There are few things in this life that satisfy me as much as getting lost in a good book. Like many people, I turn to books to escape, to go on adventures, and to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while. Unfortunately, I noticed a while ago that most of those “someone else”s I read about? They look an awful lot like me. So, I decided, it was time to broaden my horizons.
Frankly, I know I need to read more books by and about people of color. I’ve known this for a while, but with everything that has been happening in our country lately, I’m even more convinced. It’s time for me to intentionally seek out the voices of people of color. I want to learn and I want to understand, as much as it is within my grasp to do so.
Reading to Learn About Race and People of Color
Back when I was an elementary school teacher, I loved teaching 4th grade literature. I always said that I much preferred that to my one year stint as a 1st grade teacher. Why? Well, it boiled down to the fact that I enjoyed helping kids read to learn as opposed to learning to read. And the way I facilitated that most was through novel studies. There is so much power in stories, friends!
Now, I’ll admit, I’m not a huge nonfiction fan. And while I love novels, memoirs and the occasional biography are also on my to-be-read lists. For whatever reason, though, “educational” books (for lack of a better term) are kind of a turn-off for me. I much prefer learning through the human connection I find in memoir and fiction to being preached at or explicitly taught. Does that make sense?
If you, too, are looking for some reading material to help broaden your horizons in relation to who and what you read about, might I suggest some of these books?
Books I’ve Read and Recommend
If you have in any way had your heart touched by the events surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery, you need to pick up this book. If you have wondered, even for a split second, about the protests and rioting that have followed, you need to pick up this book. The quick synopsis is that a young black girl is the only witness when her friend is shot by a police officer and every aspect of her life is affected. I’ve actually recommended to both of my teenage boys that they read it and, noting the use of strong language throughout, would recommend it to anyone age 13 and up.
This book wasn’t just interesting. It was intriguing, fascinating, sad as all get out, and funny as hell. Places and people that I’ve never seen truly came alive in Noah’s descriptions and stories. And more than once, I thought to myself, If I had grown up facing all that Trevor Noah faced, there is no way in the world that I would have the tenacity to accomplish as much as he has. I can’t recommend it enough whether you are a fan of his or the Daily Show or not.
There are two interweaving plot lines in Calling Me Home. One occurs in the present day and revolves around an African American hairdresser from Dallas, her life, and the 89 year-old white woman whose hair she does once a week. The other takes place in the late 1930s/early 1940s in northern Kentucky and is revolves around that same 89 year-old when she was just 17. This is a highly emotional story. Jaw-droppingly so, if I’m quite honest. I absolutely loved it.
Set on a plantation in the pre-Civil War south, the reader enters the world of a tobacco plantation. We witness the interactions of slaves, indentured servants, and masters. And while the author may veer a little too close to stereotypes at times, the characters are captivating.
Inspired by the true story of abolitionist and women’s rights pioneer Sarah Grimke, this book is solid gold. It tells the tale of Sarah and her handmaid slave, Hetty (nicknamed Handful). Both women experience love, joy, loss, and heartbreak. It’s been years since I read it, but highly recommend it.
Other books of note
These are some more that I’ve read and would highly recommend.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (children’s book)
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (children’s book)
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (nonfiction)
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
On My TBR List
I’ll just come right out and say it. As a white woman who was raised in a rural Midwestern community who now lives in an upper-middle class suburb in the south? I need to do more listening than talking. I need to do more learning than teaching, especially as a mom who is trying to raise conscious, responsible adults! And I need to read more nonfiction. So! In an effort to do just that, here are the books I’ve placed either in my Amazon cart, my library wish list, or the TBR list in the Notes app on my phone.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown