Well-Read Black Girl and the power of books

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves edited by Glory Edim

3 words: literary, #ownvoices, personal

Hello, readers. We’re here because we love the written word and because we know books have the power to change lives. And we understand the power of books as mirrors and windows — reflecting our own lives and giving us insight into the lives of others. 

Well-Read Black Girl is all about the importance of books as mirrors. And since it’s filled with essays written by Black women authors, it’s also about the role books can play in building a literary life. 

Here you’ll find essays by Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, N. K. Jemisin, Stephanie Powell Watts, and many other Black authors who write about their love of reading and their experiences of finding in a book (often after a long wait) someone who reflected their own experience. 

Or for Tayari Jones, who writes, “As a baby, I teethed on board books featuring children explaining how much they loved eating vegetables and being black” (p. 23), it wasn’t so much about experiencing a lack of representation in the books she read as a young person. Instead, books provide a way to deeply explore questions about life as a Black woman. The way she writes about her experience of feeling challenged and exposed by ideas in a novel she re-read… it’s like an ode to the power of literature.

Since the authors of these essays are people devoted to the written word, the writing is by turns lovely, powerful, frank and lyrical–often all within the same essay. I was tempted to read one right after the other, but I tried to pause between essays to hold the thoughts for a while. 

If you, too, are on a journey to read more #ownvoices books, this book is a wonderful source of recommendations. Throughout the book, you’ll find lists of books on topics like “Well-Read Black Girl Recommends: Science Fiction and Fantasy Books by Black Women.” And at the end, there’s a list of all the books mentioned in the entire book. 

Your TBR will thank you for reading this book. (I lost count of how many books I added.) 

Glory Edim, the creator of this book, is the founder of the Well-Read Black Girl book club, https://www.wellreadblackgirl.com/  a book club dedicated to Black women writers. Her website and Instagram are great sources for reading ideas. 

Give this book a whirl if you like… #ownvoices narratives, essays about the power of finding oneself in books, the love of reading, books as mirrors, Black women and literature, books that contain lists of other recommended books

What #ownvoices books are you reading these days? 

It’s time for anti-racism

Being a non-racist is no longer enough, and it was never enough, and I see that clearly now. It’s time for anti-racism. It’s actually been time for a long time.

I am deeply saddened by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. I believe that Black Lives Matter. I stand with Black Americans in condemning violence and systemic racism toward Black people and all people of color. 

I recognize that merely stating these beliefs is not enough.

Here’s my commitment as a book blogger:

I will amplify the voices of Black authors and other authors of color.

I will look for more book bloggers of color to follow.

I acknowledge that I have much to learn about racism and anti-racism, and it’s my responsibility to do that learning. 

On my TBR:

Books specifically about anti-racism

  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Books by Black authors

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates  (it’s time to re-read this book)
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
  • Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim

What books would you recommend?

What I’ve been reading: April 2020

Reading in the time of global pandemic… Things are not normal for any of us, my friends. And my reading life is way off-kilter (everything is off-kilter!) even though I’m finding that reaching for a book is a necessary tonic at the end of each very long day. 

So for me, reading is more essential than ever. And it’s also in fairly short supply. But it’s enough to replenish my energy and restore some equilibrium. It’s my daily re-set. 

In April, I finished only three books. I’m calling it good. And I’m so thankful for these three books, which truly carried a heavy load for me.

Means of Ascent by Robert A. Caro

3 words: in-depth, cinematic, dramatic

Give this book a whirl if you like… portraits of powerful people, the complex personality of LBJ, in-depth research and scene-building, gorgeous storytelling, thinking about the ends vs the means in politics

 

Passing by Nella Larsen

3 words: lyrical, powerful, interpersonal

Give this book a whirl if you like… Harlem Renaissance writers, #ownvoices, thinking about race, women’s friendships, stories about life choices

 

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

3 words: intimate, engaging, compelling

Give this book a whirl if you like… great storytelling, worklife narratives, inside baseball, behind the scenes in therapy, unflinching self-scrutiny

 

So what’s going on in your reading life? Is your reading disrupted? Or are you reading differently these days? 

Stay safe and well, my bookish friends…

Little acts of stoicism

 

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

3 words: joyful, quietly enthusiastic, encouraging

Reading this book during the onset of a global pandemic turned out to be a really good idea. As things were getting scarier and stranger by the hour, I was bolstered by the calm, quiet, gently encouraging tone of this book, which offers guidance on how Stoicism can offer a sense of peace. 

I needed to find a way to experience peace. 

And I have to say thank you to Bybee of Blue-Hearted Bookworm, whose review of this book made me sit up and take notice when she posted a few years ago. Sometimes people and their words reach us at just the right time. Thanks, Bybee dear. 

William A. Irvine is a kind guide through the ideas of Stoicism, and for me, the book really got going once he started describing the actual practices of Stoic living. 

For example, imagine the loss of everyone and everything you love, because this will increase your appreciation for them. 

Clearly, that sounds dreadful (especially when the world’s so frightening), but he describes how this approach can actually lead to our living the way we really want to live — in loving appreciation of the gifts we’ve been given. 

And another… determine which aspects of life you have some control over, and focus your efforts in those areas — and let go of the areas where we have no control. This reminds me of Viktor Frankl’s words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Irvine distinguishes between our setting a goal of winning a game vs. setting a goal of playing our best. The first goal is outside our control, while the latter is something we can actually achieve if we put our mind to it. 

And there’s much more… 

So I’ve determined to begin practicing Stoicism in small ways, and then perhaps in larger ways. And this means I’ll be re-reading this book, because the first reading of this kind of life-changing book can inspire me, but it’s the second and third readings where I’m actually able to grasp the ideas and put them into practice. 

 

Anyone else like that? A single reading just isn’t enough, if I think there’s potentially life-changing stuff at hand.

 

What strategies and mindsets are getting you through this difficult time?

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… developing a philosophy for living, envisioning the worst so you can appreciate what you you have, diminishing anxiety, finding peace

Book Bingo: quarantine variation

Many of us are a full month into quarantine, and these are not normal times. 

Raise of hands — how many people have examined their bookshelves and counted the number of TBR books as an emotional comfort tactic?   (Me, too. [My answer: 36])

As I was gazing at my shelves, it occurred to me that we could play Book Bingo quarantine-style… and here’s how that goes. 

On your bookshelves, find books for each category on the bingo card. If you feel so inclined, type your titles into the Comments (or highlight a few that make you especially happy or that are a total stretch or that are so perfect you can hardly stand it). 

I’ll report on my matches in a later post. 

Now… off to my shelves with the bingo card…

Wanna join me?

Comfort reads

Anyone else turning to sure-bet comfort reading right now? I’m right there with you.

When times are uncertain or scary, I gravitate toward books that offer reassurance that things’ll be OK. 

Here are some of my favorite comforting books…

What I’ve been reading: March 2020

As I look back on the books I finished reading in early March, it seems like a lifetime ago. This new strangeness we’re living in… it creates a warped sense of time. And also of experience. When I look at the first couple of books on this list, I think of what a naive, unaware person I was then: quarantine would’ve seemed like something from a dystopian novel. 

But here we are, my friends. And we’re still here — still carrying on and still reading. And that’s something we can be thankful for. I’m glad you’re here. 

 

The March reading list: here it is… 

Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of the Children’s Ship by Deborah Heiligman 

3 words: vivid, urgent, gripping

Give this book a whirl if you like… British children evacuees during WWII, shipwrecks, true tragedy, quiet heroism

 

Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President by Betty Boyd Caroli

3 words: revealing, intimate, behind-the-scenes

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning the role and motivations of Lady Bird Johnson, stories of political partnerships, strong women, the power of subtle influence

 

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

3 words: joyful, quietly enthusiastic, encouraging

Give this book a whirl if you like… developing a philosophy for living, envisioning the worst so you can appreciate what you you have, finding peace, diminishing anxiety

 

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

3 words: atmospheric, menacing, unfolding

Give this book a whirl if you like… #OwnVoices, Southern mystery, current-day Southern plantation tourist site, single mothers

 

Welcome to Replica Dodge by Natalie Ruth Joynton

3 words: introspective, lyrical, intimate

Give this book a whirl if you like… beautifully written memoirs of everyday life, stories of religious conversion, fish out of water narratives, Jewish life, story of a new marriage and building a life together

 

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

3 words: folksy, heartwarming, uplifting

Give this book a whirl if you like… cats, small town America, the importance of libraries to the life of a community, Iowa

 

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

3 words: sobering, nuanced, thoughtful

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning about Japenese American internment camps, blend of a child’s innocence and an adult’s reflections, WWII, memoirs in graphic novel form

 

What have you been reading lately?

What I’ve been reading: February 2020

All month, I had the feeling that I was reading lots of books but not finishing very many of them. I was sampling and bailing, and I was reading books that I’ve had underway since January… and still not finishing them. 

But when I look back at this month’s reading, it’s actually quite a satisfying list. 

Here’s what I read–and finished–this month…

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

3 words: raw, honest, grim but hopeful

Give this book a whirl if you like… overcoming, woman in a downward spiral, confronting racism and sexism, #ownvoices, getting help

 

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

3 words: lyrical, powerful, emotional

Give this book a whirl if you like… modern Native American lives, hockey, survivors of abuse, stories of difficult childhoods, Canadian fiction, #ownvoices 

 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

3 words: comforting, bookish, romantic

Give this book a whirl if you like… small town setting, fish out of water, books set in bookstores, friendship through letter writing, reinventing oneself, the power of one person to change people’s lives

 

Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living by Elizabeth Willard Thames

3 words: personal, conversational, unconventional 

Give this book a whirl if you like… personal finance, homestead living, frugality, FIRE movement, young couple charting their own course, stories of personal growth

 

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow

3 words: fast-paced, investigative, disturbing

Give this book a whirl if you like… shocking behind-the-scenes stories of cover-ups of wrongdoing, investigative journalism, #MeToo, Bad Blood

 

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

3 words: irreverant, surprising, engaging

Give this book a whirl if you like… a touch of magical realism, first person narratives, twins, unconventional nannies, quirky characters, politicians in fiction, female friendship

 

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

3 words: practical, encouraging, totally do-able

Give this book a whirl if you like… customizable tactics for adding good habits and eliminating bad ones, research-backed strategies, a conversational tone, small steps that can make a big difference

 

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

3 words: informative, surprising, practical 

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning about what motivates us (and what doesn’t), rethinking ways of working and conceptualizing work 

 

What were your favorite books of February?

Bookish Advent calendar quotes

Each year, a dear friend and I give each other quotes to place on our Advent calendars. Then, after Epiphany, we get together and share our favorite quotes. It’s a magnificent tradition. 

This year, we’re a little bit off our game, because I delivered quotes late (oh, my) and then my friend moved and misplaced the quotes in the shuffle. 

So she’s having Lent/Advent quotes this year, and we’ll have a two-part reveal of our favorite quotes. Here are my favorites of the quotes my friend gave me this year…

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

—Isaiah 43:1

A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you. 

—Elbert Hubbard

Fairy tales are more than true—not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. 

—Neil Gaiman, Coraline

 

 

Do you have any literary traditions that always make you happy? 

Great novels by women of color

For Black History Month this year, we’re going to take a look at some fantastic novels by women of color. We’re focusing on books published in the past few years, and this is a mere sampling… but there’s something here for practically every reading taste. 

 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: interpersonal, complex, pageturner

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams: raw, honest, grim but hopeful

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: cheeky, inventive, suspenseful

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: lyrical, impressionistic, nuanced

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: realistic, emotional, relevant

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: realistic, emotional, relevant

What books are you thinking about during Black History Month?