Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR

I have a confession to make, ya’ll. I typically don’t do TBR lists. The reason for this is simple: I have a horrible reading attention span. I simply cannot guarantee that the books I tell you I’m going to read will be read in the allotted time frame I give. I am literally always looking at books–online, in stores, at the library, through emails I get, through requests. I just can’t say I’ll read x, y, and z during this month when the truth is I will probably find something else while randomly browsing the library one afternoon that will catch my interest.

I find that it’s best for me to base my TBR-isms on what’s currently on my shelf and in my Kindle with an expiration date or on reserve from the library. So here goes:

Books I’ll More Than Likely Read this Summer

1. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs (ARC, to be published on 24 July 2018). Short story collection from a debut author that promises to be really yummy.

2. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson (currently reading). I am floored by this book so far. Review forthcoming.

3. There There by Tommy Orange (currently on reserve). Debut fiction about urban Native Americans headed to a powwow. It’s gotten some good reviews and I’m curious about it, so I’m going to give this one a peep.

4. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (own a copy of this). Fiction book about an incarcerated woman. I’m interested where this one goes.

5. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (currently in my Kindle). Kick ass Black girls and zombies. Sign me up and take my money…

6. A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising: A Novel by Raymond Villareal (currently on reserve). I told you: I love zombies, so this should be interesting.

7. The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir by Yrsa Daley Ward (currently on my shelf; library copy). I loved her recent poetry volume, Bone, so this should be a great read.

8. Sick: A Memoir by Porochista Khakpour (currently on my shelf; library copy). A nonfiction account of the author’s long and expensive struggle to get a diagnosis for what is discovered to be late-stage Lyme disease. I have a sister-in-law with Lyme disease, and she nearly lost everything just to get a doctor to listen. I need to read this story.

9. Severance by Ling Ma (ARC, to be published on 14 Aug 2018). Interesting dystopian fiction read about a lady who loses her job while the end of the world is happening at the same time. Can’t wait to read this later this summer!

10. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (ARC, to be published on 31 July 2018). Fictional story set in Colombia at the time of Escobar’s violent hold on the country. Promises to be a great read by a debut author.

Ok, work in the morning folks.

xoxo, Kellan

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Book Loves and Hates

Once again, this week’s designated Top Ten Tuesday doesn’t agree with me…so I’m making my own topic. I’ll pretend I’m in a speed dating situation and I’ve got about 15 minutes to tell you about what I like and don’t like as far as what I read.

(This is silly, but play along here, OK?)

Top Ten Book Loves/Book Hates

Loves

  1. YA, YA YA. I pity people that don’t read YA. Seriously. Like, what do you do in your boring ass life? Young adult books are the shit because it’s where all the action is. Want to know what’s hot in the streets? Read YA. YA is a cool litmus test for finding out what’s hip, what’s controversial, what will be talked about next. As an educator I dive into YA often, because I want to know what young people think about, what types of messages about life they receive from older people. I also like YA because it’s a safe place for nostalgia, make believe, and uncomplicated, raw emotion. Where else can you be angsty as fuck and get away with it? YA, of course.
  2. Diverse characters. Ever since I took a Multicultural Literature class as an undergrad student in 2001, I’ve strove to make my reading as representative of society as a whole as possible. Here on 29chapters.com, you will find that I review books about people of all races, ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, ethnicities, religions, ability levels, social classes, as well as inside and outside of the U.S. This is done purposefully, not only keep me in the loop of the human experience, but to shine a light on people with experiences unlike your own whose stories deserve your attention.
  3. Nonfiction about social issues. I love reading nonfiction, but I strive to make the reading of mine worthwhile by reading to educate myself on social issues that interest me–particularly issues of crime and the criminal justice system, race, feminism, immigration, and poverty. Oppression of one is essentially the oppression of all, and learning how all of these issues are connected in our every day lives is critical.
  4. Dystopian lit. Books on how jacked up the future will be are always a treat for me. Perhaps it is because I am deeply pessimistic on the future as well, and believe that the changes we don’t make now will revisit us in the future, only three times worse. Either way, it’s fun to read about how the world’s going to hell, and there’s very little we can do about it but wait. Weee…
  5. “Thinking” while reading. If I’m thinking while I’m reading it, that’s always a good thing. Books that engage me intellectually and challenge me are always books that I will finish, whether I like them or not. It just drives home (for me, at least) that reading will always be a thinking process, not just some passive activity where I’m sitting and absorbing info like a plant. It also means that we can still be friends and disagree.

Hates

  1. “Chick” lit. Ewww, I hate anything that resembles this genre of literature. Books where the main objective is finding love, catfights, figuring out silly friendship drama, or a good pair of heels is not for me. I turn down offers to review on these kinds of books all the time and will continue to do so unapologetically. No chick lit here ever, I’m convinced it causes brain shrinkage.
  2. Romance novels. Another genre I don’t touch with a ten foot pole. As a matter of fact, if I go to a book review site and it’s full of reviews on romance novels (even if they are YA) and chick lit, I immediately back up and make a note not to visit that site again. Brain shrinkage occurs with this one as well, only at a more rapid rate.
  3. Books from Western canons. I’m not saying there aren’t classics because there are, but surely one has noticed that 99% of the books in the humanities considered “classics” are written by White men. I love All Quiet on the Western Front, Grapes of Wrath, Aristotle’s Poetics, and Huckleberry Finn as much as the next gal, but if these kinds of books is all one reads, I question why your reading perspective is limited to that of straight White dudes only. As if Western perspectives and being cisgendered is the center of the moral universe. Not so, I say. I’ll stay on the left.
  4. Mainstream bestsellers. I could care less what’s on the Amazon or New York Times bestseller list. I also don’t care about who won what award, or what book “everybody” is reading right now. As a matter of fact, if I see a book on “the list” I will usually avoid it for that very reason because yes, millions of people can be wrong. Occasionally I do read pop fiction, but it is only because I am curious about that particular book. But nah, I’ve never gone to “the list” and scanned it for something to read. To this day I maintain that I’ve never read a Harry Potter book and don’t plan to. My son has read them all though. Bless his heart.
  5. “Major Motion Picture” covers. So Everything, Everything is a movie now. That doesn’t mean you have to change the paperback cover. I know you want to sell movie tickets, but urrrrgghh…this burns me up. Keep it the same, don’t change it.

Rock on, guys…

xoxo, Kellan

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Decided to DNF

Ok, it’s 11:28 pm Eastern Standard Time…and I know where my official Top Ten Tuesday is. A couple of weeks ago I discussed the intricacies of the DNF (book-speak for one that you willfully choose not to finish); this week I’ll list a few books that I’ve DNF’d over the years and the reasons why they ended up that way.

As I’ve explained before, I DNF books quite often for a variety of reasons. If I got over halfway through it and I can put together a somewhat coherent review, I’ll post it here. Often, however, I don’t. I just move on to another book.

So here’s my playlist of skipped books whose reviews I’ve never posted here and I’ve never mentioned to anyone but myself. You always get the latest hits, so here’s:

29chapters.com’s List of Not-So-Famous Misses

  1. Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison. This book is actually quite good. I’ve read other books by Dorothy Allison and her work is taught in a lot of Women’s Studies classes, especially at the college level. The reason I DNF’d this book, however, is because of its graphic depictions of the sexual and physical abuse of the main female character by her stepfather. I’ve tried many times to just grit my teeth and read it, but I can’t get past the highly disturbing content here. I just…can’t.
  2. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold. Another wildly popular book whose disturbing content I just couldn’t stomach. The horror comes on very early in the book, around page 12 when the main character is raped, killed, and dismembered by a neighbor. After 3-4 times of pulling it off my shelf, reading it, only getting to page 12, and DNF’ing it, this book sat on my shelf for years until I finally got rid of it in a used book exchange last summer. It’s safe to say that I will probably never attempt to read it again. I also refuse to watch the movie version.
  3. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, Sunil Yapa. This is a historical fiction novel that examines several sides of the 1999 Seattle WTO protests from different perspectives–a riot cop, a politician, protesters. Somewhat decent, I just couldn’t get into this.
  4. Her Last Death: A Memoir, Susanna Sonnenberg. One of the few nonfiction books here that I’ve quit. Basically this is a book about a very dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, which morphs into the author largely blaming her mother for many of her poor choices, including becoming promiscuous at an early age, being a pathological liar, her drug use. I got half way through this book before I just said enough already, I can watch this Dr. Phil episode on any given day of the week…
  5. Paint it Black, Janet Fitch. After her first novel “White Oleander,” I thought author Janet Fitch was untouchable. Au contraire. Her second novel was such a snoozefest that I put it down and never looked back.
  6. The Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra. This book had glowing reviews, but I kept falling asleep on this one. It’s a set of interconnected short stories, all centered around various characters during the history of modern Russia. Perhaps I also hated this because it brought back bad memories; I fell asleep during the Russian section of World History during high school too. Oh welp.
  7. The Dog Stars, Peter Heller. Post-apocalyptic story. About a man and his dog. And a plane. But the writing style. Was such a fucking distraction. That I put it down. (<— The whole book’s written like this, mates. It is an absolute pill to read.)
  8. Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward. First off, I love Jesmyn Ward’s writing. I’ve read another nonfiction book of hers, Men We Reaped, and I absolutely loved it. This book, however, not so much. I found the plot kinda tedious and I just couldn’t get into the characters. I’m not surprised that this book won the National Book Award, because there is something special here, but the specialness is simply not for me.
  9. Severance, Robert Olen Butler. This book has an interesting premise: that human consciousness is maintained for 90 seconds immediately after one is decapitated. Therefore, this book is a collection of the “final thoughts” of many people (some famous, some not) who have ‘lost their heads’ throughout history. It’s a really morbid book, and the premise alone should have been enough to carry me through it, but for some reason the writing here was just plain weird. The friend who suggested it to me told me to read it like poetry, but that didn’t help, because I hate bad poetry. Blech.
  10. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read my fair share of Cormac McCarthy over the years: The Road, Outer Dark, Child of God, No Country for Old Men. His writing is typically very dark and violent in nature, but that’s what makes him so special to me: that he can explore darkness and evil in such meaningful, creative ways. Anyway, Blood Meridian was just sloooooow. It’s also a Western (the other four novels I’ve read by him are not), and Westerns are just not my preferred genre.

There’s tons of other books I’ve DNF’d that could discuss here, but these are the ones that stood out most. Stay tuned!

xoxo, Kellan

Top Ten Reasons I DNF Books

Let’s talk about the DNF today, beloveds…

For those that don’t know, DNF is book-speak for a book that you start and, for whatever reasons of your own, decide not to finish. I’ve been rather outspoken about the fact that I DNF and that I do it quite often, with no absolutely no shame and no apologies for it. Some readers are outspoken for the opposite, that they never DNF a book, no matter what the reason. Other readers/book bloggers I encounter do DNF, but don’t speak about it publicly.

To DNF or not to DNF is a complex thing. There are many, many reasons why I stop reading a book, which I’ll explain below. Generally as a rule I give a book 50 pages to capture my interest and if it fails to do so, I’ll stop reading. These days, however, I find that my 50 page rule has gone wayyy down–hell, it’s 40 pages, in some cases, 25. Sometimes I will review the book here if I got past the halfway mark, but I will not give it a rating. I will certainly tell you why I didn’t like it though.

There’s a couple of factors that make me DNF-friendly, which I have to admit here. For one, I rarely buy books. About 85% of the books I read come from the library, so 86’ing it is no big deal, I just take it back and get another. I also find that I tend to DNF fiction much more often than nonfiction. Probably because it’s so author-driven, while non-fiction–not so much. With NF you are welcome to disagree with the author, skip pages and see if they change their mind. I usually don’t DNF memoirs though.

So here goes…

Top Ten Reasons I DNF (do not finish) a Book

  1. It’s boring. ‘Nuff said. If I wanted to fall asleep, I’d put on my Sleep Sounds playlist on Spotify. Seriously. I steadfastly maintain that if you are reading for pleasure, it should engage you and make you want to pick it up and keep going. If it’s nothing but a chore to read it, then put it down. Pleasure reading does not = boredom.
  2. Not in the mood, dawg. Sometimes I will pick up a book, read a few pages, then gauge my feelings. If it’s a nahhhh, then I’ll put it aside. This is not to say that I will never read it again at some other point in time, it just means that I am simply not feeling it in that current moment, right then. I will usually keep these books in my TBR pile but save them for later.
  3. I don’t get it. I’d rather have bad writing than confusing, incoherent, or just plain weird writing. If I can no longer (or I never did) discern what’s happening, then I’ll leave it in the dust. I don’t have time for code-cracking, it ain’t that deep.
  4. Large amounts of gratuitous, objectionable content. I don’t necessarily mind sex, drugs, and violence–but there is a point (and I’ve posted on this before) where such scenes just become, well…too much. It’s like a cheap horror film–we know the killer kills with an ax, but do we really need the camera to linger on the severed head for 5 minutes? We get it, he’s dead. Cut to the next shot. More of the same? Well, forget it. I have no interest in being “shocked” into reading further. If ultra-violence is the only rabbit they can pull out of their hat, then they’ve lost me.
  5. There is NO plot. None whatsoever. Nada. Zilch. Just pages and pages of no action, no character building, no dialogue, no nothing at all. Or there’s pages and pages of all of the things I just mentioned, but it’s a downward spiral into a yawning, mind-numbing void. I would have left this under the label ‘boring,’ but this is so bad it deserves its own category.
  6. I’m not connecting to the character. This is not the same as not liking a character. There are quite a few book bloggers that say that they will stop reading if they don’t like a character. Nah, I’m not that petty. I can stick through disliking a character’s actions and thoughts, but I can’t stick with one who I don’t find compelling. Strong dislike is a compelling reason to read further, it’s the macaroni to my cheese. It’s kinda like that Morrissey song “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get.” Damn right.
  7. It’s too familiar, I already know what’s going to happen. The girl dumps the boy, but you know they’ll get back together in the end. Nerd boy falls in love with manic pixie dream girl. An abused wife leaves her husband, but you know he’s not dead, so a showdown will occur, somewhere in the last 50 pages. Do I need to go on? Let’s find more plots here…
  8. Writing style is too difficult to follow. No capitalization, no quotation marks, heavy use of parentheses, run on sentences, wordsthatruntogether. I know that some authors employ these devices for artistic reasons, but sometimes I just can’t be bothered with trying to decipher between thought and dialogue, which character is which. GTFOH…
  9. It ain’t gettin read, no matter how hard I try. I tend to read several books at once, so if there is a book lingering in my “currently reading” pile that’s been there for 3 months or more, I will usually extinguish it. It usually means something else has gotten my attention and my own behavior indicates that I’m avoiding it for a reason. Whether or not I come back to it later depends, though if I do, I will usually start the book over again.
  10. Not my cuppa joe. Sometimes I will stop reading because I just don’t believe I’m the right audience that the book was intended for. It’s not a bad book, it’s just not for me. Therefore my reading it won’t matter, the writer probably ain’t talking to me in the first place. I’m ok with that. So rather than reading it, wasting my time, and being pissed off, I’ll just stop reading it. Blah.

So what do ya’ll think? Do you DNF? Why or why not?

Top Ten Tuesday: Fiction Pet Peeves

Oh, fiddlesticks…the wtf topics keep occurring over at Top Ten Tuesday, so I’m making my own today. Since I did nonfiction last week, I’ll delve into fiction today. Here goes:

Top Ten Pet Peeves in Fiction

  1. The “woman of stone.” I love kick-ass women characters, but sometimes, in the pursuit of the ultimate bad-ass gal, the author will create a woman character so devoid of emotion that she is, in many ways, psychologically a man. Just the trophe the writer seeks to avoid by making the character a woman. I think it is ok to make women characters that do kick ass and take the time to do other things, like pause and cry, for instance. Nothing wrong with that.
  2. Atypical boys = homosexuality. I love quirk, but all too often quirk (lack of sports interest, nerdiness, awkwardness around girls, etc) in male characters is imagined as a gay character. I don’t have a problem with gay characters, but I do have an issue with the perception that there is only one way to be a straight boy, and anything beyond an interest in sports and chasing girls means he must be gay. I find this a lot in YA. Ugh…stop it.
  3. Contrived diversity/tokenism. Of course in the whitest of all White settings, the main character manages to have two chatty, Black girl best friends. Like, of course. For example, in the novel Moxie, we’re talking a very small Texas town that’s nearly 98% White. How, then, does the main character happen to find the only Latina, Black, and lesbian girls in town and befriend them in the name of feminism? Beats me. This is why tokenism sucks–it appears to be ‘diverse’ on the surface, but there’s no yielding of the dominant narrative and absolutely no knowledge of a different perspective is gained. The “color” here was for the purpose of symbolism only.
  4. Rape/torture porn. I’ve written about this a lot here, so I won’t go into super detail because you already know how I feel about this, but it goes like this: we don’t need any more excessively detailed descriptions of rape, torture, violence, sexual abuse, etc. on paper. We know what these horrors are and what they do psychologically and physically to a victim. If a writer does choose to explore those subjects in a book, I feel like it should be political/critical in nature or to emphasize the development or growth of a character. Simply writing about a woman getting raped over and over does not challenge the abuser or the act, it just assents to the notion that women should be somewhere suffering for the sake of good storytelling. Not cool.
  5. Love at first sight. I don’t know about ya’ll, but I’m tired of YA characters finding their soulmate on the first day of school as their lab partner in bio class. They have no chemistry, but he’s “hot” and after dating only once, they’re hopelessly and endlessly in love. Bitchhhhhh….please.
  6. Change through abuse. This is kinda related to torture porn, but in a different direction. Here, the love interest from bio class is an abusive jerk whose function is to change or “soften” the strongly-willed (usually female) main character. It’s a sad and very old, sexist trope–that “change” must occur through domination, the breaking of someone’s will. Also not cool.
  7. Forgiveness, always. I love the idea of forgiveness as much as the next gal, but sometimes the person hurting you is just so plain nasty that I don’t think forgiveness is possible. And that’s ok, Dr. Phil, because not everybody deserves to be forgiven. I’ve found this kinda kumbaya, “let’s-hug-it-out-at-the-end” b.s. in a lot of books where family dysfunction is at the forefront and it sucks, because let’s face it, sometimes family members will do more fucked up things to you than a stranger. It’s ok to say no to abuse and mistreatment, even by family members.
  8. Books where the writer describes the main character’s appearance. Yep, this is still happening. I always maintain that a good book need not describe the character’s looks–if the writer is doing their job right, details on their appearance never need to be explicitly shared. You can still have a fleshed out character without going into detail about how he’s a Harry Styles clone, ma’am. LOL.
  9. Very slow action. Like, reeeaaalll slow. Like, we’re on page 50 and the main character is just now leaving the house. Molasses in the plot, snails in the dialogue. First I’ll flip ahead, then it’s a quick DNF, next.
  10. Side characters with no real purpose. We all know this: books with a evil side character whose only purpose for existing seems to be to foil the main character’s intentions. Why are they so bitchy? Well, this is never explained. I understand that the novel isn’t from their perspective, and that’s fine, but if you’re going to make a side character psychopathic in their badness, a little insight is warranted, yanno?

Ok, back to studying…

Top Ten Tuesday: Nonfiction Reads

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. $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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

xoxo,

Kellan

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Loved But Will Never Re-read

“In the end, we’ll all become stories.” – Margaret Atwood

I read a lot of different kinds of stories. Some of them are downright disturbing and reflect a side of life that we  would rather not see. The following are books that I found wonderfully awe-inspiring, but for reasons I’ll explain, I would never read them again:

  1. The Coming, Daniel Black. Written in the collective first person (“we”), this book follows a group of Africans taken from the continent in the early 1800’s and their horrific journey to America by ship (“The Middle Passage”), to their sale as slaves in the New World. If you really want to understand what African Americans endured to get to the U.S., you must read this book. It is absolutely devastating, an emotional wringer.
  2. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng. Despite the fact that this is a good book with good reviews (and deservedly so), the dysfunctional nature of the family in the book is one that I don’t ever want to read about again. Everybody’s clueless, and their oblivion to real life put me in such a tizzy that I wouldn’t do this twice.
  3. Aquarium, David Vann. Another great book, about a family that puts the “D” in dysfunctional. The mother is a monster, and there’s a little girl at the center of the action that you just want to hug forever.
  4. An Untamed State, Roxane Gay. Haitian American attorney Mirelle is vacationing in her native Haiti with her husband when she is kidnapped and held for ransom. When her wealthy father refuses to pay for her release, her captors retaliate with a campaign of rape and torture. It’s heavy, heavy stuff. Forgiveness and healing does come, but it’s not in the form that you’d expect. Great book, but I would never dream of opening it again.
  5. The Summer that Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel. This is a “thinking” book about what happens when “The Devil” in the form of a child comes to a small Ohio town in 1984. It’s an excellent book I read this two years ago and I’m still thinking about a lot of the questions this book brings up. Still no answers.
  6. Problems, Jade Sharma.  Maya is a married woman with a lover, a dead end job, and a heroin habit. She’s also one of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever read about. Her descent into chaos is the reason why, even though I loved this book, I’d never read it again.
  7. The Warmest December, Bernice McFadden. Another book about a girl’s experiences growing in a highly dysfunctional family in 1970’s Brooklyn. It’s a good book but a hard one to read, I remember having to take frequent breaks to finish it.
  8. Dime, E.R. Frank. A very gritty YA book about a young girl’s life while in the sex trade. It is raw and terrifying, but I was completely blown away by this book.
  9. Notice, Heather Lewis. Several months after this book was published, the author, Heather Lewis, committed suicide. When you read this book you will understand some of the demons that tortured her, because this is, quite frankly, the most profoundly disturbing book I’ve ever read. It’s good though. Really good. Read it again? No way.
  10. Delicious Foods, James Hannaham. A book about modern day slavery, drug addiction, greed, pain. This book had a profound effect on me because I distinctly remember that at the time I read this, my son was the same age as the protagonist of this book. Excellent read, but wouldn’t read it again. It’s too much.