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Reading List: 5 Books for the Winter Break

This will always be the dream.

[by Meredith Wiggins]

The Fall 2014 semester is drawing to a close and winter break is rapidly coming upon us, which means it’s almost the time of year when we here at HBW get to to indulge in more pleasure-reading than is always possible in the thick of the school year.

Back in 2012, Goyland Williams posted about some black-authored books he planned to read over the break. Over the next few days, HBW staff members will be posting their own recommendations for some winter reading.

For today’s post, I chose to focus on recent “popular” works by black writers, including a young adult novel, a poetic memoir, a book of photography, and two collections of essays that I can’t wait to read during some down time.

 Much-lauded children and young adult author Jacqueline Woodson‘s free verse memoir Brown Girl Dreaming just won a National Book Award, and I can’t wait to pick it up. Woodson, a vocal proponent of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, wrote Brown Girl Dreaming about her own somewhat itinerant childhood in the 1960s and ’70s, focusing on her moves from the Midwest to the South to the Northeast with family and her attempts to define a home for herself in the world.

Essayist and novelist Roxane Gay is having a banner 2014. She published her first novel, An Untamed State, about the abduction and return of a wealthy Haitian woman; she’s editing and writing for The Butter, a sister site to the popular website The Toast; and she released this collection of essays, Bad Feminist, that explores, among other topics, the contradictions and excesses of trying to fit unique, complex identities into a movement that has been critiqued (wrongly) for not being everything to everyone and (rightly) for its exclusion of women of color, queer people, and other non-normative groups.

Author Nick Burd‘s debut novel The Vast Fields of Ordinary (2009) is another young adult option that drew considerable critical praise when it was published, including a Stonewall Book Award, a Lambda Literary Award nomination, and a mention on the New York Times Notable Books of 2009 list. Burd describes Vast Fields, a queer coming-of-age novel set in rural Iowa, as a book that “was on the tip of my tongue,” a story he needed to tell. I’m a big fan of YA lit in general, so I’m looking forward to curling up with this on a cold day.

Like several of the books on this list, Baratunde Thurston‘s How to Be Black spans genres. In a book that’s part autobiography, part social critique, part satirical instructional guide, Thurston brings his comedic perspective to bear on “the ideas of blackness, how those ideas are changing, and how they differ from the popular ideas promoted in mainstream media and often in the black community itself.” People have been recommending this book to me practically since it came out in 2012, so I’m especially excited to get a chance to sit down with it.

My wild card spot goes to Nichelle Gainer‘s Vintage Black Glamour, a coffee table photography collection that pairs photos of twentieth-century black entertainers with historical research and profiles to give voice to a history largely ignored by mainstream media. Featuring performers both well-known and obscure, the book is based on the popular Tumblr of the same name–also run by Gainer, a journalist and blogger. This isn’t the kind of black writing we usually feature on the HBW Blog, but it’s definitely a text I’m looking forward to spending some time with as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.