In the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests that began this past May, I made the conscious decision to get educated: it began with the book “White Fragility “and has continued all summer long. Many of my Black friends have enlightened me as to how it feels to be a Black woman in America, and I made the solemn promise to myself and them to do better and be better. I have been supporting Black-owned businesses and highlighting them here on this blog. I have introduced my Instagram followers to Black visual artists, chefs, filmmakers, designers, and new authors. I chose to read four books, all by Black authors, that highlight a part of Black history, both fiction and nonfiction. Here are my reviews:
“Becoming” by Michelle Obama
Full disclosure: I am an enormous fan of Michelle Obama. However, whether or not you are a fan of the former First Lady, you will be spellbound as you read her autobiography. From her humble beginnings on the Southside of Chicago to her outstanding academic achievements, to meeting and marrying the love of her life, Barak Obama, to becoming First Lady, you cannot help to have profound admiration for Michelle.
Her voice resonates with such clarity that Jeff and I decided to listen to this book on Audibles, something I have never done before. I decided that if I am going to listen to a book on tape (something seemingly so foreign to me), it should be one in which the author narrates her own story.
Michelle Obama is a great writer; her facility with language and the skill with which she transports the reader is literally breathtaking. We hung on every word as she shared her journey with eloquence. I cannot say enough good things about this book!
“The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I began this book on a Sunday in Lake Tahoe and completed it four days later. Talk about a page-turner! The story is set on a Virginia plantation and told through the eyes of Hiram Walker born to a slave (or “tasked”) mother and white father. Hiram is gifted: he has a photographic memory as well as paranormal powers referred to as “conduction,” which provide him with the ability to time and place travel, sometimes with others.
The story, too, jumps from one locale to the next, so make sure that you follow closely, lest you lose sight of where Coates takes you on Hiram’s journey. In addition to the subjects of slavery, The Underground Railway, Harriet Tubman, and the demise of the Confederacy, Hiram’s journey seems to be marked by scant memories he has of his mother, and these visions drive his journey. This is a novel about slavery and freedom, as Harriet Tubman teaches Hiram,” “memory is the chariot, and memory is the way, and memory is a bridge from the curse of slavery to the boon of freedom.”
“Deacon King Kong” by James McBride
In his novel, Deacon King Kong, James McBride (who is also an accomplished jazz musician–talk about gifted!), brings to life a cross-section of American life by overlapping the Black, White and Latinx communities in 1960’s Brooklyn. McBride is a wonderful storyteller and his characters jump off the page with humor and pathos.
The story begins when a cranky old church deacon named Sportcoat, shoots and kills the Causeway Project’s notorious drug dealer. As the story unfolds, the reader learns how the lives of its seemingly different characters, overlap in unexpected ways. McBride reveals that secrets can never lay hidden and that compassion and hope are always the results of love. I loved this novel and so did Oprah, who added it to her 2020 Book Club.
“The Source of Self Regard” by Toni Morrison
This is probably the most timely book; a must-read for right now. A Nobel laureate, Toni Morrison’s essays, speeches, and meditations are collected into this moving and educational book. I am taking my time with this book, to fully explore Morrison’s words of wisdom. Her ability to articulate racism, the navigation of which is clearly ongoing, helps to clarify much for me, a Canadian who did not grow up in America, but who viewed it through the lens of authors, the news media, and filmmakers.
Morrison’s frankness and precision are what compels me to savor every word and to glean as much as I can from her wisdom and reflection. The book opens with a prayer to those who perished on September 11th and includes her meditation on Martin Luther King Jr., and her eulogy for James Baldwin. This book covers socio-political and historic ground as viewed through Morrison’s keen eye and honest voice. This is a must-read for every race and religion.