January 2019 MahoganyBooks Adult Bestsellers
#1 – Becoming by Michelle Obama
An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States
In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America–the first African-American to serve in that role–she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her–from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it–in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations–and whose story inspires us to do the same.
#2 – The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris
From one of America’s most inspiring political leaders, a book about the core truths that unite us, and the long struggle to discern what those truths are and how best to act upon them, in her own life and across the life of our country.
Senator Kamala Harris’s commitment to speaking truth is informed by her upbringing. The daughter of immigrants, she was raised in an Oakland, California community that cared deeply about social justice; her parents–an esteemed economist from Jamaica and an admired cancer researcher from India–met as activists in the civil rights movement when they were graduate students at Berkeley. Growing up, Harris herself never hid her passion for justice, and when she became a prosecutor out of law school, a deputy district attorney, she quickly established herself as one of the most innovative change agents in American law enforcement.
She progressed rapidly to become the elected District Attorney for San Francisco, and then the chief law enforcement officer of the state of California as a whole. Known for bringing a voice to the voiceless, she took on the big banks during the foreclosure crisis, winning a historic settlement for California’s working families. Her hallmarks were applying a holistic, data-driven approach to many of California’s thorniest issues, always eschewing stale “tough on crime” rhetoric as presenting a series of false choices. Neither “tough” nor “soft” but smart on crime became her mantra. Being smart means learning the truths that can make us better as a community, and supporting those truths with all our might.
That has been the pole star that guided Harris to a transformational career as the top law enforcement official in California, and it is guiding her now as a transformational United States Senator, grappling with an array of complex issues that affect her state, our country, and the world, from health care and the new economy to immigration, national security, the opioid crisis, and accelerating inequality.
#3 – The Teachings of Ptahhotep by Asa G. Hilliard, III
Originally published as “The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep” and also as “The Maxims of Ptahhotep,” the work is believed by some scholars to be the oldest book in the world. Authorship is attributed to Ptahhotep, a vizier under King Isesi of the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty (ca. 2414-2375 BC).
It is a collection of maxims and advice in the sebayt (“teaching”) genre on human relations and are provided as instruction for his son. The work survives today in papyrus copies, including the Prisse Papyrus which dates from the Middle Kingdom and is on display at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. There are considerable differences between the Prisse Papyrus version and the two texts at the British Museum. The 1906 translation by Battiscombe Gunn, published as part of the “Wisdom of the East” series and which is reprinted here, was made directly from the Prisse Papyrus, in Paris, rather than from copies.
Some lessons include: Learning by listening to everybody and knowing that human knowledge is never perfect are a leitmotif. Avoiding open conflict wherever possible should not be considered weakness. Justice should be pursued and in the end it will be a god’s command that prevails. Greed is the base of all evil and should be guarded against, while generosity towards family and friends is praiseworthy.
#4 – Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.
Kiese Laymon is a fearless writer. In his essays, personal stories combine with piercing intellect to reflect both on the state of American society and on his experiences with abuse, which conjure conflicted feelings of shame, joy, confusion and humiliation. Laymon invites us to consider the consequences of growing up in a nation wholly obsessed with progress yet wholly disinterested in the messy work of reckoning with where we’ve been.
In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.
A personal narrative that illuminates national failures, Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family that begins with a confusing childhood–and continues through twenty-five years of haunting implosions and long reverberations.
#5 – Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston
A major literary event: a newly published work from the author of the American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, with a foreword from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, brilliantly illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery as it tells the true story of one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade–abducted from Africa on the last “Black Cargo” ship to arrive in the United States.
In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.
In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past–memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.