MahoganyBooks + Very Smart Brothas Book Club Reading List

2019 Reading List


January

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

“The word “love” is most often defined as a noun, yet…we would all love better if we used it as a verb,” writes bell hooks as she comes out fighting and on fire in All About Love. Here, at her most provocative and intensely personal, the renowned scholar, cultural critic, and feminist skewers our view of love as romance. In its place she offers a proactive new ethic for a people and a society bereft with lovelessness.

As bell hooks uses her incisive mind and razor-sharp pen to explore the question “What is love?” her answers strike at both the mind and heart. In thirteen concise chapters, hooks examines her own search for emotional connection and society’s failure to provide a model for learning to love. Razing the cultural paradigm that the ideal love is infused with sex and desire, she provides a new path to love that is sacred, redemptive, and healing for the individuals and for a nation. The Utne Reader declared bell hooks one of the “100 Visionaries Who Can Change Your Life.” All About Love is a powerful affirmation of just how profoundly she can.


February

Heads of the Colored People: Stories by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes “stuffed with invention” (Publishers Weekly). 

Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous–from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide–while others are devastatingly poignant–a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture. 

Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body.


March

She Begat This: 20 Years of Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Joan Morgan

Released in 1998, Lauryn Hill’s first solo album is often cited by music critics as one of the most important recordings in modern history. Artists from Beyoncé to Nicki Minaj to Janelle Monáe have claimed it as an inspiration, and it was recently included in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, as well as named the second greatest album by a woman in history by NPR (right behind Joni Mitchell’s Blue). 

Award-winning feminist author and journalist Joan Morgan delivers an expansive, in-depth, and heartfelt analysis of the album and its enduring place in pop culture. She Begat This is both an indelible portrait of a magical moment when a young, fierce, and determined singer-rapper-songwriter made music history and a crucial work of scholarship, perfect for longtime hip-hop fans and a new generation of fans just discovering this album.


April

What Doesn’t Kill Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker chronicles Young’s efforts to survive while battling and making sense of the various neuroses his country has given him. 

It’s a condition that’s sometimes stretched to absurd limits, provoking the angst that made him question if he was any good at the “being straight” thing, as if his sexual orientation was something he could practice and get better at, like a crossover dribble move or knitting; creating the farce where, as a teen, he wished for a white person to call him a racial slur just so he could fight him and have a great story about it; and generating the surreality of watching gentrification transform his Pittsburgh neighborhood from predominantly Black to “Portlandia . . . but with Pierogies.” 

And, at its most devastating, it provides him reason to believe that his mother would be alive today if she were white. 

From one of our most respected cultural observers, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a hilarious and honest debut that is both a celebration of the idiosyncrasies and distinctions of Blackness and a critique of white supremacy and how we define masculinity.


May

Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal by Yuval Taylor

They were best friends. They were collaborators, literary gadflies, and champions of the common people. They were the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance. Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Langston Hughes, the author of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Let America Be America Again,” first met in 1925, at a great gathering of black and white literati, and they fascinated each other. They traveled together in Hurston’s dilapidated car through the rural South collecting folklore, worked on the play Mule Bone, and wrote scores of loving letters. They even had the same patron: Charlotte Osgood Mason, a wealthy white woman who insisted on being called “Godmother.”

Paying them lavishly while trying to control their work, Mason may have been the spark for their bitter and passionate falling-out. Was the split inevitable when Hughes decided to be financially independent of his patron? Was Hurston jealous of the young woman employed as their typist? Or was the rupture over the authorship of Mule Bone? Yuval Taylor answers these questions while illuminating Hurston’s and Hughes’s lives, work, competitiveness, and ambition, uncovering little-known details.


June

Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

In this striking new novel by the critically acclaimed author of Allegedly and Monday’s Not Coming, Tiffany D. Jackson tells the story of three Brooklyn teens who plot to turn their murdered friend into a major rap star by pretending he’s still alive. 

Brooklyn, 1998. Biggie Smalls was right: Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are cool letting their best friend Steph’s music lie forgotten under his bed after he’s murdered–not when his rhymes could turn any Bed Stuy corner into a party. With the help of Steph’s younger sister Jasmine, they come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: the Architect. Soon, everyone wants a piece of him. When his demo catches the attention of a hotheaded music label rep, the trio must prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.As the pressure of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only, each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, they need to decide what they stand for or lose all that they’ve worked so hard to hold on to–including each other.

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