Monday, 9 January 2017

Reading Challenge: A Book by a Person of Colour

I saw this book in the library last year and the Reading Challenge is a perfect opportunity to get round to reading it. I read The Colour Purple, arguably Walker's most famous novel, years ago, and I have chickens myself, three pekin bantams, hence my interest in this book. 

The Chicken Chronicles is non-fiction, made up of nearly 40 short essays relating to Alice Walker's chickens and/or to memories/ideas that they give rise to. It's also an excellent insight into the woman that she is. Her humanity shines through; her regard for all living things is present on practically every page. Some of the essays cover mundane day to day events like sitting out with her chickens; others involve her travels in the world including meeting the Dalai Lama. The 'pecking order' of the chickens becomes a microcosm of bigger human society with parallels drawn. On the surface, some of these essays might seem like cosy little thoughts on feathered dependents but look a little deeper and there are plenty of profound ideas just below the surface.

I learned new things reading this book. When a chicken is growing up, you can tell if it is laying because it's comb will be red. If it is not yet laying, it's comb will be pink, Just as Walker goes off in digressions as she learns things, I found myself wondering if this just applied to when the chickens were young or was an indication throughout their life on their laying abilities. It's winter here now and the combs of my chickens have lost their fierce red colour and they aren't laying so perhaps . . .

When should you not approach an elephant? When it is standing still and not flapping its ears. Apparently this is the type of stance in a pachyderm that you should be wary of. I don't know if I will ever encounter an elephant in my life but if I do this gem may come in useful.

I found this lovely pic on Amazon

Hundreds of miles away as she is with a life experience very different from my own, I can read her comments on how chickens like to dig into the soil and nap and know from experience that this is true. My chooks love grapes as much as hers. Their meanness to each other can be unpleasant to watch and accept - we agree on that. They are fascinating to watch. Walker makes the time to sit with her chickens and be present in the moment and I can empathise with that also.

Her style of writing is enjoyable and easy to access but she doesn't shying away from referencing things which some might find uncomfortable. Her history, the history or her parents, grandparents and her people as a nation, is mentioned here and there. Where she perceives oppression, her memory triggers comparisons of her own experience and often those of black people and the cruel heritage of slavery. Owning these chickens helps her piece together memories where before she had only blanks. In repeating physical tasks she undertook as a child she recalls scenes, people, events that her mind has hitherto closed off owing to painful experiences, many brought about by poverty.

One piece of wording which struck me and has already made a permanent niche in my memory is when she is discussing how brothers and sisters left when she was a child and she had to learn to let her heart shrug. A simple image but a powerful one. There is definitely power in this book, a warm, loving, strong power - the short piece of the nuns of Dharamsala singing the song of the feminine was another beautiful image that will stay with me.

I would recommend this to those who want to know more about what makes Alice Walker tick; to those who know chickens and enjoy their company; to those with nomadic souls like Walker. The short essays mean this book can easily be fitted in at the end of the day, maybe while you have something cooking, maybe when you're on the train. Enjoy!

8 out of 10 chickens (Sue Ellen posing for the photo)

Are you undertaking the #popsugarreadingchallenge? 

Other books I'd recommend under a book by a person of colour category:

Trumpet by Jackie Kay
Beloved by Toni Morrison

Tempted by this book, but already have your book book by a person of colour covered? These are other categories in the Reading Challenge this book could apply to:

  • A book with a red spine
  • A book by an author from a country you've never visited (if you've never been to America)
  • A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you (if you're a different ethnicity to Alice Walker)
  • A book about an interesting woman
  • A book written by someone you admire

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