by Attica Locke, 2012
narrated by Quincy Tyler Bernstine*
The Cutting Season is a mystery that mixes a classic whodunit with pressing social issues. Caren Gray is a manager for Belle Vie, a Louisiana plantation that serves as an event space and tourist attraction, complete with antebellum reenactments. When a woman’s body ends up on the plantation grounds with her throat slit, and a suspicious stain is found on her daughter’s clothes, Caren finds herself on a search to find out the truth about Belle Vie and the past that continues to mar its present.
by Octavia E. Butler, 1977
Mind of My Mind is second book in the Patternist series, in both chronological and publication order. It serves as a prequel to Patternmaster (as they all do), and here we get to find out how the Pattern began. We meet Mary, child of the powerful and undying Doro who is set upon building a society of “actives.” While Doro can only inhabit another’s thoughts by killing them, the actives can truly read others’ minds. The problem is that their powers are too strong for them to stand being around one another, so, for the race of actives to live on, Doro must continue to father them. It’s not until the even more powerful Mary arrives that Doro can start to imagine his plan coming to fruition. Yes, this means there’s a bit of incest going on here. Butler does not really address the moral ramifications of this, but since we’re talking about a man bent on building his own society of telepaths, I suppose we’ve already signed on for a bit of crazy, haven’t we?
by Jesmyn Ward, 2011
I’ve heard much praise bandied about for this National Book Award-winning novel, so I was excited to finally get my hands on it. Alas, sometimes award winners leave you nodding in complete agreement with the book’s judged greatness, and sometimes award winners leave you wondering if, perhaps, you just don’t understand what makes a book great. Sadly, it was the latter for me with Salvage the Bones, and while I can see glimpses of greatness in it, overall this book just wasn’t my style.
by Toni Morrison, 1992
To round out my Year of Toni Morrison, I thought I would dip into one of her nonfiction books. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination is a compilation of three lectures on, you guessed it, whiteness in literature. This is a topic I’ve often pondered myself, as you can walk into any bookstore and find an “African-American” or “Hispanic” or “Asian” section, but there is no “White” section. While finding a “White” books section would be, no doubt, horrifying, the truth is that it does not exist because white is considered to be the default and every other race or ethnicity is positioned as the other. “African-American” is a demographic, not a genre, and yet we treat these authors – and readers – as if it were. “Until very recently, and regardless of the race of the author, the readers of virtually all of American fiction have been positioned as white,” she writes. “I am interested to know what that assumption has meant to the literary imagination.” Me too, Ms. Morrison. Me too.
by Toni Morrison, 2015
The great thing about reading an author’s entire body of work is that you get to see their progression from debut to, in this case, award-winning novel. The less fortunate thing is that you sometimes witness the decline of their work. Such is the case with Toni Morrison, as her most recent novel is a mere shadow of the gut-wrenching pieces she published earlier in her career. It is not a bad novel – I would not categorize anything of hers as bad – but the subtlety and nuance of books like Sula and Paradise are not present here.
by Toni Morrison, 2012
This is one of Morrison’s shorter novels, but it packs a fair bit of punch. Frank Money wakes up in the hospital, not sure what put him there or what injuries he has sustained; he only knows that he must continue on his trek his Georgia hometown to help his sister in need. While we follow him on his way, we are privy not just to his tribulations as a black man living in America, but also his trauma as a veteran of the Korean War and the ghosts that constantly haunt him. Where Morrison’s novels typically focus on race and gender, this one centers on post-traumatic stress and survivor guilt, themes that are as apt now as they have been at multiple times in our country’s history.
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell, 2016
It has been some time since I finished the second installment in the March series. At first I wondered why I had put off completing it for so long – I did, after all, rush out and buy all three at full price immediately after borrowing the first one from the library. But, after starting in again, I remembered why: this read was going to be a difficult one.