Being an Extraordinary Negro is no easy feat. It takes hard work, cocoa butter, and a masterful and lifelong avoidance of bland food, the ER, and wigs by Tyler Perry’s wigmaker. Passion, curiosity, and boldness help, too. Merely being predisposed to sickle cell and police brutality does not a winner make. You gotta scheme scheme, plot and plot your individual path to greatness, up out of the land of mediocrity. One way to get your greatness on: eating fried chicken skin reading. Like analingus, reading is relaxing, educational, entertaining, and, in some cases, inspirational. Here are a few of our favorite books. Go forth and enlighten thyself.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson – I was first intimidated by this book’s size (622 pages), but once I started, I couldn’t step away. Wilkerson tells the story of The Great Migration and the Second Great, the mass exodus of Black folks out of the land of Jim Crow and hateful, unmoisturized whitefolks still salty about Emancipation to the West, Northeast, and Midwest United States between 1915 and 1970. She gorgeously weaves all of that together with the life stories of three chocolately wonders escaping melanin envy and institutional hateration in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida by relocating up yonder. Away from the Salty Sams and Hateful Helens. It’s the best book I read in 2015. Get it here. (Alex)
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin – The phrase “The Black Man is God” was created to exalt our Lord and savior King Baldwin. Good luck convincing me otherwise. Dude was a beast with the pen and this collection of essays is some of his greatest work. You’re welcome in advance. Get it here. (Jay)
The Sellout by Paul Beatty – I had seen and heard people reference Paul Beatty never sought out more información. When writerly superthug Kiese Laymon reviewed The Sellout and sang his praises for the LA Times, I finally cartwheeled over to Amazon for a copy. This was my first time reading Beatty’s work, but after the first line, I understood. There were a handful of moments that had me crylaughing by myself on the train. Thank me later. Get it here. See also: The White Boy Shuffle, and Tuff. (Alex)
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander – America never declared a war on drugs, it declared war on people of color. And Michelle Alexander is kind enough to devote a little over 300 pages to deconstructing exactly how and why it transpired. Prepare to be amazed and infuriated. Get it here. For extra credit, here’s a study guide. (Jay)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz – Here, a chubby Dominican science fiction and fantasy novel obsessor searches for love and acceptance while dealing with Fuku, a multigenerational curse he believes is haunting his family. A few pages into this damn book, I had to close it, sit it down, and process. I heard good things about the book, but I wasn’t prepared to be simultaneously seduced and kicked in the face by such brilliance. I love his use of Spanish and the many wonderful newly coined words. Junot makes me want to be a better writer. Get it here. See also: Junot’s This Is How You Lose Her. (Alex)
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene – If you’ve spent your entire natural life aspiring to be 50 Cent, this is the book for you. Bulging biceps and bullet wounds sold separately. Get it here. (Jay)
What Is The What by Dave Eggers – This book is a whirlwind. It tells the life story of Valentino Achak Deng, who was forced from his village at seven and faces lion, soldiers, and starvation en route, along with thousands of other refugees, to camps in Kenya and Ethiopia…before coming to America to face more horror and heartbreak. It’s called a novel, but it’s Deng’s life as told to Eggers, a powerful storyteller. What you’ll get: gripping writing, some historical context about the Sudanese civil war, and sadness that there’s not more to read. Get it here. See also: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, also by Dave Eggers. Another favorite. (Alex)
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – This dude is the undisputed greatest essayist of our time. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a bold faced liar or can’t get out their feelings long enough to see past their own melanin-deficiency. The big homie drops nothing but gems about growing up Black in America. One day I would love to craft something like this for my own son. Get it here. (Jay)
James Baldwin: Collected Essays by James Baldwin – I read Baldwin (If Beale Street Could Talk) in high school, but wasn’t ready to receive the gospel at the time. I’ve read essays and excerpts and watched him pulverize misguided whitefolk, but hadn’t had a forreal Uncle Jimmy moment as an adult until this spring, when I swallowed Go Tell It On The Mountain on the train. But this book? Twas like direct deposit hitting your account again and again and again. It felt like watching Serena be Serena on the court. A masterpiece. He painted astoundingly vivid pictures and, with a gorgeous vocabulary and as many modifiers as it took, opined on the world and all the beauty and horror in it. Essentially, it’s a how-to on writing and social commentary. Ever highlighted an entire page of text? I have. I also wrote about our first fling for Very Smart Brothas. Get it here. (Alex)
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey – Don’t let the fact that I grew up not to do jack shit with my life deter you from this exceptional read. Be better than me. Get it here. (Jay)
Fore more book-loving wonderfulness and fellowship, Alex has a book club situation on Facebook called Miss Celie’s Book Club. Holler.