October is nearing its end and I couldn’t let it end without acknowledging Black History Month ❤️🖤💚 Black History Month is a time to share, educate and celebrate black history, culture and identity. Books written by black authors are a crucial part of this as they give voices to the lived experiences of black people across the globe. I’ve been so pleased to see black authors becoming visible and spoken about in mainstream publishing and the book community, but there is still more to be done.
I’m always conscious of being diverse and inclusive with my reading because so much of the value of reading for me is gaining insight into the lives and experiences of others and developing greater empathy. I’d encourage all readers to also be mindful of the authors they’re reading and to read and support books by black authors, not just during October, but all year round.
Now let’s get into the recommendations. I have seven books (sorry to those of you that are a stickler for even numbers!) and it’s a varied selection from non-fiction to YA to historical fiction, so hopefully there will be something for everyone to enjoy.
12 Years a Slave
I’m starting with 12 Years a Slave because if there is any book you should read off this list, it’s this one. This is a harrowing and authentic insight into slavery in South America through the eyes of Solomon Northup, who was born a free man and kidnapped and sold into slavery as an adult. Northup’s writing immersed me completely into the hell that he was living and his compassion, astuteness and determination connected me deeply to him. His account shines a light on the realities of slavery exclusively from the black perspective and provides an interesting perspective since the narrator experienced living as both a free man and a slave. As expected, it’s an emotionally challenging read, but books like this should make us uncomfortable. This is our history and the pain and trauma that resulted from generations of slavery continues to impact black people and families today.
James Baldwin is one of the best known black authors of all time, so it seems fitting that he made it onto this list. Set in Paris, this book is an exploration of queerness in the 20th century. The protagonist, David, is faced with a choice between two people he loves. However, it’s not just a struggle of choose between two people he loves, it’s a struggle between a man and a woman, who symbolise two vastly different possibilities and futures for David. Baldwin’s writing is raw, honest and complex. He doesn’t attempt to gloss over the messiness of figuring out your identity and sexuality, he dallies in the grey areas and explores the spectrum of sexuality. This book is a truly fascinating insight into the intersection between same gender desire amongst men and masculinity. It fleshes out the conflict between manhood and the perceived imasculating desire for another man in the context of race. It also explores male bisexuality in a way that few classics do.
Noughts and Crosses
If you read My Favourite Children’s Book post, you’ll already know that this is one of my all time favourite books. It has be recommended a lot in recent years, particularly with the rise of Black Lives Matter, but that won’t stop me from recommending it again. Noughts and Crosses is a tale of racism, interracial love, oppression, family and division written for a young, modern audience. By switching the roles in the book’s universe so that the white characters are the oppressed and the black characters the oppressors, it enables white readers to empathise with the black experience more deeply. The genuine connection and love between the two main characters Callum and Sephy is the foundation that the story is built on. They exist in a world that not only divides them based on the colour of their skin, but actively tells them they should hate each other, yet they continue to love each other no matter how much the world tells them they shouldn’t. It’s a hard-hitting and emotional read, and the fact that it is categorised as YA and aimed at younger audiences, doesn’t in anyway detract from the valuable insight, commentary and messages the book contains about race.
The Vanishing Half
This multi-generational historical fiction follows identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella, one of whom lives life as a white woman and the other whom lives life as a black woman. Through contrasting the twins’ lives against each other, this book sheds light on the tenets of racsim that exist in every area of daily life. Similarly, it explores that blackness is more than the colour of someone’s skin, it is a fundamental part of identity. Stella’s privilege as a white-passing woman is contradicted by the constant fear and discomfort she feels at living a lie and having to conform to the white surburban community she is part of, which actively perpetuates the racism that convinced her to live her life as a white woman. Admittedly, I did have some minor issues with some of the plot conveniences in the book, but it’s nonetheless a fantastic read and provides insight into the complexities of race and the way racism evolves over time through the voices of generations of a family.
All Boys Aren’t Blue
If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you’ll have most likely seen this book at least a few times. I love this book so much and will recommend it whenever I get the chance. This memoir is honest in a way that no other memoir I’ve ever read has been. Johnson bares his soul, revealing the most vulnerable parts of himself and most intimate details of his life. Thematically it shares a lot of similarites with Giovanni’s Room, discussing constructions of gender, masculinity, sexuality and the intersection of being black and queer. It’s a short read but so educational, valuable and touching. I’d highly recommend the audiobook which is narrated by Johnson.
Stay With Me
Set in Nigeria, Stay with Me is an explosive, dramatic and surprising story that provides a detailed examination of marriage and family. It pushes the boundaries repeatedly and challenges expectations, taking the story into directions I didn’t expect. It’s steeped in Nigerian culture, and is educational in this regard for readers like myself that are unfamiliar with Nigerian culture.. As a modern couple, Yejide and her husband struggle against the Nigerian traditions and expectations surrounding, particularly regarding polygamy. The main character, Yejide, is an immensely nuanced, layered character that felt so real. Her emotions and motivations were easy to understand and empathise with, even when I didn’t agree with her actions. First and foremost, this is a family drama (one might even call it a domestic thriller of sorts) and is driven by deeply flawed characters. However, there is also so much valuable context and commentary about Nigerian history, culture and society. Unlike many other books in this list, race isn’t used as a lens of critical analysis, this is simply a story about the lived experience of black people living in one of the most populated black nations in the world.
Eloquent Rage is an intersectional feminist memoir about social injustice, political discourse and the many facets of womanhood and race which impact the lives of black women. It strikes the perfect balance between discussion, academic research, reflection and personal experience. Unlike other memoirs, it doesn’t get too bogged down in personal anecdote nor does it become too clinical with endless statistics. It’s educational but also captures Cooper’s personal identity, experience and views. Her view on race is black-centric and focused on the ways in which black men hurt black women and the black community hurt each other in general. This perspective is rarely depicted in racial discourse since it’s generally reliant on the polarisation of the races, with the central theme being “black versus white”. It’s an insightful, thought-provoking and powerful read, which covers a lot of ground and does it very well. Cooper expresses her views and opinions candidly and clearly, and supports them with academic research. It’s by far the most informative and interesting feminist text I’ve read from both a gendered and racial perspective.
Happy Black History Month, my lovelies and keep reading ❤️🖤💚