(Yeah, I don’t know what I did to this book cover. I’m a hot mess. This is why I buy eBooks. 😂)
Uncomfortable truth: A year ago, I had never stopped to think about how Black authors (especially Black women) are so underrepresented in the publishing world. Not to mention, thanks in part to the #PublishingPaidMe movement this summer, the shocking pay disparities between BIPOC authors and white authors.
It’s unacceptable, and luckily, we can do something about it–especially those of us who are white women–the demographic with the largest amount of spending power in America. It’s quite simple–we can make a point to buy, read, and share more books by BIPOC authors. (By the way, I highly recommend the book Raising Our Hands that dives into the particular subject of how white women can get off the sidelines and start using our power to be catalysts for change. But that’s a subject for another time!)
I have reviewed quite a few of these books I’ll be sharing today in bits and pieces on the blog (often in my On a High Note series). But I realized I have never rounded up my favorite books by Black authors in one place before. So here we are–so you can always come back and reference.
I thought this would be a great way to kick off Black History month, but supporting Black authors should by no means be a “to-do” for February! I hope you’ll join me in adding these great reads (and many others by BIPOC writers) to your reading list all year long.
12 Books by Black Authors to Add to Your Reading List
Where to buy your books: The best place to buy books is always at your local independent bookstore, of course! But since I can’t provide links to your local bookstore, I have included links for Amazon (for fellow Kindle lovers) and Bookshop.org, where I recommend if you’d like to buy physical copies online. By purchasing through Bookshop.org, you can also support Independent bookstores! (Personally, I do a mix of all three!)
Books I’ve Read recently/In Progress:
Without a doubt, I can say it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It will stay with you forever.
Vogue wrote in their review, “no novel has better illustrated the way in which racism became institutionalized in this country.”
This book is an incredibly powerful illustration of the mark slavery left on America. It follows the descendants of an Asante woman and her two daughters (half-sisters, who aren’t aware of the other’s existence). One daughter is married off to a British white man involved in the Gold Coast slave trade. The other daughter captured and enslaved, held in the very same castle in which the other sister lives in luxury, before being sent to America. The story spans over 200 years, through modern-day, each chapter shifting to a new generation and new character.
I will say this book is gut wrenching and emotionally tolling at times (which honestly, was nothing new for me as I devour WWII books set during the Holocaust on a daily basis) but I would recommend having a fluffy, happy book on hand to switch to when you need to take a little breather.
Wow, No Thank You:
Doing a full 180 from the above, I present to you, the funniest book I read all of 2020.
I HIGHLY highly recommend getting the audio version of this book, as it’s narrated by the author, Samantha Irby, who isn’t just a talented writer. She is an amazing comedian and hearing her read her own essays out loud is such a treat. It will have you in stitches.
Hearing her talk about everything from her Midwestern upbringing to the fact that implementing tips from her favorite Instagram influencers do NOT in fact give her glowing skin–it’s just all so damn relatable and you might catch yourself spitting out your water.
The Vanishing Half:
It was a little slow starting out for me (so keep going!). But I ended up finishing it in just a few sittings! (Thanks, as always, to Grace for the recco!) This is not what I would describe as an “easy” read but it’s very, very good. It’s one that will make you do a lot of reflecting and thinking long after you’ve finished it!
A beautifully written novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white. The girls are identical twins who grow up together in a small, southern black community and run away at age sixteen.
Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined.
Such a Fun Age:
I loved this book–very engaging to read but packed with complex characters and complicated undertones of race, privilege and coming of age. The story is set around Emira, a young black babysitter, her wealthy (seemingly well-intentioned) employer, Alix, their complicated relationship, and how it all spirals. I do think it hits differently for different people, which I thought was particularly interesting. NPR described it well:
“A complex, layered page-turner…This is a book that will read, I suspect, quite differently to various audiences—funny to some, deeply uncomfortable and shamefully recognizable to others—but whatever the experience, I urge you to read Such a Fun Age. Let its empathetic approach to even the ickiest characters stir you, allow yourself to share Emira’s millennial anxieties about adulting, take joy in the innocence of Briar’s still-unmarred personhood, and rejoice that Kiley Reid is only just getting started.” —NPR
The Idea of You:
Robinne Lee’s famed trashy romance novel that is anything BUT a trashy romance novel. If you need to get lost in a rapid-fire page-turner, guilty pleasure book–look no further! I would describe it as a “modern-day Mrs. Robinson” story. There is a reason this book lit the world on fire when it came out last year–it’s that good! As Vogue summed it up, “The sleeper hit of the pandemic . . . . There is no escapism like reading about a nearly middle-aged woman embarking on a glittering, global love affair with a thoughtful young sex god . . . . It’s electric, triumphant to read.”
You’ve likely heard of Ibram X Kendi and his antiracist work, including his book called “Stamped from the Beginning.” He recruited author Jason Reynolds (famous for his particular knack to make complex content engaging and interesting for young people) to remix his book into what I would describe as a more conversational, to-the-point, and incredibly engaging version, called “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You.”
If you, like me, often struggle with your attention span when it comes to any non-fiction reading, I HIGHLY, highly recommend this book., which examines the construct of race and how it has always been used to gain power and keep power in America. I read it a few months back but I think I’m going to get the audio version to continue to revisit. I not only recommend it for all adults. But I wish it’s a book that would be required reading in school, too!
I started this book a while ago, but was having trouble getting into it. And I took a break but revisiting it again because it has amazing reviews and Yaa Gyasi’s book Homegoing was so good, I know this one will be too! I am still at the beginning. So I will rely on the book’s description to give you an overview:
Here’s the description:
Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive.
Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut.
Books that are next up on my list:
Already read all the books above? Here are 5 more books by Black women that are next up on my list! Seeing as I haven’t read any of these yet I can’t really provide a synopsis, so I’ll include the descriptions below.
The Kindest Lie:
This just came out today! Named Most Anticipated of 2021 by Elle, Marie Claire, Refinery 29 and more, I instantly downloaded this to my Kindle this morning when I read the description about being set in 2008 in Chicago. Here’s the description:
It’s 2008, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama ushers in a new kind of hope. In Chicago, Ruth Tuttle, an Ivy-League educated Black engineer, is married to a kind and successful man. He’s eager to start a family, but Ruth is uncertain. She has never gotten over the baby she gave birth to—and was forced to leave behind—when she was a teenager. She had promised her family she’d never look back, but Ruth knows that to move forward, she must make peace with the past.
Returning home, Ruth discovers the Indiana factory town of her youth is plagued by unemployment, racism, and despair. As she begins digging into the past, she unexpectedly befriends Midnight, a young white boy who is also adrift and looking for connection. Just as Ruth is about to uncover a burning secret her family desperately wants to keep hidden, a traumatic incident strains the town’s already searing racial tensions, sending Ruth and Midnight on a collision course that could upend both their lives.
Powerful and revealing, The Kindest Lie captures the heartbreaking divide between Black and white communities and offers both an unflinching view of motherhood in contemporary America and the never-ending quest to achieve the American Dream.
I have always been a huge fan of historical fiction spy novels with female protagonists–so this one is high on my list! I LOVE that it’s inspired by true events (that I knew nothing about)! Here’s the description:
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.
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.
Clap When You Land:
I have been hearing so much about this book and it’s been on my list for some time. I actually completely forgot that I bought it on my Kindle right before the holidays and just discovered it! (The best surprise, haha!) Here’s the description:
Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…
In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.
Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.
And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.
Do you follow Amber Burns on Instagram? I love her content, especially her book reviews! (She has her own book club!) I saw her mention loving Grown and mentally added it to my list! Here’s the description:
When legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots Enchanted Jones at an audition, her dreams of being a famous singer take flight. Until Enchanted wakes up with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night. Who killed Korey Fields?
Before there was a dead body, Enchanted’s dreams had turned into a nightmare. Because behind Korey’s charm and star power was a controlling dark side. Now he’s dead, the police are at the door, and all signs point to Enchanted.
“Never have I read a story that so flawlessly hits the highest high and lowest low notes of Black girlhood in pursuit of the American Dream.” –Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Jackpot
The Wedding Date:
I love a good fluffy romantic comedy read, and I’ve been hearing so many good things about author Jasmine Guillory’s books lately–I decided I should start from the beginning with her very first one! Who can resist a love story about two strangers who meet in an elevator? Here’s the description:
Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.
On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend.
After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other.
They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want.