Tuesday, December 9, 2008

12 days of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa

I've already suggested a few books for Christmas (as did lots of readers in the comments), but a few people asked for more recommendations so here's another list. 12 books for the 12 days of whatever you celebrate in December. Before we get to it though, Bonnie Glover, author of Going Down South, has suggested we put together a list of notable black books for 2008 since the NY Times list was kinda skimpy on the black folks. Please leave your suggestions in the comments or email them to me and I'll post them on Dec. 23rd.

Now to the 12 books:

On the 12th day: The Warmest December by Bernice McFadden

There's a reason why Toni Morrison's name comes up when people think about good books. So if you like Morrison, check this out: Morrison called Bernice McFadden's The Warmest December "searing and experly imagined." From the Publisher's Weekly review: "McFadden's graphic, poignant second novel (following her praised debut, Sugar) charts the resonating legacy that alcoholic parents pass on to their children through the cycle of addiction and domestic violence. Narrator Kenzie Lowe, an African-American woman in her 30s on welfare, has used alcohol to repress the memories of abuse she suffered growing up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, caught in the physical and emotional grip of her whiskey-swilling father, Hyman Lowe. As Hy-Lo (a name that reflects his erratic mood swings) lies comatose in his hospital bed, dying of liver disease, Kenzie finds herself in the grip of buried memories."

Not necessarily light holiday reading, but come on: Toni Morrison liked it! And I'm telling you McFadden is a lovely, lyrical writer.

On the 11th day: This Side of the Sky by Elyse Singleton

This is one of my all-time favorite books. Think Toni Morrison only lighter and with lots of humor. From Publisher's Weekly: "This is a sprawling, ambitious saga about two women, lifelong friends, who live through World War II and its aftermath, and the men in their lives. That may sound overly familiar, but the novel offers a very important difference: the two women are black, from rural Mississippi; they spend the war as WACs in London and later in Europe and the lover of one of them is a thoroughly decent German prisoner of war sent to work in the fields in the Deep South."

Would make a good gift for your best friend. I've already given it to mine.

On the 10th day: Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece

Because black people write graphic novels too, and this one sounds really cool. Fans of graphic novels, pulp fiction, and noirs should like this one. There's something about picture books during the holiday--feels real "presenty" to me. Put this on your list!

On the 9th day: Your Blues Ain't Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell

Another favorite. Hard to believe, but this was Campbell's first novel. And it will. blow. you. away. I'm so sad we lost her last year, but I'm glad she wrote books that will live on. Read them all!

On the 8th day: Erasure by Percival Everett

Confession time: I haven't read this book. See, even black people sometimes miss a book by a black author! The novel gets to the heart of what this blog is about. The story? Again, from Publishers Weekly: "Everett's latest is an over-the-top masterpiece about an African-American writer who 'overcomes' his intellectual tendency to 'write white' and ends up penning a parody of ghetto fiction that becomes a huge commercial and literary success." A commenter recommended it and based on her recommendation and what I saw online I've ordered it. You should too.

On the 7th day: He's Got the Whole World in His Hands by Kadir Nelson

Nelson illustrates the spiritual with lovely, vibrant pictures. I wish I knew a little kid to give this book to. Maybe I'll get it just to look at the cover of the beautiful smiling African American boy every day. Seriously, it's worth framing. FYI, inside the book are people of all colors.

On the 6th day: You Got to Sin to Get Saved by J.D. Mason

This is one of those books that I bet white folks would look at and think: "Not for me." Well, they'd be wrong. Just because a black couple is on the cover doesn't mean this book is ONLY for black readers. As a matter of fact, the cover hints at just one aspect of the story, which does have it's steamy parts. But it's also a story of adult sisters and the mother who abandoned them, and J.D. is a real writer; she cares about words and character and story. This book should be just as popular as any commercial fiction out there.

On the 5th day: Getting Mother's Body by Suzan-Lori Parks

The first sentence of this book is "Where my panties at? I asks him." Makes you think this is another steamy one. Not really. This is literary fiction that's also funny as hell. Parks was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer for drama, and God does she know dialogue! She's also got great dreads, won a McCarthur Genius Grant and wrote the screenplay for Oprah's production of Their Eyes Were Watching God. If that's not enough to convince you to buy: I met her in L.A. when this book came out in hardback and she was really nice.

On the 4th day: The Tempest Tales by Walter Mosley

I heard Mosley describe this book in March at the Virginia Festival of the Book, and he cracked me up...yet I still haven't read it. Stoopid! Because I think I'm really going to like it. I always like Mosley. The story is a guy gets killed and is judged to go to hell, but he chooses not to. The book is funny but asks interesting questions about race, crime and punishment in our country. Another reason to support this book: it's published by a black publisher, Black Classics Press and is an example of a successful author looking out for an indie publisher.

On the 3rd day: Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood

This book has one of the most lovely, eye-catching covers. I picked it up in hardcover based on the cover alone, and was delighted to find the writing equal to the art. I loved it and highly recommend it. It's the story of a young black woman writer who ups and goes to Paris. As reviewers pointed out, it could have been a very cliched story and was not. It's Youngblood's sophomore novel. We haven't heard from her in a while, which is too bad. She's a fantastic writer!

On the 2nd day: The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Adventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke by Angela Nissel

I can't think of a better topic for these times, can you? And funny, too? Mademoiselle said of the book: "...the deft way Nissel transforms the ordeals of poverty into funny, reassuring anecdotes makes it an almost enviable condition." Since more and more of us are ending up in this "almost enviable condition," seems like more and more of us should be reading this book! If you want proof that Nissel is funny, she's been an exec producer and writer for the TV show "Scrubs."

On the 1st day: My First White Friend by Patricia Raybon
Yes, yes, I'm being personal. Readers of my Pajama Gardener blog will know that I've already recommended some of these books. That's because I LOVE them! Raybon's book deserves to be as popular as Dreams From My Father. Go here for my review. (But please note this book is still in print--I screwed that up last time.)

Want more gift ideas?

The Root's Holiday Book Guide (thanks to Anika for the link)

Attend the Black Author Showcase Holiday Book Fair in D.C.
RAWSISTAZ Book Club's gift suggestions (books they gave 4.5 or 5 stars in 2008)
My American Melting Pot makes some recommendations


Lafreya said...

Incognegro is one of my absolute favorites. Mat’s picture is on the cover of the novel. I would also recommend his other graphic novel Hellblazer:Papa Midnite. He has also written Drop, Hunting in Harlem and the excellent nonfiction book, The Great Negro Plot.

On a personal note Mat is a great teacher. I have taken two workshops from him and he truly cares about where the next generation of African American literary writers are coming from. He helped diagnose what was wrong with my first novel and that led to my agent.

All writers should read Erasure. It is by turns both hilarious and poignant. The novel was relevant when Percival Everett wrote it and it is even more relevant now.

African American writers should read it just to know what they are up against if they decide to write something "literary" or anything out of the very small box the publishing industry believes all black writers should fit into. Writer of other colors and cultures should read it so that they know why their African American writer friends or critique group members are sometime so depressed about publishing or can sometimes be found ranting about "How Urban or Street lit is just ruining America."

Anonymous said...

I love this post! I'm so stuck in the world of YA books that I enjoy seeing such wonderful books that appeal to ME!! AND I'm going to have to remember the 12 Days of...posting to borrow for my blog next year!

wdjenkins1 said...

I love many of these books, especially Erasure and Your Blues Ain't Like Mine, but I would like to give a special recommendation for This Side of the Sky by Elyse Singleton. This book should have received much more attention than it has. It is set in the years surrounding WWII, a period of enormous change for many Black women, including my mother and probably many of your mothers or grandmothers. It is beautifully plotted and beautifully written. I have given this book to everyone I can, including my book club. (It's perfect for book clubs, by the way.) Buy two of these - one for yourself and one for your favorite Person Who Isn't Black.

Claudia said...

Thanks for including Erasure on this list! It is excellent, and even more rewarding for those familiar with Native Son and Invisible Man, as well as recent titles in the urban lit genre.

@Lafreya: I didn't love Incognegro as much as you, but I'm glad to hear that Mat Johnson is such a cool guy. I also liked the things he did with the Papa Midnite mini-series. For those who enjoy graphic novels, I would also highly recommend Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow.

Lisa said...

What a great list. I just finished reading THE FALL OF ROME, by Martha Southgate and it was fantastic. Set in a Connecticut prep school, it's told from three points of view and captures the strange transition we're in right now from a racial and generational perspective. I've got THIRD GIRL FROM THE LEFT here on my TBR stack. I'm looking forward to reading whatever comes from this masterful author next.

Lisa said...

P.S. At least two people have recommended reading PUSH by Sapphire as a prelude to ERASURE. I've got PUSH on the stack too, but I haven't started it yet.

Doret said...

I loved Warmest December. Broke Diaries is one of the funniest books. And you included a kids title, very cool. Kadir Nelson is one of the best illus. out now. Nelson actually wrote his first book this year We are the ship. Its about Negreo League Baseball. and of course he did the ilustrations. Its a great book, and perfect for baseball fans of any age. Sorry about that, I can't get out of bookseller mode

For the 2008 roundup will you do a list for fiction and non fiction or combine the two.

Carleen Brice said...

Doret, that's a good question. We should probably split them up: nonfiction, fiction, and, if you want: YA and kids.

NaySue said...

Love your site and it's so necessary. The white folks in my English department need your site!

Candy Minx said...

Really enjoyed checking out your blog and the video. Great book list!

Candy Minx said...

Hey, I just realized you may find the following review/essay really interesting.

George Eliot Clarke is a Canadian poet check this out:


and here is a bio of him:


I also did a quick look around on the shelves next to me here at computer and here are some of the authors I have, Ernest J Gaines, Zadie Smith, 50 Cent, Russlell Simmons, Magic Johnson, Walter Mosley, Hamilton Nolan, Percival Everett, VIBE compedium of "History of Hip Hop", Bararck Obama, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, John Ameache, and George Eliot Clarke.

Demon Hunter said...

Thanks for sharing these books.:-) I'm always looking for new authors to read. :-)

Therese said...

So many great suggestions--now can you tell me where I can buy some extra time to read them all? :)

p.s. Link me up at the left, there, with those other smart folks.