My inter-racial book club, the Community for Understanding and Hope Book Group, specializes in books on race in America. We’ve been together for nine years and continue to welcome new members. I’ll write a post in a week or two that lists all the books we’ve read so far and get a count — I’m pretty sure it’s over 80 books.
Our September meeting is our annual potluck and book selection meeting. So, I figured it was past time to get the reviews up for the books we’ve read recently. They all deserve individual reviews, but I’m not going to pull that off, so here are some quick thoughts to help you choose books for your own reading or for your book club.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is probably my favorite of this lot, but other members of our group are likely to have different opinions. I love a good history that brings a world alive for me that I was barely aware existed. Homegoing is set in both Africa and America. I had a reasonable knowledge of the American events, given the many books we’ve read, but I need a lot of remedial help with the history of African countries. This book helped.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is a favorite for a lot of people and remains very popular. Some of our group hadn’t heard that it was a fantasy. They got to a point where they said, “Wait! The underground railroad wasn’t a real railroad, was it?”
I’d heard the author interviewed, so I had the opposite problem. The first section is so real and so brutal that I was like, “Come on! When do we get to the fantasy?”
Our group has a lot of knowledge about the black experience in the US. I wondered if other readers would understand as much as we did about the various stations that represented different experiences.
Negroland by Margo Jefferson is a memoir about an aspect of the black experience that doesn’t play out very often in the news or popular culture — what it’s like to grow up in economic privilege. Jefferson describes a world of striving, restriction, and never quite fitting in. Our group had mixed reviews for this memoir because it used so many styles of writing, but I really liked that aspect! If you like books that trample on literary lines, I think you’ll enjoy this one.
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Joy DeGruy is a cross between sociology and self-help. I learned a lot from this book. We read Pushout earlier this year. The two together helped me see that I regularly misunderstand the role of respect in relationships in the black experience versus my white female experience. I’m working on being more aware of how others express respect so that I can mirror that behavior. My assumption that everyone knows that I respect them, unless I say otherwise, is just wrong. Many cultures expect certain gestures and actions to show respect and these are things that I can and want to learn. I learned how to be polite to shop workers in Paris; I can learn how to be respectful to the black woman who gets her allergy shot at the same time that I do.
Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile is the third novel in this list and in our year of reading. That’s a rich year of novels for us. This is another story that illustrated a world that I know nothing about. My Indiana farm relatives gave me a little context for agriculture production, but sugar cane is a very different plant from corn and soy beans. As readers, we get to learn alongside Charley, the black woman who inherited a sugar cane farm and has to figure out how to make it work, even though she’s an oddity among the white male farming community.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think?