Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reading Lists: The African-American Experience

Welcome to this week's installment of our newest feature here at The Blue Bookcase:Reading Lists. Every week either one of us or a guest blogger will post on one of his or her favorite topics and provide a list of books he or she is familiar with on that topic. At the end of each post we will invite you to throw out any suggestions of books, fiction or non-fiction, that you have read or know about on that topic and we will add them to the list on that post.
These lists are not comprehensive by any means, but may be useful in helping you find your next read. Enjoy!

This week, Connie compiles a list of books on the African-American experience.

This picture has nothing to do with anything,
but everyone else has included one, so
I felt the pressure
While I love this new feature of The Blue Bookcase's, I've had a difficult time coming up with a topic I seem to read a lot about. I read more by author, I suppose, than topic, and plus my interests are so vast, so I tend to read one book on this, one book on that, dip my toes into topics without jumping all the way in.

However, luckily for me, I have realized that I tend to read a lot about African-American experiences. You could blame it on me currently living in the South in a county that is predominantly black, but to be honest, the interest budded before I moved here. However you analyze it, the fact remains that I have read a lot of books on it. Here are a few of the better books I've read on this topic. I chose to focus on novels and memoirs that I have read and am most familiar with.

The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake -- This is a quick, young adult read told from the perspective of a young black girl, Maleeka, attempting to fit in in an inner-city middle school and to be comfortable in her dark skin. Though this is short and simply written, it is incredibly powerful. It's one I return to every couple of years.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- Who hasn't read and been moved by this book? There's something about a story of inhumanity told through the eyes of an innocent child that makes it all the more moving.

Native Son by Richard Wright -- I read this book in high school, and I remember being so disgusted and so fascinated by it I had to force my way through it, and yet I also couldn't put it down. Wright is more of a blunt, confrontational racial issues writer that can be off-putting, but I can't help but love his style. The book tells the sometimes graphic, not-so-pretty story of Bigger Thomas, a 20-year-old black man living in a Chicago ghetto in the 1930s, who embraces the racial anger inside of him and becomes a "brute Negro." Let me tell you, it is a fascinating-- not to mention shocking-- perspective. I distinctly remember reading a part in which a woman's head is cut off (this happens in one part, not throughout, the novel) and the description of her hair swirling in her blood. Right after that, I went to lunch, where I found I could not eat my spaghetti.

Black Boy by Richard Wright -- Yes, another Wright. I told you I am fascinated by this author. This book is Wright's autobiography, and it is one of the most honest and engaging autobiographies I have ever encountered. Wright is, not surprisingly, brutally honest about his own past misdeeds, starting with the time he set his house on fire at age four. An intellectual growing up in the highly racist 1920s, Wright describes his struggle against the pressure to conform to expectations for him to remain an ignorant, poor, black man. His frustrations ultimately lead him to align himself with the Communist party. Again, another fascinating read, and, fun fact, it's my first (and only) first edition I own.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou -- Another autobiography here. Maya Angelou is a remarkable black woman who grew up in Stamps, Arkansas during the 30s and 40s. Truly literary at heart, she writes her story of growing up in the midst of prejudice with a skilled and stylized prose that has no equal. This book comes highly recommended by me.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor -- A Newberry award-winning young adult novel, this book follows a sharecropping black family in depression-era Mississippi. It is also a coming-of-age novel, as each child must come to terms with the reality of lynch mobs and other acts of racism. A good introduction to racial issues for young readers.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe -- This is an interesting one. Obviously written by a white woman with an agenda, it has been criticized for being overly sentimental. The claim has some merit, but considering the book's undeniable impact on American history, I think it deserves a shot. Whether the sentimentality negates the historic significance.... I'll let you form your opinion of that.

All right, now it's your turn. What books have you read on this subject? Leave them in the comments below, and we will add them to the post.

Your Suggestions:
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Chaneysville Incident by David Bradley
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris
The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X & Alex Haley
The Color of Water by James McBride
Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington
Roots by Alex Haley