A funny thing happened as I was finishing up the “Love” chapter of Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. Somewhere after reading longish passages from her conversations with Elizabeth Alexander (African American poet) and finishing the chapter, I decided I needed to read more black and African American literature. I decided to prioritize all the black writers in my theme pile for February.
Guess what? Not a one. Well, boo. January was great with African American writers I didn’t get to. So I decided to go rogue and push the book theme to the side (not completely) and focus on black writers in February, partly because it’s Black History Month, but mostly because I really want to do it. Sometimes I get a little too wed to the book themes. I have books I’ve wanted to read for quite some time now, but I let the themes drive my reading. (I do have control over this, there are no rules. I do have control. Really I do.)
So sometime between my second and third cup of coffee this morning, I decided to read (mostly) black/African American books in February. I was excited before I even got up from my chair. Perusing my shelves (reminder: I tend to use the book themes to read and potentially pare down the huge excess of books I have accumulated over the years), I found nonfiction quite fruitful:
- The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander
- The End of Blackness, Debra J. Dickerson
- Bad Feminist, Roxanne Gay
- Wounds of Passion, bell hooks (plus a few of her other books that I haven’t read yet)
- You Can’t Touch My Hair, Phoebe Robinson
- Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly
- Ordinary Light, Tracy K. Smith
- Living By the Word, Alice Walker
- Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward
Not so very gender balanced, I will admit. But note, I still haven’t gone through memoirs or foodish books. Still, a very exciting list of prospects for the month. I expect I’ll start with You Can’t Touch My Hair, immediately followed by Hidden Figures (which I bought shortly after seeing the movie).
I’m adding another book to the nonfiction mix for February, not specific to Black History Month, but relevant nonetheless: A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota (edited by Sun Yung Shin). Not all the writers are black, but several are, and it’s here in Minnesota. This is what I need to hear. To learn. To understand.
I haven’t finished going through all the general fiction yet, but I’ve been a bit surprised at the sparsity:
- Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Zanzele, J. Nozipo Maraire
- Sula, Toni Morrison
- The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead
- Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez
I might go to the “already read” shelves and pull a few favorites. Mama Day (Gloria Naylor) comes to mind. Then Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo (Ntozake Shange). And The Color Purple (Alice Walker).
I also found a few mysteries (picked up back in the day when I was reading a lot more mysteries):
- A Little Yellow Dog, Walter Mosley
- Hidden in Plain View, Blair S. Walker
- Easier to Kill, Valerie Wilson Wesley
- Killer Riches, Chassie West
And a few science fiction/fantasy books (mostly purchased at WisCon, the annual feminist science fiction convention held in Madison, WI):
- Clay’s Ark, Octavia Butler
- Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler
- Redwood and Wildfire, Andrea Hairston
- The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin
- Filter House, Nisi Shawl
Again, a bit heavy on the women. And while that’s okay in general for reading (to make up for all those years of male classics), in this case I think I will need to add a few more male voices (since we didn’t read a lot of black male classics). Ellison’s Invisible Man immediately comes to mind. I would welcome other suggestions.
And I’ve decided that while a Black History immersion month is probably a good thing, I’ve decided to keep it up in a most modest way by resolving to read at least one African American book each month after February through the end of the year. Some might fit into a reading theme, but if not, I’ve realized I want to broaden my reading landscape more than I want to cleave to the theme.
I’m excited to bring this new focus into my life. Every once in a while, it’s really fun to go rogue.