NWNY Winter Reading list

Here are the books our team is reading this season

Winter is officially here. What better way to spend the cold and snowy days than with a stack of good books? Whether you’re searching for an easy read or a more thought-provoking title, we’ve rounded up 10 books to keep you company during the season. This year, besides highlighting titles related to the immigrant experience, like we normally do, we decided to also compile books on racial issues —  after all, the wave of racial justice protests and the Black Lives Matter movement were one of most important events of 2020.

Select your favorite genre and enjoy! All books in this list are available for free at the New York Public Library. Apply for a library card here.

Reviews by Elizabeth Dickson and Bruna Shapira

MEMOIRS
The Dragons, The Giant, The Women: A Memoir
Wayétu Moore, Graywolf Press, 264 pages, $18.31

At her home in Liberia, little Wayétu dreams of getting reunited with her mom, who is working and studying in New York. Then war breaks out and Wayétu is forced to flee her home on foot to Sierra Leone and eventually to the United States. Encompassing a painful early childhood journey and Wayétu years adjusting to life in the US as a black woman and an immigrant, this memoir is a poignant account about the power of love and family, and the search for home amongst turmoil.

Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas
Roberto Lovato, Harper Collins, 352 pages, $ 20.49

The child of Salvadoran immigrants, Roberto Lovato grew up in 1970s and 80s San Francisco as gangs like MS13 were emerging in California. In his teens, he lost friends and survived acts of brutality. This riveting memoir investigates family history and intergenerational trauma, underscoring the stories beneath the headlines and political rhetorics about gang violence and Central American migration to the US.

COOKBOOK
In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers From the Eight African Countries That Touch the Indian Ocean
Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen, Ten Speed Press, 288 pages, $21.99

Born in Somalia, Hawa Hassan escaped the civil war that tore her country apart by going to a U.N. refugee camp in Kenya. Eventually, she made her way to the US, founding Basbaas Sauce, a line of condiments inspired by her country of origin. In this delightful new book, Hassan brings together the recipes and stories from bibis (matriarchs) of eight East African countries: Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and Comoros. Easy to make, the meals are mostly vegetarian and include kitchen staples like dried beans and peas, potatoes, onions, rice and cornmeal, and leafy greens, besides ginger, coconut and spices. The interviews with each bibi make the recipes come to life  —  we meet women like Ma Vicky, who now lives in New York but keeps connected to Tanzania by making matoke (Stewed Plantains with Beans and Beef). Like all the other bibis, her recipe tell stories of war, loss, migration and hope.

NOVELS
You Exist Too Much
Zaina Arafat, Catapult Books, 263 pages, $19.75

At 12 years old, the unnamed Palestinian American protagonist of this novels reveals to her mother that she is queer. Her mother’s response: “You Exist too Much”. The story then flows back and forth between the past and present of a young woman’s life, spanning the United States and the Middle East. From her childhood and upbringing in the biblical city Bethlehem to adulthood in Brooklyn, she struggles to understand her sexuality and to maintain relationships. You Exist Too Much, is Zaina Arafat’s powerful debut novel, and has been described as filling “the queer Middle Eastern gap in the literary market.

Girl, Woman, Other
Bernadine Evaristo, Penguin, 464 pages, $27

Evaristo’s eighth novel jointly won the Manbooker prize with Margaret Atwood in 2019, making her the first black woman to win this prestigious award (the prize has been around since 1969). Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives of twelve British black women, ranging in age from a teenager to a great grandmother. Each character could have stood as their own short story, because there is enough depth and intrigue, but when entwined, they formed a multifaceted and complementary novel. Coined by Evaristo as ‘fusion fiction’, the free and direct prose is unique, with sentences broken up by lines and paragraphs. In this way, it doesn’t feel too much like a stream of consciousness. This lack of punctuation, such as quotation marks and periods, might take a few pages to settle into, but it is well worth sticking it out.

The Vanishing Half
Brit Bennett, Riverhead Books, 352 pages, $16.20

The Vanishing Half tells the story of twin sisters, inseparable as children who grew up in the Jim Crow South, until one of them decides to pass as white. With such a unique and intriguing premise, this story will have you caring deeply for the characters and their relationships, and longing for more pages once their stories are over. Despite being a novel, Bennett addresses several important issues in today’s society, such as racism, colorism, gender identity, and domestic violence.

Bennett was interested by the idea that the choices we make, no matter how small and insignificant they might seem, can have large consequences. In this case, one of the twins, Stella, applies for a position only white girls get. Decisions that we don’t foresee having too much of an impact on our lives, can, and do, because they rule out other paths we could have gone down. However which way we found ourselves in New York City, this premise is likely to resonate with us all. 

NONFICTION
The Undocumented Americans
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Penguin Random House, 208 pages, $26.00

Right after the election of 2016, writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio realized that the story she always tried to hide was the most powerful she had to tell. So she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. Karla embarked on a journey across the country to meet and interview other undocumented immigrants, while also trying to making sense of her own life. Combining flawless, empathetic reporting with impactful personal stories, this remarkable book brings to life tales of resilience and self-reliance that go beyond statistics, media coverage and political discourse. Throughout the volume, we also witness its author struggle with issues of family, duty, love and survival. 

So You Want to Talk About Race
Ijeoma Oluo, Seal Press, 272 pages, $20.49

Nigerian-American author Ijeoma Oluo wrote So You Want to Talk About Race because she “wanted to create something of use. Something that would give readers the fundamentals of how race worked.” The small, blue, paperback copy of this book appears like a little pocketbook of important questions and situations, such as ‘I just got called a racist, now what do I do?’, that Oluo provides answers to. This format encourages conversation and discussion after reading.

Each chapter begins with a question, followed by an anecdote, and is then supported with talking points and counterarguments. Readers are drawn in through Oluo’s inclusion of personal stories, such as  conversations with her children, friends, and coworkers, as they are personable and often relatable. Oluo withholds an empathetic yet blunt approach towards race. It is an informative read, and readers may be confronted with harsh truths and lessons, but it isn’t written in an attacking or judgmental way. Read it, and then recommend it to everyone you know; this is an important read for everyone.

White Tears/Brown Scars
Ruby Hamad, Catapult, 204 pages, $31.50

Arab Australian author Ruby Hamad addresses what happens when racism and sexism collide; what happens when women of color have to deal with sexism on top of racism: the “double whammy” as she calls it. Hamad reminds readers that it’s not enough to simply be a feminist, because it tends to leave a lot of people out. It needs to be intersectional, and extend to all individuals and consider women of color, who are disproportionately marginalized further because of their race.

While Hamad hones in on Australian issues at times, she does extend this lens out to global issues, such as American politics, discussing the likes of Obama versus Hillary, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as the problematic nature of Pocahontas and The Hunger Games. In this way, it is a relatable and engaging read.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Michelle Alexander, The New Press, 352 pages, $18.69

Despite being written ten years ago, the contention and contents of Michelle Alexander’s text are perhaps more important today because they highlight just how much more progress we still have to make to move towards a less racist society. For centuries, people of color have been abused through means such as slavery and anti-miscegenation. Today, she argues it isn’t all that different. Alexander states that we have essentially designed a new racial caste system, essentially, the New Jim Crow, by way of the war on drugs and mass incarceration. Using numerous judicial cases to highlight her argument that black men are treated unfavourably compared to white men for the same crimes, The New Jim Crow is a shocking, devastating, and eye-opening read. It is extremely well-researched, thorough in it’s arguments, and provides an in-depth, well-rounded view of Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Prices refer to the hardcover and were checked between 12/23 and 12/24.

Originally published by New Women New Yorkers: Source

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