logo for Bloggers' Alliance of Nonfiction DevoteesThe first discussion topic for the newly-formed BAND, Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees, is up at Sophisticated Dorkiness, BAND July Discussion: What’s Your Favorite Type of Nonfiction?:

What is one of your favorite types of nonfiction to read? OR What is one of your favorite nonfiction topics to read about?

“Your favorite” questions are always difficult for me to answer. I have eclectic tastes in music, movies, and just about everything else, including books. That always makes it hard for me to choose just one. On the other hand, it makes it easy to write about pretty much anything so once I make the choice, I’m golden.

I thought about writing a post in praise of self help books. In sheer number, if you include diet and nutrition books in that category, most nonfiction books I read are self help. It’s a much maligned genre, for some good reasons. But it’s also misunderstood. There’s a future post relating the modern self help genre to Transcendentalism and the philosophies behind what make Americans American, with some of our best and worst traits. But I’m not ready to write that one yet.

I thought about writing a post touting the nonfiction genre that I enjoy the most — memoir. I especially love the authors that invite me somehow to compare my life to theirs. The first few pages of Mississippi Solo by Eddy L. Harris, that I read yesterday, remind me of growing up in a small town next to the River and all the excitement and adventure that flowed in that brown water stirring my imagination.

But, today is a special day for my book group, so I will write about my special group and the nonfiction books that we read — books about race in America. After the tragic shooting in Kirkwood City Hall, February 7, 2008, the Community for Understanding and Healing (later changed to Community for Understanding and Hope, still abbreviated CFUH) was formed. The shooter was black and the victims were white. The national media made this all a racial thing. People living in Kirkwood knew from the beginning that was only one factor. Just as the nation learned following the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, there’s a real limit to the wider societal conclusions that can be drawn when the man behind the gun has experienced mental disorder. Still, Kirkwood, like every other community in the United States, has issues with race and CFUH was formed to see if dialogue could bring about understanding and healing in our community.

We had monthly meetings for several months, and then took the summer off. To fill the gap, one of our members founded the book group by proposing that we have monthly book discussions at the library that summer of 2008. We read three books:

  • A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win by Shelby Steele
  • Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black by Gregory Williams
  • White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise

It was originally meant  to be a group that met that one summer and then disbursed back into the larger group. But, at the end of the summer, most of us didn’t want to quit reading and discussing books. So, our founder gave us the rest of the list of books she had selected those three from. A year later, at the end of the summer of 2009, we had our first potluck and book selection meeting. So, for two years now, we’ve selected books from the titles that everyone in the group brings to the September meeting. We eat and we talk about books. Life doesn’t get much better than that!

Here are some of our favorite books — I’m basing that on how often I hear these titles come up again in our discussions, months after we first read them. These are listed in the order we read them:

  • Dreams of my Father by Barack Obama
  • Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Joy DeGruy Leary
  • The Hemmings of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

I’ve learned so much from my book group.

You know that thing they say in February every year, that African-American history is American history? It’s true. I’ve learned many things about the structure, economy, geography, and  politics of American history in ways that help me better understand what happens in my country today.

I did, indeed, learn why the black kids sit together in the cafeteria, and it no longer bothers me. I’ve learned over and over again that it’s not about me–so many things I fret about are not my problems and not problems that I can solve and some of them, like those black kids in the cafeteria, aren’t even problems.

And, I’ve learned over and over again that it is about me, about my willingness to listen and engage, to read and discuss, to increase my awareness of my unearned privilege and find ways to put that privilege to good use for healing the broken parts of the dominant culture that infect us all. I’ve learned that white people can and do say stupid things but, most of the time, if good-hearted intention is evident, it’s OK. So OK , in fact, that it can be months later before I realized that I said something once that I won’t be saying again even though no one called me on it.

Today is special because our founder and I will spend the evening staffing a booth, surrounded by the books we’ve read while passing out fliers inviting more members of our community to join us. The event is the Annual Ice Cream Social at the Magic House from 6 to 8pm — free admission, free ice cream, free music. See the CFUH site for more information and, if you live or work in or near Kirkwood, stop by and be sure to visit the Book Group table to say hello.

I’m collecting titles to propose at our September book selection meeting this year. What books have you read about race in America that would promote good discussion for our group?

Head over to Sophisticated Dorkiness to see other bloggers’ favorite nonfiction. If you have a blog and read nonfiction, please add your thoughts to our discussion. I’m looking forward to the post that Kim will compile at the end of the month gathering all of our thoughts together.


First BAND post: Favorite Nonfiction — 16 Comments

  1. Great post Joy! I haven’t read a lot about race in America, though I took an American History class my sophomore year of college and read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and The Jungle. Both are fantastic books and deal a lot with race/immigration in America.

  2. This is a fantastic post Joy, thanks for all the books you mentioned. I loved The Warmth of Other Suns when I read it earlier this year. I also don’t know a lot about race in America, but it is a really important topic. I’m glad talking about books was a way to discuss those issues.

  3. Wow I love this Joy, sounds like a really fantastic group and initiative. This is one of the reasons that I love nonfiction best. It helps me grow and learn both why things are the way that they are and what I can do about it.

  4. Excellent post outlining one of the reasons nonfiction should be a part of every readers book list. There is so much we don’t know about so many things. I suppose we could keep on taking classes but another option is the wealth of nonfiction available today.

    I’m adding some of the titles you gave us to my TBR list. I have Warmth of Other Suns on reserve at the library but it is taking forever to come to me. Actually that’s a good thing. It means lots of people are interested.

  5. Hm, what about something about Native Americans in modern day America? Lakota Woman is fascinating. It’s about one of the women who fought for Native rights in the 60s.

  6. Have you tried Gwen Ifill’s book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race In the Age of Obama? It’s wonderful.

    So glad to hear more about one of your favorite types of nonfiction! 🙂

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  9. This sounds like a fantastic book group! Like others have said in comments, Warmth of Other Suns has caught my attention recently, and I would like to read in the near future.

  10. Loved your comments about our CFUH Book Club, Joy. (I like to call it our Diversity Book Club.)
    It has been very educational for me and I love interacting and sharing with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

    Yes, Warmth Of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson is a informative book. It gets painful to read at times. If you wish google Isabel Wilkerson and Charlie Rose for a wonderful interview with the author. Wouldn’t it be lovely if it could become required reading for all high schoolers.

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