by Nelson Mandela, 1994
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
“The bold man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
by Celeste Ng, 2017
I loved Everything I Never Told You, so I was supremely excited to get my hands on Celeste Ng’s second novel. Like her debut, Little Fires Everywhere focuses on suburban life, both the promise that it holds and the prison that it can become. Elena Richardson has a seemingly idyllic life with her husband Bill in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Bill is a successful attorney, Elena is a respected local journalist, and their four high school-aged children – Lexie, Trip, Moody, and Izzy – complete this portrait of a perfect American family. Well, except for Izzy who, at the beginning of the novel, has set fires in each of the bedrooms of the Richardson home. Izzy has always been Mrs. Richardson’s greatest struggle and she will be her ultimate undoing.
by Paul Kalanithi, 2016
There has been an enormous amount of press surrounding neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi’s memoir of his terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of thirty-six. Making the press even more poignant is the knowledge that the book was published after Kalanithi’s death. This wasn’t a memoir from someone writing years later, who looked death in the face and vowed to beat it. This was from a person who looked death in the face and did the only thing they could: accepted it. It’s not by any means an easy topic to grapple with, but Kalanithi’s clear, direct writing renders this difficult journey one that should not be missed.
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 Nnedi Okorafor, 2015
I’m not going to lie; I was hesitant when I saw Nnedi Okorafor’s name on the list of recent Hugo Award winners. I was not a fan of Who Fears Death and I would have been just fine not having picked up another one of her books. But, given how some recent award winners have led me to fall in love with books I would otherwise have completely avoided, I forced myself to put aside my prejudices and approach the book with an open mind. The result? I still don’t like Nnedi Okorafor. She is just not for me.