So here’s my 2015 Book List that has been much requested! I’ve launched the #SmartBrownGirl Bookstore, with my personal recommended reads. The store is linked to Amazon, so all purchases are made via Amazon (in all countries that it is available) and #SmartBrownGirl receives a commission. Audible, is owned by Amazon, so books that have Audible versions available you will see that when you go to check out. The store is still be being built out, so be sure to come back to check out for new features and books added as I look forward to launching the book club!
If you’re just getting into reading or it’s been a while, there’s the Novice Reader list, with some easier reads to get you started. You’re already a #SmartBrownGirl, there’s no level of higher intelligence that you’re attempting to reach, rather it’s about being open minded and ever-evolving. The Novice Reader list is set with a list of diverse reads to help open you to new worlds and keep up with the ever-evolving part. FYI, don’t beat yourself up about not being able to get through a book. I’ve finally given into audiobooks because my attention span seemed to disappear right around my 30th birthday and I’ve been converted. Books I could never sit through have been offered to me in a new light, so do not despair, audiobooks might be your salvation.
For the more avid reader, there is the Avid Reader list, that features more complex and heavier reads. Skim the list and pick whatever you see fit.
Here’s the shortlist of books that I’ve read/attempted to read in the last year. Scroll to the bottom to watch the video if this is TL;DR.
- Between the World & Me. The seminal second work by Ta-nehisi Coates. Letters to his son that detail and spark a deeper conversation on what it means to be a Black body in America today, and how the system is working as intended – to keep us enslaved. It’s inspired much discussion, will be the first book in the #SmartBrownGirl book club and is just an all around great read. Have teenagers? Read it together.
- There Was a Country. Chinua Achebe’s autobiography. If you’re a history buff, Nigerian, Igbo, a history buff then maybe. I’m none of those things, but someone recommended this to me, I made it about half way thru before I gave up because I don’t care that much about the Biafran War and this is literally a very detailed almost-military account. Not that I don’t appreciate reading the beginning of it, because as a Black American it again highlights our culture and ongoing exchange with Africa that many, even our own, like to deny. And again, as an American, it makes intelligent a war in Africa, where all wars are seemingly painted as tribal wars backed by corrupt xenophobia devoid of any intelligence.
- You Must Set Forth at Dawn. This is Wole Soyinka’s autobiography and really I purchased this to balance out my book shelf. It gives me the appearance of being intelligent. I’ve skimmed it and mostly plucked it for my very irregular Wednesday Word of the Week videos. Soyinka is a very notable Nigerian playwright, a peer of Achebe, who was exiled from his home country. So his autobiography covers the same period as Achebe’s, the late 60s-90s. It’s a much more poetic read though. Maybe one day I will actually finish this one.
- Half of a Yellow Sun. I’m not obsessed with Nigeria. I might be half-obsessed with Blackness though. If you’ve checked my 2013 Book List, I’ve worked my way through most of the notable Black American authors. So in the past year, I’ve expanded into notable African authors, maybe next year I will dabble in the Caribbean. Since I read Chimamanda Adiche’s Americanah, which I didn’t care for but now living in Houston with a heavy African (read Nigerian) immigrant community that is extremely insular, it has provided a new context. I was told Half of a Yellow Sun would be much more enjoyable. It did not disappoint. It’s amazing and there’s a half done move to go along with it.
- Weep Not Child. In an ode to the other 53 countries in Africa, here’s a work by the notable Kenyan author (good friends with Soyinka and Achebe as they both talk about his influence in their books) Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. This was a really good read, and a great fit for younger kids. It’s palatable for a 5th grader. Thiong’o’s fictional work covers the duplicity of living in a country on the brink of post-colonization and moving from the village into an industrialized world. Historically this book touches on something most of us in the Western world are ignorant of, the impact of the World Wars on Africa. It’s simple and impactful, offering many lessons through it’s pages.
- Ghana Must Go. I read this because everyone else was reading it and I really, really in my heart of hearts wanted to enjoy this, but I just couldn’t. Taiye Selasi is very smart, her writing is super flowery and flexes with her expansive knowledge as she inserts quips about Greek mythology and random European cultural markers in a tale about a Ghanian-Nigerian family. I’m not disbarring Selasi for her intelligence, but the book is slow to pick up until the last chapter where she gets to the meat of the story. It’s just overwritten. But a lot of people do like it, so maybe you will too.
- Meaty. Samantha Irby is hilarious. Her collection of short stories is hilarious. I lived, I laughed. This was just a joy to read.
- The Fire Next Time. I picked up one of James Baldwin’s most influential books because everyone was comparing Ta-nehisi Coates works to TFNT and though I read it sometime 10 years ago, a brush up won’t hurt no body. Stylistically Baldwin and Coates are very different, even the rhetoric is different though it covers the same topic and meets with a similar even of acknowledging that America was never built with the idea that Black bodies should be able to survive or flourish in it. Really this is pretty much required reading.
- Nobody Knows My Name. Another collection of essays by Baldwin, written during his latter years in Paris. I read it because it was the last book by him that I hadn’t read. It’s worthwhile, but start with the Fire Next Time.
- God Help the Child. The latest book by Toni Morrison, I’ve done a full review on this but it’s worth noting again because for some Morrison is hard to get into. Her books are motif heavy, intertwined with the mystic cultural references of our ancestors. That’s what I love about her. But her latest read, while a bit lax for me, is perfect for that person who just couldn’t make it through Song of Solomon.
- The New Jim Crow. I haven’t read this yet, but it gets quoted in so much as of late, especially in reference to Between the World and Me, that I had to get it. It will be read, eventually.
- Medical Apartheid. With all the quibble over Planned Parenthood and the twisting of propaganda that targets the Black community, if we are going to boycott PP then we need to take a hard look at the history of medicine and how many of the innovations came through violence against Black bodies. Medical Apartheid does just that. Written by Harriet A. Washington, it’s a hefty, well researched read, so I don’t expect anyone to read this in one sitting. It’s a great reference piece and you might get through it in chunks.
- Bad Feminist. Roxane Gay’s collection of essays on the intersection of being a Black, woman, feminist, child of immigrants, and somehow still privileged in American society. I’m currently half way through this and it’s a pretty good read.