Book recommendations for Black History Month

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.

Giovanni’s Room

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

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 ❤️🖤💚

Pride Month Wrap Up

At the end of May I shared my Pride Month TBR and I wanted to give an update on the books I read in June. So, I read five LGBTQIA+ books last month, four of which were from my TBR and one which was a birthday gift from a friend. Here are my summaries of the books and my thoughts on them all spoiler free .

In the Dream House

Carmen Maria Machado

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication year: 2019

In the Dream House is the first book I read from my TBR and it blew me away. It was an emotional and hard-hitting read with the author Carmen Maria Machado, recounting her experience of being a domestic abuse victim in a same sex relationship. The writing style was unique and encapsulating, and Machado’s voice swept me away in the story of her life. It’s value in raising awareness of abuse in queer relationships cannot be understated and this is one I’d highly recommend for everyone, particularly those interested in LGBTQIA+ topics and rights. You can read my full review for In the Dream House here.

The Passion

Jeanette Winterson

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 1987

Reading The Passion was a wonderful experience. I was swept away by Jeanette Winterson’s stunning prose, writing style and storytelling. Despite how short it is in length, I was invested and connected to the characters and story. Set in the Napoleonic Wars, it follows two characters – Henri and Villanelle – whose fates collide leading to an unlikely relationship and journey. The characterisation of Henri and Villanelle was incredible. Winterson was able to establish them so well within 150 pages that I came away feeling a deep affinity to both characters. Their dynamic was authentic, complex and emotional, and anchored the entire story.

It’s very steeped in metaphors, symbolism and thought-provoking prose, so I don’t think a book as complex as this can be fully comprehended or appreciated on one read. I plan to come back to it re-read it at a slower pace, taking the time to sit with the words and fully reflect on the language and meaning. I was so close to rounding this up to 5 stars, but it just lacked that full emotional gut punch that typically leads me to give a full rating. Nonetheless, I loved this book.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Fannie Flagg

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 1987

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is the story of a small fictional town in Alabama called Whistle Stop. It primarily follows Mrs Threadgoode, an elderly lady in a reitrement home, and her daughter-in-law, Evelyn as they develop a close bond and Mrs Threadgoode shared the history of Whistle Stop and its residents. The story spans across decades, weaving together past and present with chapters alternating between the present with Mrs Threadgoode and Evelyn chatting in the retirement home, stories from the past from residents of Whistle Stop and articles from the Whistle Stop newsletter, “The Weems Weekly.”

Thematically, this book explored a lot of things that are of interest to me – family, community, identity, feminism, lesbianism, racism – but unfortunately, I found it difficult to connect to the story or the characters. I appreciated what Fannie Flagg was trying to achieve but it didn’t have the emotional weight it should’ve and was generally a rather underwhelming read as a result.

We Can Do Better Than This: 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ+ rights

Amelia Abraham (ed.)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication year: 2021

This book was bought for me by a friend as a birthday present and I devored it within two days. With a diverse range of voices from within the LGBTQIA+ community, this anthology of essays is wide-reaching and explored a variety of issues that queer communities are currently facing and have endured throughout history. It’s an intersectional approach to LGBTQIA+ rights with queerness being explored in the context of race, disability, faith, culture and legislation. As with all anthologies, there were some essays that I connected to and enjoyed more than others, but generally the quality was high.

It was a very emotional read and I cried multiple times, but it was also hopeful and empowering. Although there was a lot of representation, I did feel that there could’ve been improvements with this. There was a high proportion of essays written through the lens of being gay, trans and non-binary, but a clear absence of multisexual identities including bisexuals, pansexuals, omnisexuals and polysexuals. There was also only one chapter about asexuality and none about aromanticism. Although ths is a lesser known identity, there are plenty of asexual and/or aromantic public figures and activists that could’ve contributed to the anthology. Nonetheless, I appreciate that with 35 essays there’s limited time and space and overall, it did a brilliant job at capturing the core issues in LGBTQIA+ activism and the diversity of the community.

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Identity and the Meaning of Sex

Angela Chen

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication year: 2020

This book was a fascinating and insightful read. It’s an journalistic perspective on asexuality within the context of Western society which is rooted in what she coins as “compulsory sexuality”. I wasn’t a big fan of the writing which felt clunky and jumped from one topic to another haphazardly, but Angela Chen opened up very important converations which apply to everyone regardless of sexual orientation. She uses asexuality to question the societal norms and expectations placed on people around sex and relationships, asking why sex is assumed to be such a focal point of all of our lives when for many people (asexual and non-asexual), sex simply isn’t a priority in our lives.

As a Chinese American, Chen adopted an intersectional perspective of asexuality looking at disability, race and religion and how those characteristics can interact with asexuality. She did a good job at capturing the diversity of the ace spectrum and debunking common myths surrounding asexuality. She also offered some food for thought and provided me with the opportunity to evaluate the ways in which socal norms and compulsory sexuality has impacted me as an asexual woman. However, it wasn’t a particularly mindblowing read since it felt like it was targeted more at non-asexuals as an introduction to the issues that asexuals can and do face. Having said that, asexuality is widely misunderstood, overlooked and stigmatised both in and out of the LGBTQIA+ community so to see books like this being published is essential for raising awareness and building momentum within the ace community.

Overall, I had a great experience reading these books and I’m looking forward to reading the other books that are on my Pride Month TBR but that I didn’t manage to get to in June.

Have you read any of these books or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

In the Dream House – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Publication year: 2019
Audience: 18+
Content warnings: Domestic abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, body shaming, adult/minor relationship, homophobia, biphobia, explicit sexual references, PTSD, trauma.

Synopsis

In this abstract and surreal memoir, the author shares her experience of being in a long-term abusive lesbian relationship. Drawing on themes of domestic abuse, queerness and feminism, Machado seeks to raise awareness of abuse in queer relationships which is often excluded from domestic abuse discourse and activism.

What I liked

  • The audiobook narrated by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Writing style
  • Storytelling techniques
  • The themes that were explored

What I disliked

  • Nothing?

Structure

Structurally this memoir was bizarre, but it really worked for me. It wasn’t presented in a linear way or chronologically but instead in fragmented pieces, almost like a jigsaw. Machado briefly touched upon this fragmented structure in the book itself and I think it was genius. It was refreshing, unique and raw. Psychology has proven that scientifically memory is very unreliable – we forget events, details become distorted and the more often we recall a memory the less accurate it becomes. Choosing to structure the book this way felt authentic in a way few memoirs do because it was an acknowledgment that memory is unreliable and that some incidents of abuse have faded from Machado’s memory or that she cannot recall specific details. It worked because it enabled her to tell her story and stay focused on the central themes of the book without going through a play by play of her life from birth until the present day in a stagnant, stylistcally dry style as many memoirs do.

Themes

The primary theme of this memoir was the abuse Machado endured for years at the hands of her long-term girlfriend framed within the context of queerness and feminism. She included research on domestic abuse in queer relatonships between women accompanied by discussions about the ways in which perceptions of domestic abuse have been shaped by heteronormativity and gender (e.g. domestic abuse = hetreosexual relationship between cis man and cis woman with the man as the abuser and woman as the abused) and how this, unfortunately, often exludes queer relationships from the discourse and research. She did a brilliant job at demonstrating the ways in which the lack of education and awareness of LGBTQ+ topics blinded her (and many others) to the abuse she was experiencing at the time. Her assumption that men were the perpetrators of abuse meant that the possibility of abuse being present in a same gender relationship was unthinkable to her.

In the Dream House served as a metaphor for the illusion of the perfect happily ever after that a lesbian relationship represented for Machado and for many other queer women. Chapter by chapter and piece by piece, she dismantled the dream house, revealing the ugliness that lay within and shattering any preconceptions she may have had prior to entering into this relatonship. Her insight into this experience was fascinating and touched upon the abuse and harm that queer people can inflict other queer people. She pointed out that whilst the LGBTQ+ community exists to protect queer people, sometimes it does not always provide the safe spaces and relationships that are expected.

Writing Style

I adored Machado’s writing style. It was definitely more flowery than I’d typically expect from a memoir, but absolutely stunning. There was a lot of symbolism, metaphors and similies paired with a deeply emotive style. Her writing was eloquent, thought-provoking and sincere. The narrative voice was uniquely hers, which was undoubtedly elevated by the experience of reading the audiobook, and despite the shortness of the book, I felt close to Machado as though I knew and understood her. I also loved that there was a self-awareness throughout with the author explaining or justifying her writing process such as her choice of structure, the unreliability of memory and the effect of trauma throughout time.

I speak into the silence. I toss the stone of my story into a vast crevice; measure the emptiness by its small sound.

Concluding thoughts

In the Dream House was an emotional and harrowing tale of domestic abuse in a queer relationship. Although it wasn’t necessarily enjoyable to read because of the emotional impact of the content, the structure and writing style were uniquely brilliant and captured the essence of the author’s story honestly and authentically. It provides educational value in regards to abuse in the queer community and the necessity for more education on LGBTQ+ relationships. I gained a deeper insight into a topic I was quite unaware of and I deeply connected to Machado’s storytelling style which capture the complexity of the human experience, emotion and memory. Her story, thoughts and arguments were eloquently presented and had a profound impact on me as a reader. Overall, the message from In the Dream House highlights the importance of raising awareness of the complexity of domestic abuse and of including queer people’s voices in the research, discourse and activism.

I’d recommend In the Dream House if:

You’re looking for a unique, thought-provoking, emotional memoir from a queer woman that touches heavily on gender and sexuality, advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and raises awareness of abuse in queer relationships.

Have you read In the Dream House or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

P. S. This is my first new 5-star read of 2021! 🥳

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Everyday Sexism and Feminists Don’t Wear Pink – Snapshot Book Reviews

Snapshot reviews are short book reviews of around 200-250 words.

Everyday Sexism

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Laura Bates
Genre: Nonfiction/Feminism
Publication year: 2014
Audience: 18+
Content warnings: Sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, abortion and mental health.

Review

Everyday Sexism is a feminist book divided into 12 chapters, each focused on a specific topic from motherhood to women in politics, education, the media and the experiences of girls. Laura Bates draws on research from her project Everyday Sexism – a website where girls and women can anonymously submit their experiences of sexism – and combines the voices of these girls and women with statistics and personal commentary.

In some ways I consider this is a must read because it’s informative on topics around systemic sexism, sexual assault and consent. On the other hand, this book could be potentially harmful and misleading, particularly for young people that read it. Therefore, I’d be reluctant to recommend it to anybody under the age of 18 or those unfamiliar with feminist texts.

My main gripe with this book is that it makes sweeping generalisations, exaggerates and fear mongers by promoting the message that females cannot step outside their door without experiencing sexual harassment or assault. It bombards the reader with horrifying stories of women’s trauma from the harassment and abuse they’ve faced to make a point. This was not only unnecessary, but repetitive and exploitative.

Nonetheless, it is an eye-opening read which touches upon some key aspects of feminism. Bates’ feminism doesn’t match mine but I appreciated the argument that we need to tackle minor incidents of sexism if we ever expect to reduce more extreme cases of sexism which cause real harm to girls and women.

I’d recommend Everyday Sexism if:

You are interested in learning more about the inequalities and discrimination women face, specifically sexual harassment and abuse.

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and Other Lies)

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Author: Scarlett Curtis (curator)
Genre: Nonfiction/Feminism
Publication year: 2018
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, mental health, strong language, graphic sexual imagery.

Review

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink is a curated selection of essays from a variety of public figures about their experiences, thoughts and feelings about being a woman and a feminist. It’s divided into three main categories (with a poetry section in the middle) – epiphany, anger and joy – which is supposed to represent the three parts of the journey to becoming a feminist. It’s a relatable and accessible read, which makes it ideal for younger readers or those that are just discovering feminism. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the collection of essays it was marketed as and more a collection of diary entries. The entries were informal and the contributors had too much creative freedom. This resulted in a lot of repetition and entries that varied hugely in quality. Each entry was short but many of them were also fairly pointless such as timelines or random lists. The curator, Scarlett Curtis, needed to take more creative control to resolve these issues and provide more of a template and structure for the book.

These minor issues aside, I found the book to be motivational and I appreciated the diversity of the contributors. There were women of colour, trans women, mothers, business owners, activists and LGBTQ+ women all telling their own stories in their own voices. In terms of accessibility, it’s ideal and is a good starting point for people looking to familiarise themselves with feminist history and issues.

I’d recommend Feminists Don’t Wear Pink if:

You’re interested in breaking into feminism with an accessible book with a diverse collection of voices on what being a woman/being a feminist means to them.

Have you read Everyday Sexism or Feminists Don’t Wear Pink or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.