Black History Month (and reading themes)

February is a small reading quandary for me. It’s Black History Month, which makes me want to read a lot of Black writing—African American, Somali, Cuban—so many Black voices. So many books I want to read.

The reading theme for February is Love and Death. Now this seems like it would be a really broad field, doesn’t it? And I do have plenty on top of plenty in the fiction department. But nonfiction is a near total bust (two books, and I had to expand beyond love to eros to get two). I have zero books in the death category, and no, I do not want to read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Even poetry is skimpy, with four books (two love, one death, and another stretchy eros).

What’s a reader to do? In my case, I say, read as much as you like for the theme, and don’t forget about Black History Month.

Happily, I have the February theme covered in one book, An Inquiry Into Love and Death, by Simone St. James. (I am a bit of a sucker for the gothic novel, and this is a good one.)

Moving on to Black History Month, I have one book that clearly fits the monthly reading theme, Anything We Love Can Be Saved, by Alice Walker. (What is going on with me? Why do I have so little love and death in my nonfiction? Poetry as well. Mind you, fiction is teeming with love and death. What is that about?)

Oh, but wait. There’s this one book I’ve been wanting to read—still—since I got it several years ago (often the shine wears off, but not with this one). This is the beauty of a scanty theme month—finally getting to the book you keep looking at, the one I keep hoping will fit a theme, but it never does. But I think that’s it for white authors this month. I am a big fan of immersion reading. For the most part, I intend to spend February on Black writers.

I predict that a large portion of these books will be fiction. Oh, there will be nonfiction and poetry as well. But fiction has an important place. Fiction is most likely to put me in someone else’s shoes; to have me crying, to understand the injustice—almost experience it in a visceral way—as happens with the best fiction. I learn more factually from nonfiction; I learn more emotionally and socially from fiction.

Top of the pile: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Spots two and three are taken by Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Warrior, and N.K. Jemisin’s Kingdom of the Gods. Both of these books are parts of trilogies that I started last year (Okorafor’s first book, and the first two of Jemisin’s). I liked both of the trilogies, mind you; it’s just that for me, a little SF/fantasy goes a long way, and perhaps I should have had closure on the first trilogy before starting the second. But I do so like Okorafor, I couldn’t stop myself. Also on my radar as of today (it’s amazing what you don’t see until you look at a stack of books eight times)—A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines (which actually ties into the theme, and how did I not notice that before?).

The singular nonfiction that is at the top of the pile is Phoebe Robinson’s Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay. Her first book, You Can’t Touch My Hair, was my favorite book last year.

Happy reading to you, and happy Black History Month. Read an old favorite or discover someone new. I hope to do both!

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