Book Review: 'Driven' by Venise Berry

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By Glenn Townes

 In the opening essay of her new book, Driven, author and University of Iowa School of Journalism professor Venise Berry pays tribute of sorts to the senior, yet active and over 50 sect of society.  She writes, “I remember the first AARP newsletter I pulled out of my mailbox. I frowned and mumbled out loud, “What the hell are they sending me this for?” Even though I was old enough to be called a senior citizen, I didn't look like one, I didn't feel like one and I refused to be called one. Fifty-years-old was still the prime of my life.”  She also highlights that as an African American woman born in 1955, she is indeed a baby boomer and “absorbed a double dose of the desire for more: more opportunities, more power, more happiness, more respect and more love.”  Compiled in a series of mostly reflective essays, Berry shares personal and family, triumphs with readers with an occasional, in-your-face edginess that is at other times, coupled with compassion and vulnerability.

However, prior to diving full throttle into Berry's book, I was initially concerned the 172-page tome would be about little more than man-bashing---a series of scathing  stories penned by an angry black woman on behalf of other angry black women--who were universally fed up dealing with lying, cheating and no-good black men. This concern was raised after I did a cursory view of the book and noticed several essays with supercilious titles like, “Hoochies, Hotties, and Hoes, “Angry Black Women,” “My Baby's Daddy,” “Good Dick.” Another essay entitled, “Tired Black Men,” really caught my attention. Berry writes,  “If I hear another black man say he is tired I'm going to go ballistic. If black men are tired, what the hell do they think black women are? We are bone weary, worn-out, drained, and downright exhausted.”  Berry goes on to reference a little known independent film from 2008 entitled, Diary of a Tired Black Man by Tim Alexander. The near hour long story attempts to espouse a once widely held notion that all black women are bitter, angry and have an attitude. Berry writes, “We need to be careful about the stereotypes we perpetuate when it comes to black culture.” After watching the film on YouTube for the first time after reading about it, I agree with Berry that Alexander's film ultimately falls flat; lands with a dull thud and permeates a message that a lot of black men—including me, obliquely bought into about black women.

Lastly, I enjoyed reading Driven. The book is easy to read with a free flowing style and tone. It's also chock full of funny passages and lively descriptions.  For example,  Berry's lurid description of what I imagine to be an abysmal place in Plano, Texas called the Cockroach Hall of Fame, at the very least, will make your skin crawl. However, I chuckled when I read the somewhat salacious details of her near four-year imaginary relationship with her partner at a weekly Bid Whist card playing club. Her vivid description of their interactions will motivate the most novice card shark to master the game. She writes, “We flirted and laughed and teased and touched all through the night. Dealing the cards was a sensual experience, playing as his partner was true romance, the excitement of winning a game together was all about foreplay, and the ecstasy of sending our opponents on a train ride to Boston was like having a virtual orgasm.”

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