Rose's Bookshelf Number Two
11. Ralph Ellison’s, INVISIBLE MAN
With all that's been going on in our country and Juneteenth just around the corner, I thought I'd suggest a book that reflects our history. As my first male author, I chose Ralph Ellison's INVISIBLE MAN, not to be confused the THE INVISIBLE MAN mystery by H.G. Wells or the recent movie remake.
Though Ellison also wrote a book called JUNETEENTH, it was published after his death in 1994 and it is not his claim to fame. INVISIBLE MAN, published in 1952, stunned critics and won him numerous literary awards as well as a place on high school and college reading lists. Every Black person in America, as well as whites who want to understand our history, should read this book.
The main character has no name, and the title comes from his conclusion that “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me,”
We follow his journey from a hopeful high school valedictorian to a college freshman and on to Harlem where he rises to the lead The Brotherhood, a Communist-inspired militant group. His lessons in survival both summarize and predict the history of the Black man in the 20th century. It is well worth the read... by anyone.
12. BABY OF THE FAMILY by Tina McElroy Ansa.
BABY OF THE FAMILY is the first of a series of books by Georgia's renown author, professor and filmmaker, Tina McElroy Ansa. The five books chronicle the story of Lena, a woman born with second sight, and how she uses i to enhance her life. BABY OF THE FAMILY begins with her birth, where even the doctor recognizes that she is special. Filled with humor and folklore, this coming-of-age novel kicks off five connected books.
Ansa's fiction portrays a variety of Black women in the recent and modern American South, with a blend of the supernatural and traditional superstition. Her first novel, Baby of the Family, was named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times. Baby of the Family was also on the African-America Best-seller List for Paperback Fiction. In October 2001, Baby of the Family was chosen by the Georgia Center for the Book as one of the "Top 25 books Every Georgian Should Read." The book was selected for the American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults in 1990, and won the 1989 Georgia Authors Series Award.
I thought we needed something with more love and laughter after INVISIBLE MAN, so by all means, check out BABY OF THE FAMILY!
13. UGLY WAYS by Tina McElroy Ansa
This is Tina M. Ansa’s sequel to BABY OF THE FAMILY. I've never selected an author two weeks in a row, but because Tina McElroy Ansa has such a wonderful series on the Lovejoy sisters of Mulberry Georgia, I've picked Ansa's next (and even more famous) novel, UGLY WAYS. The "Baby of the Family" has grown up and she is joining her sisters to bury her mother, an "angry Black woman" who dominated her family with an iron hand. Secrets come out and love runs over in this hilarious sequel.
"There comes a point when family dysfunction moves from sad to hilarious. Ansa captured this range of conflict, emotions and behavior in Ugly Ways. We get to glance the relationship between three sisters and their parents when they come home to bury their mother. Once you get past the ghost voice of the mother, it is easy to lose yourself in the dynamics between the siblings and find something redeeming in each of these women." (Amazon)
UGLY WAYS is folowed by THE HAND I FAN WITH, YOU KNOW BETTER, and TAKING AFTER MUDEAR. You don't have to read them all at once, but you will certainly enjoy following this family, their traditions, joys, and shenanigans. So I'll recommend a couple at a time so we can get to know this wonderful imagined family.
14. NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
Since we're honoring Frederick Douglass' famous speech today (THE 4TH OF July), I've chosen his autobiography, NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, AN AMERICAN SLAVE. Born into slavery, he taught himself to read by challenging the white children on the plantation to spell out words in the dirt. As a teen, he was farmed out to a cruel slave owner. After his first attempt to escape was foiled by a fellow slave, he has hired out to a shipowner in Baltimore. His knowledge of the shipyards enabled him to pose as a free sailor, and escape in 1838. After that, he became a well-known abolitionist speaker, he founded THE NORTH STAR newspaper, and he supported the Underground Railroad. This is the first of four autobiographies. For a true sense of Black history, read them all!
15. THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker
If you’re anything like me, you’ve seen the movie THE COLOR PURPLE at least ten times, and if you’re a fan of live theater, you’ve seen the play at least twice. THE COLOR PURPLE is my all-time favorite movie and play as well as my favorite Broadway song of the same title. Most of us found out about THE COLOR PURPLE from Oprah, who shared my opinion and put it on her popular book club list before starring in the movie as Harpo’s wife, Sofia. This brought her national attention and the popular Oprah Winfrey Show. She later co-produced the Broadway play.
But how many of us have actually read the book? How many know that the book is a series of letters spanning 20 years between Celie and Nettie, two sisters separated in their teens when Celie’s cruel husband puts Nettie out after she spurns his advances? Nettie winds up adopting Celie's babies their father sold, and moving to Africa as a missionary’s wife. In their letters, despite their being hidden by Mr., we see how challenged Celie is at reading in the beginning, and how articulate she becomes as an adult, creating her own narrative.
“THE COLOR PURPLE, published in 1982, broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery. Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker's epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.” It won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.
Celie learns to love herself from Shug Avery, who tells her, “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.” And that is where the title comes from.
There are actually two sequels to THE COLOR PURPLE: THE TEMPLE OF MY FAMILIAR which finds Celie and Nettie as older women, and POSSESSING THE SECRET OF JOY, which traces the tragic story of Celie’s daughter-in-law and the effects of genital mutilation that was common in Africa. It still is, in some areas.
16. THIS WILL BE MY UNDOING by Morgan Jerkins
We’ve been looking at history and the roles of Black men and women in a number of ways. This week, I’d like to look at a more contemporary issue and a more contemporary book, THIS WILL BE MY UNDOING: LIVING AT THE INTERSECTION OF BLACK, FEMALE, AND FEMINIST IN (WHITE) AMERICA, by Morgan Jerkins. It was one of the most anticipated books of 2018 by several mainstream magazines and it received kudos all around for her dissection of what it’s like to be Black, female, and feminist in a white male-dominated world.
“When I was ten, the only thing I wanted was to be a white cheerleader. Bone straight nose. Saccharine voice. Slender body…. When I was ten, I realized I was Black.”
Growing up in middle-class New Jersey in an integrated school district, she admired shows like Saved by the Bell and The Facts of Life. But despite hours of practice and unmatched enthusiasm, she did not make the squad. The theme of being a misfit continued in later years as she tried to find her place in clubs at school and in dating, and later in the workplace. Feeling too tall, too big, or too tired of being the exception of a Black girl, she found solace in writing, and ultimately became an award-winning journalist.
“From one of the fiercest critics writing today, Morgan Jerkins’ highly-anticipated collection of linked essays interweaves her incisive commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the very real challenges of being a black woman today—perfect for fans of Roxane Gay’s BAD FEMINIST, Rebecca Solnit’s MEN EXPLAIN THINGS TO ME, and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS… Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.” (Amazon)
17. Toni Morrison’s SONG OF SOLOMON
It's about time for another epic novel from the late, great, Dr. Toni Morrison. SONG OF SOLOMON is her 3rd of 11 novels. Once again, she has seamlessly created a set of characters, some comic and some tragic, that teach us more than we ever knew about ourselves, our history, and our humanity.
SONG OF SOLOMON is one of my all-time favorites. It is titled after a book in the Bible, of course, the one book that describes love more than any other. This 1977 novel touches on the pre-Civil War myth that slaves could will themselves to freedom and fly away. The author focuses more on the male point of view with this book in the character of Milkman Dead, the only son of a dysfunctional middle-class family. He is alienated from his parents (despite his mother’s attempt to smother him and his father’s attempt to pull him away), as well as his sisters and estranged poor relatives. Throughout the novel, he is searching for love, for riches, and for himself. This book is filled with historical allusions, yet it has the urgency of a fast-paced mystery. Even the ending is esoteric, leaving room for debate in a classroom setting. This is a powerful book for readers of any gender, race or age.
18. ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
As we embark on August, I’d like to look at a tale of summer. I know many of you are looking for books to share with your children, and that’s why I chose it as a book club pick at the school where I mentor. ONE CRAZY SUMMER, the first of a series by Rita Williams-Garcia, is a wonderful book for middle school. Granted, you may feel that this book is beneath you, but it is engaging and delightful, and for children of the 60s and 70s, it will bring back warm, fuzzy memories of the Black Panthers, breakfast programs, and talent shows.
ONE CRAZY SUMMER is the story of the Gaither sisters who are sent by their grandparents to spend the summer in California with the mother who left them. They get to know the neighborhood Black Panther Party and what it’s like to take care of themselves. They make friends and enemies, and learn important lessons about life. Full of humor and surprises, this book is a wonderful coming-of-age story for the middle grades and has earned nearly every literacy prize from the Newberry to the Coretta Scott King Award, and is named in #1000BlackGirlBooks and the New York Times list of great books for kids.
"This vibrant and moving award-winning novel has heart to spare," commented Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich in her BRIGHTLY article, "Knowing Our History to Build a Brighter Future: Books to Help Kids Understand the Fight for Racial Equality."
Read the book. Teach some history lessons. And have a great time with your children! This book is followed by P.S. BE ELEVEN and GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA, and is sold in bookstores as a boxed set.
19. P.S. BE ELEVEN and GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA by Rita Williams- Garcia
I've decided to handle short books in a series by splitting the week. So today I'm recommending the two sequels to ONE CRAZY SUMMER. P.S. BE ELEVEN takes place after spending the summer in Oakland, California, with their mother and the Black Panthers. Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern arrive home with a newfound streak of independence. That doesn't sit well with Big Ma, who doesn't like the way things are changing, and neither does Delphine. There is a new girlfriend, a new teacher, and a new family member just home from Viet Nam, and nothing is like it used to be!
In GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA, the Gaither sisters are off to Alabama to visit their grandmother Big Ma and her mother, Ma Charles. “Each humorous, unforgettable story in this trilogy follows the sisters as they grow up during one of the most tumultuous eras in recent American history, the 1960s. Read the adventures of eleven-year-old Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, as they visit their kin all over the rapidly changing nation—and as they discover that the bonds of family, and their own strength, run deeper than they ever knew possible.” (Amazon)
“The Gaither sisters are an irresistible trio. Williams-Garcia excels at conveying defining moments of American society from their point of view.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Check out these reads for middle school girls. And you may enjoy them as much as I did!
20. SEASONS: MY JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF by Ernestine Rose
On Father’s Day of 2016, I lost my husband of forty-one years to sarcoidosis. After going through the usual stages of disbelief, loneliness, and sorrow, I found my comfort in writing, a skill he had encouraged me to develop after I retired from teaching. I had turned to journaling during his illness, and it became my solace after his death. After two years, I turned the 800 pages I had journaled into my fifth book, SEASONS: MY JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF. I selected my best passages and organized them into four sections: summer, winter, autumn, and spring, recounting his illness, his death, and the year that followed as I sold our home and relocated to Houston to be near my sons and grandchildren.. This is the true story of my journey through my own seasons of grief.
Life, like grief, has its own set of seasons. We must all eventually face them head on, in our own time and at our own pace. No matter what our loss, we must learn how to endure and survive our seasons in order to live fully again. If you've lost a loved one, especially a spouse, you might gain some insight from my journey.