Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t All That Funkin Kinda Hard on You? ($27 Atria) by George Clinton with Ben Greenman is a memoir for any lover, follower and enthusiast of the funk. Clinton’s influence on hip-hop, namely Snoop Dogg/Dr. Dre’s funk infused G-funk camp of artists, that the second African-American fraternity’s de facto anthem is one of his hits doesn’t hurt either. Here, Clinton takes you from his beginnings in North Carolina through New Jersey and on to Detroit, then around the country and the world up to the present. While you get all the details, the thing you realize around the middle is that this narrator isn’t exactly the funky side of George Clinton. You’re reading the man behind the image’s narration of the events and social influences on the music he made as commentary over time. This reflective version of Clinton is more normal and even keeled than you may expect—surprisingly so, actually.
Gordon Parks: Collected Works ($185.00 Steidle) by The Gordon Parks Foundation is five volumes of mainly unseen documentary, fashion and lifestyle photography by the man himself. The first two volumes are black and white imagery showing the reader Harlem from 1943-1944, the Tuskegee Airmen in 1943, European assignments from Life magazine, Portugal, American teenagers in Paris, and his photographic installation based on Ralph Ellison’s novel The Invisible Man. Volume II features Parks’s coverage of negro segregation for Life, Peru, and the March on Washington. In volume IV, you get to hear his voice in an essay, “The Spirit of Color.” Parks discusses his process when shooting using the spectrum of light. As he captures a dutchess’s wedding, Black Muslims, Black Panthers and more, he strongly engages the viewer by showing the world through his eyes. The final book in this collection contains his Life magazine spreads as seen in their original print run layouts. Get it.
A Brief History of Seven Killings ($28.95 Riverhead) by Marlon James is the book that set the bar higher than any other work of fiction reviewed this year. It’s told first person through the numerous characters that make up the tapestry of the landscape of Jamaica, the story’s setting. It’s a powder keg based around an election, and a meddling singer meeting with the top bad men who each support one of the two parties vying for control. It’s the 1970s, and Kingston’s swelling with drug dealers, CIA agents, shady politicians, Cubans, Syrians, journalists, assassins, dynamic women characters, and the singer (Bob Marley).
Seven men try to take out Marley before a big concert. It’s what happens leading up to, during and after the attempt that will keep you on this roller coaster ride. The various degrees of patois dialect, Spanish, and American English flow from chapter to chapter. It may sound daunting, but the way James uses language is amazing. Overall, disputes, jealousies and fears—from wanting to be the man running the ’hood to the man running the country to the man whose country is running your country—drive this tale. The way the ring spirals up and around is expertly executed. Vigorous, intricate and captivating, A Brief History of Seven Killings is hard to put down. Book clubs come running.
Africa 39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara ($17 Bloomsbury) edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey features 39 up-and-coming African writers. A couple of names you recognize (Dinaw Mengestu, Taiye Selasi), but the other 37 bring their own fresh new narratives and styles to the table, and each has the experience to show and prove. The writing is strong, and the topics range from various stages and states of romantic relationships to friendships to origin stories to remixed historical events. What you truly receive, outside of 39 new stories set in places you don’t know but can feel, is a cultivated crash course in sub-Saharan African writers and literary outlets. Pay attention.