First 2017 Reading Check-in + Black History Month Books [UPDATED]

I 'resolved' to read 100 books in 2017.

For February I chose to only read books by people of color or that were about people of color.

I started the month reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, for no reason other than it was next on my list, but when that book shook me to my core, I decided I needed to spend this month — Black History Month — learning and exposing myself to new viewpoints, attitudes, ideas, and cultures.

These books have shifted my perspective, and as cliche as it is, "opened my eyes." I don't want to compare this to veganism but the experience is similar in that I never realized how oblivious I was or how apathetic privilege can make you.

If you think you are colorblind, these books will test you.

They tested me, angered me, shocked me, humbled me, and yet made me believe we can and will do better as a society if we can keep having difficult discussions.

I see now that my reality and human experience is not the reality and human experience of so many other people. I wish it wasn't that way, but I am thankful to finally be aware of this difference.

Be the change, yes, but can't change what you don't know.

2017 BLACK HISTORY MONTH BOOK LIST:

The Hate U Give (I'm calling it early: My favorite book in 2017)

This is the most important novel you'll read this decade. Honest perspective of current political climate/American history.

Starr is a 16-yo black girl living in the ghetto when an unarmed boy from her community is shot and killed by a white police officer. It is critical we see how the death and riots affects Starr, her parents, her siblings, her community, her white friends at prep school, and the impression they all have of “what happened.” The difficult conversations we need to have right now as a society are wrapped up perfectly, beautifully in this book wth a perspective everyone needs to take into account. PLUS this is all balanced perfectly against what YA is known for: the struggle of self acceptance and identity. finding your way and making sense of it all in the process.

I also had a personal swoon when they referenced Tupac's lyrics (the name of the book is lyrical) as I too have found myself saying, "Geez! all these years later his lyrics are still true!" Go listen to Changes and see what I mean.

From the book: Sometimes you can do everything right and things still go wrong, the key is to keep doing right.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Saying "fantastic" feels wrong given the subject matter but this story is one we need to share with everyone. It'll change how you think about cancer, medical research, your biology, and American history.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

This book tore apart every thought/belief I had on crime, prison, drugs, our legal system, and racism in America. Did I mention I was a lawyer? YEAH. I was that surprised by the reality of the legal system I was part of.

This is an absolute must read regardless of your political party or race. I also urge law schools and ANY political science professor or person who teaches criminal law, criminal justice, prisoners rights, or human rights, to include this book in your curriculums.

Small Great Things

This novel is terrific if you want to ease yourself into the difficult discussions of race and prefer fiction over non-fiction. I devoured this book and highly recommend the audible version. This was only my second experience with Picoult (I read Leaving Time in 2015 since it was a story about elephants) and I have such incredible respect for her for writing this book as well as her personal commentary at the end of the book.

On a personal note, this book also reminded me why I stopped practicing law. I was the type of lawyer (medical defense attorney) that would have represented Ruth. Her story reminded me that even when you "win" you can't truly celebrate because a tragedy still happened. (So thanks for all your support! I love my new job a lot more!)

Between the World and Me

This was the perfect non-fiction follow-up to Small Great Things. It's a rather short book but covers the difficult discussions we need to have. Consider it a must-read if you want to change your perspective and understand at the most fundamental level what it is like to be black in America.

Americanah

I loved this book. The story is fantastically captivating (though admittedly starts a bit slow) and ties in actual events from our recent history so perfectly that you have to keep reminding yourself it's a novel and not a memoir.

The best part, however, is the subtle yet poignant observations of race in America and the descriptions of what it is like to be black in America, from both the viewpoint of black Americans and immigrants.

The Color Purple

A political piece, a love story, a portrait of history AND a story of hope, family, and faith -- not in God, but in yourself.

I wanted a more historical (less modern) novel to balance against Americanah when doing my BHM 2017 February Challenge and picked this.

My praise for this book is long. I loved that it was structured in an unconventional way: it's not a beginning-to-end novel but a collection of letters to God. The letters also retell stories that center around different people (the writer writes about the lives of others she knows). It feels like several short stories rather than one long one, except they also come together and connect in the middle perfectly.

This was also one of the most CHALLENGING books I've ever read. Not only because it covers difficult and heavy topics like incest, rape, and domestic abuse, but because the letters are written by a nearly illiterate 14yo (although she ages as the book progresses and her language abilities improve slightly). The jargon and incomplete sentences makes it difficult to read quickly or get into any sort of "flow" but that is part of the beauty.

Overall this is a political piece but that political commentary is delicately woven in with a personal (fictions) story involving characters you love and want to hold against your heart. There are twists and surprises in the plot too, and even more surprises ahead with the very commentary and themes the author touches on through these stories. (I won't spoil here except to say I expected this book to cover racism and social injustice but never expected it to also provide commentary on sexism or homosexuality, which it did). This book was the perfect balance of being a little bit of everything while still being original. It's obvious why this book has been, and will always be, a literary classic.

March Trilogy

The hardest part to learn, to truly understand deep in your heart, was how to find love for your attacker.

This graphic novel trilogy is a wonderful historical account of The Civil Rights Movement (written by Congressman John Lewis) with beautiful metaphors throughout.

My fellow vegans will especially love the analogies and symbolism with the chickens in the first book.

This was also my first experience reading graphic novels, and I don't think I could have picked a better series to start with.

GREAT WAY TO EDUCATE KIDS ABOUT CIVIL RIGHTS!

Forgotten: D-Day's Black Heroes

I can't stop telling everyone about these incredible men and this whole part of history that was overlooked because the 'heroes' were black.

Since reading this book it has become my passion project: I want to bring it to the big screen as a film. This is a story that has to be told.

Born a Crime

This is a terrific memoir that balances social and political commentary against personal essay (coming-of-age stories) and comedy. Noah's memoir provides context and personal experience that rounds out this whole list of books.

This book also reminded me that segregation (and the racism that fueled it) wasn't just an American thing or an ugly Southern thing. That it was much more widespread. It existed in England and South Africa, and Trevor experienced it firsthand growing up. (Hence the title "born a crime" because Noah had biracial parents and their baby making was a crime.)

I also happened to read this book right after seeing A United Kingdom, and I think they pair perfectly in providing a picture of just how widespread segregation was and how so many loving couples were torn apart because their skin colors did not match.

I also had a shocking realization relating to Christmas reading this book. Namely that there is no "Santa Clause" because African fathers want to make sure their children know that they worked hard to buy their children this gift. It wasn't given by some fat white man.

OTHER SUGGESTIONS:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King

The Good Negress by A. J. Verdelle

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt

Hidden Figures was my favorite film in 2016, which is also a book.

I also listened to Malcolm Gladwell's podcast in January and recommend it.

Goodreads (you can follow me there) has a great list of BHM books too.