I’ve had a year of writing and reading, especially pleased with the number of classic writers and figures who had great 2021 moments in literature. I’m happy to share the books that moved and entertained me the most, my Fave 2021 Books! Though some have been around since early this year, they all remain great winter reading suggestions.
Think of cool or cold winter nights by a fire or under warm blankets with a book, a quiet meditation and engagement with self to balance the busyness of devices and streaming. Or maybe discover a new author.
Authors, bookstore owners and staff, audiobook actors, editors and so many more depend on all of you to fit books into your binging. I love to give books as gifts and this is the giving season. I’ll continue giving readings from and going into more details about these books on the negression podcast, but I am announcing them in time for those like me who love to give books as gifts. Comment on what you read this year. Happy Reading!
FICTIONI’m a novelist so I love my fellow world inventors and character creators. Romance, Crime, Mystery, Thriller and Coming of Age!
The Son of Mr. Suleman by Eric Jerome Dickey (Dutton).
A standard Dickey work from the legendary author who passed last January: high class black professionals, a steamy romance and such realistic dialogue. A smart, sexy final novel from him.
Palmares by Gayl Jones (Beacon Press)
What an adventure! I love the variety across the decades of Jones’s works. This one features a very interesting kind of character I’ve never seen- a Portugese slave girl coming of age in Brazil. Have patience! Heavy prose.
The Minister Primarily by John Oliver Killens (Amistad)
The satire, irony and shade is off the charts in this unearthed novel from the legendary American author who helped activate the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. Ishmael Reed writes a foreword to this story of average Joe Jimmy Jay Johnson and his accidental espionage around the globe, leading him back to America as a substitute for a West African prime minister.
Push: Revised 25th Anniversary Edition by Sapphire (Vintage Contemporaries)
Classic story of Precious, the abused teen who learns to read and saves herself with her two children. The author composed an afterword responding to decades of both controversy and love for the novel and film. Author Tayari Jones wrote a personal preface on the book’s impact.
Life After Death: The Coldest Winter Ever #2 by Sister Souljah (Simon & Schuster)
Well, Winter Santiago gets out of prison and from there… Not a fan favorite or critical darling, but still proves the power of the black audience when a great character comes to life.
The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
A perfect companion to Native Son resurrected by the author’s nephew and including an essay from Wright on conflicts with religion and hos this drove his writing. This time, the Bigger Thomas is Fred Daniels, a black man who did not commit murder in his white employers’ house but his fate is tragic anyway.
Contemporary Women Novelists
The Perishing by Natasha Deon (Counterpoint)
Lou’s life as a journalist in Depression-era L.A. seems charmed, yet she can’t forget waking up in an alley with no memory of where she came from and repeatedly senses she’s been here before in this unexpected, fast-paced mind bender.
Bad Habits by Amy Gentry (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Bad Habits is painted as an indictment of mentally oppressive and exhausting intellectual swordplay of the academy. But far beyond that, as two old grad school colleagues reunite in a hotel, this a deep story of two very different girls turned women and the secrets to their successes they’d rather leave behind.
Confessions in B Flat by Donna Hill (MacMillan)
I so loved this story of Harlem couple Jason and Anita in 1960’s Harlem, and interviewing the author for it with the Center for Black Literature. The historical artifacts and references Hill includes are so important.
Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger (Park Row)
We really need this book now. Wren is an average successful woman, a columnist, who’s life is only missing the perfect man (according to friends who push her to sign up for a dating app). 400 pages of tips, advice and caution on swiping anything ever again anywhere ensue. A literary PSA for our age.
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson (HarperCollins)
This one does a most accurate portrayal of the effects of stark industrial and manufacturing declines in the Midwest hubs that depended on them, as engineer Ruth befriends a strange white boy amidst racial tensions in their Indiana town during the Obama years.
Woman of an Uncertain Age by Priya Malhotra (Bedazzled Ink)
A gem of a book about an Indian-American woman who starts a sweet but challenging and at times hilarious journey to fulfillment and love after her husband dies as she enters her 50s.
MEMOIR, POETRY, ESSAYI’m a novelist but I wind up reading more nonfiction, probably because I can turn off my focus on the fiction craft to just read. In my literary scholar past, I would have studied these joys!
Kamala Harris: Her Path to the White House by Malaika Adero (Sterling)
I love Malaika and Kamala, so what’s not to love about this fair and entertaining biography that brings Harris’s cultural, educational and professional identities to life with great care.
The Strong Black Woman: How a Myth Endangers the Physical and Mental Health of Black Woman by Marita Golden (Mango)
This book should be required reading for young black women and mature girls to avoid the fate of too many black women whose “strength” becomes others’ asset to exploit or abuse, then passed on to all others to get the message. Thoroughly researched but powered by Golden’s emotional, personal insight.
Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature by Farah Jasmine Griffin (W.W. Norton & Company)
A standard Griffin tapestry of topics, figures and ideas revolving around Black American experience and contributions, this time as call to arms for respect for black life and literature as critical to American Democracy going forward.
On Love and Tyranny: The Life and Politics of Hannah Arendt by Ann Heberlein with Alice Menzies translator (House of Anansi Press)
I was surprised how easy this biography was to read. It is a welcome, necessary addition to the canon of Arendt books and criticism for making the brilliant Holocaust survivor’s life accessible.
Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism by Terri Simone Francis (Indiana University Press)
Terri Simone Francis brings the powerbroking businesswoman in Baker alive. A thoroughly researched work anoints Baker into a rare class of celebrity for whom active manufacturing of public celebrity- specifically via cinema, white filmmakers and life in France- skyrockets a creative genius to fame and fortune instead of demise.
Resilience in Hard Times by Paulette Harper (Amazon Kindle Publishing)
An anthology from brave, inspiring women who survived the unimaginable through faith in God. I dare anyone to feel helpless and unloved after reading these modern day miracle testimonies.
Bookmarked: Another Country by Kim McLarin (Ig Publishing)
Another Country was the Baldwin novel I didn’t care for or think of much. Then Kim McLarin changed my mind. This warm, gently critical take on what this book means to her as a whole Black girl turned American racism-fractured Black woman barrels like Didion or Als in rare form.
Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans (Berkeley)
I admit it was the title and the cover for me, but the packaging doesn’t come near the magic of these poems. They do really, truly leap off the page.
Chicago activist Brenda Myers-Powell gives us her life, warts and all, in this American treasure of the American Dream sprouting from the most unlikely of places: a childhood being sex trafficked.
Boomerang / Bumerán: Poetry / Poesía (Raised Voices) by Achy Obejas (Beacon)
I am interested to see where this format goes. A two-sided genderless bilingual book of poems, so really two books in one. Chicago, laborers, migrants, English, music, revolution… I learned a lot from this one!
Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson (Amistad)
This was a shame. She lived to write it but not to see us celebrate it. A very important contribution to understanding the Black Arts Movement and Hollywood for Black women.
Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson (The University of Kentucky)
A very intelligent, creative, multidisciplinary display of the Poet Laureate of Kentucky’s work in realms of justice, history and love. With praise from Nikki Finney and illustrations by Ronald W. Davis included.
Bonus! CHILDREN’s, EBOOK, AUDIOGreat books come in every form, especially children’s! And if you’re like me and can’t afford the shelf space more than more books, just download. Rich celebrities and big authors don’t mind…
Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke (Flatiron Books)
Tarana! Please share this book that disconnects the original grassroots Me Too movement from the important, but still exclusionary to women of color, explosion of reckonings in show business.
Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy by Misty Copeland (Simon & Schuster)
I love Misty and she pays homage to those pirouetted before her. This is a perfect gift for young people with talent or interests in fields requiring hope, discipline, dedication and commitment.
The Life I’m In by Sharon Flake (Scholastic Press)
Another book high on my YA-age gifts list. Sharon follows up her classic The Skin I’m In, about harder life for dark girls in America, with a more matured character and storyline to do the original justice.
We’re All Just Trying to Make it to January 2nd by Diane Gillette (Fahmidan Journal)
Gillette provides glorious interior and exterior landscapes for her troubled or troubling but complex characters in this flash and micro fiction chapbook on those good old merry holidays…
Toning Up Your Fitness Business for Corporate by Stacy Hubert and TI Sims (Amazon Kindle Publishing)
If Crossfit and sweat is your game, go past the gym and into real business with help from my friend and her friend who’ve done just that, in the growing corporate employee wellness sector where group fitness training has caught on to offset effects of cubicle/Slack life.
“Dispossessed” by Tayari Jones (Audible Originals)
I love this format! Stories we hear. In this one, a whip smart Atlanta woman confronts race when her upwardly mobile son’s visit cancellation leads her to work a strange family home eviction.
Home Waters: A Chronicle of a Family and a River by John McClean (Custom House)
The MacLean family means a lot within University of Chicago and its neighborhood in Hyde Park where I spent most of my adult life. Here, the son of the ‘A River Runs Through It’ author Norm MacLean, a legendary English professor, tells how that novel of the Blackfoot River in Montana arose from his family’s customs across four generations.
“Tisoy” by Bernice McFadden (Audible Originals)
I encourage you to check out this format of narrated short stories and this one is an adventure to start with! McFadden’s story takes the innocent but unlucky Black American male tragic figure out of the inner city and puts him in the Western desert. What happens there necessitates his mind travel back to his Appalachian family’s complex past…
What Happened To You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing by Dr. Bruce Perry with Oprah Winfrey (Flatiron Books)
Please share this book! Early childhood development is gathering steam as a government and community matter this book explains it must be at much earlier ages to keep children whole. I learned so much.
A Fatal Lie by Charles Todd (Harper Collins)
This mother/son writing team is still fairly new to me despite dozens of novels in print and this one about the aftermath of a boy discovering a body in a village’s river made them mystery writers to fave. Gorgeous prose.
House of Crows by Lisa Unger (Amazon Original Stories)
I love this format! The four separate stories/novellas merge into a complete novel about haunted lands, houses and people, and I really could not stop swiping through until the very end.
You Got Anything Stronger? by Gabrielle Union (Harper Collins)
Well, in this “Stories” memoir, Gab went in. Again. No filter. Love and marriage, Blackness in America and Hollywood, sex, the body issues… What will women do without her and Gwyneth?