My favorite book is my favorite book for many reasons. It’s not because it has some artfully crafted plot, takes place in a whimsical setting, or possesses a cast of dynamic characters, although the characters in the book are certainly quirky and endearing in their own right.
J. California Cooper’s collection of short stories – Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime – is my favorite book, because I found it during a season in my life when I was struggling to feel comfortable in my own skin.
For many years, the physical and literary world formed around me was covered in ivory; it was suffocating at times. I was gasping for air. But then I met Cooper, and I felt myself taking slow, deep breaths for the first time in a long time. Her stories brought me out of the light and into the dark and allowed me to have a deeper appreciation, not only of the struggle but the love, beauty, laughter that comprised black womanhood.
I found Some Love mangled, warn, and covered in dust at the bottom of my mom’s bookshelf. I picked it up and asked her if I could read it. She said, “Read it. I think you’re ready for this now.” The cover had a small picture of a black man and woman standing in a field in the country. The woman was facing the man. The man was looking straight ahead. They appeared to be from the 1950s.
In the introduction, Cooper says to the reader, “Maybe it’s not Love that hurts, maybe it’s the person we love. It can even be a lack of Love. Because Love itself is beautiful. I named this book what I think about Life; Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime.”
My 19-year-old self was hooked.
Cooper doesn’t tell stories, she talks them. She communicates her tales of dream chasers and love seekers as if she’s talking to an old friend. Every time I began a new story, it was as if Cooper was inviting me over to sit on her porch and have a glass of ice tea while she told me about the experiences she’s had and things she’s learned. As a young, black woman unsure of my place in the world, I found her stories comforting as I read about black women also trying to find their place in the world. Their journey always seemed worth it, even though there was some pain sometimes.
Through humor and warmth, Cooper helped me see my value, as I discovered the value and beauty in her authentically flawed, and honest female characters. What I learned through Darlin, MLee, Kissy, and the rest of them was that if you have love – love of God, love of others and love of self – you’ll always find your way.
I also love this book – my old, worn copy in particular – because it belonged to my mom. It’s something she enjoyed and passed on to me when I needed an old, wise friend like Cooper to tell me how life is sometimes. I like to think that if I have a daughter, when she’s ready, I’ll introduce her to Cooper too.
Jarreau Freeman is a marketing and communications specialist and freelance writer from Philadelphia. If you liked this post and want to read more from her, find her on twitter @JarreauFreeman.