My Summer Reading List
August 9th was Book Lovers Day, which I missed because I wanted to write about the loss of my friend Doug. This week, I wanted to share some books I have read that have impacted me this year both non-fiction and fiction.
I read about 30 new books a year (for real!) and a couple of years ago I made a commitment to read more books by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color) authors. I mean, the way to really understand any subject is to become educated. I think we can also learn not only from non-fiction factual books, but also books that teach us about other people through fictional stories that can capture the emotions and experiences of people specifically from marginalized and oppressed communities. Stories can help create greater empathy, care, and understanding and I know we need more of that especially during these difficult days that are so painfully strife with division and hatred. Reading also requires discernment, which is why I read a lot from different perspectives.
So, I know you may think my bedside table is piled high with paranormal romances (which I love) and books on quantum physics (guilty pleasure—yep I am weird) BUT there’s more to my summer reading than lovestruck vampires (though I do make time for those. Hey, it’s summer!). I am constantly looking for ways to increase my understanding of how I can help heal the injustice that some of our brothers and sisters face on a daily basis.
Here are my top ten books I’ve been reading to gain a better understanding of the issues and what I can do to help create a more equitable world for all of us. Oh, and by the way, I’m sharing this with you from my heart. Nothing is perfect—this is a process. I’m learning more every day, because for me, this is a lifetime commitment. Not just a trending topic.
I am starting with five non-fiction books then five fiction books. Some will be surprising!
1) How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
This man’s work is so important. I have both the book on my kindle and the audible version. He dives eloquently into how racism is structural and systemic, not an insulting name implying you’re part of the KKK. His underlying point is how it is not enough to be “not a racist.” Those who want to see an end to racism must be actively anti-racist. Kendi shares specific ideas on how individuals can go beyond awareness of racism, to actually changing the structures that keep racism in place. We are on our second listen in the family car to this one. It’s deep and compelling, and Marc and I literally stop the audio every 10 minutes to talk about it.
2) Mindful of Race by Ruth King
One of the most powerful things I’ve learned from Ruth King is to LISTEN. I try to do my work with eyes and ears open, but my mouth closed for repairs (a challenge for a chatterbox like me!). She dives into the spiritual and emotional effects of racism, and how mindfulness, empathy, and compassion can heal us all. Her statement that “racism is a heart disease that is curable” launched the deepest conversations between me and the people close to me both white and BIPOC about how to make real change. Hers was the first book I read on this subject and will always be included in a list like this. She is also a wonderful insightful coach and I have had the immense privilege to work with her personally.
3) I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyonce By Michael Arcenaux
This memoir really touched me as the author unravels a whole other side to the identity and “othering” conversation of being “Queer, Black, and Southern in America.” It’s a series of essays—decidedly unapologetic and some laugh out loud hilarious as he chronicles his experiences and reveals them to us. He’s really thoughtful, too. In a podcast interview I heard him on, he talked about how we consume media about racism and being “other” that is mostly, “seen through the lens of pathology that triggers white guilt”. He didn’t want to be seen as the “sad gay”. You’ll get that in his writing. He is sharing a story of a multidimensional human being’s life – all of it- the beauty and the beast of it all. This extraordinary man is a wonderful storyteller. I love this book.
4) The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Ok, now for something heavier. I have not finished this book yet (but almost) and I had to include it. This book should upset you for real. Well, I can’t tell you how to feel, but wow I personally am so enraged reading it. Michelle Alexander has written a very readable textbook on criminal justice reform in America. It’s a factual dense read that page by page breaks down how the criminal justice/prison system has undeniable and horrific consequences on the Black community.
5) An African American and LatinX History of America by Paul OrtizHistory was my favorite subject in school! I loved every word of it even when told it was unquestionable. Now, here I am at 62 really pissed off at everything that was left out in my early education and consequent conditioned worldview. Why do we know what we know about history? Well, we have to be taught it! But history is often written and rewritten by the oppressors and victors of war and viewed through a lens layered with hidden and overt agendas. This book takes us on a journey through 200 years of US history as seen through the eyes, blood, sweat, and tears of Black, Indigenous, and LatinX people. A really intense history book that is making my head spin as I am ½ way through it now. Personally, this should be taught in schools. We need more books like this!
Ok now for a shortlist of fiction books by BIPOC authors.
Some of these are books I have read this year, some I have read last year, but all of them are relevant to the topic of understanding the nature of oppressed communities even if indirectly. Fiction is an interesting thing to talk about because it’s really so subjective. I love certain books and then I am shocked to see a shitty review about it. I think “ Are they reading the same book I am?” So this is really now an opinion piece. But here goes anyway!
1) Indigo by Beverly JenkinsThis beautiful story is woven into the history of Michigan’s Underground Railroad where fictional characters intersect with real historical figures. I inhaled this one. Yes, I am a romance novel lover. I also like a well-researched historical one. This one is both educational and passionate.
2) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieThis is a love story and a story of what it means to confront racism as two young lovers must separate as they leave from Nigeria to find a better life in America, and when one is refused entry, the UK. I don’t want to give too much of the story away but I could not put this down. You understand the “othering” of people through the characters’ eyes. You also learn that love is the thread that holds humanity together.
3)The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehishi CoatesSet in the later years of slavery in the southern USA this story follows our main character Hiram, a young slave who discovers he is blessed with the magical powers of Conduction, the ability to transport people from one place to another, across a raging river from slavery to freedom. Magical realism at its best it weaves together a complex and compelling story about race, memory, family, love, liberation, and the haunting disturbing legacy of slavery in the USA. This was my first introduction to the incredible abolitionist Harriet Tubman, a real historical figure who was ( who in this book shares the magical power with Hiram, the main character) one of the most important activists in the Underground Railroad. She is referred to here as Moses. I could not put this book down.
4) The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasI bought this book after I saw the film. Although it’s written for a YA audience, I am a big fan of the genre and read a lot of those. When I first began unpacking the elements of white privilege, the opening scene in the movie (which happens later in the book) brought it all home to me, when I really got what it meant. The scene shows a black family sitting at their dining table listening while the father gives them “the serious talk” about how to behave if they are stopped by the police. This is a life or death talk for many young black men and women, something I had never known as a white person. If I had a 16-year-old daughter or son I would not have to have that conversation. The book follows the coming of age of the main character Starr, a Black girl who attends a fancy prep school, after she witnesses the unprovoked shooting death of her friend Khalid by police. It’s riveting and important.
5) Pride – (A Pride and Prejudice Remix) by Ibi ZoboiOk so I am coming out of the closet for reading every reboot of this famous Jane Austen book by BIPOC authors. I have read a couple Indian ones, a Muslim one and now this one—my absolute favorite. What stands out is the author left out the word Prejudice in her title for good reason. It’s a book about being proud of your roots, your identity. We follow the classic story only with a different non-white cast of characters. This time it’s about an Afro LatinX young woman named Zuri Benitez and her experience with the gentrification of her neighborhood in Brooklyn NY and the Darcy family who moves in. Without giving too much away (it’s soooo good!!) It’s about family, love, and pride in who you are. I read it in two days.
I added this sixth book because it really was that good although it is not written about the BIPOC experience it still depicts the horrors of racism during WW2 and the hope for humanity when people act in accordance with their conscience to stand up for others that are oppressed.
6) Not a BIPOC author- but it’s about Nazis and antisemitism. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
I honestly have not cried this much reading a book of historical fiction. But since my Sephardic Jewish maternal grandfather was part of the French resistance movement, captured then killed in the horrors of the concentration camp in Dachau, I was personally touched by this story. Although most of the characters are fictional the history of WW2 and anti-semitism was thoroughly and accurately depicted. You really wonder in shock about what makes human beings turn against each other so viciously and effortlessly. You also know that human beings can do good and can be better when they listen to their conscience—not from guilt but to do what is right.
If you have other resources you’d like to share, please do so in the comments. I’m committed to continuing to learn, continuing to listen, and continuing to hold space for my BIPOC friends. Would love to hear what books you’ve found valuable.