Hmm…I haven’t really been feelin any of the last 3-4 Top Ten Tuesday topics lately. Book with my favorite color in the title? Poo. Books we’d “slay a lion” to get early? Nah…I like lions.
Anyway, I’ve decided to make up my own Top Ten Tuesday based a genre that I go to quite frequently: non-fiction. So here’s my Top Ten Favorite Non-Fiction Reads from the past 5 years or so. Enjoy!
Top Ten Nonfiction Reads
- Buck: A Memoir, M.K. Asante. This a very solid memoir about a young Black man’s upbringing in a middle class Philadelphia household in the 80s and 90s. His father is the very famous Molefi Asante, a scholar known for bringing Afrocentrism to the forefront of academia. Despite his well-known father, M.K. struggles with a lot of issues that don’t get talked about much, because most books written about Black life are not from a middle class perspective. Very solid, readable book.
- A Bestiary, Lily Hoang. This book kinda defies genre. If I could describe it, I’d give it the title of “nonfiction fiction memoir.” It’s a gathering of facts, personal stories, biographical insights, observations. Normally I hate this kinda of crazy quilt, pastiche effect (check this review) but I LOVED this book. Everything fit together perfectly.
- Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Monique Morris. This book’s a part of the dissertation research I’m working on, but it’s still an enjoyable and very fact-based read. As a Black female, I think it is lamentable that I am still more likely, simply based on my race, to be incarcerated, expelled from school, or drop out of school altogether. Black girls are also 6 times more likely to be suspended from school than White girls, even though they exhibit the same behaviors. Great read.
- $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, Kathryn Edin & H. Luke Shaefer. This book is an eye-opener to the world of the working poor. It is not excuse making (see this review) nor is it poverty-shaming, it is just the day to day realities for people who work 40-60 hours a week and, due to the fact that we haven’t raised the minimum wage in fucking years, barely have enough to buy toilet paper. A very readable, informative book.
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond. The author of this book traveled to Milwaukee and spend time with people on all sides of the low-rent housing market for year: investors, the landlords, the people who call these places home and get put out time and time again, the judges whose sole job it is to evict people, often to the streets with no other recourse. Normally I don’t care about who wins a Pulitzer Prize, but this book deserved it–hands down.
- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates. If you haven’t read any of Coates’ articles on race relations in The Atlantic then you definitely should be. He is pretty much the writer right now when it comes to critical race issues and the public conversations going on around them. I was going to write a review of this book here when I read it a while back but I realized that it was so good, I literally had nothing to say. A mic-dropper.
- They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan, Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, & Judy Bernstein. When I included a quote from this book on this website, one of the authors (Judy Bernstein) sent me an email and offered me a copy of this book. Of course I said yes, because this book touched my heart. It’s the story of three boys, all very young (10-13 years old) and left orphaned by their families due to the civil war in Sudan. They escape the country, but cross rivers, hostile territories, deserts, endure dangerous predators, starvation. It’s a harrowing book.
- A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story, Linda Sue Park. Another book about one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, only with a YA centered focus and contrasted with a modern story from 2008. Salva is a boy who escaped the Sudanese Civil War in 1985, Nya is a girl who walks miles to fetch water. Their stories intersect beautifully. Loved this book!
- There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, Alex Kotlowitz. This story takes place in the 1980’s in the Henry Horner Homes, one of Chicago’s most notoriously violent, drug and gang infested housing projects. The story centers around Pharoah and his brother Lafeyette, living with their mother and literally dodging bullets on their way to school. Even though they’ve since torn down the Horner projects, this is still a relevant read, especially if you want to understand why Chicago leads the country in gun-related violence. There is a kinda humanizing effect here to inner-city lives that I haven’t found elsewhere in nonfiction.
- Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America, Jonathan Kozol. I don’t think you can call yourself an educator if you’ve never read Kozol–he’s quite a prolific writer and his books are widely taught in teacher education courses. This book is a kind of follow-up to other books that he has written over the years about children in poverty. Some of the stories end on a positive note, some are tragic. It’s still a great book, however, by a great author.
Whew, my hand’s tired. I get fired up when writing about nonfiction, that’s all. See ya’ll later this week.
Alas, a Top Ten Tuesday topic I can love with my entire heart. I’ve always got some good reading on the horizon, so here’s my Top Ten picks for this spring:
- Sometimes I Lie, Alice Feeney (currently reading, NetGalley ARC). This book comes out on this Friday, March 23rd. I’m going to try to get the review up before then. I haven’t gotten too far into this, but I think that there’s gonna be a really good twist here. Hmm.
- The Hunger, Alma Katsu (currently on reserve at the library). From what I’ve gathered, this book is a zombie-ish take on the Donner party story. I’m here for it.
- Social Creature, Tara Isabella Burton (NetGalley ARC). This book comes out June 5th, so I probably won’t read it until close to Memorial Day. It seems to be a thriller-type story with some “The Talented Mr. Ripley” vibes to it, so I’ll take it.
- Tyler Johnson Was Here, Jay Coles (currently on reserve at the library). A book that’s captured my entire interest lately, and not just because it has a beautiful Black man on the cover. My dissertation is all about critical YA lit by Black authors, so this book fits in perfectly with what I’m researching. I cannot wait to read this.
- The Comedown, Rebekah Frumkin (NetGalley ARC). This book comes out on April 17th, so I will probably read it and review it here closer to its release date. It’s gotten some really good press, so we’ll see.
- Monday’s Not Coming, Tiffany D. Jackson (waiting waiting waiting). I’m planning to purchase this book, another YA title that I’m discussing in my dissertation. It comes out on May 22nd and explores the topic of Black girls caught in the school-to-prison pipeline. Should be very interesting and informative.
- Let’s Talk About Love, Claire Kann (currently on reserve at the library). Another YA book that I’ve been dying to read lately that’s being discussed in my dissertation. The beautiful girl with the curly ‘fro on the cover is just a plus.
- The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo (currently on reserve at the library). YA novel in verse about a young Dominican girl and poet growing up in Harlem. Of course I’m discussing this in my dissertation too, this is a must read.
- Number One Chinese Restaurant, Lillian Li (NetGalley ARC). I’m trying to incorporate more contemporary Asian authors into my reading life, and this book seems to be a good one. It comes out on June 19th, I can’t wait to read it and have a review for you here closer to that date.
- Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir, Ngugi wa Thiong’o (on ILL reserve). This book came out for American publication for the first time earlier this month, but Thiong’o wrote and published this overseas back in the early 80’s, after he was released from a Kenyan prison after being held there as a political prisoner from 1978-1980. I’m always interested in these kinds of topics, so this promises to be a really good read.
Ya’ll know I can’t stand commonplace, boring books, so I try to keep things fresh on 29chapters. So many exciting things (and more) coming up soon here, stay tuned.
Books that surprised me, for particular reasons I’ll share below:
- Billy, Albert French – I found this book in a used bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin in 2001. I’d never heard of Albert French before, so it sat on my shelf for almost 15 years before I bothered to read it. When I did get around to reading it, it truly chilled me. It’s a series of vignettes around the execution of a ten-year-old Black boy named Billy Lee Turner, convicted of murdering a White girl in Mississippi in 1937. Not one word is wasted here, it’s one of the finest books I’ve ever read.
- Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland, Dan Barry – Another book I half-heartedly picked up at the library. Once I opened it, I could not put it down. This book is a fine work of investigative reporting about a group of men with developmental disabilities who were kept in a dilapidated rooming house and forced to work on a chicken farm for over 30 years with limited pay and no recourse for leaving their employer. The group eventually sued the company who abused their rights–and won.
- Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Jessica Bruder – Another nonfiction pick I consumed via audio. It’s about older Americans (mostly those who have lost their jobs and savings in the 2008 financial crash) that have chosen a kind of “off the grid” lifestyle, living in mobile homes and tents and working odd jobs (Amazon warehouses are a popular job among them). Great investigative reporting.
- See You at Harry’s, Jo Knowles – This is a YA book that I read for one of my doctoral classes about YA lit and trauma. I remember this book surprised me not because it was particularly well written, but because of how amazingly sad it was in the way it dealt with the death of the main character’s younger sibling. If you decide to tackle this book, have tissues handy.
- Down City: A Daughter’s Story of Love, Memory, and Murder, Leah Carroll – Another nonfiction pick that I picked up at the library somewhat half-heartedly, but ended up really getting into. Leah is a young girl when her mother is murdered by two Mafia-affiliated henchmen. She does not find out about the circumstances of her mother’s death until much later in her life because her father refused to tell her, attributing her death instead to a car accident. Many years later, Leah’s father, an aging alcoholic Vietnam veteran, is found dead in a seedy hotel. Despite the bleak content, I completely loved this book.
- Ru: A Novel, Kim Thuy – Ru (Vietnamese for “lullaby”) is a collection of short vignettes that describe the author’s growing up in Vietnam before, during, and after the war, her experiences as a refugee in Malaysia, and finally, in her new life as a mother and a writer in Quebec. It’s a short book, but man…every single page packs a punch. Loved this immensely.
- The Insides, Jeremy Bushnell – Fantasy like book about a dangerous man in search of a special knife with the power to change destiny, and a girl chef who possesses it and must keep it safe. It’s a nice mix of magic and realism and real-life like characters. Once I started reading this book I couldn’t put it down, it was a very suspenseful read from start to finish.
- Crimes in Southern Indiana, Frank Bill – I was surprised that I actually liked this book of short stories, despite the fact that it is full of the male-dominated violence that I completely abhor these days. All of the stories in this volume are connected, the head that got blown off in the meth lab explosion in the second story belongs the same guy who murdered two crooked cops in the first story. Despite the fact that these men are all pathetic, there is a kind of reckoning for all of them, which is one of the factors I think I responded to most. I also think what drew me to this book back in 2014 was the fact that I liked this book for the very reason I shouldn’t–because it is full of drugs, guns, and men fighting over them–a guilty pleasure, if you will.
- Inside Madeleine, Paula Bomer – Another audiobook I loved. All of these stories revolve around girls and their relationships with their bodies. They are amazingly brave and hide nothing. Whew.
- Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Laila Lalami – A short book of less than 200 pages that begins with four characters riding in a shoddy, makeshift boat across the 14 kilometer strait that connects Morocco to Spain. Each character, we learn, has a reason they are escaping their fate in Morocco in pursuit of a better life. Some of them find happy endings and some of them don’t. This book is really really good though. A must read.
On to dissertation writing for today, ya’ll. Good morrow…
Alas, another Tuesday. Here’s some of my favorite book quotes:
- “If I have to fight, it will be just as good a day to die as any other.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
- “What is it to worship an image? It is to pray for a gift you will never receive.” – David Mura, A Male Grief: Notes on Pornography and Addiction
- “Shelter, if it’s warm and safe, may keep a family from dying. Only a home allows a family to flourish and breathe.” – Jonathan Kozol, Rachel and Her Children
- “Where there is power, there is resistance.” – Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, volume 1
- “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail
- “Love catches fire, it trespasses, it breaks, we break, it comes back to life…we come back to life. Love may not be eternal, but it can make us eternal.” – Julie Maroh, Blue is the Warmest Color
- “It’s the myth of the American Dream that with initiative and industriousness, an individual can always escape impoverished circumstances. But what data shows is that you have these multiple assaults on life chances that make transcending those circumstances difficult, and at times, nearly impossible.” – Ta’Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power
- “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” – James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
- “Ignoring men–whether romantically or rhetorically–is existential violence to them.” – Jessica Valenti, Sex Object: A Memoir
- “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” – Audre Lorde, From a Land Where Other People Live
Beloved readers: it’s bad to have book ADD. I’m on about a dozen publisher and upcoming book mailing lists (Buzzfeed, NetGalley, Kirkus, Electric Lit, Signature) so I get the word on books that are coming out months before they hit the stores. I’m also constantly in the library, looking, searching. The books I don’t pick up on my visits there I often add to my TBR pile to come back and get at a later time. Then there are the books that you come across on your Goodreads recommendations late at night, thinking: damn that sounds interesting, so I add those too. Before you know it, you’re like me and you’ve got 609 books in your queue list. I am also no respecter of order–if I really like a book I read it right then, forget the books in the back that have been stuck there, waiting for years to be read.
So this Tuesday, I’m giving ya’ll a glimpse into the books that have been in my TBR pile the longest. I’ve been on Goodreads since 2008, so we can assume that they’ve been there for at least 10 years (or longer, depending on if the actual copy is sitting on my shelf at home).
- Midwives, Chris Bohjalian
- The Farming of Bones, Edwidge Danticat
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
- Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
- The Age of Shiva, Manil Suri
- Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, Marjane Satrapi
- Dessa Rose, Sherley Anne Williams
- All Over Creation, Ruth L. Ozeki
- The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
- You Remind Me of Me, Dan Chaon
And btw, add me on Goodreads, beloveds. Till next time…
Excited to share some big news with you guys. One of my dearest friends and I have decided to start our own publishing imprint, BGM Publishing. We are doing an open call for submissions for our first-ever anthology, due out in downloadable ebook format later this year. More info is below. Check it out!
To flex my blogging muscles a bit I’ve decided to follow a weekly feature for now. I may not do a Top Ten Tuesday posting every week because I honestly don’t see myself answering all the topics they’ve got posted over at thatartsyreadergirl.com. Also, I may not always give ten responses so this isn’t truly a Top Ten, per se. In the meantime, however, I guess it’s fun to take a departure (whichever way it’s taken) to peek inside my head a bit.
I don’t really make resolutions, but I do make changes in my reading habits fairly consistently. Here’s a few:
- Read the myriad of books I already have. About 90% of the books I review here come from the library. I have about another 100-300 books sitting on my shelves here at my home, unread. Most of them are tagged as ‘Want to Read’ on Goodreads, but I really should get with it and just stay out of the library and clear them off and read them. Even if I wanted to buy a new book, I’d have nowhere to put it. Sheesh.
- Continue to mine sources (other than bestseller lists) for great books. I follow some really swell book-friendly IG accounts, plus I get newsletters from sites like Electric Literature, Signature Reads, and NetGalley throughout the month on titles coming up. Buzzfeed Books is also cool too. Whatever I do, I prefer the less-traveled corner of book recommendations.
- Continue to extol the virtues of DNF. I realized a long time ago that one way to make reading more effective is to realize when you’re not having fun doing it. If a book doesn’t make an impression on me within 50 pages, I will usually stop reading it with absolutely no apologies. This isn’t high school, I’m not doing a book report. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is simply too much to read out there in the world without stressing myself out over reading something that bores me to tears.
- Follow more book blogs on WordPress. I see ya’ll following me and I appreciate the love. I will try to follow more of you guys, I promise. I just rarely have a chance to sit down at my computer and scroll through to find sites I like. When everybody’s reviewing the same 12 books over and over, finding ones that stand out from the pack can be a daunting task, you know?
I think that’s it for now. I told you this isn’t a Top Ten so much as it is just a chance for me to have you get to know me better. I hope it’s working.