It occurred to me I don’t often read the stories of people not like myself. Although I recently gobbled up L. Penelope’s Song of Blood and Stone, I blush as I tell you that my bookshelves are filled with the likes of Jane Austen, remains my go-to, and lots of other women, including Ann Patchett, Laura Lippman and Nora Roberts.
In other words, there’s a whole world of people out there telling stories I haven’t heard—even though they are standing right next to me.
During February, I decided it was time to turn up the volume and listen. In honor of Black History Month my TBR pile filled up with works by African-American authors.
I went for Beverly Jenkins, a historical romance writer I have heard lots of good things about. Since the movie If Beale Street Could Talk is based on a novel by James Baldwin, I knew I wanted to read one of his works. Natalie Baszile’s book came up as a librarian’s suggestion—and I always trust librarians.
I started with Beverly Jenkins, a prolific romance writer and winner of the 2017 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. I have read two of her historical romances: HOMECOMING AND THE TAMING OF JESSI ROSE. And I will read more. Beautiful language. Compelling characters and a side of history I didn’t know.
HOMECOMING, a Christmas novella, was so good—two old lovers, a Buffalo Soldier and a school teacher, meet again when she comes home to visit her mother—I quickly ran to the shelves for THE TAMING OF JESSI ROSE. An African-American western, it’s sexy and historical. In other words, pretty darn perfect.
A plus was the bits of history along the way: Buffalo Soldiers, all the people at the Alamo or the stories of African Americans who fought in the Texas war for independence. I loved every page.
I am also listening to an audio version of QUEEN SUGAR, by Natalie Baszile, narrated by Miriam Hyman. A contemporary story of Charley, a city girl who inherits a sugar cane farm in Louisiana from her father, she arrives with her young daughter to find the farm manager isn’t keeping up with the farm and the sugar cane crop looks troubled. Meanwhile, her brother, whom she hardly knows, arrives along with his young son. I was hooked. I loved the scenes set in hot summer Louisiana. I could almost smell the humid, sweet air and hear the bugs singing. I did not know when I picked it up that it’s the basis of a series on the Oprah Winfrey Network. I love the voice of Charley, warm and rich with a hint of hope that never fades.
Next in my queue was James Baldwin’s GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN, one of those classics I should have read a long time ago. It was time. And am I glad it was time. I have to read every word. An early scene, one of John wandering through New York City on his birthday, was breathtaking. It’s told from the perspective of a little African American child, a boy who feels uncomfortable in the white people’s world only a few blocks from his familiar Harlem. He hooked me and drew me into a world far different from my comfortable surroundings.
I often read fantasy or historical fiction to visit a different world or place. Beverly Jenkins gave me that in her 19th Century romances. But now I’ve been on the bayou listening to the hum of bugs and running down a Fifth Avenue not much like the street I see when I visit NYC.
As I said, I want to be more intentional about reading books by and sharing the stories of people different from me. What else should I be reading?