Last month’s reading surprised me.
It shouldn’t have, but it did.
And that will be surprising to some and not surprising at all to others.
Here’s what happened. At the end of January I pulled together a pile of books to read for Black History Month. I wanted to only read books by black authors in February because I’d never done it before, I have bookish goals, and it seemed like an obvious thing.
It was harder than I thought, but so worthwhile.
I didn’t expect all the books to work together so well. I didn’t expect the stories to be so difficult, trauma filled, and unbelievably resilient. It was a threaded all through the fiction, the biographies, the anthology, and the history books. I really appreciated reading the biographies and fiction alongside a book that provided a lot of context and history that tied them all together. When all the voices you’re listening to are saying the same thing in different ways, it becomes impossible to write-off stories as isolated events and it opens yours eyes a little more to how race is influences daily life for so many people in our communities.
I didn’t expect it to be hard to read books all month by someone who didn’t look like me. But it was, mostly because it took more emotional energy. I think part of it was that I didn’t reserve enough fiction, but part of it was the weight of historical trauma and racism experiences by people of color. I definitely see my privilege as a reader a little more now too. I can easily choose to read in my comfort zone and avoid all the hard stuff. I have such respect for people advocating for diverse representation in publishing and I’m definitely going to continue prioritizing these voices in my own reading choices.
All in all, this was a really eye-opening and worth-all-your-library-holds type of project. You don’t have to wait until Black History Month though, just add more voices of color to your books now. Here’s what I read to get you started!
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – A great book about a teenager finding her voice as a spoken word poet in spite of her mother’s attempts to make her adhere to religious expectations. I love reading books like this because the rhythm of the language speaks for itself, though I do wish I had listened to the audio. I loved the bilingualism sans subtítulos. Disclaimers for tough content including a rough relationship with her mom and teen sex.. (Similar to The Hate U Give and On the Come Up by Angie Thomas.)
- Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones – A story about a girl being raised by her mother as a secret daughter of her father who has another family. I really loved the nuance and layers of this story and how we get to have empathy for every person involved.
- Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin – a book you’ll finish reading even if you’re not sure you agree with it. About a boy growing up the son of a preacher in a pentecostal church and coming to terms with what that means in his own way.
- Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim – this really emphasized the way the characters in our books and whether or not we can see ourselves in them is really formational and important. Every perspective and story added a different nuance to this idea and it was a really successful collection of reflections by a wide variety of black women. I added so many books to my list.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – I’m not sure why I’d never read Maya Angelou before but her writing about her life was glorious, even as the circumstances were not. I really appreciated hearing her story of growing up in the Jim Crow south for the first time. It was much rougher than I ever could have assumed.
- The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou – I skipped a couple in her series of biographies but this one found Maya navigating life with her dreams, social justice concerns (Right alongside Martin Luther King Jr.), romantic relationships, and her teenage son. Really beautiful, straightforward, reflective storytelling style. I will be reading more Maya and I would like to read some of her poetry next.
- Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken-Hearted World by Osheta Moore – This was a reread. This book was just as soul-stirring the second time around. Practical, wise, encouraging, and challenging advice for everyday peacemakers. Go read it.
- I Will Not Fear by Melba Patillo Beals – The story of one of the Little Rock Nine and how God has sustained her through dangerous situations her whole life. My whole review is here.
- On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder – I love this book. My favorite part is when the cow breaks the roof of their dugout while Pa is gone and Ma just rolls with it. Ranger is now telling people he wants to live in a dugout. :D
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson – This is the book that tied all the other books together. Wilkerson tells the stories of three people (out of millions of black people) who migrated or fled from the Jim Crow south to the North and West. This book was so long, so shocking, so heartbreaking, but awe-inspiring because of all the resilient people who rebuilt their lives. A necessary revisitation of this period of U.S History often white-washed, it reminded me of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand because of its exhaustive research, historical depth, and first person accounts.
Joining Modern Mrs Darcy for the party that is Quick Lit.
What have you read and loved recently?
PS: I’m not sharing this reflection about this month’s reading to say ‘look at me’ or ‘I’ve got this figured out’. I just wanted to share how I learned something and it’s actually really easy to learn. And, especially if you’re white too, we need to. Thanks, All :)