I turned thirty this Fall, and I felt super reflective. This milestone made me think about some of my favorite reads and songs that got me through my 20s.
Borders used to be my go-to spot on the weekend when I was at Howard University. Whenever I went to the bookstore, I would get either a Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant or Pearl Cleage book to get me through the week to read.
Before there was an online reading community to turn to for recommendations, I stayed in that one stack designated for “African-American” books in Borders, Barnes & Nobles, and Books-A-Million. Before there was an online reading community to turn to for recommendations, I stayed in that one stack designated for “African-American” books in Borders, Barnes & Nobles, and Books-A-Million. Here is where I found DeBerry & Grant and Cleage’s books. By the time I was a junior in college, I’d read these three authors’ catalogs cover to cover and was hungry for more.
If you’re a lover of Bernice McFadden books, check out DeBerry & Grant’s books. Far From the Tree is If you’re a lover of Bernice McFadden’s books, check out DeBerry & Grant’s books. Far From the Tree is my favorite from DeBerry & Grant. This book is about “sisterhood, family secrets, and the ties that bind.” Cleage writes about two sisters who inherit a house in Prosper, North Carolina. While figuring out what to do with the house, they begin to come to terms with their tangled relationship with each other and their parents.
Babylon Sisters is for readers that enjoy mysteries and doing deep dive into Southern Black culture. Cleage’s writing exists within a specific universe/neighborhood called “Wed End” that she created in Atlanta, Georgia. Babylon Sisters is the second book in the West End series where the author tackles everything from crime in the Black community, gender roles, and other social justice topics using these really intricate character studies. They’re so good because they remind me of Walter Mosley‘s books and a touch of Black Futurism type reads where characters use Black Spirituality to draw conclusions and carry out tasks.
You have to read these books to know what I’m talking about.
My first stint in graduate school for my Masters in Literary and Cultural Studies allowed me to go more in-depth, learning about African and Caribbean Literature and reading classics from the African-American canon I’d never been introduced to in high school. I read books, like Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo and Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, in my Globalism and Transnationalism course and did an individual study of Sam Greenlee’s Blaxploitation classic, The Spook Who Sat By the Door, for my final project. But, most importantly, this was the first time I found myself delving deep into a book when I wrote my entrance paper on The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman.
During this time, I felt super isolated since I was the only Black person in my program and felt behind since I was going into the program as a Psychology student. This lead me to constantly fall behind in my reading and constantly feel disconnected while I was in the program.
The one thing that I loved about the program was taking courses with my favorite professor at the time, whose specialty was Postcolonial Studies. In her class, it was the only time I felt myself coming alive and being excited to read.
My favorite book that I studied during that year was Aidoo’s book, where I got to look at feminism and woman’s rights from the perspective of Ghanaian Literature. Getting to see how Aidoo used Changes: A Love Story to talk about intimate relationships and gender roles through the lens of another culture from the Diaspora were eye-opening and made me curious about African Literature.
Reading Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid was one of the first times I felt myself becoming possessive of a character. I remember one instance where I ended up verbally sparring with my classmates about Lucy’s character and her choices in contrast to her white employer. Having to defend Lucy’s character against my classmate’s ire was one of the first times I found myself experiencing the fact that I, as a Black woman, experience life and literature differently than my white peers.
If I could give anyone advice to someone in their 20s who has the means, I would say to try and get out of your comfort zone and travel to new places. If you can, travel and travel widely.
Throughout my time in school, I’ve had the chance to travel to three locations to study abroad as student. As an undergraduate, I went to Florence, Italy and London, England to study film and literature for a semester as a junior and senior. During my graduate education, I spent the summer learning about social work practices and social justice issues in Prague, Czech Republic.
My favorite experience by far is the Fall semester I spent as a senior in London. During this semester, I read Zadie Smith for the first time and Nella Larsen, which my best friend introduced me to when we were Sophomores by gifting me a copy of her novels, Passing & Quicksand.
Going to London was amazing because I got to experience theatre and literature almost every day in a way where it was integrated into my studies and curriculum. In our courses, we’d follow the paths of literary greats’ journeys throughout the city and connect them to our interests. My semester in London was the first time I ever got to see an August Wilson play performed live or saw a Shakespeare play with colorblind casting. Experiencing these types of art after having spent almost two years at a PWI where I rarely read any literature from the African Diaspora was refreshing.
You know when we talk about older generations living through technology shifts and how seeing all those tech innovations must have affected them in their lifetimes? I was randomly thinking about this and how by the time I was in college, social media was embedded into our global culture and a part of our daily lives to the point it was becoming taught in certain curriculums.
Technology affected my life in many ways, but I’ve seen the greatest impact on my reading. In college, I was an avid YouTube watcher. I would usually spend my nights watching YouTube videos instead of doing homework or as entertainment in college and graduate school, and this lead me to join BookTube in 2011.
During that brief stint as a content creator on YouTube, I realize how many genres I’d neglected as a reader from watching other bibliophiles across the world. This time period lead me to delve deeper into reading theory books I’d just started hearing about in graduate school. It also made me read more diversely and intentionally.
The first theory book I’d ever tackled on my own was Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon. This was a book I read chapter by chapter in the library. I was so proud of myself because I remember having to go over each line annotating Fanon’s words with my dictionary and Google search tab open to guide my way. Finishing this text made me feel super confident as a reader. Through posting about Fanon’s book in 2015-ish, I connected with my current reading group, with who I read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. From there, I’ve read a lot of other theory books, with the above two being my favorites, along with On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder.
Readers, what’s your favorite books that you’ve read over the last ten years?