127 The Wangs vs. the World

wangsby Jade Chang, 2016

It’s the start of the economic recession and Charles Wang – a Chinese immigrant who made his fortune in the cosmetics industry – is bankrupt. Having put all his collateral, including his house, toward a loan for a failed attempt at beauty stores that cater to non-white customers, Charles is determined to save face by reclaiming the land stolen from his family by the communist Chinese government. He picks up his daughter from boarding school, his son from college, and, along with his second wife, they head toward the eldest Wang daughter’s New York farmhouse in search of something like redemption.

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126 The Hate U Give

hateugiveby Angie Thomas, 2017

Starr Carter is sixteen years old when she witnesses the police shooting of her friend Khalil. Pulled over for a seemingly routine traffic violation, things quickly go south when Khalil demands to know why he was stopped, is frisked, and returns to the car to ask Starr if she’s okay. There appeared to be a gun in the car, they say of the hairbrush sticking out of a pocket in the door. He was dealing drugs, they say with no evidence of such in the car. One more gangbanger out of the way, they say, while knowing nothing about Khalil and the life he led. It’s a sad day when a book like this is necessary and, yet, here we are, and this book is so very necessary.

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125 Men Explain Things to Me

solnitby Rebecca Solnit, 2014

Ah, mansplaining. Who among us hasn’t suffered to listen to a man tell us what we already know? In my case, it’s most often come from those telling me how to run my business when they have no knowledge of said business and no idea why I’ve made some of the very valid decisions I’ve made (like, what you are insisting I do is, in fact, illegal in this state). Mansplaining is not new, but the term gained quite the life after the publication of the essay that bears the same name as this book. What starts as a humorous anecdote of Solnit being schooled on a book that she wrote turns into a much needed examination of women’s silencing. And before you’re quick to jump to the defense, Solnit readily admits that [hashtag] not all men are like this. I know not all men are like this too, but I’ll be damned if not all women have been affected by some of the behavior she discusses in this essay collection.

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123 Beasts of No Nation

beastsby Uzodinma Iweala, 2005

Some books exist to give insight into another part of the world. Some books exist to give insight into another culture. Some books exist to give insight into another way of life. Beasts of No Nation exists for all three, but mostly it exists to tell the horrifying story of a young boy caught up in the middle of a war.

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122 The Mothers

mothersby Brit Bennett, 2016

Nadia Turner is just seventeen when she becomes pregnant with 21-year-old Luke Turner’s child. As the son of the town pastor, Luke has kept their relationship a secret and it’s only when the pregnancy arises that he must confess his sins to his parents. Nadia is on the verge of leaving Oceanside, CA, where she lives with her father, the two of them alone after her mother’s suicide. Determined not to let anything keep her from fulfilling her dreams, Nadia takes the only route she feels is available to her and terminates the pregnancy. These are not spoilers, as these events occur in the very opening pages of the book, but they are the impetus of Bennett’s astute exploration of motherhood in the pages that follow.

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121 The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution

dofiby Richard Beeman, ed., 2012

You may wonder why I’m reading this. How can you not know the D of I and the Constitution? you might ask. Sure, I took AP Government like any good high schooler and I’m bound to have studied these documents then, but that was nearly 20 years ago and I’ll be damned if I remember anything other than who my teacher was and who I used to pass notes to. As Richard Beeman notes in his introduction to this first book in the lovely Penguin Civics Classics series, “There is…[a] large body of evidence suggesting that Americans’ knowledge of their history and of the way in which their institutions have worked over the course of history is embarrassingly meager.” And, really, I’m just trying not to be one of those Americans. I had a conversation with a friend recently where I relayed an ignorant comment I’d heard in regards to The Underground Railroad.  The reviewer in question erroneously believed the literal railroad, as depicted in the book, to be true and I wondered how someone could lack that basic understanding of American history. “The question is,” my friend said, “how responsible are we, as people of color, to seek out and educate the ignorant?”

“Is it our responsibility to educate? Or is it their responsibility to seek education?” I countered. “After high school, is not the onus on the individual to educate themselves?”

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