I didn’t get to read as many books as I would have liked in September and October because I have been preoccupied with The 1619 Project. It’s not a book so I didn’t list it, but it has taken up lots of time. I am not complaining at all. The 1619 Project is a masterful body of work. Please take the time to read it. Brava to Nikole-Hannah Jones, her team and the New York Times for this much needed work.
Earlier this year, I picked up a vintage copy of The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. I have been a fan of his since middle school. I was hoping that a complete review of his works would unseat my favorite poems of his – “Sympathy” and “We Wear the Mask.” But, alas, these two poems still remain my all time favorites. I think that James Weldon Johnson said it best when he said, “He was the first to rise to a height from which he could take a perspective view of his own race. He was the first to see objectively its humor, its superstitions, its short-comings; the first to feel sympathetically its heart-wounds, its yearnings, its aspirations, and to voice them all in a purely literary form.” Paul Laurence Dunbar is truly one of the greatest poets to ever do it. It was nice to take on poetry this month. Poetry and plays get left behind as I work my way through book after book. The both deserve way more shine. I appreciate pace of poetry and how it makes me slow down and think…and savor. Of course I recommend this book and all of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s collections. PLD is the GOAT. Period.
Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry is one that will tug at your heart, especially if you are a mothering a Black boy. This one hit home because it explores the frustration and the fears that Black moms face while raising our sons in this crazy, toxic and racist country. And even though we are fearful, we still find joy in raising these young men and we never cease to see the joy in our children. We are still encouraged. Imani Perry is like the rest of us trying to find the balance in this revolutionary act of Black motherhood. I also appreciated the references to the Black scholars who are still helping us find our way, like James Baldwin, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells. This book is thoughtful, thought-provoking, emotional and scholarly. It’s definitely worth the read.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds was a delightful surprise. I read Ghost with my son in anticipation of seeing the play at the Alliance Theater. I fell in love with it and so did my son. Castle Crenshaw aka Ghost is a kid dealing with a lot of trauma. He’s in and out of trouble and stumbles upon track practice one day. He randomly wins a race with one of the best kids on the team and the coach gives him a trial spot. Throughout his quest to make the team for good, his past and bad decisions keep holding him back. He is running – figuratively and mentally – from everything. Can he outrun his past? I loved this book and I love that my son loved it. Castle was easy to relate to and I was rooting for him the whole time. This book is the first in Jason Reynold’s Track Series and I will be purchasing the rest of the series for my son. He is excited to see what happens to Ghost and the rest of his teammates. This book is perfect for the young adult in your life and you might just like it, too. Check it out.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson is a beautifully written story that goes back and forth between generations to tell all of the characters’ stories. This story is about Aubrey and Iris who had a child (Melody) when they were just children themselves and Sabe and Sammy Po’boy, Melody’s grandparents. The story begins with Melody preparing for a coming of age party in honor of her 16th Birthday. She is wearing a dress that was originally made for her mother, but was never worn by Iris because the pregnancy. The story takes us back to when Sabe and Sammy met while they were in college and how they fell in love. And then to Iris and Aubrey and their teenage love and eventual teen pregnancy. Iris chooses the path of self-discovery and leaves her baby (and Aubrey) behind to go to college. Aubrey is content with the job in the mailroom and raising his daughter. The grandparents help Aubrey raise Melody, which leaves a fractured relationship between mother and child. I absolutely love the way the backstory plays into this inter-generational tale and how every character was whole. It was very This Is Us-ish in that way. This book was beautiful, emotional, full of timely themes (teenage pregnancy, racism, self-discovery, education, and so much more.) I loved, loved, loved this book.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates was one that I was waiting for! Hiram Walker was a young child when his mother was sold away. He doesn’t remember her, which is odd, because he was given the gift of memory. He can remember everything – except things about his mother. Several events lead Hiram to conclude that he must runaway. It’s not an option, it’s necessary. He embarks on the journey to freedom and becomes a a part of the Underground and interacts with the superhero herself, Harriet Tubman. That’s the short synopsis of the book. This is not a fast read. There’s A LOT to get through. But, I loved it. Coates chooses to use the words “Tasked” and “Quality” instead of “Slave” and “Owner,” which I think adds an entirely new dimension to how we view or should view the institution of slavery. The way in which he uses words and gave voice to the “tasked” people had me near tears a few times. This book reminded me of Octavia Butler’s Kindred in a way. It was a real story (about slavery) peppered with time travel and mystic powers. This was definitely an interesting, thought-provoking and lyrical read.
What are you reading?