My 2020 Book list

A photo of two books with a clock and flowers on a table.
Making time to read is so rewarding!
  1. Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King by Tavis Smiley with David Ritz- This is a nonfiction book, which covers the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life 12 months prior to his assassination. Read more here.
  2. Lazaretto by Diane McKinney- Whetstone- This is a historical fiction novel that is set in Philadelphia in the post-civil war era. It tells the story of African Americans at the Lazaretto quarantine hospital, which is located on an island. When one of the black live-in staff is granted permission to marry, trouble occurs. Read more here.
  3. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead– This is a novel about a young woman who is enslaved and struggles to fit in on the plantation. She eventually hatches a plan with another person to escape on the underground railroad, in the process she murders someone and now there is a bounty on her head. Read more here.
  4. Not Our Kind by Kitty Zeldis- This is a novel set in post-WWII New York City. It tells the story of one Jewish woman and another non-Jewish woman whose paths and worlds cross when one woman begins to tutor the other’s daughter. The Jewish woman must change her name to be able to navigate in their prejudiced world. Read more here.
  5. The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande- This is a memoir about emigrating from Mexico to the United States. Read more here.
  6. The Story Teller’s Secret by Sejal Badani – This is a novel about a woman who endures a miscarriage and struggles with her marriage. She travels to India and discovers secrets about her family and learns about her grandmother’s life during the British occupation. Read more here.
  7. Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home by Richard Bell- This is a true story about some young African American boys who were free during the antebellum era but kidnapped into slavery. It is like the story 12 Years a Slave, but its focus is broader. This book chronicles the lesser-known reverse underground railroad, which saw many free-born or free African Americans kidnapped from the North and taken into slavery. Read more here.
  8. Code Girls– This is a true story about the American women who helped to decode messages and win WWII. Read more here.
  9. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah- A collection of short works. In one story, a woman who wants to have a child simply creates one out of thin air. Read more here.
  10. Pudd’n Head Wilson by Mark Twain- A classic by Mark Twain, which tells the story of an enslaved woman who tries to shield her mixed-race baby from the horrors of slavery by switching him with the master’s white son. Read more here.
  11. Rose Madder by Stephen King- A horror story about a woman who must escape her abusive husband. Read more here.
  12. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskin- This is a classic novel set in 1832 that tells the story of two young women who are stepsisters. They must navigate Victorian society as they become women. Read more here.

Ebooks and Audiobooks

  1. The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy- This is a novel set during WWII on Guernsey Island (part of England). The young wife of a husband who is away must deal with the German soldiers who occupy the island and make sacrifices. However, things change when she falls for a German soldier. Read more here.
  2. The Wedding by Dorothy West- This is a novel by a Harlem Renaissance writer that is set in 1950s Martha’s Vineyard. It centers on the wedding of a young woman who breaks with tradition to marry a jazz musician, instead of a black man of bourgeoisie background. Read more here.
  3. Unforgivable Love by Sophfronia Scott- This is a novel about a man who is in love with a woman and in order to earn her love, he must seduce the woman’s young, virginal cousin. It is based on the French classic Les Liaisons Read more here.
  4. An American Marriage by  Tayari Jones – This is a novel about a Black couple who has their life ripped apart when someone is wrongly incarcerated. This is another emotionally difficult novel. Read more here.
  5. After the War Is Over by Jennifer Robson- This is a novel about the Great War and a love story. It is a sequel to a novel, Somewhere In France, which I read last year. See last year’s book list.

Bonus Books: The Water Dancer, Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy and Your House Will Pay

What I Read Last Year:

In 2019, I ventured into the wonderful world of audiobooks. I downloaded a free app from the library, and I purchased an Audible subscription. As a result, much of my reading was done via audiobook and only a few were read in print. This year, I am aiming to strike a balance and read more print books.

  • Boys in the Boat (print book): This was a wonderful story about some American boys (from working-class and humble backgrounds) who attended the 1936 Olympic Rowing race. I didn’t think I’d like this book, but this was probably one of the best books that I read this year. It was very uplifting.
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SufEe-d4DN4
  • Persuasion (print book) by Jane Austen- This was a charming, classic love story about a woman who is betrothed to a man but breaks it off because some in her social circle do not feel he is suitable.  In the end, she must make the choice that is best for her. I love this era in history and I always imagine the beautiful clothes and dances. I got this book at the second-hand bookstore, purely by chance.
  • How Long Until Black Future Month (print book)- This is a collection of short stories about black life, many are set in the future. I enjoyed this book and felt that the stories were very timely given the current political climate, yet also timeless. I am not a big science fiction reader (except for Kindred by Octavia Butler), but I recommend this book to anyone who wants a different take on African-American literature.
  • A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II (print book)- This was a true story about a woman named Virginia Hall. Virginia was a woman of a gentile, wealthy background. She was also a woman with a disability and because of this, many people underestimated her. Yet, she proved them all wrong when she became a wartime spy.  Not only did she fight back against sexism, ableism, and assumptions about her capabilities, but she helped to turn the tide of World War II on the European front. I really enjoyed this book and I had the opportunity to meet the author. I found the ending quite sad, mainly because (like many women from her era), she did not get her due for all that she accomplished during her lifetime. Now with the publication of this book, her story is finally being told.  This book may be made into a movie soon.

Audio Books:

  1. Phillipa Gregory Books- I have developed a love for Phillipa Gregory’s historical novels, which focus on the Cousin’s War in England (the white rose vs. red rose) and the Tudor era of England. I am learning a lot from these novels and I’ve been looking up all the historical characters in the process. My favorite in the series is the King’s Curse. Some of the novels have very sad and historically true endings. Some of these novels also demonstrate how few rights women had during this era and the difficult choices that they had to make. Many women were treated as spoils of war and often during this era, marriages were arranged for the purpose of political alliance, not love. I’ve listened to the following so far:
    1. The White Queen
    2. The Kingmaker’s Daughter
    3. The White Princess
    4. The King’s Curse
    5. The Constant Princess
    6. Three Sisters, Three Queens
    7. The Boleyn Inheritance
    8. The Last Tudor
  2. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead- I listened to this novel on my library app. This was an emotionally difficult book to read, but very well done.
  3. When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis- this was a darling, uplifting book about a woman who must overcome sexism during WWII to do a job that she is qualified for and loves.
  4. Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird– I really enjoyed this book, it is based on a true story about a Black woman who is formerly enslaved. She passes herself off as a man to become a soldier. This was one of my favorite books this year.
  5. The Light Between Oceans- I enjoyed this book. It is a story about a couple who struggles to conceive a child, but when they find a seemingly abandoned baby and pass her off as their own, their lives seem to be changing for the better. Yet, their secret catches up with them. This novel was made into a movie, starring Michael Fassbender. I saw the film, but I enjoyed the novel more.
  6. The Age of Light- This is a novel that spans the time period from the 1920s to WWII in Europe. It’s about a female photographer and is loosely based on the life of Lee Miller. I enjoyed this book as well and for some reason, the ending left me feeling a bit sad and nostalgic. It made me feel like I was longing for something that I missed during my youth. I would almost say this book was a bildungsroman.
  7. Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams- I loved this book. It’s about a young woman who comes to an island, falls in love and must contend with a crime that occurred in the past. It sounds simple, but it is so entertaining and romantic.
  8. Deep Work- A nonfiction book by Cal Newport about working intentionally and accomplishing goals in a very distracting world. A very helpful book.
  9. Digital Minimalism: A nonfiction book by Cal Newport about the value of incorporating digital products into your life in a mindful and intentional way. This is a very helpful book that has inspired me. This book gives you practical tips for modifying your screen time and digital use to have a more fulfilling life.
  10. The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport- This is a nonfiction book that tells the story of the Russian Romanov princesses who were murdered. If you’re curious about the Romanov family or have ever seen the cartoon movie about Anastasia, the youngest Romanov princess, this book is for you.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gZrYyi-XRQ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redoshi- An African-American Woman Kidnapped from Her Homeland and Forced into Marriage

Redoshi is an African woman who was brought to America against her will and forced into slavery. Researchers believe Redoshi was likely born in the 1840s in modern day Benin. At about 12 years of age, her father was killed. Redoshi was taken from her homeland and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on the Clotilda. The middle passage was a difficult, dangerous and traumatizing experience for the men, women and children aboard. It was typical for African men to be shackled below deck with shackles so painful that they often left welts and weighed the wearer down. Women were sometimes shackled or roped together above or below deck. Sometimes they weren’t roped. Sometimes they were raped by the crew members aboard the ship. Children were also often abused aboard ship.

After enduring the Middle Passage, Redoshi was bought by a man in Alabama where she was forced to work. Redoshi was forced into marriage as a child with an enslaved man. After emancipation, she lived with her daughter into the 1930s.

What makes Redoshi’s story unique is that she was on the last slave ship to come into the United States, she was a woman and she lived so late into the 1930s that video of her exists.

Civil rights activist, Amelia Boynton Robinson wrote a memoire about Redoshi in the 1930s. Zora Neale Hurston also researched Redoshi.

My grandmother was born in the 1920s. My grandmother would have been a teenager while Redoshi was still living. Redoshi’s life overlapped with my grandmother’s life and my grandmother’s life overlapped with mine and my mother’s. Often when people reference antebellum slavery in the United States, it’s spoken of as if it’s ancient history. Truth be told, my generation (millennials) are only a few generations removed from being legal property. In fact, my Great Aunt (who lived to be 101) remembers seeing the relatives of the family that enslaved our family in South Carolina. As a child, she didn’t understand what the connection with this white family was. It wasn’t until she was older that she understood that they were the relatives and descendants of the family that had enslaved her own. That same white family were also her cousins and Great Uncles.

Many African women who were forced to endure the Middle Passage were made voiceless, but research has revealed some of what Redoshi went through.

Many of the racial stereotypes that are pervasive today have their roots in slavery, such as the Jezebel and Mammy.

Slavery doesn’t seem so distant in this context.

 

This story came into the news recently after Dr. Durkin, a researcher, published a paper about Redoshi.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Johnson Harris: Who Was She?

Her name is Elizabeth Johnson Harris. * She wasn’t a well-known woman, like Ida Wells Barnett or Rosa Parks. She was just an average woman, who kept a record of her life, as an African-American in the 19th century. She was a poet, journalist and a mother. She came into the world in 1867,  in Augusta, Georgia. She was the daughter of formerly enslaved people and for a time, she lived with her Grandparents, who had also been enslaved. In many ways, she was an average African-American woman of the 19th century.

What I find fascinating about Harris is that she kept a memoir, 85 pages of memories and perspectives about her life. She wrote about seemingly normal things, like going to school, caring for her family, and she also recorded her perspective on race in her time.

An excerpt:

Mamma and Papa would often come to see me and bring me nice little things of various sorts. They would often ask if I wanted to go to their home and live with them where I would see more pretty and lovelier things in the city. But no, I was always proud to see them come and hated to see them go. But I had grown so attached and devoted to the older folks that there was nothing to attract my attention from them.

When I was six years old, they started me out to school and although my Grandfather had been a slave, yet he managed to learn to spell and read and from this he taught me of the little that he knew, which gave me a precious start

read more

This entry about learning to read from her grandfather dispels the myth that African-American culture does not value education or learning. What does it say when one of the first things a formerly enslaved person does is learn to read and write, then pass that lesson onto their grandchild? Despite all the brokenness, despite the terror that her grandfather would have endured during slavery, he still desired to learn. He understood the value of education and in teaching his granddaughter, gave her an invaluable and healing gift. When you’re educated, you can tell your own stories and narratives and you can free your mind and spirit.

Harris lived during a time when history was often told from a white male perspective. Yet, Harris’ memoir speaks of history from the perspective of an average, African-American woman. In this respect, her memoir is a form of resistance to an oppressive time period. Harris writes of some of the most normal aspects of 19th-century life and transforms what might be taken for granted or regarded as mundane today into elaborate and significant facets of life. In telling her story, she resisted the common notion that Black people have no history, no collective story or connection to the past, no reverence for our ancestors or where we come from. So many of us have had our history re-written or ripped away, but when we tell our own story, we’re countering the historical re-write narrative that says we have no history.

It’s important to understand that every woman has a story and so many Black women, especially in the 19th century haven’t had their stories told.

Think about the women and people in your lives, are they famous? Some of the most interesting people aren’t famous, but they still have stories worthy of being shared. Think about your own story. Who will tell the story of African-Americans in the 21st century? What’s different and what’s the same for African-Americans 150 years later?

Source:

Elizabeth Johnson Harris Memoir, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Related:

Sarah Rector, an African-American girl, who came from an enslaved family background, but became the richest little Black girl in the United States. 

 

*I have read excerpts from her memoir and this is my impression based off of those excerpts. I aspire to read the memoir in entirety.