I’ll keep this short: the United States is a hot mess right now, and it isn’t because of the protesters. There are a ton of reading lists currently out there, but I also wanted to contribute my own to the mix. This list could’ve easily been four times as long. I intentionally left out some of the more popular titles, like Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, since they’re posted everywhere. But obviously, those should be on your radar too.
Typed list with links to Goodreads after the jump.
What it is: A series of essays detailing the author’s immigration from Nigeria to the United States as a young child. As she gets older, she struggles with self-destructive behaviors, a complicated relationship with her mother, and bouts of severe depression; she’s later diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder.
Why I read it: Several people I know read it, so it’s been on my radar.
What I thought: This is an emotionally heavy book. From the beginning, Ikpi divulges difficult parts of her childhood. Immigration would be difficult for anyone, but she already carried a burden and then moved from Nigeria to Oklahoma of all places. She lets readers into her mental state through the different stages of Bipolar II disorder; she’s brutally honest about how it affected her jobs, her romantic relationships, her friendships, her family dynamics, and of course, her physical and mental health. There aren’t too many books written by people of color about their struggles with mental health, and this book — written by a Nigerian immigrant and published by a major publisher — is important for the Black community in particular.
Ever wondered about the life of a garbageman? Probably not, but they work hard every day to keep cities from looking like pre-20th Century Europe, where garbage — and chamber pots — were usually just dumped out the window to add to the mountains of decay on the stench-filled streets. Industrialized nations have come a long way since then, yet surprisingly little has changed since we figured out a system of having people pick up our trash and haul it off out of sight and out of mind.
Trashed started out as a shorter autobiographical comic series; Backderf (who gained more mainstream popularity with My Friend Dahmer) was a garbageman in 1979 and 1980. His series had a following, but he shelved it and eventually brought it back as this graphic novel, drawing on actual events to create this mostly fictional but sometimes nonfiction book.
It’s the 1960s in segregated Tallahassee, Florida, and young Elwood Curtis has done everything right: he’s respectful, applies himself at school, and has a job in which he has earned the respect of his white employer. He listens to a record of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches so much that he knows them by heart, and as the Civil Rights Movement ramps up throughout the Jim Crow south, he feels the pull towards doing something more. His grandmother, the woman who has raised him and has suffered more loss in her life that most can bear, is horrified by the thought of her grandson as an activist. So Elwood mostly just does in best in school, while his grandmother sets aside money for college. Her grandson would be the first in the family to attend.
That opportunity presents itself much earlier than expected: Elwood is accepted to start taking college classes during his senior year of high school. Everything is going well until it isn’t, and Elwood finds himself at the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reform “school” that looks and sounds like a nice place on the outside but exists in a society that looks the other way when it comes to vulnerable boys — black or white — whose families are far away, if they have families at all.
Those of us who are not digital natives and remember a time before the internet became so central to society probably also remember the old-school ways of communication: phone calls, snail mail, face-to-face, etc. We now have the ability to do all of that electronically, and that’s a great thing: family members can Skype or FaceTime, students can take online courses, people can have therapy sessions or see a doctor via apps, and friends can have watch parties on Netflix while social distancing to flatten the COVID-19 curve.
But who here has ever gotten into an argument on social media, whether with family, friends, or total strangers? Who here has gotten irrationally angry at content that you come across on the pages of friends and family? Who here as had to block people from social media accounts due to online trolling?