Culture + Community
July Bibliotherapy with Sivan Bogan
“Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin
Where to begin with James Baldwin? An American writer, poet, and social critic, a former preacher, a dreamer, a black man in a white man’s world. James Baldwin was born in Harlem in 1924, the oldest of nine children. He spent his life traveling, writing, and fighting for equality. He will be a wave of power, intelligence, and love that will wash over the world for the rest of time. This was the first book of his that I read. The story takes place in the 1950s in Paris, where we follow a young American man determined to live a conventional life. After proposing to a young woman, he falls into a tumultuous love affair with an Italian bartender. What Baldwin captures so well is the true consciousness of someone who is denying himself what he truly wants and who he truly is. The lonely and self-deprecating voice that tries to dictate your life according to the world around you is a hard one to capture, but Baldwin does it with grace. This is a tragic and romantic story that will lift you up to the heavens and bring you back down to Earth again and again.
“Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. I think now that if I had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed at home.”
“Too Much and Not the Mood” by Durga Chew-Bose
On April 11, 1931, Virginia Woolf ended her journal entry with “too much and not the mood”. She was tired of trying to please others, tired of being so critical of her own work, and wondered if she had anything to say that others wanted to hear. Virginia Woolf’s frustration inspired Durga Chew-Bose to start collecting and writing her own work. In an insightful, confident, and lyrical series of essays, she captures an inner impatience and restlessness that is inside many of us to do and be better. She carefully crafts a feeling that was so specific and tender to me that I would audibly gasp. I stopped every few pages to jot notes down or copy a paragraph into my notebook to obsess over later. This is a rare gem.
“There’s strength in observing one’s miniaturization. That you are insignificant and prone to, and God knows, dumb about a lot. Because doesn’t smallness prime us to eventually take up space? For instance, the momentum gained from reading a great book. After sitting, sleeping, living in its consequence. A book that makes you feel, finally, latched on.”
“Even when I’m caught off guard by a lathery shade of peach on the bottom corner of a painting at the Met, as if being reminded that I haven’t seen all the colors, and how there’s more to see, and how one color’s newness can invalidate all of my sureness.”