#AyibaReads: Our favorite books this summer by Black authors
Here’s a list of books to read this summer recommended by the editors of Ayiba. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did! Click on the book titles to purchase at audible.com.
Oprah selected this novel for her book club and from page-one it is easy to understand why. The Imbolo Mbue novel tells the story of Cameroonian immigrants who move to the U.S in pursuit of a better life, only to learn about the universality of poverty and struggle. Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States, with his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. This novel explores the complexity and inefficiencies of the U.S immigration system, and is a “tale of two cities” contrasting the lives of the Jongas to the Edwards with background commentary on how the 2008 economic crisis changed the “American Dream” for many families – immigrant and not.
Behold the Dreamers is Mbue’s debut novel.
Pheobe Robinson brings the same bold language and unique slang to her book that she delivers on her podcast 2 Dope Queens (which she co-hosts with actress and comedian Jessica Williams). Part memoir, part reflections on contemporary culture, Robinson shares her experience being a Black woman in America. Her observations on race, sex, and gender are important and timely, delivered with wit and creativity that is laugh out loud funny.
“I wish my pussy could live / in a different shape and get / some goddamn respect” is the opening lines of “Hottentot Venus” by Morgan Parker. Winner of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and a 2016 Pushcart Prize, Parker’s poetry captures the experience of the Black American woman, blending contemporary pop and material culture with echoes of the past. And, as the name suggests, there are plenty of references to Queen Bey as a woman and cultural icon.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest work is brilliant and should be required reading. Inspired by a letter to a friend who had asked Adichie’s advice on how to raise a feminist daughter, this book is divided into fifteen suggestions about how to raise a complete and competent individual. While geared towards a daughter (“Teach her that the idea of ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl”), most of the recommendations are equally relevant for readers of all genders (“Teach her to question language. Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions”). Readers of this book will not only learn to be a better feminist, they will learn to be a better person. It’s a super quick read with nuggets all the way through.
The best titled novel of the decade is a 12-story collection that manages to be simultaneously varied and cohesive. Each short story takes place in a new place, time, and context, taking on new characters and a new tone. Yet, together these tales unite for an impactful book that starts of with a boom and ends with a blazing bang!
My attention was fully captivated from the jump with the repetitious opening story about Ezinma who “fumbles the keys against the lock and doesn’t see what came behind her”, all the way through my favorite, “Wild”, which tells of a disastrous night out that shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground. I was most surprised by “What Is A Volcano?,” which evokes a mythic domain of feuding gods, and of course the title story set in a post-apocalyptic world where experts have discovered how to “fix the equation of a person” – with rippling, unforeseen repercussions. You’ll enjoy this one. Trust me.
Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and seasoned stand up comedian, released his memoir to the world last year. Born a Crime, was the title of one of his most popular tours and also a documentary of his life, so for early fans familiar with those projects, the theme isn’t new, but the content is definitely more comprehensive. Noah, a natural storyteller, details his coming-of-age story in a unique and witty way, touching on his mother’s courage, parent’s interracial relationship, and the influence of South African apartheid on his life – whose laws deemed him to be “born a crime.” The story repositioned my understanding of apartheid South Africa and humanized the effects of institutional racism on class, education, and opportunity. I purchased the audio version from audible, so I literally got to hear Noah tell the story of his life. It was hilarious and I highly recommend.
Zadie Smith’s latest novel is a meditation on memories, youth, music, and the past’s effect on the present. The nameless main character reflects on her life, in particular her prickly relationship with her childhood best friend, and the choices they made to get to where they are now. The novel’s strength lies in the examination of the experience of being bi-racial, and the numerous references to Black musicians and actors; its weakness is that it can be hard to find a character to like. It scratches the surface of issues such as feminism, diaspora tourism, and fundamentalism, but does not heavy-handedly make any clear pronouncements. We, like the narrator, see what we want to see.
This short novel feels like a quick read, but don’t be fooled by the number of words on the page or the length. Jacqueline Woodson’s story dwells on the reality of young black girls coming of age in Brooklyn, NY in the 1970s. Told through stories of the past interspersed with the present, the narrative plays with how memories shape us and our relationships to friends, family, and friends who become family. In the words of Ann Patchett, it is “a sort of fever dream,” which makes it perfect for staying up reading on a hot summer night.
Roxane Gay is a talented writer, and does not shy away from the unpleasantries of relationships, between friends, siblings, lovers, and the most important relationship of all, the one we have with ourself. Tales of magical realism are interspersed with stories of love and loss, often involving pain and violence edged with resiliency. While not usually a fan of trigger warnings on books, the description of this one could have been a little more honest about what its pages contained. Overall, though, it is a powerful read and its rawness will stay with you. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, her latest book, was just released and we are looking forward to reading it.
What we look forward to reading NEXT:
by Gabourey Sidibe
“Academy Award-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe’s memoir gives listeners an intimate account of her victories and struggles in her own vibrant voice…. Sidibe’s narration is full of genuine laughter, a dash of sarcasm, and an authentic-sounding Senegalese accent. An entertaining memoir that sounds as reflective and cathartic for Sidibe as it will be for her fans.”