Monday, March 22, 2010

Church Folk - review and then some memories....

Church Folk

Michele Andrea Bowen

Church Folk was an impulse buy. I was feeling sorry for my self one day when I decided to go to the bookstore. This is something I do when I'm feeling sorry for my self; as long as I have even just $20, I'll go to a bookstore and look for books. In this case I thought I would go buy some books that I've been waiting for, but of course once I got to Barnes & Nobles, I couldn't remember a single author of the books I was looking for. Normally I would have just looked for the titles, but of course, I couldn't exactly remember the titles either. There are days like this - here and there in my life :) . As I was walking by a rack of Newly Released Paperbacks, this cover just caught my eye. Especially since I'm trying to participate in a POC Reading Challenge, and lo' and beHold! there's a person of color right there on the cover. Right in a display situated right in the middle walkway of Barnes and Nobles. Nice Going! B&N folk! You should do this more often with more books written by and/or about people of color. Put them out there with the REST OF THE BOOKS. *

This novel is about a preacher, a young, handsome African Amercan Preacher in the south who is just starting out. He meets a young woman who is a cook in a "jook joint", a place where they serve wonderful spicy food and feature spicy entertainment such as blues singing. Church Folk spans a few years beginning in 1960 (that's the year I was born), Theophilus (handsome young preacher) and Essie (down to earth, fiery-tempered woman) are the two main characters. One of the strongest secondary characters is the church itself. Not just the building, but everything there is about church-going: the congregation, the singing, the music, the church politics, the sermons, the "amens" etc. Sprinkled throughout the book, are mentions and references to the Civil Rights Movement, which was going on during the time period this book is set in, although the main focus in the story is the love story and the machinations of some of the greedy preachers and the workings of the more upstanding "church folk".

Reading this book, I was reminded of having to go to church with my uncle (not one of these churches, I might have loved it much more) but a dry, dampen the spirit church (Seventh Day Adventist**). Where as Theophilis' church seems to glorify and worship their Jesus and lord with music, dancing and loving, the church I attended discouraged dancing and music and preached against adorning oneself. In contrast, the churchgoers all seemed to be very judgemental about how you were dressed. I remember wondering why they were passing collection plates for missionary work and yet spendin hundreds of thousands of dollars on a church bell. We were being preached at to show christian charity, and yet my sister and I were ignored by the other kids in the Sabbath School portion of the services. I really didn't like going to church.

Back to Church Folk. One of the subplots is the ill-use of funds and the way that some deacons, preachers and bishops seemed to use the church as a way to enrich themselves materialistically rather than enriching their souls and parishioners souls. Church Folk is also a love story and one of the other subplots was the testing of Essie and Theophilis' marriage and love for each other, as well as the growth of their marriage.

While there certainly were no graphic sex scenes, it did feel as if most of the passages involving Theo and Essie were one long session of foreplay. Boy, were those two hot for each other. Another thing that really struck me, was the way that almost all the descriptions of skin color were food related. "Caramel colored", "Dark Chocolate", "light Chocolate", even "Dark Coffee without Cream". Kind of a nice way to compare skin colors. (I would probably be Dulce de Leche, or milky caramel. Yum, Yum. What I enjoyed about this, was the sense of happiness, the non-shame of loving and appreciating their bodies while loving and appreciating the bible and bible teachings.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. I loved the narration style. I loved the dialogue between all the characters, both mean and sweet. I loved reading about the singing and music and dancing in the aisles. If I were brought up with a church like that, I might still be going! Ms Bowen tells a great story here of the triumph of a preacher and his young wife, their flaws and good points and the persevere against the "devils work" in the church. This is one impulse buy that I'm glad I bought. I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you want a good book with a little bit of history for the POC Reading Challenge. Even though most of the events in this novel took place when I was around two or three years old, I still felt a sense of nostalgia when reading about the environment, the music, the cars and clothes. Those early 60's are a very dim memory in my mind. The late 60's and early 70's kind of exploded in my memories, that was a time of extreme change for a lot of people - I'm talking about changes in general - clothes, music, tv shows, etc.

Michele Andrea Bowen also wrote Second Sunday and Holy Ghost Corner. I want to read Holy Ghost Corner (next on my to-buy-when-I-can list)

Reading Challeges
Person Of Color Reading Challenge
2010 Countdown Challenge for the year 2001

*I had never noticed before, but apparently a lot of books by African American authors are shelved in a separate sections (African American Literature), no matter what the subject matter is. Whether it's about philosophy, Africa, fiction, fantasy, romance, or urban fantasy the book goes into this separate section, which I believe cuts down on the amount of people who would normally be browsing through the books. I have never ever thought that if I wanted to find an urban fantasy book that I might have to look in a different section than scifi/fantasy. I think this is silly. If I'm looking for romance books, I'm going to the romance section. If I'm looking for fanatasy, to the scifi/fantasy section I go. This is where the books should go also, not to be segregated by the racial background of the author. Is there a separate section for...Asian American? SpanishAmerican? How much am I missing out on because I'm looking in a perfectly logical area to look in for science fiction or romance books? One day when I have some extra time to browse, I'm going to have to take a tour of the bookstore that I'm in, instead of heading directly to the fantasy section.

**{ahhh- childhood memories!"can be beautiful, and yet..."} I don't normally read "christian" oriented books, as I have rather bad connotations/memories of going to church and most of the strongly vocal christians that we dealt with as young ones were vocal about being christians while they were busy judging and treating others with less than respect. I know it sounds a little bitter, but to me, church wasn't a positive experience. More memories can be found over here, if you want to take a chance on some childhood angst. :)

On a happier note, I did have another uncle who was a pastor in the church that came to take my siblings and I to church. We were so upset, because we thought we didn't have to go that weekend, that he started asking us what was wrong. When we explained all the things that bothered us about this church, he drove out to the beach. We had a picnic lunch and he did some sermonizing right out there in nature, with the waves and seagulls in the background. Then we were able to play on the beach for a while. Best church experience ever.

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