Last year, I made a concerted effort to read more books written by women and people of color. I keep track of my books on a spreadsheet (book nerd), and tracking these author details was relatively simple. At the end of the year, I was happy with how many female authors I had read, but I still need to work on reading more diversely. As you probably know, February is Black History month, so it’s a great time to read works by black authors. In fact, some people, like Booktuber Denise D. Cooper are using the hashtag #ReadingBlackout and reading only black authors all year. Whether you want to read exclusively work by people of color, or just read more diversely in general, I’ve got some recommendations for you. Today’s post is full of books I’ve read, mostly in 2017, written by black authors. I’ve included the publisher’s description for each, along with a little blurb with my thoughts. My next post will be my personal February TBR, books that I am planning to read this month or shortly after.
Publisher’s Description: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
My thoughts: This was a beautifully written book, but of course, given the topic, a sad and difficult read. However, don’t let that discourage you from reading it; there’s hope to be found here too. I usually don’t like magical realism, so I was worried that the bit about the railroad being an actual railroad would seem cheesy to me, but the author definitely pulled that off without a hitch. I really like plot driven books, and this one is a page turner, but the characters are amazing too.
Publisher’s Description: Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
My Thoughts: I love, love, love this book – it was one of my favorite reads last year, and one that I kept thinking about long after I had read it. If you like sweeping epics, where you visit many generations of the same family, this one’s for you.
Publisher’s Description: Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
My Thoughts: This was a book that made me think. I didn’t always agree with the characters’ actions, but the author made it easy to empathize with them and see where they were coming from. This novel really allowed me to peek into a life that is far different than my own, which is something I look for when reading. My full review can be found Here.
Publisher’s Description: Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.
His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
My Thoughts: This book has gotten a lot of buzz, and rightfully so. You can’t help but want to take care of the children in this story, as they face things no child should have to deal with. I will warn you that the first scene is a rather graphic description of the boys grandfather killing a pig (They live on a small farm), but once you get past that there isn’t anything else that graphic. This book, like the Underground Railroad, is full of magical realism, this time in the form of ghosts. That wasn’t my favorite part of the book, but I didn’t think it detracted at a ll from the amazing writing in here.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
My Thoughts: If you read just one of the books from this post, it should be this one. Understanding this perspective of the Black Lives Matter movement is crucial, in my opinion. This is a relatively short book too, and reads very quickly, but it’s full of writing that will make you think about how we each contribute to a society where children are afraid of the police.
A season of endings has begun.It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
Publisher’s Description: Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.
Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.
The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.
My thoughts: As expected, this was a book full of humor; I laughed out loud several times while reading it. But it runs deeper than I expected it to as well; the author’s relationship with his mother is complicated and beautiful. I am hoping he writes another memoir about his life after coming to America. My full review can be found Here.
Publisher’s Description: A powerful, revealing story of hope, love, justice, and the power of reading by a man who spent thirty years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit.
In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free.
But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in agonizing silence―full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon―transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015.
With a foreword by Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Destined to be a classic memoir of wrongful imprisonment and freedom won, Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.
My Thoughts: I discussed this book on January’s Reading Recap . This is not a literary work, but it is an important one. Whether you are for or against the death penalty, reading this will convince you that there is something very wrong with our judicial system, and also that it’s worth fighting to fix it.
Publisher’s Description: On an average day in America, seven children and teens will be shot dead. In Another Day in the Death of America, award-winning journalist Gary Younge tells the stories of the lives lost during one such day. It could have been any day, but he chose November 23, 2013. Black, white, and Latino, aged nine to nineteen, they fell at sleepovers, on street corners, in stairwells, and on their own doorsteps. From the rural Midwest to the barrios of Texas, the narrative crisscrosses the country over a period of twenty-four hours to reveal the full human stories behind the gun-violence statistics and the brief mentions in local papers of lives lost.
This powerful and moving work puts a human face-a child’s face-on the “collateral damage” of gun deaths across the country. This is not a book about gun control, but about what happens in a country where it does not exist. What emerges in these pages is a searing and urgent portrait of youth, family, and firearms in America today.
My Thoughts: Each chapter in this book tells the story of someone who dies as a result of gun violence. After reading the first chapter, about an 8 year old boy (The same age as my son at the time), I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to continue reading it. I ended up reading a chapter at a time, over the course of a few weeks and I’m really glad I finished it. It’s written by a British man who spent time living in America, so it’s an interesting insider’s/outsider’s perspective on gun violence in this country.
That’s all for today; I’ll be back on Tuesday with Part II of my #ReadingBlackout. In the meantime, please leave me a comment with any recommendations you have written by authors of color.