by W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903
There is a certain sense of wonder – or is it chagrin? – when reading a hundred-year-old book that exemplifies the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Such is the case with W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays published at the turn of the 20th century that are, sadly, as poignant today as they were a mere 40 years post-Emancipation. Race relations have no doubt improved greatly since then, yet not so much as to prevent the reader from sitting slack-jawed and wondering if Du Bois were writing these words today. He and his ideas are far from obsolete.
by Toni Morrison, 1981
I think this is my favorite Toni Morrison yet. While I’ve found every book of hers completely engaging, there’s something about the lyrical quality of her prose in Tar Baby that I find particularly appealing. I also continue to be impressed by how effortlessly Morrison weaves not just the conflict between white and black into her stories, but also that between varying shades of black. Each book has spoken volumes about intraracial conflict that only someone who has personally experienced that tension can fully appreciate.
by Carter G. Woodson, 1933
Carter G. Woodson is one of those names I’ve heard bandied about for quite some time, thanks largely in part to the fact that one of the three huge regional libraries in Chicago is named for the writer. As such, I’ve always had him in my mind as someone I ought to read, but, as is often the case, I never got around to it. With the Read Harder Challenge’s task to read a book published between 1900-1950, this 1933 tome jumped to the forefront. It’s a fairly short book, coming in at around 100 pages, but it’s packed with some interesting ideas regarding education and race that not only were applicable to its time, but continue to be relevant today.
by Paul Beatty, 2015
Ah, the library. What’s so great about the library nowadays is that you can put any ebook on hold and eventually it’ll come to you without you having to lift a finger. What’s not so great about the library is that, for some reason, all of your ebooks tend to come in at once and you find yourself speed reading them before they’re yanked from your account. Such was the case with The Sellout which, despite having a long wait time, became available to me shortly after I received The Nix, meaning that after reading that 600+ page tome, I had little time to devote to this Booker Prize winner and even less time to spend appreciating it. For I think there is probably some level of genius in this novel, however unable I was to connect with it.
by 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.
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?
by Toni Morrison, 1977
I don’t think I will cease to be impressed with how deftly Toni Morrison incorporates historical events, cultural criticism, and societal strife into stories with such highly flawed, damaged, and unenlightened characters while managing to make the result nothing short of luminous. Here we have the story of Milkman Dead, born the only son to Macon Dead and sharing his name except for the fact of his troubling nickname which was bestowed upon him by a town member who was witness to an incident with his mother. Song of Solomon is at once a coming of age tale, one that tells of a man who has truly does not have to answer to anyone or be responsible for himself, struggling to learn his place his in family’s history, yet it is also a story of black history itself, of those who fight to remember who they are while whites work to erase it.