It was announced Monday that Colson Whitehead will be awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction during the 2020 National Book Festival. At fifty years old, Colson Whitehead is the youngest person to receive this prize.
Colson Whitehead, the African-American author, was given the Pulitzer Prize for his novel 'The Nickel Boys'.
Though it’s almost the end of Summer (thanks, Obama), it’s never too late to settle into a hammock with a good book!
This week, the former president posted a list of books he’s been reading this summer. Obama often releases lists of the books, music, and movies he’s enjoyed and wants to share with his large following. Personally, I think he has great taste, but at the very least it’s always interesting to have a little peak into the mind of a political figure.
If you’d like to see the post you can click here, but below is the caption and all the books listed!
It’s August, so I wanted to let you know about a few books I’ve been reading this summer, in case you’re looking for some suggestions. To start, you can’t go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison. Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, Sula, everything else – they’re transcendent, all of them. You’ll be glad you read them. And while I’m at it, here are a few more titles you might want to explore.
Here are a few links and Amazon descriptions to make perusing these books a little easier! And if you’d like to read more about Obama’s love for the late Toni Morrison, you can do so here.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Image via Amazon
As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is ‘as good as anyone.’ Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides ‘physical, intellectual and moral training’ so the delinquent boys in their charge can become ‘honorable and honest men.’
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear ‘out back.’ Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion ‘Throw us in jail and we will still love you.’ His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.
The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang
Image via Amazon
In these nine stunningly original, provocative, and poignant stories, Ted Chiang tackles some of humanity’s oldest questions along with new quandaries only he could imagine.
In The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and second chances. In Exhalation, an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications that are literally universal. In Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will.
Including stories being published for the first time as well as some of his rare and classic uncollected work, Exhalation is Ted Chiang at his best: profound, sympathetic—revelatory.
Wolf Hall by HilLary Mantel
Image via Amazon
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile; one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
Image via Amazon
Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are lovesick doctors, students, ex-boyfriends, actors, bartenders, and even Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, brought together to tell stories that speak to us all. In Men Without Women Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic, marked by the same wry humor and pathos that have defined his entire body of work.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
Image via Amazon
It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. Her career has stalled out, she’s overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Sankara is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she’s being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent.
In the year that follows, Marie will observe Sankara, seduce him, and ultimately have a hand in the coup that will bring him down. But doing so will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American.
Inspired by true events—Thomas Sankara is known as ‘Africa’s Che Guevara’—American Spy knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance. This is a face of the Cold War you’ve never seen before, and it introduces a powerful new literary voice.
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
Image via Amazon
‘Is Google making us stupid?’ When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?
Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by ‘tools of the mind’―from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer―Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.
Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries an intellectual ethic―a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption―and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.
Part intellectual history, part popular science, and part cultural criticism, The Shallows sparkles with memorable vignettes―Friedrich Nietzsche wrestling with a typewriter, Sigmund Freud dissecting the brains of sea creatures, Nathaniel Hawthorne contemplating the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive―even as it plumbs profound questions about the state of our modern psyche. This is a book that will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Image via Amazon
Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work ‘with both the heart and the hands.’ She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.
Inland by Téa Obreht
Image via Washington Post
In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives unfold. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life—her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home.
Meanwhile, Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West. The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek at last intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel.
Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely—and unforgettably—her own.
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
Image via GoodReads
Dinaw Mengestu’s first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, earned the young writer comparisons to Bellow, Fitzgerald, and Naipaul, and garnered ecstatic critical praise and awards around the world for its haunting depiction of the immigrant experience. Now Mengestu enriches the themes that defined his debut with a heartbreaking literary masterwork about love, family, and the power of imagination, which confirms his reputation as one of the brightest talents of his generation.
One early September afternoon, Yosef and Mariam, young Ethiopian immigrants who have spent all but their first year of marriage apart, set off on a road trip from their new home in Peoria, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee, in search of a new identity as an American couple. Soon, their son, Jonas, will be born in Illinois. Thirty years later, Yosef has died, and Jonas needs to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. How can he envision his future without knowing what has come before? Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, Jonas sets out to retrace his mother and father’s trip and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn Ethiopia of his parents’ youth to his life in the America of today, a story—real or invented—that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.
Maid by Stephanie Land
Image via Amazon
At 28, Stephanie Land’s plans of breaking free from the roots of her hometown in the Pacific Northwest to chase her dreams of attending a university and becoming a writer, were cut short when a summer fling turned into an unexpected pregnancy. She turned to housekeeping to make ends meet, and with a tenacious grip on her dream to provide her daughter the very best life possible, Stephanie worked days and took classes online to earn a college degree, and began to write relentlessly.
She wrote the true stories that weren’t being told: the stories of overworked and underpaid Americans. Of living on food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) coupons to eat. Of the government programs that provided her housing, but that doubled as halfway houses. The aloof government employees who called her lucky for receiving assistance while she didn’t feel lucky at all. She wrote to remember the fight, to eventually cut through the deep-rooted stigmas of the working poor.
Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it’s like to be in service to them. ‘I’d become a nameless ghost,’ Stephanie writes about her relationship with her clients, many of whom do not know her from any other cleaner, but who she learns plenty about. As she begins to discover more about her clients’ lives-their sadness and love, too-she begins to find hope in her own path.
Her compassionate, unflinching writing as a journalist gives voice to the ‘servant’ worker, and those pursuing the American Dream from below the poverty line. Maid is Stephanie’s story, but it’s not her alone. It is an inspiring testament to the strength, determination, and ultimate triumph of the human spirit.
Beautifully written and deeply moving, these nine books explore race and identity. Tinged with each author’s personal experience, these stories are raw, visceral, and unapologetic.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into separate villages. They go on to face wildly different fates; Effia marrys an Englishman and lives out a life of comfort, while Esi is sold into slavery and shipped off to America. One vein follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of turmoil in Ghana as the Asante and Fante nations wrestle with colonization. The other vein follows Esi’s descendants through the plantations to the Civil War to the birth of Jazz and dope houses of Harlem.
2. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Zélie calls Orïsha home, and her home once hummed with magic. Burners could set things ablaze, Tiders could pull forward waves, and Reapers like her mother could summon souls. Everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a tyrannical king, maji were killed, orphaning Zélie and leaving her people in darkness. Determined to bring back magic and tear apart the monarchy, Zélie enlists the help of a rogue princess. Together, they must defeat the crown prince, who is battling to eradicate magic for good. Danger lurks at every corner, but Zélie slowly learns what truly threatens her triumph. Already losing control of her powers, Zélie finds herself growing feelings for her enemy.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Tracey and Aimee dream of being dancers. However, only Tracey has the talent to succeed. Aimee is the observer, full of ideas and talented in another way. As the two friends grow older, they have a falling out, never to speak again. Tracey earns herself a few gigs as a dancer but eventually falls into poverty. Aimee becomes an assistant to a famous singer, traveling the world and learning what it feels like to live a lavish life. Empowered, Aimee travels to a small West African nation hoping to lift a village out of destitution. Through the pair, we explore how dance can and can’t transcend racial barriers.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
At thirteen years old, Jojo struggles to understand what it means to “be a man.” In his short life, he has had four key figures to study. Among them, his black grandfather Pop predominates. But there are other men who blur Jojo’s understanding: his absent white father, Michael, soon to be released from prison; his absent white grandfather, Joseph, who doesn’t acknowledge him; and the tales of his uncle, Given, who died as a teenager. His mother, Leonie, is a troubled woman too preoccupied battling her own demons. When Michael regains his freedom, Leonie packs the kids in a car and drives them north to a penitentiary in Mississippi. There, the ghost of a dead thirteen-year-old inmate teaches Jojo about fathers, sons, legacies, violence, and love.
We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Dr. Nzinga’s runs a clinic where anyone can get their lips thinned, their skin bleached, and their nose narrowed. You can even opt for a complete demelanization to unburden yourself the societal price of being black. When the opportunity presents, a father is faced with a choice to erase half of his biracial son Nigel’s identity. The pressure grows as violence swarms their home, a near-future Southern city. All the while, Nigel’s black birthmark grows larger and larger by the day.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
Eccentric and withdrawn, Aster isn’t phased when people call her an “ogre” and a “freak.” She lives in the slums of HSS Matilda, a space vessel as segregated as the antebellum South. The vessel carries the last of humanity to the Promised Land they’ve been searching for 325 years. The ship’s leaders police and dehumanize dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Meanwhile, Aster navigates the ship’s horrors looking for a way off. When she learns that there’s a connection between her mother’s suicide and the ship’s ailing Sovereign, Aster realizes she may prevail if she’s willing to fight for it.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
When Boy Novak turns twenty, she finds herself yearning for a new life. In what turns out to be a serendipitous twist, she lands in the town of Flax Hill, Massachusetts. It’s there she meets Aruto Whitman, craftsmen, widower and father of a young girl named Snow. To Boy, Snow is the mild-mannered endearing girl Boy never was. Soon after, Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister Bird. Bird is dark-skinned, exposing the Whitmans to be light-skinned African-Americans posing as white. A divide forms between Boy, Snow, and Bird forcing them to question unspoken power of the mirror.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
In this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, we follow the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, as she tries to escape her shackles. She’s approached by a another slave, Caesar, and they hatch a plan to head north. Things go awry when Cora is forced to kill a white man trying to capture her as Ridgeway, a slave catcher, is hot on their trail. What follows is a harrowing tale, ripe with bravery and tragedy, as the pair set out to tread the Underground Railroad.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Saul and Saachi pray for a child, and they’re blessed with a baby girl named Ada. Ada grows into a mercurial and fractured child. Eventually, Ada moves to America for college where she is one day assaulted. The trauma causes the different selves inside her to manifest. Her alters, Asughara and Saint Vincent begin to take control of her mind as she slowly fades away. Spiraling out of control, Ada’s life begins to fall into danger and darkness.
Featured Image Via Edward Elgar Publishing
We love Halloween- it’s scary, campy, and you can be whatever you want to be (which you can mostly do all the time, unless what you want to be is a ghoul or a sexier version of something decidedly unsexy). Unfortunately, getting down to the last episode of your favorite show is not the fun kind of scary. But if your show is on this list, here are some spooky, whacky, and genuinely frightening reads to tide you over.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Those of us with Buffy nostalgia face a challenge that can be scarier than the show itself- the fact that the show’s been finished since 2003. But if you can’t live without the misadventures of the teens quietly (and sometimes NOT so quietly) defending Sunnydale from monsters, why not explore an untold part of that story?
Patrick Ness’ The Rest of Us Just Live Here explores the lives of background characters in a nondescript town like Sunnydale for those of us who have never fought a vampire with our bare hands (or, you know, with anything else). Teenagers beset with their own slew of issues try to exist as the Chosen Ones deal with their zombie cops and spooky blue lights from outer space. This genre-bending book merges fantasy with reality as Ness explores how ordinary human lives fit in with the high stakes of genre fiction.
Unlike with Buffy, anyone who watches Supernatural knows there’s no shortage of content. Now entering its fourteenth season, the cult classic has thrilled viewers since 2005 with its story of two inseparable brothers who save lives, hunt monsters, make questionable choices, and fight with each other nonstop.
V.E. Schwab’s Vicious is a twist on the typical superhero story, following two former classmates who were once as close as brothers. When a string of bad decisions puts the friends in uncomfortably close contact with the world of the supernatural, some lives are saved- and others are lost. The mercurial relationship between Schwab’s protagonists may remind you of Supernatural‘s infamous brothers, and the hunting definitely will.
This hit TV show taps into 80s nostalgia in a serious way, and so modern books just won’t always sate your craving. You can take the edge off this with a book with the story that inspired last fall’s pop culture phenomenon: Stephen King’s IT.
Written in 1990 and set in the mid 80s, the story also focuses on a gang of kids taking on a threat that adults in town don’t understand. Featuring a familiar camaraderie, the Losers try to stop the entity that they have discovered, attempting to save both their town and themselves. And is there collateral damage? Well, isn’t there always?
The Walking Dead
Zombies might seem to be the territory of genre fiction and pop culture, but that isn’t always the case. Literary superstar Colson Whitehead’s Zone One blends genre and literary fiction as it explores not the zombie apocalypse exactly, but what happens after.
With the mixture of tenderness and violence that viewers expect from The Walking Dead, Whitehead explicitly wanders into the thematic landscape of zombies, discussing at length the kind of moral and existential questions that many zombie stories only hint at.
American Horror Story
It might be hard to decide what will get you your AHS fix, given the wide range of premises the show offers. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus shares a similar versatility, blending elements of magic and witchcraft (like AHS season 3) with the creepy aesthetic of a sinister traveling circus (season 4). With a flair for the strange, cruel, and dramatic, The Night Circus’ range of amoral characters and tragically doomed human connections are reminiscent of all seasons of AHS.
While not explicitly a horror show, Black Mirror’s one-off dystopian plot lines terrify audiences with their creativity… and plausibility. Often focusing on motifs of alienation and technology, the show provides us with a horrifying reality that we both can and cannot imagine. A YA classic, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies depicts a dystopian world in which, on their sixteenth birthday, teenagers undergo surgery to become Pretties- artificially enhanced beautiful people with equally beautiful lives (sounds exactly like being sixteen, right?). Unfortunately, life is not quite as beautiful as it appears. And unfortunately, that’s not all the surgery does.
Featured Image Via 2glory.de. All in-text images via Amazon.