Rory Andes’s Review of “The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street” by Helene Hanff

Rory Andes’s Review of “The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street” by Helene Hanff

In her follow up volume to “84, Charing Cross Road“, Hanff takes you on a ride through her adventures in London in “The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.” After 20 years of corresponding with the Doel family and a burning desire to visit London, Hanff finally cashes in on her worldwide popularity with the publication of “84” and, at age 55 in 1971, decides to walk the streets of a city that was the source of her fantasies… and success.

Following some similar formats in the way of letters, Hanff captures her trip in a journal encased in amazingly detailed descriptions of London’s citywide layout. Personally, as I read this, I wish I had an atlas or Google Maps to virtually share her travels. Helene Hanff has a very distinct personality of an American from New York and her neurotic behavior is cleverly comical as she attends book tour commitments throughout London. With new characters like the Colonel (someone who might be described as a groupie, or a stalker) and the management team of her London based publisher Andre Deutsch who wrangle her through her tour, you also get to meet, as Hanff did, Nora and Sheila Doel… the family of Frank Doel, who was the other half of Helene’s charming 20-year-long letter communications to London’s Marks and Co. Booksellers in “84”.

This follow up has much of the same charm and character as its predecessor and, as before, it showcases a wonderful older generation of class and style with it. Hanff’s encounters with the British lifestyle she’s always envisioned are endearing and highlights what expectations do to someone who takes on her dreams in midlife. A fun and heartwarming ride with Helene through London in the 70s will make you often laugh. While it could be read on its own, I highly encourage reading “84, Charing Cross Road” to truly appreciate all that went into the need for this follow up book. If you like the storytelling of folks like Nora Ephron, you’ll love Helene Hanff.

A. Al-Wadud’s Review of JEWELS: 50 Phenomenal Black Women Over 50 by Micheal Cunningham & Connie Briscoe

A. Al-Wadud’s Review of JEWELS: 50 Phenomenal Black Women Over 50 by Micheal Cunningham & Connie Briscoe

In our youth obsessed culture, Jewels: 50 Phenomenal Black Women Over 50 by photographer Micheal Cunningham and novelist Connie Briscoe is an inspiring treasure. This book of photo-essays contains portraits of celebrities andnon-celebrities alike, who overcame tremendous barriers to successfully raise children (some as single mothers) and have careers. These are warrior women who have fought for equal opportunities in education, business, and society as a whole.

With age comes wisdom, but it is much more than that that makes each one of these fifty women attractive. It’s the strength of character, the “I am my own me,” that gives each one their regal bearing. This differentiates between true beauty and petty prettiness that is sold by many media as the epitome of feminity.

I found myself personally drawn to Mütter Evans, the second black woman to purchase a radio station in the U.S., and the youngest at age 26. Ms. Evans speaks of the fear and challenge of coming up with the funds in the 1970’s, dealing with not just racism and sexism, but a whole host of other isms. However, she knew the impact the media would have on her community. Then there is Ruby Davis-Jett who started her own online travel agency as well as a real estate conglomerate, despite getting pregnant at the age of 16. A few other jewels are actresses Ruby Dee and S. Epatha Merkerson, singer/songwriter Nona Hendrix, television news executive and author (and the great-great granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker) A’Lelia Bundles, and Representative Alma Adams. You can judge a society by how it treats its’ women and mature members, as well as the feminine participation in said society. Like with many groups, America still has a ways to go; however, with Jewels one can see the many beautiful stitches in this great American tapestry.

Review of Black Privilege by Charlamagne Tha God

Review of Black Privilege by Charlamagne Tha God

What a name, right? When I intially read this title I thought to myself, “There’s no way there’s any truth to this statement!” Then I began to read and was quickly proven wrong.

If you’re familar with comedian, brash in-your-face radio personality Charlamagne, you already know he speaks authentically about what’s on his mind, telling his audience not what they want to hear but what he believes to be true — period! In this book he stays true to his personality and this principle.

This is easily one of the most honest memoirs I’ve ever read. Charlamagne is not afraid to reveal his many insecurities, criticisms from the media and other prominent people he’s faced, and the most difficult and darkest times he encountered on his way to stardom and national fame. Black Privilege is not what you might think it means: it is not asserting that black people have an inherent privilage in society that is not available for non-black people. Instead, he espouses the notion that regardless of who you are — black, gay, disabled, etc. — you must first own who you are and, in spite of it, become a “privileged” person by pressing forward to evolve into the best version of yourself you can be. He illustrates the importance of not allowing whatever your insecurities or shortcomings are to inhibit your potential and success is. He conveys this strong message through his own story of triumph.

Charlamagne delivers his usual comedy that is so unfiltered and politically incorrect that you’re almost afraid to laugh out loud. He reveals the names of his rivals and provides insights into some of his most infamous moments and feuds with celebrities in the music industry; he simply doesn’t care. He tells his audience how he feels about those confrontations and why he’s grateful for having faced them throughout his career. Although he uses this platform to air his frustrations with people he’s encountered along the way, he’s not merely gossiping to sell books — there’s an underlying principle, life lesson in them.

The entire time I read this book, I felt as though he was not the celebrity that has become a household name, but rather a guy I could have easily known and hung out with in my neighborhood growing up. He speaks honestly and candidly about the hardships he encountered growing up, encouraging his readers to not allow their difficult circumstances to suppress their self-confidence and ultimately the pursuit of their goals.

What is especially easy to relate to and grab ahold of in Charlamagne’s story are the nuggets of wisdom that he offers in the form of colorful language. Again, staying true to his comedic roots, he touts principles to live by with semi-humorous yet keenly astute phrases that he has relied on to overcome his circumstances and attain impressive success. If you’re one of those who appreciates quotes to live by, you certainly will not be disappointed with this book.

Black Privilege is inspirational, refreshingly honest, very easy and entertaining to read, and well written. It speaks to the kid who grew up in rural South Carolina and the kid who hailed from the metropolis of New York City. I found myself laughing out loud at times, while, surprisingly, feeling very sympathetic at other times. This book resonated with me because it could have been my story or anyone else’s I know. I firmly believe you will come away feeling the same after you’ve read it.