Thanks to everyone who came out last night for our discussion of Tavis Smiley's autobiography. As usual it was a rollicking, fun filled evening!
I've finalized the list of titles we'll be doing in the coming year. In assembling the list, I tried to balance fiction and nonfiction, contemporary works with classics, male with female authors. Most are between 200 and 300 pages long, but please note that the two biographies, Malcolm X: a Life of Reinvention for December, and Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston for March are both over 500 pages. Most months I will have copies available at the 2nd floor desk about 30 days in advance, but for these 2 we'll get copies 60 days in advance.
We have 2 more sessions before we our annual August break: on June 12th we'll tackle journalist Toure's Who's Afraid of Post Blackness? (see my September 24th post) and then on July 10th it's time for a hilarious look at race and presidential politics in Keli Goff's The GQ Candidate. Call 847-448-8646 or stop by the 2nd floor desk to get your copies!
Meanwhile here's the fall/spring list...
Erasure by Everett, Percival L. (265 pages)
Thelonius "Monk" Ellison, author of experimental novels, is somewhat estranged from his family because he was favored by an emotionally distant, recently deceased father. At the same time that he deals with family crises, Monk is also in the midst of a professional crisis after the seventh rejection of his most recent novel. In a fury over the success of We's Lives in Da Ghetto, a debut novel by a black woman exploiting racial stereotypes, Monk writes his own ultra ghetto novel. It is a parody, reminiscent of Native Son but with none of the pathos and perspective. Monk's main character is an Ebonics-spouting brute with no regard for his four children or their respective mothers. To his chagrin, the novel is a success, and Monk is left to struggle with artistic ethics versus the comforts of wealth. A scathingly funny look at racism and the book business: editors, publishers, readers, and writers alike.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Alexander, Michelle (290 pages)
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that "[w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as "a system of social control" ("More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850"). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the "war on drugs." She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates "who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits." Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: "most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration"—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.
Betsey Brown, by Shange Notzake (227 pages)
This novel about a black family living in St. Louis in 1957 centers on Betsey, 13, who is restless, wants to ``be somebody'' and is being bused to a white school. Her mother and grandmother oppose and her father supports integration. When the father plans to take Betsey and her siblings to demonstrate against a racist hotel, the mother leaves home. PW stated that ``by depicting and personalizing the racial tensions of the 1950s through the lives of appealing characters, Shange has produced a memorable, quietly powerful book.''
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Marable, Manning (594 pages)
Columbia University professor Marable died shortly before the publication of his marvelous biography of Malcolm X. Since Malcolm's assassination in 1965 by followers of Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, Malcolm has been best known through his autobiography (written with Alex Haley), published shortly after his death. Nearly a half-century later, Marable has written a compelling reinterpretation of Malcolm's life, answering questions raised by the autobiography. Insisting "Malcolm's strength was his ability to reinvent himself," Marable concludes that Malcolm was an eloquent advocate for black self-respect, a representative of the black underclass, and "the most important bridge between the American people and the more than one billion Muslims throughout the world." The biography exposes inaccuracies in earlier accounts of Malcolm's life (including the autobiography), details the split between Malcolm and Elijah Muhammad, and scrutinizes the assassination plot, raising questions such as the likelihood of an informer within Malcolm's inner circle. Malcolm was one of a handful of the most important African Americans in the 20th century, and perhaps the least understood. This book is unrivaled among interpretations of a complicated man and his monumental impact.
32 Candles: A Novel by Carter, Ernessa T. (338 pages)
Carter's captivating debut follows Davie Jones, an African American girl growing up in the 1980s in the small town of Glass , Mississippi . Scorned by her mother and classmates, Davie eventually stops speaking and takes refuge in the movies of Molly Ringwald, which promise happy endings for even the most downtrodden social outcast. Davie finds her dream guy in hunky James Farrell, a high-school football star who moves to Glass with his wealthy family. But her dreams are dashed when she incurs the ire of James' cruel sister, Veronica, after Veronica catches her father visiting Davie 's promiscuous mother. Veronica then plays a mean prank that sends Davie running away from Glass for good, all the way to Los Angeles . There she finds her voice, both literally and figuratively, earning a living as a lounge singer. Davie is content with her life until James crashes back into it, causing demons from her past to bubble to the surface. With all the charm of a clever romantic comedy and peopled by appealing, memorable characters, Carter's first novel is a winner on all fronts.-
The Known World by Jones, Edward P. (388 pages)
Henry Townsend, born a slave, is purchased and freed by his father, yet he remains attached to his former owner, even taking lessons in slave owning when he eventually buys his own slaves. Townsend is part of a small enclave of free blacks who own slaves, thus offering another angle on the complexities of slavery and social relations in a Virginia town just before the Civil War. His widow, Caldonia, grief-stricken and more conflicted about slavery than Henry was, fails to maintain the social order. Also caught in the miasma of slavery is Sheriff John Skiffington, an honorable man who, when presented with a slave as a marriage gift, spends the remainder of his marriage, along with his wife, dithering about how to deal with the girl and ends up treating her like a daughter. These are only a few of the deftly portrayed characters in this elegantly written novel that explores the interweaving of sex, race, and class. Jones moves back and forth in time, making the reader omniscient, knowing what will eventually befall the characters despite their best and worst efforts, their aspirations and their moral failings. This is a profoundly beautiful and insightful look at American slavery and human nature.
Wrapped in Rainbows: the Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Boyd, Valerie . (527 pages)
A key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston, dashing and creative, struggled against poverty, sexism, and racism with grace and wisdom. As Boyd adeptly and passionately analyzes Hurston's revolutionary books, intense spirituality, and myriad adventures, Hurston emerges in all her splendor--not only smarter, tougher, and more dazzlingly alive than most people but also free, gloriously and resoundingly free.
Losing My Cool How A Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-hop Culture by Williams, Thomas Chatterton. (225 pages)
Growing up in Westfield , New Jersey , with a father who loved wisdom and ran an SAT prep business in a home crammed with books, Williams blithely ignored all that in favor of the hip-hop culture he heard and saw on BET. He spent his youth meticulously studying and imitating images of cool and thuggishness and listening to music that glorified misogyny, violence, and bling. The objective was to be authentically black, despite his white mother and erudite father. He modeled the thug life with a hair-trigger temper that led to fights and a ghetto-fabulous girlfriend, living on the margins of drug dealing. At Georgetown , he continued the cool persona until he began to gradually face up to evidence that it would lead to failure and that a more interesting life might be available to him. Only then does he acknowledge the gift of his father's efforts to get him to appreciate the value of being able to truly and deeply think for himself. This is more than a coming-of-age story; it is an awakening, as Williams blends Dostoyevsky and Jay-Z in a compelling memoir and analysis of urban youth culture.