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Posts Tagged ‘Black History Month’

Image result for images for black history month 2019Every year, we use Black History Month as an excuse to audit the diversity of the authors we review. Why?  Well, because we truly believe we are what we read; and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing in our libraries, and allow us to fill those gaps during our next year of reviews. Our latest audit results are discussed below today’s new reviews of four – oops five – great books (one each of adult fiction, adult nonfiction, YA, children’s, memoir).

 

Things Fall Apart: A Novel Cover ImageThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958) – In this lucky reader’s life there have been a few books that find their way into my hands that upon turning the last page cause me to reverently and gently place them down, to blink and slowly exhale, and then to turn my gaze back out upon the world feeling that my view has changed. This is one such book. Things Fall Apart is a novel set in precolonial Africa towards the end of the 1800’s and chronicles the effect of the the arrival of British missionaries and government on village life. It is the story of Okonkwo, a brave and powerful but flawed warrior of the Igbo clan in Nigeria. The tale is told from the deep “inside” of his clan. The “Obi” (main house), the religion, the lore, the language, family structure and the traditions are shown through his eyes and those of his family and friends. The reader is transported to another world and way of life where pythons are considered sacred and yams represent riches. It is also one where social order and connection is maintained by full moon ceremonies, wrestling, foo-foo feasts, the power of ancestral gods, and the reality of banishment. All of which is threatened by the arrival of white people. This novel explores the reality of an ever changing world while forcing us to consider what we lose along with that change. It also pushes us to consider the complexity of leadership, community, justice, and what it means to respect our fellow humans. It is not hard to understand why it is considered by many as one of the most important 100 books of all time. ~ Lisa Cadow

On the Come Up Cover ImageOn the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019) – Ms. Thomas’s second novel for Young Adults proves she is not a one hit wonder. Once again, she handles tough topics such as teens figuring out who they are, race, stereotypes, violence, and addiction with compassion and fearless honesty. In this outing, 16-year-old Bri wants to rap and be a rap star more than anything – including doing well on the ACT to ensure she enters an amazing college. But, any progress at all is hard when your dad is long dead from gang violence, your mom just lost her job and is working to remain eight years sober, there is no heat in your house or food in the fridge, and the only job your brother, the brilliant college grad, can get is delivering pizzas for money your family desperately needs. Due to an incident at school, and other conspiring events, Bri finds herself going viral and being unfairly viewed as a hoodlum. The question for her becomes  – what if a being a hoodlum helps you make it? ENJOY!

A Good Kind of Trouble Cover ImageA Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee (2019) – A great book for younger  readers (perhaps 4th-8th grade?) that helps them understand Black Lives Matter, while also providing insights into navigating middle school, friendships, teachers, and the ever-evolving process of figuring out exactly who you are. Ms. Ramee’s main character, a 7th grade African American girl named Shay, hates to get in trouble, doesn’t understand her older sister’s insistence being black is embedded in certain traits, and honestly really just wants to get out of Middle School with her friendships intact, her grades their usual A+ level, and ideally with a cute boyfriend. The world is conspiring against all her wishes, and her hand is forced when a local white police woman is acquitted for shooting a black man. Shay will make you assess what is important for you to stand up for, how your unique traits will manifest your stand, and ideally to actually stand up for something. I hate to compare it to The Hate U Give, but Ms. Ramee’s debut novel is reminiscent of Ms. Thomas’s unflinching look at what it is like to be a Black adolescent in the USA today, and that is high praise. ~ Lisa Christie

Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist Cover ImageWell That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey (2018) – Our nonfiction review highlights Ms. Ramsey, of MTV fame, who uses her book to explore the lessons of her life as a social media star and activist. She discusses how her life changed dramatically once her YouTube video “What White Girls Say . . . to Black Girls” went viral — twelve million views viral. She is simultaneously funny and serious about the importance of social justice, and what we can all do better in our efforts to help others.  A great book for anyone in your life who would like to see their passions and messages spread. A great reminder we can all do a better job communicating. And just a lovely look at someone who would probably be very fun and enlightening to have as a friend, and who inspires us all to do more. ~ Lisa Christie

And again, if you haven’t yet read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming, we suggest you get started.

And now the audit results:

During the twelve months since our February 2018 audit, we reviewed 202 (up from 164 reviewed last year) authors.

The fine print for this audit: We did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections. We also excluded books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors. Although we know some of the authors we highlighted identify as members of the LGBTQ community, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to economic class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race/ethnicity.

Some significant numbers from this latest audit: Women authors were 55% of the authors we featured. 32% of all authors we featured were white women from the USA, and 8% of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA. 4% of our featured authors were Latinas and 6% were Asian women; and, 12% of the authors were Black women from around the world.

There was slightly less diversity of country and ethnicity in the men we reviewed. Almost a quarter (23%) of the authors we featured were white men from the USA. 8% of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA. 7% of the authors were black men (from anywhere in the world). Very few authors we featured were Asian men (fewer than .5%) or Latinos (2%) or Middle Eastern men (2%).

Adding men and women together, 36% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color. Within the white authors there was some geographic diversity — a quarter (26%) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA (mostly Canada, the UK, Australia, Sweden). The largest group (13% of total authors reviewed) of authors of color were Black.

To sum, while we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 36% of authors in 2018, 32% in 2017, 26% in 2016, 23% in 2015 were persons of color — the fact remains that over half (64%) of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were white authors. And while we are curious if our percentages are greater than the percentages of authors of color who are actually published in the USA each year (as this affects the pool from which we can select books), once again, we vow to review a greater diversity of authors.

Happy Black History Month.

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Once again we approach African American/Black History Month with curiosity and questions. In addition to pondering why only one month is devoted to contributions of African Americans, we are embracing February’s heightened attention to contributions of African Americans as an opportunity to review GREAT books by Black authors. One is considered a classic; others are brand new, some somewhat new. One is geared to kids, others for adults, and one for young adults. But, we recommend them all. (We also revisited our past year of reviews to see how well we represented the diversity of race and culture that books offer us. Details of our annual audit are at the end of this post.)

Enjoy!

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God Help the Child by Toni Morrison (paperback January, 2016). A  story about the power of parenting and its unforeseen effects on our children (and society). I have only read Beloved so am a relative newcomer to the power of Morrison’s prose. This story is the only one of Morrison’s books to be set in the modern day yet it has a timeless, almost parable-like quality to it. It centers on two main characters, young lovers Bride and Booker, both in their 20’s, whose life paths and current missteps have been and continue to be affected by the events of the actions of their parents.  We meet them in glitzy, bustling LA but follow them to a quiet, obscure town in northern California that provides a backdrop for painful truths to emerge. Morrison addresses the subject of racism within the black community as well as the epidemic of sexual abuse within our society. There are, however, themes of hope, new life, and healing woven in throughout. Not an easy read but an important one.~ Lisa Cadow

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1975) – Somehow I missed reading this classic in my youth, which is why I am so glad my 4th grader chose this book for our current read-aloud. While the subject matter is tear-inducing, this ten-year-old and I are enjoying this well told tale of a loving family living through horrific relations among black and white populations in a rural town. In fact, my son keeps comparing this novel to Stella By Starlight, another book we read aloud about “messed up” (as my teen would say) race relations that I highly recommend (reviewed on my ongoing reading list). He also connected this book to what he heard on the news during the past year, resulting in many great conversations. ~ Lisa Christie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (2015). On page ten of this succinct, accessible manifesto, Adichie already has readers laughing out loud when she describes herself as  “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men”. Full of disarming humor, this book invites serious discussion about a term (feminist) that is challenging to unpack the world over – whether you live in Nigeria or New York. Adichie raises lots of “What if’s?” about the future, ponders the present, and tells stories of her own family and upbringing in Africa. This work was inspired by a a TEDx talk Adichie delivered in 2006. If you would like to see it, watch here. Please share the it – and the book – with your daughter, your son, everyone. ~ Lisa Cadow (Lisa Christie wholeheartedly seconds this review)

Black Man in a White Coat by Tweedy Damon, MD (2015) – “It’s up to us, as doctors, to find the commonalities and respect the differences between us and our patients,” Dr. Tweedy writes. This examination of a black man’s medical education and subsequent service as a doctor offers insight, honesty, and questions about the role of race in America today. I enjoyed every self-reflective moment of being with Dr. Damon in his memoir; may all my doctors embody his compassion. (This would make a great gift for the medical students/doctors in your life.) As a NYTimes review of this book states, “on one level the book is a straightforward memoir; on another it’s a thoughtful, painfully honest, multi-angled, constant self-interrogation about himself and about the health implications of being black in a country where blacks are more likely than other groups to suffer from, for instance, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney failure and cancer.” ~ Lisa Christie

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2016) – Two authors, one black and one white, were placed together on a book tour. As a result, they became friends as they bonded over their sadness/dismay/anger over what was happening to black teens in the USA (i.e., Trayvon Martin, Ferguson). As a result of their need to make sense of what they were seeing and to help, they created this book – their view of an incident in which a young black man is beaten by a white cop. The tale is told in alternating chapters and voices – one voice being the black male who was beaten and the other a white teen who witnessed the beating. Nothing is as simple as it seems, but the voices feel real, and I love the idea of these two authors collaborating on such an important issue. This novel also reminded me of another book I loved and highly recommend – Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, reviewed on the Book Jam last June~ Lisa Christie

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We end today’s recommendations with a review of how broad a selection of authors we have featured since last February’s diversity audit. We found that during the past twelve months, we reviewed books by 140 authors. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” and “Guest Author” posts as we do not choose those all of those books.)  Slightly over half (59%) of the authors we featured were women, 37% were men, and 4% were written by groups of authors or organizations such as Lonely Planet. A majority of the authors we featured (77%) were white, with 23% authors of color. Overall, 15% of the authors we featured were nonwhite Africans or African Americans, 4% Hispanics, and 2% Asians. Geographically speaking, we featured almost all the continents, with 56% of featured authors hailing from the USA, 33% from Europe, 7% from Canada, 3% from Australia, and 2% from Africa.

To sum, we can and will do better featuring authors of color.

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