The Book Jam is of two minds about African-American history month. On the one hand, any excuse to delve further into books by amazing authors who are African-American (see Toni Morrison) is a reason to rejoice. On the other hand, we do not want to seem belittling by focusing on African-American history just because it is February. And, since one of our sons (who technically is Latino) is identifying as a Black boy, we are especially cognizant of the complicated issues this month brings to light.
We also recognize that as white women, we can not ever know what it is like to be Black in the USA. However, we believe as recent well-publicized research about reading has shown, good fiction has the power to transform and teach. So in that light, and, since The Book Jam often features books by or about African-Americans and/or Africa, we are choosing to look at February as another excuse to highlight more great fiction and nonfiction options by and about African-Americans. May we all learn something.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kid (2014) – I sincerely hope any Oprah nay-sayers are ready to overlook her pick of this book for her book club. If you dismiss this novel just because she chose it, you will miss out on a great story. Besides, we honestly believe that any book that helps you understand the day-to-day plight of African-American slaves and the forming of two important American abolitionists is worth your precious reading time. The narration mostly takes place in Charleston, SC and alternates between the voices of a young woman slave owner and of her young slave. The prose by the best selling author of The Secret Life of Bees keeps you turning the pages, the characters are interesting, and few of the relationships are simple – which makes you think. What I most loved about this book — both of the narrators are based upon actual people from history. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (2013) – Yes, that John Lewis, the Congressman and the man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has (with two collaborators) written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Told in flashback as a story relayed to two young constituents who came to visit his Capital Hill offices on the morning of Barack Obama’s first inauguration, this book begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and into his student activist days in Nashville. The pictures perfectly explore how his life must have felt at the time. The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds. According to the authors, the 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists. We hope March proves as inspiring to future leaders. We are so glad we found this book (thanks to our town’s children’s librarian), and are truly looking forward to Book Two. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow
Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations Edited by Retha Powers and Henry Louis Gates (2013) – Perfect for anyone interested in history, famous individuals or words of wisdom. Five thousand (although we took the editors’ word for that number and did not count them) quotes are pulled — covering such diverse time frames as Ancient Egypt, American slavery, the Civil Rights Era, Apartheid, and today. With a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and passages from authors, artists, scientists, philosophers, theologians, activists, politicians, this volume places quotes from Aesop’s Fables and the Holy Bible beside the words of Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou and Jay-Z. How many books can claim that? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
And yes, we reviewed these last year, but we believe they are worth mentioning again -
How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – As the author himself facetiously writes, please read this as part of your preparation for African-American history month activities. Through truly funny and often painful humor, Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies. He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses. Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – it makes you laugh. ~ Lisa Christie
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Bradley (2011) – A book for children and the adults in their lives. In this book, three young slaves, two of them President Jefferson’s own children fathered with his slave Sally Hemings, tell their stories of life at Monticello. Their voices highlight the contradiction between slavery and freedom, and illustrate the USA’s struggles while the Founding Fathers still lived and worked. As such, the USA’s history unfolds from a typically unseen perspective. ~ Lisa Christie