“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” ~James Baldwin
Curated by the founder of the book club -Well Read Black Girls , this eponymous title is a collection of essays by black female writers who speak about their love of reading and discovering books with characters that look like them and they could identify with. I am not sure how I came across the title but I immediately went to my library to check it out. Some of the recognizable contributors involved in this are Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, Gabourey Sidibe.
I quite enjoyed this book because of the passion for literature displayed by each contributor. While reading the stories, I felt like I was sitting in a room and they were speaking directly to me on how they embarked on their literary journey. I guess the word I am looking for is, personal. Every story felt personal and authentic.
It’s very easy to forget that not every black person had the privilege we have now of seeing black authors around. I can’t imagine what it was like back then when black people were recognized even less than we are now and picking up books that almost always exclude people who look like you. The stories of the first time these contributors encountered a character they could relate to made me happy and sad at the same time.
While there was the common thread of not finding characters that seem like them, I liked that every story was not the same, emphasizing the fact that there is not one way to be black. A story like Gabourey Sidibe’s who speaks about not being wanted by her parents seems like it doesn’t fit but somehow reading/books were tied to it and again this was what made the book personal. Some were looking for black characters but some still found the magic of reading even if the characters weren’t black. I loved the deference, respect and homage given to the black writers that came before them.
In reading the acknowledgements, I found out the curator was Nigerian, well her parents are, and I think my first thought was a little disappointment in not having a story about immigrants, tradition and culture that are such a foothold with Nigerians. There is one story about being in the diaspora, in the terms of being American and not fully connected to her parents home country of Eritrea but I think it would have been good to have a story of someone not born and raised in America and capturing the magic of reading being black in a foreign country.
One last thing that I really liked is how after each chapter, there is a list of book recommendations called “Well-Read Black Girl Recommends”. It’s by genre and all are written by black women writers (The end of the book has all the books mentioned in one huge list. The genres mentioned are:
- Classic Novels
- Books on Black Feminism
- Books about Black Girlhood and Friendship
- Science Fiction and Fantasy Books
I recommend this book. It’s a quick read and it helps remind us to never forget history and the people who helped us progress in life.