Welcome to our dedicated reading corner.
Curated By: Connor Garel
Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, by Angela Y. Davis
First of all: FREE PALESTINE. Angela Davis has an enviable ability to identify connections between capitalism and colonialism, incarceration and militarization, abolition in America and freedom in Palestine. But she’s never too heady; she’s always trying to connect with the reader in an accessible way, without sacrificing rigour. “If one looks at the history of struggles of racism in the US, no change has happened simply because the president chose to move in a more progressive direction,” Davis writes. “Every change that has happened has come as a result of mass movements.” Across a series of gimlet-eyed essays, interviews, and speeches, she once again turns her sharp attention to how struggles for black liberation — the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, the Black Freedom Movement in America — are totally inextricable from the movement for a free Palestine.
A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid
I read this tight, brilliant indictment of the tourist industry in Antigua as a tourist somewhere in Mexico, all in one afternoon, laying on a beach chair at a resort in the hot sun, and then felt embarrassed of myself, and deeply uncomfortable, and a little bit woozy from the piña coladas. But isn’t that where knowledge actually begins—with unsettling the things you thought you knew? Kincaid’s polemical essay is a brutal appraisal of how European colonialism forever deformed the Caribbean, a critique of imperialism, slavery, the ignorance of the tourist, and what we really might be looking for when we travel to “exotic” places. There’s even some humour in there, if you can get past the sour feeling that sometimes bubbles up. Also: a great passive-aggressive gift.
Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin
It feels trite to say this novel “changed” me, but this novel really did change me, and since the first time I read it, it’s remained the one I can credibly recommend to anyone who wants a book to break them open, especially for melancholic gay yearning types who soundtrack imaginary, late-night heartbreaks to songs by Kelela. “You were never mad to love,” someone says, “but you have always been mad to be loved.” How can you read that and forget it? There are people who seek Baldwin for primarily instructional purposes, who look to his searing essays to help them make sense of their dizzying political realities, but what they lose is all the beauty of his imagination, and an intimate confessional style so blinding it’s like looking at a solar eclipse.. Honestly, there’s no better book about desire, and shame, and obsession, and what happens if, in Baldwin’s words, “you are so afraid that you finally cannot love anybody.” Happy Valentine’s Month. Read at your own risk!
White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue, and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation, by Lauren Michele Jackson
I know, I know—enough about cultural appropriation! But what to do with our landscape of popular culture, its lifelong obsession with the aesthetics of blackness? Jackson takes a scholarly eye to that old adage we all whisper to each other over drinks and many eye rolls, when we complain about white people and their tastes for (profitable) black hipness: “They love black culture, but not black people.” Jackson resists the hot take; she’s refreshingly wise and theoretical. This is a book about white boys who wear durags to bed and white girls with unplaceable accents, about the body-snatchings of Rachel Dolezal and Kim Kardashian and Elvis Presley, a book for rigorous haters and anyone curious about the insurmountable cultural debt that is owed to black people. Perfect for book clubs!
Erasure, by Percival Everett
Cord Jefferson adapted this one into a movie called American Fiction, which was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, but the novel is much funnier, brainier, weirder, more trenchant. It’s about an aging English professor with writer’s block whose manuscripts keep getting rejected by publishing houses that claim his work isn’t “black enough”; his solution, however ill-informed, is to write a cheap parody of ghetto fiction, a joke that soars over the heads of the publishers who offer him millions of dollars to publish and adapt into a movie. All this as his mother is descending into Alzheimer’s and his sister, who works at an abortion clinic, is being terrorized by protestors. It’s a risky, hilarious novel about literature, aging, the responsibilities of family, and the insatiable appetite the publishing world has for Real Stories of “black authenticity,” ie. pain and trauma, and the consequences of commodifying your art, and your blackness.
Luster, by Raven Leilani
A young black woman, down on her luck and freshly unemployed, gets entangled with a wealthy, middle-aged white man in an open marriage. It’s delicious. It’s sexy. It’s fucking funny. It reminded me a bit of Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy — also brilliant, and something I recommend — but goes down easier, like a glass of prosecco in the evening. What more could you ask for than a psychosexual family satire that includes perfect, coruscating sentences and serious clown schools? Leilani’s command over language dazzles, and her broke, hot mess of a twenty-something protagonist is the kind of person you just want to reach out and shake, because every decision she makes is one you’d never recommend, even perhaps to an enemy. A sample: “I think of how keenly I’ve been wrong. I think of all the gods I have made out of feeble men.” Come on.