I Can’t Breathe by Matt Taibbi

i cant breathe

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: The life, death, and legacy of Erica Garner – the man whose death at the hands of the Staten Island police made headlines with the release of a video of his dying words; “I can’t breathe.”

What made me pick it up: I was already thinking about reading this, but I made it my top priority after his daughter, Erica, passed away in late December.

My favorite things: Though at times it feels a bit voyeuristic, Taibbi dives deeply into the lives and histories of numerous people involved in or impacted by Garner’s death. He is very thorough in his reporting in order to paint a more complete picture of exactly how and why Eric Garner dies.

Who it’s great for:  True crime readers. Those interested in the human stories involved in racial profiling, police violence, and systemic discrimination.

Abby’s rating: three-shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

color of law

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: A thorough history of the ways in which the government – local, state, and federal -created and has maintained segregated communities in the United States.

What made me pick it up: A colleague read this and recommended it.

My favorite things: Rothstein is incredibly thorough. He delivers a lot of informative content in an accessible way and uses a lot of evidence to back up his claims. There is a FAQ section at the end where he addresses questions that might still linger.

Who it’s great for:  Readers interested in racial justice. Those interested in US history, discrimination, housing law, or civil rights. I’d recommend reading it with Desmond’s Evicted.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

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Originally published in: 1963

What it’s about: Baldwin writing a letter to his young nephew, telling him how it is to be a black man in America.

What made me pick it up: Abby mentioned it was very short, and I’d been meaning to read it so I checked it out. We both finished it in one sitting.

My favorite things: This really reminded me of Between the World and Me (as it should, since that is structured similarly and inspired by this) — beautiful writing, and unfortunately timeless observations about the treatment of black people in this country. I wish this weren’t still so resonant, but that is not the case. Baldwin talks about the difficulties of maintaining relationships with people of all colors during the distrust of the black power movement and his hopes for a more equal standing for African Americans in future America. I also learned a fair amount about the Nation of Islam and the empowering effect the Muslim religion had on African Americans in the 60s.

Who it’s great for: Anyone reading voraciously on the themes of racial justice.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon.


 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

thug

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A teen girl watches her oldest friend as he is murdered by the police. She contemplates Tupac’s concept of THUG LIFE (The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone) while struggling to stand up for her community.

What made me pick it up: This has been getting crazy good press so I scooped it up as soon as I could.

My favorite things: Starr’s voice is genuine and her heartbreak palpable. Thomas captures the essence and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement without exploiting or forgetting the real lives that have been lost. The current movement is tied to the past through more than Tupac’s words; reminiscent of the response by Bloods and Crips to the Rodney King verdict, local opposing gangs band together to protect their communities and join in protest against the violence they face at the hands of the state. The overall effect is both breathtaking and devastating.

Who it’s great for: Teens and adults looking to understand and process the violence faced by communities of color in our society.

Abby’s rating: five-shells


Pick up a copy of this book at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

dreamland

 

Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The story of a 1921 murder in Tulsa, Oklahoma unwinds through two perspectives: William’s, set at the time of the murder, and Rowan’s in the present day.

What made me pick it up: I read a prepub review that piqued my interest and put it on hold as soon as our library ordered it.

My favorite things: Latham uses the dual timelines explore the parallels between racially motivated violence in the early 20th century and the violence of today that has inspired the Black Lives Matter movement. Based on the 1921 massacre of Tulsa’s African American community, the author effectively uses mystery and suspense to bring attention to an often forgotten part of American history.

Who it’s great for: Teens interested in understanding racial violence and justice in American history. Fans of murder mysteries and readers of historical fiction.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

stamped

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: This book traces racist ideas and their impact on African American and other Black lives in the US from the earliest arrival of European settlers through today. Okay, so I have one problem with this book: the subtitle. Not a lot of time is given to other people of color in the US and, realistically, one book couldn’t do that and probably shouldn’t try. I definitely don’t want to diminish the impact of the book-I think it’s very well done and important. To me the subtitle is a little misleading, but maybe it’s just me.

What made me pick it up: It won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and I’m trying to make sure that I read all of the winners.

My favorite things: This book is meticulously researched and incredibly thorough. Kendi breaks down racist belief systems into a variety of often conflicting ideas. He identifies assimilationist and segregationist thoughts that have sometimes been used to promote civil rights, and contrasts them with truly antiracist ideas. Kendi does a great job of illustrating the ways these ideas have been built upon over time and how we have arrived in the current moment with some voices declaring a “post-racial” society while others point out clear racial tensions and divisions.

Who it’s great for: People who want to understand where the Black Lives Matter movement came from and why it seems so divisive. History buffs interested in a different focus than they may be used to reading. Readers interested in racial justice and civil rights.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells