Nickel Academy itself does not value any demographic of its boys. It’s a downright awful institution for all enrolled in it. If the novel must have a moral, I’d say it was this: something is very, very wrong with human beings. Too many characters seem to derive pleasure from gratuitous cruelty and operate with a stunning disregard for the value of life.

I have some idea of why some critics so badly want to turn this into a slavery novel, but I do not think The Nickel Boys becomes any less relevant than The Underground Railroad even if it is not explicitly about race. Sometimes, books suffer unreasonably from the shadows of their predecessors or the reputations of their writers.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book, which showcases Colson Whitehead’s classical wit (and I’ve experienced him in person so I can verify that he’s hilarious):

“His constant dorm reassignments notwithstanding, Jaimie kept a quiet profile and conducted himself in accordance with the Nickel handbook’s rules of conduct—a miracle, since no one had ever seen the handbook despite its constant invocations by the staff. Like justice, it existed in theory.”

-Akotz the Spider Kid

BTW, follow my reading-dedicated Instagram account, @SpiderKidReads!