Amelie Lee ’23 and Mirabella Miller ’23
Editor-in-Chief and Staff Writer
It’s surprisingly hard to read for fun: a practice that is supposed to be about leisure and learning becomes an afterthought when you are juggling schoolwork, extracurriculars, jobs, and other activities. That’s why one of my goals for my leave of absence this semester has been to read all the books I’ve been meaning to read forever that I have not had the time to. In this monthly column, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite books I’ve read in that month, and making the case for why you should read them too.
Since February is Black History Month, all of the books Amelie and I are highlighting this month are by Black authors. Novels, essays, poetry: we’ve got it all in this list, meaning hopefully you’ll find a book that speaks to you. The genius encapsulated in this short list is yet another reminder that you should read Black authors all year, not just during February.
“They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” by Hanif Abdurraqib
I knew I would love this book as soon as I read the two epigraphs: a Lorraine Hannsberry quote juxtaposed with a Lil Uzi Vert lyric. Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, author, and cultural critic from Ohio whose 2017 essay collection “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” should be required reading for anyone interested in music, race, death, love, injustice, violence, and all other facets of the human experience. Abdurraqib’s prose is powerful and urgent, a knack for pacing giving him a flow that rivals any of the rappers he discusses. From the seemingly non threatening whiteness of a Bruce Springsteen concert to the lean-soaked meditations of Atlanta rapper Future that helped Abdurraqib process his mother’s sudden death, music becomes more than just a vehicle for Abdurraqib’s commentary and critique. It is everything, the means as well as an end.
Recommended for: reformed emo kids, record player owners, anyone who has ever been to a house show, proud Midwesterners, white hip hop fans who need to be humbled (which is to say all of them)
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison
“Beloved” is one of American literary icon Toni Morrison’s most known and celebrated novels; it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 when it was released. It is a supernatural and daring exploration of the psychological impact of slavery. Morrison’s writing is sentimental and sprawling. “Perhaps it was the smile, or maybe the ever-ready love she saw in his eyes- easy and upfront, the way colts, evangelists, and children look at you: with love you don’t have to deserve,” she writes of her protagonist Sethe’s love interest. Haunting and raw, “Beloved” will put you in a trancelike state that lingers long after you’ve finished it.
Recommended for: everyone. This book is too important for me to joke about the type of person who would enjoy it.
“American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin” by Terrance Hayes
In his 2018 poetry collection “American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin,” Terrence Hayes confronts both himself and the unnamed assassin throughout seventy poems of the same name. A masterclass in form, he catapults the often antiquated sonnet into the present, ruminating on race, masculinity, and love. The poems move along at a fast clip, 14 lines not quite enough yet ending right where they should. “It is not enough / To love you,” Hayes writes in the final lines of the book’s most circulated sonnet, number 11. The speaker addresses himself and the assassin simultaneously. “It is not enough to want you destroyed.”
Recommended for: English majors with New Yorker totes, poetry heads, unreliable narrators, and anyone who finds our present moment deeply, deeply upsetting
“Party for Two” by Jasmine Guillory
A whirlwind romance with intense attorney Olivia Monroe and charming California senator Max Powell, “Party for Two” is an unapologetically cheesy read for anyone who loves love. With all five of her romance novels starring high-powered professional Black women finding love, Guillory beautifully weaves together wholesome romance, corny relationship drama, and subtle social commentary in each of her books. While occasionally too sappy for my taste, Guillory’s “Party of Two” was by far my favorite of the five as an exciting rom-com to dive into — perfectly sweet, sarcastic, and scandalous for a light feel-good evening rom-com.
Recommended for: People who didn’t cry on Valentine’s Day, people who don’t cringe at “will-they, won’t they” TV shows, and people who didn’t still make their Barbies and Kens kiss far into middle school
“Real Life” by Brandon Taylor
As more and more people in their twenties find themselves discovering who they are after college, the coming-of-age genre has started to tell the stories of people later in life, with “Real Life” exploring the grad school experience. Wallace, a gay, Black student getting his PhD in the Midwest, has a great deal of trauma and complex feelings to sort through as he navigates his lab, messy relationships and his father’s recent passing. Aptly named, “Real Life” is gritty, emotional, and startlingly honest, painting a poignant picture of reality, and what it means to be “broken.”
CW: Sexual assault, Racial harassment
Recommended for: People who DID cry on Valentine’s Day, people who have been “finding themselves” since high school, and fans of brutally honest literature
“Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid
While looking after a three-year-old in a hipster grocery store, 25-year-old African American babysitter Emira Tucker is accused of kidnapping by a white security guard. From there, Emira must deal with an onslaught of attention as she navigates her relationship with her wealthy white employers and develops a romantic relationship with a social activist that might be fetishizing her. “Such a Fun Age” interweaves the many elements of its plot together perfectly, and is hard to put down — with author Kiley Reid brilliantly illustrating the nuances and emotional labor that come with dealing with racial biases in everyday life.
Recommended for: People who feel bittersweet about Trader Joes’ expansion because they’re gentrifying urban communities but they also have really good chocolate peanut cups
Image Source: LSW Online