A preview of books I am currently reading and recommend to wrap up this summer. Here are the page turners that were worth sneaking a read in from lunch break to bathroom breaks and any chance in between.
by Michelle Obama
In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory,Becomingis the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.
When You Learn the Alphabet
by Kendra Allen
Kendra Allen’s first collection of essays—at its core—is a bunch of mad stories about things she never learned to let go of. Unifying personal narrative and cultural commentary, this collection grapples with the lessons that have been stored between parent and daughter. These parental relationships expose the conditioning that subconsciously informed her ideas on social issues such as colorism, feminism, war-induced PTSD, homophobia, marriage, and “the n-word,” among other things.
These dynamics strive for some semblance of accountability, and the essays within this collection are used as displays of deep unlearning and restoring—balancing trauma and humor, poetics and reality, forgiveness and resentment.
When You Learn the Alphabet allots space for large moments of tenderness and empathy for all black bodies—but especially all black woman bodies—space for the underrepresented humanity and uncared for pain of black girls, and space to have the opportunity to be listened to in order to evolve past it.
Notes of a Native Son
by James Baldwin
Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected inNotes of a Native Soncapture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Writing as an artist, activist, and social critic, Baldwin probes the complex condition of being black in America. With a keen eye, he examines everything from the significance of the protest novel to the motives and circumstances of the many black expatriates of the time, from his home in “The Harlem Ghetto” to a sobering “Journey to Atlanta.”
Notes of a Native Son inaugurated Baldwin as one of the leading interpreters of the dramatic social changes erupting in the United States in the twentieth century, and many of his observations have proven almost prophetic. His criticism on topics such as the paternalism of white progressives or on his own friend Richard Wright’s work is pointed and unabashed. He was also one of the few writing on race at the time who addressed the issue with a powerful mixture of outrage at the gross physical and political violence against black citizens and measured understanding of their oppressors, which helped awaken a white audience to the injustices under their noses. Naturally, this combination of brazen criticism and unconventional empathy for white readers won Baldwin as much condemnation as praise.
Notes is the book that established Baldwin’s voice as a social critic, and it remains one of his most admired works. The essays collected here create a cohesive sketch of black America and reveal an intimate portrait of Baldwin’s own search for identity as an artist, as a black man, and as an American.
The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America
by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman
From Trump's proposed border wall and travel ban to the marching of white supremacists in Charlottesville, America is consumed by tensions over immigration and the question of which bodies are welcome. In this much-anticipated follow-up to the bestselling UK edition, hailed by Zadie Smith as "lively and vital," editors Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman hand the microphone to an incredible range of writers whose humanity and right to be here is under attack.
Chigozie Obioma unpacks an Igbo proverb that helped him navigate his journey to America from Nigeria.
Jenny Zhang analyzes cultural appropriation in 90s fashion, recalling her own pain and confusion as a teenager trying to fit in.
Fatimah Asghar describes the flood of memory and emotion triggered by an encounter with an Uber driver from Kashmir.
Alexander Chee writes of a visit to Korea that changed his relationship to his heritage.
These writers, and the many others in this urgent collection, share powerful personal stories of living between cultures and languages while struggling to figure out who they are and where they belong.
Gather Together in My Name
by Maya Angelou
Gather Together in My Namecontinues Maya Angelou’s personal story, begun so unforgettably inI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The time is the end of World War II and there is a sense of optimism everywhere. Maya Angelou, still in her teens, has given birth to a son. But the next few years are difficult ones as she tries to find a place in the world for herself and her child. She goes from job to job–and from man to man. She tries to return home–back to Stamps, Arkansas–but discovers that she is no longer part of that world. Then Maya’s life takes a dramatic turn, and she faces new challenges and temptations.