Seven Titles I Have Been Saving to Savor During Black History Month
I love February.
And why wouldn't I? There is a lot to love about February.
First, Groundhog Day. I'm not so much talking about the rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, as I am talking about the narcissistic weatherman Phil from the 1993 film starring Bill Murray titled Groundhog Day. A true classic.
Then there is Read in the Bathtub Day (Feb. 9th), a day I would not mind celebrating on repeat (a la Groundhog Day above) every day of the year. Can you relate?
Soon after that there is Galentine's Day, a newish holiday to celebrate platonic friendships among women (Feb. 13) thanks to Parks & Rec's leading lady, Leslie Snope. (Yes, I know it's not an official holiday, but I love my girl friends so I want to celebrate like it is. Let's make this a thing, ladies!)
Not to be outdone, the very next day (Feb. 14) celebrates romantic love with Valentine's Day, as well as book love with International Book-Giving Day & Library Lovers' Day. Yes, please!
But the pièce de ré·sis·tance in February has to be Black History Month. As a white reader, Black History Month is a good opportunity for me to focus my attentions on black history and black authors, choosing to read books that broaden my understanding of the black experience as a whole and exposing myself to a perspective that is beautifully unique and different than my own.
If you're stepping in that, too, but don't know where to begin, I gotchu, my reading friend. I have been researching and growing my TBR (to-be-read) pile since last Fall in anticipation of reading my way through Black History Month this year, so please feel free "shop" my February TBR pile featuring Seven Titles I Have Been Saving to Savor During Black History Month.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
"Harriet Jacobs—writing under the pseudonym Linda Brent—relates the story of her girlhood and adolescence as a slave in North Carolina and her eventual escape...set in the complex terrain of a chauvinist, white supremacist society. Resolutely addressing women readers, rather than men, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl seeks to make white women understand how the threat of sexual violence shapes the lives of enslaved Black women and children. Equal parts brave and searing, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is..." one of the most engaging autobiographies that I've ever read. Short chapters keep you moving forward at a quick pace through this unforgettable and unique slave narrative - from the perspective of a woman.
*Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is the book featured in February 2023's Monthly Book Club. You can check out the book box here.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
"Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored...After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together...
A profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is...an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future."
I did not know what to expect by An American Marriage, but I did not expect what Tayari Jones shared in this novel that has kept me thinking, What would I do in her shoes? It was surprising in places, eye-opening in others; relatable in one moment, yet puzzling in the next.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
"Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood—where greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him.
As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is both the gripping tale of one woman's will to escape the horrors of bondage—and a powerful meditation on the history we all share."
This novel imagined what the underground railroad could have been if it had been a physical railroad with stops along the track and it was perplexing to me up until that last super-satisfying stop at the end of the line.
Red River by Lalita Tademy
"For the newly freed black residents of Colfax, Louisiana, the beginning of reconstruction promised them the right to vote, own property, and, at last, control their own lives. But in the space of a day, angry whites would take back Colfax in one of the deadliest incidents of racial violence in Southern history. In the bitter aftermath, the Tademys and the Smiths will have to deal with the wreckage, push on, and build a better life for their sons and daughters over the next 70 years...
This is history never before told, brought to life through the unforgettable lives of three generations of African American husbands and wives, parents and children. A saga of violence, courage, and, most of all, dreams broken, repaired, and strengthened over time, Red River explores issues that resonate to this day...as it illuminates the sometimes heartbreaking choices we all must make to claim the legacy that is ours."
Red River was a no-brainer for me, having loved the author's first novel, Cane River, just a year ago - a labor of love as Tademy researched and wrote about her own family's history in Louisiana.
Jubilee by Margaret Walker
"Jubilee tells the true story of Vyry, the child of a white plantation owner and his black mistress. Vyry bears witness to the antebellum South in both its opulence and its brutality, its wartime ruin, and the promises of Reconstruction.
Weaving her own family’s oral history with thirty years of research, Margaret Walker brings the everyday experiences of slaves to light in a novel that churns with the hunger, the hymns, the struggles, and the very breath of American history."
Reading Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell) last year contributed greatly to wanting to add Jubilee to my February TBR pile, though at 500+ pages (and all of the other books in February's TBR pile) I have a feeling this is a book that will likely spill over into March. And I'm good with that.
Black No More by George S. Schuyler
"It’s New Year’s Day 1933 in New York City, and Max Disher, a young black man, has just found out that a certain Dr. Junius Crookman has discovered a mysterious process that allows people to bleach their skin white—a new way to 'solve the American race problem.' Max leaps at the opportunity, and after a brief stay at the Crookman Sanitarium, he becomes Matthew Fisher, a white man who is able to attain everything he has ever wanted: money, power, good liquor, and the white woman who rejected him when he was black."
The back-of-the-novel synopsis of this classic is what intrigued me because I love good sci-fi stories and this one seems perfect to read not only because it is Black History Month, but because it seems like a novel that would speak on deeper levels to race relations in general. Super excited for this sci-fi!
Master Slave Husband Wife by Ilyon Woo
"In 1848, a young, enslaved couple, Ellen and William Craft, achieved one of the boldest feats of self-emancipation in American history. Posing as master and slave, while sustained by their love as husband and wife, they made their escape together across more than 1,000 miles, riding out in the open on steamboats, carriages, and trains that took them from bondage in Georgia to the free states of the North.
Along the way, they dodged slave traders, military officers, and even friends of their enslavers, who might have revealed their true identities.
With the passage of an infamous new Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, all Americans became accountable for returning refugees like the Crafts to slavery. Then yet another adventure began, as slave hunters came up from Georgia, forcing the Crafts to flee once again—this time from the United States, their lives and thousands more on the line and the stakes never higher.
With three epic journeys compressed into one monumental bid for freedom, Master Slave Husband Wife is an American love story—one that would challenge the nation’s core precepts of life, liberty, and justice for all—one that challenges us even now."
This sounds like an epic journey, indeed - just as the subtitle states - and I cannot wait to dive head-first into this title. (Sounds like it would brilliantly adapt to the screen, as well! Fingers crossed.)
What is in your February TBR pile?
Which of the titles in my TBR have you already read? Which are you planning to read?
Please share what you're reading this month in the comments below.
*Note: Since I have not read all of the books in my February TBR pile yet, I chose to share snippets from their back covers by way of a synopsis, followed by a word or two of my own.
I have read the Harriet Jacobs “Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl” and it was excellent: deeply moving, to say the least. I want to read “Cane River” but I don’t have it yet. And I Have Whitehead’s “Underground Railroad” on my Kindle now for at least two years but haven’t gotten to it yet! This month I have read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zagon; Incidents…; am reading Outlawed by Anna North; next up is Fox Creek by William Kent Krueger; A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah Maas; The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah; and Lakota Noon: The Indian Narrative Of Custer’s Defeat by Gregory F. Michno. Then I’ll see how much month I have left!