10 Books Every Fiction Snob Needs in Their Life
There are so many books out there that speak to Black and brown life that, unfortunately, don’t get the media attention they deserve. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve our dollars. In support of these works, here’s a collection of 10 books every (blerd) fiction snob needs on their bookshelf.
1. Before I Forget – Leonard Pitts Jr.
There are so many issues that Pitts confronts here (fatherhood, manhood, and fame, amongst many others), there is no way to sum things up without short-changing this exquisitely written novel for its insightful prose and true to life characters.
This powerful novel of three generations of black men bound by blood — and by histories of mutual love, fear, and frustration — gives author Leonard Pitts the opportunity to explore the painful truths of black men’s lives, especially as they play out in the fraught relations of fathers and sons. As 50-year-old Mo tries to reach out to his increasingly tuned-out son Trey (who himself has become an unwed teenaged father), he realizes that the burden of grief and anger he carries over his own estranged father has everything to do with the struggles he encounters with his son. Part road novel, part character study, and part social critique, and written in compulsively readable prose, Before I Forget is the work of a major new voice in American fiction.
2. The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
Bestseller, Nobel Prize winner, and a favorite of Oprah’s, The Bluest Eye is a classic, and if you haven’t read it, it is a must.Toni Morrison’s debut novel is a powerful read on race and identity from start to finish.
Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.
3. Panther in the Hive – Olivia Cole
An African American female protagonist with a passion for Prada taking on a zombie apocalypse? That’s a winner already. But it is Cole’s writing (upfront, nuanced, and compassionate) that really sets this one apart.
Panther in the Hive is at once an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a captivating vision of an unsettling future. Tasha Lockett, orphan, oddball, and former fashion addict, is alone in a Chicago overrun with citizens-turned-weapons, the result of the cybertronic disaster that brought the country to its knees four days ago. When Tasha receives a letter from her estranged sister warning her of the catastrophe and urging her to travel to the South Side where there is rumored to be a safe zone, Tasha must face what the world has become. With only her precious Prada backpack and a sturdy kitchen knife, she embarks on an epic journey through the wasteland Chicago has become, forming alliances and discovering that although the world may be in pieces, she might still become whole.
4. The Girl Who Fell From The Sky – Heidi W. Durrow
This novel lives and breathes tragedy, centered around a biracial girl and the litany of troubles that stem from her family. Durrow was (rightfully) highly lauded for this masterful work, told through the eyes of multiple characters.
Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop.
Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. It’s there, as she grows up and tries to swallow her grief, that she comes to understand how the mystery and tragedy of her mother might be connected to her own uncertain identity.
This searing and heartwrenching portrait of a young biracial girl dealing with society’s ideas of race and class is the winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.
5. The Turner House – Angela Flournoy
In her debut novel, Flournoy paints a beautiful portrait of a family and the city of Detroit through the years, telling how the ghosts of yesteryear endure to haunt new generations.
The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over fifty years. Their house has seen thirteen children grown and gone—and some returned; it has seen the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit’s East Side, and the loss of a father. The house still stands despite abandoned lots, an embattled city, and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs. But now, as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave her home and move in with her eldest son, the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children are called home to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts haunts—and shapes—their family’s future.
Praised by Ayana Mathis as “utterly moving” and “un-putdownable,” The Turner House brings us a colorful, complicated brood full of love and pride, sacrifice and unlikely inheritances. It’s a striking examination of the price we pay for our dreams and futures, and the ways in which our families bring us home.
6. Disgruntled – Asali Solomon
In Disgruntled, Solomon is able to perfectly embody the worldview and speech of an 8-year old girl growing up “a little bit different.” This is the perfect book for anyone who never quite felt like they fit.
Kenya Curtis is only eight years old, but she knows that she’s different, even if she can’t put her finger on how or why. It’s not because she’s black–most of the other students in the fourth-grade class at her West Philadelphia elementary school are too. Maybe it’s because she celebrates Kwanzaa, or because she’s forbidden from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Maybe it’s because she calls her father–a housepainter-slash-philosopher–“Baba” instead of “Daddy,” or because her parents’ friends gather to pour out libations “from the Creator, for the Martyrs” and discuss “the community.”
Kenya does know that it’s connected to what her Baba calls “the shame of being alive”–a shame that only grows deeper and more complex over the course of Asali Solomon’s long-awaited debut novel. Disgruntled, effortlessly funny and achingly poignant, follows Kenya from West Philadelphia to the suburbs, from public school to private, from childhood through adolescence, as she grows increasingly disgruntled by her inability to find any place or thing or person that feels like home.
A coming-of-age tale, a portrait of Philadelphia in the late eighties and early nineties, an examination of the impossible double-binds of race, Disgruntled is a novel about the desire to rise above the limitations of the narratives we’re given and the painful struggle to craft fresh ones we can call our own.
7. Long Division – Kiese Laymon
Long Division is writing and storytelling in a way only Kiese Laymon can. The characters are quirky and hauntingly real, yet the supernatural elements that fuse the novel together are unlike anything you’d read in any other novel about a chubby teenaged Black boy in Mississippi.
Kiese Laymon’s debut novel is a Twain-esque exploration of celebrity, authorship, violence, religion, and coming of age in Post-Katrina Mississippi, written in a voice that’s alternately funny, lacerating, and wise. The book contains two interwoven stories. In the first, it’s 2013: after an on-stage meltdown during a nationally televised quiz contest, 14-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson becomes an overnight YouTube celebrity. The next day, he’s sent to stay with his grandmother in the small coastal community of Melahatchie, where a young girl named Baize Shephard has recently disappeared.
Before leaving, City is given a strange book without an author called “Long Division.” He learns that one of the book’s main characters is also named City Coldson—but “Long Division” is set in 1985. This 1985 City, along with his friend and love-object, Shalaya Crump, discovers a way to travel into the future, and steals a laptop and cellphone from an orphaned teenage rapper called…Baize Shephard. They ultimately take these with them all the way back to 1964, to help another time-traveler they meet protect his family from the Klan.
City’s two stories ultimately converge in the mysterious work shed behind his grandmother’s, where he discovers the key to Baize’s disappearance.
8. The Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
In this classic work, Ellison uses the life of one Black man to illustrate the challenges of being a Black man in America. And even though this was published way back in the 50’s, his words are still applicable to life today.
Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952. A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky.
9. Half Resurrection Blues – Daniel José Older
The first novel in the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, Half Resurrection Blues utilizes Older’s raw storytelling style for an action-mystery drama set around characters existing in-between life and death. (And you can already pre-order the next book in the series, Midnight Taxi Tango, due out January 5, 2016)
Carlos Delacruz is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most unusual agents—an inbetweener, partially resurrected from a death he barely recalls suffering, after a life that’s missing from his memory. He thinks he is one of a kind—until he encounters other entities walking the fine line between life and death.
One inbetweener is a sorcerer. He’s summoned a horde of implike ngks capable of eliminating spirits, and they’re spreading through the city like a plague. They’ve already taken out some of NYCOD’s finest, leaving Carlos desperate to stop their master before he opens up the entrada to the Underworld—which would destroy the balance between the living and the dead.
But in uncovering this man’s identity, Carlos confronts the truth of his own life—and death.
10. Shadowshaper – Daniel José Older
In his debut Young Adult work, Older once again flexes his creative muscles to craft a story unlike anything else.
Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.
With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.
Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaper introduces a heroine and magic unlike anything else in fantasy fiction, and marks the YA debut of a bold new voice.
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