Recommendations by Karen B

A Black Lives Matter Reading List

As February begins with Stay-at-Home orders in place and COVID-19 and vaccines constantly in the news, I am finding it challenging to turn my thoughts to subjects such as racial inequality and injustice. But Black History Month reminds me to respect the work and accomplishments of those who have come before, and to keep learning and working on improving race relations individually and collectively, perhaps especially when times are tough.

Those with children face the added challenge of being role models when they might feel woefully unprepared and unqualified. A librarian's mantra for situations like these is always:  read about it! Take time to delve into books that explore issues of racism, the experience of being black (not just in the USA), and the stories of both solution failures and successes. Discuss these books with your children, your spouse, and your friends.

Here are a few titles to get you started:

Caste: the origins of our discontent book jacketCaste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (Non-fiction)

 Everyone's #blacklivesmatter list should include this book. In it, "Wilkerson reframes the United States' history of racial disparities and racism as a classic caste system, and compares America's caste system with those operating in India and Nazi-era Germany. She identifies the eight "pillars of caste" that can be clearly observed in all three systems. In one very memorable and disturbing passage, she describes how the Jim Crow laws of the American South served as inspiration and model for the anti-Semitic, racist Nuremberg laws enacted in 1935 Germany" (Library Journal). I'm only a few pages in, but I can tell this one is going to be mind-shifting!


The Waiting Hours book jacketThe Waiting Hours by Shandi Mitchell

Shandi Mitchell explores the experience of three emergency workers in this literary thriller, involving a murder, a brewing hurricane and racial tension set in the unnamed city of Halifax. "When tragedy erupts on a stifling summer night, three ordinary people, with the extraordinary jobs of rescuing strangers, are connected to one another in ways both explicit and invisible. Each is deeply devoted to what they do, but they are all beginning to crack under the immense pressures of their work" (from the publisher). 

At a time when Canadians are hyperaware of the great strains put on emergency personnel, this story highlights both the personal and shared experience of trauma. You can also explore this title with your book club later this year as part of one of our Book Club in a Bag offerings.


 An American Marriage book jacketAn American Marriage by Tayari Jones

In February, the library's Adult Book Club will be reading and discussing An American Marriage, a moving story that delves into emotional and interpersonal turmoil amidst racial inequalities in the southern United States. "This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward -- with hope and pain -- into the future." (from the publisher). With an unjust conviction and a marriage torn apart by emotional and physical distance, this story will surely give you lots to discuss at book club!


The Hate U Give book jacketThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Young Adult)

Wondering how to talk to your teens about racism and #blacklivesmatter? A great starting point is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: the story of a sixteen-year-old girl living between two very different worlds (her poor neighbourhood where her family lives and the suburb where she attends prep school), and what happens when she witnesses a police officer shoot her unarmed best friend. You can read the book separately and then perhaps watch the movie together (the library has several DVD copies of the film). Shared reading and viewing experiences give you many opportunities for discussion and may help you explore your own response to current events.

If you are moved by this book, you'll want to read Thomas's next YA bestseller, On the Come Up.


Dread Nation book jacketDread Nation by Justina Ireland (Young Adult)

Finally, for something completely different, you might try Dread Nation by Justina Ireland.  Sci-fi, fantasy and alternate histories are creative ways of exploring moral, ethical, and political issues. Dread Nation, an alternate history of the American Civil War, features race issues involving African Americans, Indigenous nations, and zombies—yup, that's right, zombies. Even the walking dead have something to teach us about race relations and how to treat the living.

Other titles to consider:

The Icon Black Lives Matter audio series on hoopla

When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khann-Cullors

Policing Black Lives:  State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee (for children aged 8 to 12)