Black History Month display

Winter Reading Challenge: Contemporary Black Authors

How is everyone doing in the Winter Reading Challenge?  The Readers Advisory team at CPL is reading right along with you and this week, in honor of Black History Month, we are working on this Level One challenge:

Read a book written by a contemporary Black author

Deanna is reading…

These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall

Michaela, or Mickie, Lambert has a really interesting job.  She curates people’s memories, creating holographic 3-D type memory book for clients.  She is hired by Nadia Denham, who owns a curio shop, to create a memory book for her.  Nadia is losing her memory to Alzheimer’s and wants to make sure that she remembers a small collection of objects that are important to her.  Mickie meets with her, but then the next day Nadia is dead, seemingly a suicide.  Since Nadia had already paid for the service, Mickie continues to work on the memory book.  But she has to deal with Rachel, the strangely hostile shop manager, and Dexter, Nadia’s mostly absent son, who has come back to town to mourn his mother.  Strange things begin to happen to Mickie – someone is leaving notes in her apartment, someone follows her home, someone is sending her threatening text messages, her parents seem to be keeping secrets.  Learning how all of these things tie into Michaela and her project, and exactly why Nadia wanted to remember these objects, is the fun of this twisty thriller.  Hall writes a series about a black female detective, but this one is a standalone, like last year’s And Now She’s Gone, which I would also recommend. If you are looking for other Black thriller writers, try While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams, All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris, The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, or When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

This month, our Online Classics Book Group is reading Kindred by Octavia Butler.  Written in 1979 and considered a classic in the science fiction genre, this novel actually crosses boundaries between science fiction, slave narrative, and “grim fantasy”, as characterized by Butler herself.  The main character is a young Black woman named Dana, who on her birthday, finds herself unexpectedly transported back through time.  She is just in time to save a young white boy named Rufus from drowning.  She quickly returns to her own time and place, scared and confused, but safe.  Before Dana knows it, however, she is transported again, this time to stop Rufus from accidentally burning down his house. She stays for longer this time and learns that she has gone back to 1815 Maryland, and as a Black woman, she is in grave danger for as long as she is there.  Again, she returns to her own time and place, this time more frightened and a little worse for wear, but closer to understanding why she might be drawn through time to save Rufus.  Dana returns again and again to slave-era Maryland, each time for longer, each trip more dangerous.  She is in a race against time itself, to save herself.  I had not read this book before, and I was totally drawn into the premise, and into the danger that it represented for Dana. It is powerfully and realistically written, a necessary story about a shameful part of our history that I won’t soon forget.  Interested in discovering more Black science fiction authors?  Try some of these great writers – Tomi Adeyemi, N. K. Jemison, Nnedi Okorafor, Tochi Onyebuchi, or Rivers Solomon.

Wahala, by  Nikki May

Though set in and around London England, this debut contains many of the issues relevant to discussions of race and identity anywhere. In Wahala, three friends, all of mixed race with ties to Lagos, Nigeria, have successful, more or less content lives in London. That is, until a mysterious woman from their past reappears suddenly and injects a great deal of uncertainty into each of their existences, threatening to break up their friendship in horrible ways. Nigerian food features prominently in the novel. It is consistently a major way that the women, as modern as they are, remain tied to their roots. The author even includes recipes for a few of the dishes described at the conclusion of the book. In reviews, the novel is being compared to Sex and The City, for the ways in which each of the women is a distinct example of a successful version of the modern woman. I would compare the novel to The Other Black Girl, as in both, a new character with a mysterious past amplifies the deep insecurities of each character. I would also liken this novel to others that explore the complicated clashes of modern relationships and the demands of cultural traditions, like Ayesha At Last, or Love, Chai and Other Four Letter Words. I’ll talk more about this book at this week’s Book Brunch, Wednesday, February 7 at 10:30am.

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead:

This month, the Morning Book Group will be reading the Colson Whitehead’s prize-winning 2016 novel The Underground Railroad. If you have not had a chance to read this book yet, it’s a work of historical fiction that re-imagines the real-life Underground railroad network to be an actual network of railway tracks beneath the ground, staffed by actual conductors. As the main character, Cora, and her companion Caesar, progress through the stations hoping to get North, the horrors and brutality of the Antebellum South and the danger experienced by all black people held as slaves seeking freedom is very vividly expressed on the page. Whitehead uses Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, The Odyssey, and the whole tradition of epic literature as a framework to create this new classic. It’s hard to find a parallel in contemporary works, but two other more recent, well-received, character-driven and imaginative novels depicting the antislavery movement are James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird and Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black.

Don’t forget to check out our book displays in the library, our many virtual programs, and our wonderful new Art Exhibit commemorating this significant month. Let us know what books you are reading – and remember to celebrate Black authors and Black history not just in February, but all year long!