February Book Reviews

April 10, 2021

I broke my own record in February! I think I was fueled by the ancestors because this is the first time I read twelve (12!!!!) books in one month. That’s an all-time high for me. And the books were so ah-mazing! I am so excited to share my mini-reviews with you.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

“We do not have to romanticize our past in order to be aware of how it seeds our present. We do not have to suffer the waste of an amnesia that robs us of the lessons of the past rather than permit us to read them with pride as well as deep understanding. We know what it is to be lied to, and we know how important it is not lie to ourselves. We are powerful because we have survived, and that is what it is all about—survival and growth.” 

Audre Lorde

If you know me, you know that I have a very healthy love for Audre Lorde. She was so ahead of her time and I still think that she doesn’t get the praise or notoriety that she deserves. I like to re-read at least one or two classics in February, so this month, I chose to re-read Sister Outsider. It was written between 1976 and 1984 and is a collection of essays about feminism, sex, race and economic status. If you are looking for a primer and Bible of Black feminist thought, this is it and Audre Lorde is your woman. Though written decades ago, her words are just as true today as they were then. I re-visit this book often because it’s pure wisdom. Audre Lorde was way before her time.

The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. Du Bois

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

W. E. B. Du Bois

What can I say about Du Bois and this book that is considered a foundational piece in the body of literature on Black protest? I think this may be the third or fourth time that I have read this book and it never gets old. I always feel seen and I always come away with something to think about. The essays are thought-provoking, insightful and sometimes frustrating. It is frustrating for me because this book was written in 1903 and yet, here we are…still grappling with this same issues.

How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs

“Through the lives of the three mothers – Alberta, Berdis, and Louise – I honor Black motherhood as a whole and celebrate knowledge passed from generation to generation through the bodies and teachings of Black women.” 

Anna Malaika Tubbs

Black motherhood is revolutionary and I don’t think we are shouting that loud enough. It always bothered me that no one talked much about Martin Luther King’s mother, Alberta King, who was gunned down while she played the organ at Ebenezer Baptist Church one Sunday morning. Why don’t people know this about the mother of one of our greatest leaders? Why don’t we know about Mrs. King? Why? That’s why I love this book so much! Anna Malaika Tubbs celebrates the mothers of Martin Luther King (Alberta King), Malcolm X (Louise Smalls) and James Baldwin (Bertis Baldwin), not just for being the mothers of men who changed the world, but for the women that they were. Their life stories are amazing, heartbreaking and inspiring. They shaped their sons’ lives by grounding them with confidence, faith and resistance. They raised the men we revere and they were pretty phenomenal too. It was a great read.

The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“The Black Church is the space where our direct cultural ties to Africa come to life in new and mutated but still reconizable form. It’s that cultural space in which we can bathe freely in the comfort of our cultural heritage, and where everyone knows their part, and where everyone can judge everyone else’s performance of their part, often out loud with amens, with laughter, with clapping, or with silence. It’s the space we created to find rest in the gathering storm. It’s the place where we made a way out of no way. It’s the place to which, after a long and wearisome journey, we can return and find rest before we cross the river.”

Henry Louis Gates

Henry Louis Gates is my historian crush. If he’s writing it, I’m reading it. This examination of the Black church was long overdue. I am a product of the Black church and from a family that includes 3 different denominations. Many of my fondest childhood memories are church-related. The history associated with the Black church, its origins and traditions fascinate me as an adult. Per the usual, Gates connects the past and the present and tells the story like only he can. I appreciated the inclusion of Islam in the conversation and the future of the Black church. There is an accompanying documentary on PBS that was stellar as well. I think there’s a lot more that could have been included, but I am appreciative of this body of work.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

I was waiTing on this one! The most interesting thing about this book is the structure of it. In eighty chronological chapters, the book chronicles the four-hundred years of African-Americans in America. The book is divided by years and there’s a stellar cast of contributors, including scholars, writers, historians, journalists, lawyers, poets and activists. It’s a very unique compilation with so many different voices. It’s hard to “review” this book, but I will leave you with one of my favorites.

“We’d like a list of what we lost 
Think of those who landed in the Atlantic 
The sharkiest of waters 
Bonnetheads and thrashers 
Spinners and blacktips 
We are made of so much water 
Bodies of water 
Bodies walking upright on the mud at the bottom 
The mud they must call nighttime 
Oh there was some survival 
After life on the Atlantic—this present grief
So old we see through it 
So thick we can touch it 
And Jesus said of his wound Go on, touch it 
I don’t have the reach 
I’m not qualified 
I can’t swim or walk or handle a hoe 
I can’t kill a man 
Or write it down 
A list of what we lost 
The history of the wound 
The history of the wound 
That somebody bought them 
That somebody brought them 
To the shore of Virginia and then 
Into the land of cliché 
I’d rather know their faces 
Their names 
My love yes you 
Whether you pray or not 
If I knew your name 
I’d ask you to help me 
Imagine even a single tooth 
I’d ask you to write that down 
But there’s not enough ink 

I’d like to write a list of what we lost. 

Think of those who landed in the Atlantic, 

Think of life after life on the Atlantic— 
Sweet Jesus. A grief so thick I could touch it. 

And Jesus said of his wound, Go on, touch it.
But I don’t have the reach. I’m not qualified. 

And you? How’s your reach? Are you qualified? 
Don’t you know the history of the wound?

Here is the history of the wound: 
Somebody brought them. Somebody bought them. 

Though I know who caught them, sold them, bought them, 
I’d rather focus on their faces, their names.” 
― Jericho Brown

Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho

If you ever find yourself in a position where you must or feel inclined to provide anti-racist reading resources, I would definitely say include this one. Emmanuel Acho takes a series of questions that white people may really want the answers to, but are too scared to ask. And then he provides answers to those questions by providing history, insight and sometimes some comic relief. He tackles issues like cultural appropriation, racism, reverse racism, white privilege and a whole lot of other things. I think this book isn’t the ultimate conversation on race, but it’s good and non-threatening approach to start the conversation.

The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto by Charles M. Blow

I don’t even know where to start with this one. I read ‘The Devil You Know’ with my book club, and we all agree that this book definitely had that fire. Charles Blow offers an interesting idea on how Black people can gain power. He believes that reverse migration – from other areas of the country back to the South is how we can win, harness political power, change power dynamics and finally gain the equality we have been fighting for. It sounds a little crazy at first, but Mr. Blow makes a very convincing argument. Racism is everywhere – not just in the South. So why not move to where you might have more economic opportunities and some land? The South may seem really “Southy” but look at the elected officials that southern cities and states are able to put in office. And why don’t the “progressive” states have that kind of representation where it matters? There were tons of “a-ha” moments with this one. And you know what? I think he might be on to something…

Just as I Am: A Memoir by Cicely Tyson

Just As I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister, and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.” Cicely Tyson 

I do not have words for how beautiful this memoir is. I started reading it one morning, shortly after it was released. On that same day, Cicely Tyson became an ancestor. It made this experience even more emotional. To think that she had never written a book because she didn’t believe she had anything to say. And finally, she writes one…and passes away a day or two after it’s released. It’s just crazy. What I know for sure is that Cicely Tyson lived quite the life and the way she tells her story is vivid and lyrical. It’s also an emotional roller coaster. When Miles Davis enters and exits…and enters and exits…and enters and exits…Chile…I was over it, him and them. LOL. I loved her stories of growing up in New York and how she didn’t get into the acting game until later in life, but she KNEW that the job in the office wasn’t what the Creator wanted for her. I loved her stories about her friends like Diahann Carroll, Roxy Roker and Arthur Mitchell. I tried my best to soak in all of the gems and wisdom. This book did not disappoint. It was simply amazing.

I Am These Truths: A Memoir of Identity, Justice, and Living Between Worlds by Sunny Hostin

I love memoirs because I love learning other people’s stories. I knew very little about Sunny Hostin. I used to tune in when she covered the George Zimmerman trial, but beyond that, I didn’t know much. Sunny takes the reader through her life and I was engaged and entertained the whole way. She talks about what it’s like to be bi-racial and to have to navigate two worlds at all times, and also how she was an outsider and othered by her own family. Her family is quite a lively bunch and her childhood in New York was full of all of the things. As an attorney, I was intrigued by her legal career, her time as prosecutor and how she was able to transition to a successful career in journalism. I was all in for tea on her time at CNN and ABC, and how a certain news show host is responsible for us knowing Sunny as Sunny, instead of her real name – Asuncion. There were so many lessons in that story alone. I enjoyed this book way more than I expected to and I love it when that happens.

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Media

‘His Only Wife’ is a contemporary African love story. Afi Tekple is a young seamstress whose life isn’t looking too bright right now. She lives in Ghana with her mother. Her father died and since then, they have been struggling. Out of the blue, she gets a proposal from the family of Elikem Ganyo. Nevermind the fact that she doesn’t know this dude. She’s very uneasy about it, but she agrees and there’s a substantial amount of pressure for her to do so. The crazy thing is, that she agrees, and there’s a whole wedding, but the groom didn’t even show up! He sent a stand-in. Afi didn’t even meet her husband until weeks after the wedding. Her husband has provided some amazing living accommodations, but her first night with her husband was basically her first date. Initially she doesn’t think she can really love a random guy, but she does end up loving and wanting him. The problem is he has another wife and she ain’t having it. But how exactly is she to fight against that and stand her ground? Listen. This book is a soap opera. The ending wasn’t what I imagined it would be and wish it were different, but it was worth the read and ends up being a story not about love, but about worth.

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Genesis is thirteen years old and all of the things she has absorbed – almost all of them negative – are starting to take a toll. By the time we meet her, she has started keeping a list of all of things she hates about her self and she is up to 96. One of her major issues is her skin color. She’s got extra melanin and no one lets her forget. She’s teased at school, her father brings it up often because she doesn’t have the light skin her mother has and even her grandmother (and the family) have a colorist issue. In addition to that, her father is not the greatest at keeping a job and they often end up evicted and hopping from place to place and school to school. Little Genesis has way too much to navigate at her age. I was pulling so hard for her to see her worth and her beauty. But there’s a chance that she can actually begin again.

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee

Twelve year old Shayla is a middle schooler that’s trying her best to do her best. Junior high is hard though. Friendships are shaky, boys are cute but they don’t know you’re alive, schoolwork is stressful and being on the track team is a whole new challenge. To be in middle school in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement is hard – especially when your best friends aren’t Black, and you’re not really sure where they stand on the ally-ship spectrum. Shayla’s sister, Hana, is an activist with no cares about causing trouble and fighting for the cause. Shayla takes clues from her goes from being indifferent and unknowing to finding passion and courage. This book reminded me of why I love to read YA books. I have a tween kid and they help me parent during these chaotic times.

Have you read any good books lately? Have you read of these?

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