by Colson Whitehead, 2016
After languishing at nearly number 500 on the waitlist, The Underground Railroad finally came in at the library! Anyone who reads any sort of books is likely to have heard of this blessed-by-Oprah, National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winner and I was experiencing an acute case of FOMO with this one. The only question I had was, would it live up to the hype?
Even though I know The Revenant (2016) was based on a book, I’m still going to say what I initially thought upon leaving that movie: I can’t imagine it ever being a book. This is what I love about Alejandro González Iñárritu’s films – he conveys in actions and images what words cannot. I am a lover of books first, but I am equally a lover of those who have learned to master their chosen medium, and Iñárritu certainly has.
Roots: The Saga of an American Family (Alex Haley, 1976) is, I would venture to say, one of the best and most influential books I’ve read. I’ve never seen the miniseries, so I came to the book with only the vaguest knowledge that it was about slavery and the genealogy of Haley’s family back to its African roots. It is at times harrowing, hopeful, nostalgic, longing, powerful, and unforgettable. It is one of the most difficult books I’ve read, not just because it clocks in at 728 pages, but because it contains some of the most graphic scenes of torture I’ve ever come across. It is not for the faint of heart and I found myself, on multiple occasions, trying to suppress my emotion while reading it on the el. But for all the history it contains, much of it we would like to wipe from our collective American memory, it is worth the effort.