For the entirety of this year, I’ve been covering books after many years of exploring and finding my voice here at New York Amsterdam News. It happened naturally, without much thought, but there’s something about covering literature that has provided me with an inner momentum, a level of consistency that has caused me to pause my “searching,” and to craft and hone what I’ve learned so far. We must always be searching in some sense. I’ve heard from elders that no one should or can stop learning, but in this instance, in this piece of writing, I’m highlighting my picks of books I’ve gotten to know since the dawn of 2022.
Every book I’ve covered has been written by excellent Black writers I greatly admire, yet these 10 books have seeped into my memory, and caused me to quote them in conversation and think about them when I have a free moment to ruminate. I’m excited for 2023. I hope our community is inspired to read more, think more and do much more.
The Quaking of America: An Embodied Guide to Navigating Our Nation’s Upheaval and Racial Reckoning | Resmaa Menakem
As a follow-up to the 2017 New York Times bestselling book, “Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies,” which consciously unfolds the mechanisms of Black generational trauma, psychotherapist Resmaa Menakem returned in 2022 with “The Quaking of America,” which revisits some concepts introduced in “My Grandmother’s Hands,” including the distinctions of what he calls “clean pain” and “dirty pain.” He examines the differences between healthy and unhealthy channels of processing trauma. Not only does “Quaking of America” continue to offer insights and grounding exercises (which are relatively simple and do not demand large amounts of time to enact) to heal trauma that sits within the genealogy and bodies of Black people, it offers informative practices for white Americans who unconsciously perpetuate racial mistreatment, discrimination and abuse toward Black Americans to grow and understand themselves. Foundationally, the book is a preparation or pre-emptive measure to combat what Menakem believes will be a very likely white supremacist uprising in the near future based on the foreshadow of the January 6th insurrection.
Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop | Danyel Smith
Danyel Smith’s book “Shine Bright” is an honest biographical account of the life of this accomplished music editor, author and journalist as it relates to a number of iconic Black women in music. Not only does she share stories about her childhood and important relationships with women in her own family, including her sister and mother, she intelligently ties each artist together in an incredibly unique way, including artfully connecting the familial bloodline of Leontyne Price, Dionne Wawrick and Cissy Houston—the latter, of course, is Whitney Houston’s mother. Smith’s ability to create a cohesive world of music history that centers on Black women, and her personal reality and experience, makes this book impossible to duplicate regarding literary voice and style. “Shine Bright” has deservingly been cited as a favorite by readers and critics since its release in April 2022.
The Furrows: A Novel | Namwali Serpell
Somali-American author, professor and essayist Namwali Serpell’s second novel, “The Furrows,” following 2019’s “The Old Drift,” is a deeply emotional, well-crafted tale of childhood grief. She masterfully writes the unfolding of the thoughts and comprehension of the death of a 9-year-old girl’s younger brother, carrying readers straight into the density of the matter from the first pages. Serpell’s courageousness in delving so heavily into portraying such thickness of emotionality and understanding of the vivid awareness of children in turn reveals her gift of fully committing to the experience of her characters without embedding any form of commentary or perspective of her own. Very few fiction authors are able to accomplish this, let alone create such a work so early in a career.
Victory Is Assured: Uncollected Writings of Stanley Crouch | Stanley Crouch, edited by Glenn Mott
The posthumous collection of the unpublished work of the bright, lively and confrontational cultural critic Stanley Crouch serves as a balm to readers, fellow writers and colleagues who feel a void from the loss of Crouch’s larger-than-life, unabashed literary presence. Continuing the work of Baraka and creating space for voices like Tate and others, he challenged the dominant stances of white jazz critics and Black Nationalists all in one lifetime. American culture would not be what it is today without Crouch’s elbowing of structure and unwillingness to allow a level of comfortability to the systemic normalcy and white sensibility of jazz, art and so on. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be nice. It just means Crouch was needed and had his place within the fabric of cultural discourse during a time when disparities were so rigid and prevalent; it was time for a change.
South Central Noir | Various Contributors
The city was on fire. This is what has been said about every major city across the United States at one moment in history or another. But South Central Los Angeles seems to stay ignited, burning in the hearts of the gangsters, in the pocketbooks of the mothers, in the eyes of shop owners and in the minds of onlookers who dream to be a part of the drama so they would have a story to tell. “South Central Noir” features locale-centric short stories from writers Steph Cha, Nikolas Charles, Tananarive Due, Larry Fondation, Gar Anthony Haywood, Naomi Hirahara, Emory Holmes II, Roberto Lovato, Penny Mickelbury, Gary Phillips, Eric Stone, Jervey Tervalon, Jeri Westerson and Désirée Zamorano, who should all rightfully be named because their contributions are searing and diverse, leaning on their own understanding of what could possibly happen within what the writer of the introduction to this collection, Gary Phillips, describes as “roughly 33 square miles.” Geographic and urban lines and boundaries seem to be the only thing that are solid and predictable in an area of the country that has garnered countless homages in the world of rap, in the world of Black life, in the world of Asian survival, in the world of masculinity and in the minds of Americans who fear what they cannot truly fathom without experience.