By Ilse Scheepers
No doubt about it, 2016 has been a tough year, and with the election of Trump it may have reached its lowest ebb. The upswelling of bigotry, hatred and the slavish devotion to selfishness that emerged over the last few months surprised some. But it wasn’t exactly news to the many who have struggled for years to undo the legacy of racism, misogyny and poisonous nationalism that has haunted America since it was first violently colonised.
Books hold many truths, and they can be a light in the darkness. We’ve put together a suggested reading list for everyone who is struggling to come to terms with what’s happened, and wants to make sure it never happens again.
They’d make great presents too, if you’re a fan of the not-so-subtle art of pointed gift giving.
“Ignorance is the parent of fear.”
– Herman Melville
The 16 Books Trump Won’t Want You To Read
Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In the 150 years since the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, the story of race and America has remained a brutally simple one, written on flesh: it is the story of the black body, exploited to create the country’s foundational wealth, violently segregated to unite a nation after a civil war, and, today, still disproportionately threatened, locked up and killed in the streets. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can America reckon with its fraught racial history?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ attempt to answer those questions, presented in the form of a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son – and readers – the story of his own awakening… Read more.
Citizen: An American Lyric
by Claudia Rankine
In this moving, critical and fiercely intelligent collection of prose poems, Claudia Rankine examines the experience of race and racism in Western society through sharp vignettes of everyday discrimination and prejudice, and longer meditations on the violence – whether linguistic or physical – which has impacted the lives of Serena Williams, Zinedine Zidane, Mark Duggan and others.
Awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in America after becoming the first book in the prize’s history to be a finalist in both the poetry and criticism categories, Citizen weaves essays, images and poetry together to form a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our ostensibly ‘post-race’ society… Read more.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Malcolm X’s blazing, legendary autobiography, completed shortly before his assassination in 1965, depicts a remarkable life: a child born into rage and despair, who turned to street-hustling and cocaine in the Harlem ghetto, followed by prison, where he converted to the Black Muslims and honed the energy and brilliance that made him one of the most important political figures of his time – and an icon in ours. It also charts the spiritual journey that took him beyond militancy, and led to his murder, a powerful story of transformation, redemption and betrayal.
Vilified by his critics as an anti-white demagogue, Malcolm X gave a voice to unheard African-Americans, bringing them pride, hope and fearlessness, and remains an inspirational and controversial figure today… Read more
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta’s family did not learn of her ‘immortality’ until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences.
Balancing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery with dark questions about who owns the stuff our bodies are made of, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an extraordinary journey in search of the soul and story of a real woman, whose cells live on today in all four corners of the world… Read more.
A Brief History of Seven Killings
by Marlon James
Jamaica, 1976: Seven men storm Bob Marley’s house with machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but leaves Jamaica the following day, not to return for two years.
Inspired by this near-mythic event, A Brief History of Seven Killings is an imagined oral biography, told by ghosts, witnesses, killers, members of parliament, drug dealers, conmen, beauty queens, FBI and CIA agents, reporters, journalists, and even Keith Richards’ drug dealer.
Marlon James’s dazzling novel is a tour de force. It traverses strange landscapes and shady characters, as motivations are examined – and questions asked – in a masterpiece of imagination… Read more.
Dreams from my Father
by Barack Obama
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American.
It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father – a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man – has been killed in a car accident.
This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey – first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother’s family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance… Read more.
by Paul Beatty
Born in the ‘agrarian ghetto’ of Dickens – on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles – the narrator of The Sellout is raised by his single father, a controversial sociologist, and spends his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. Led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes, he is shocked to discover, after his father is killed in a police shoot-out, that there never was a memoir. In fact, all that’s left is the bill for a drive-through funeral.
Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: his hometown Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident – Hominy Jenkins – he initiates the most outrageous action… Read more.
The Fire Next Time
by James Baldwin
A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement.
At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two ” letters, ” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.
Described by The New York Times Book Review as ” sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose, ” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of our literature… Read more.
The Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye chronicles the tragic, torn lives of a poor black family in 1940s Ohio: Pauline, Cholly, Sam and Pecola.
Pecola, unlovely and unloved, prays each night for blue eyes like those of her privileged blond white schoolfellows.
She becomes the focus of the mingled love and hatred engendered by her family’s frailty and the world’s cruelty as the novel moves toward a savage but poignant resolution… Read more.
Long Walk To Freedom
by Nelson Mandela
The autobiography of one of the greatest men of the twentieth century.
The riveting memoirs of the outstanding moral and political leader of our time, Long Walk To Freedom brilliantly re-creates the drama of the experiences that helped shape Nelson Mandela’s destiny. Emotive, compelling and uplifting, Long Walk To Freedom is the exhilarating story of an epic life; a story of hardship, resilience and ultimate triumph told with the clarity and eloquence of a born leader… Read more.