June 20, 2014
What’s on your Summer Reading List?
Every year, I begin the summer by making a list of books that I want to read during the summer break. I love to read but I often find myself sitting down with a book late at night, after I have done my daily work, chores, and general life activities. I’m sure that you can guess what happens: I fall asleep within minutes! I close the book, go back to sleep, then grab it again the next night. And repeat the next night. It’s a bad cycle. That’s why I take the time during the summer to really push myself to read to do “daytime” reading when my energy is high, my chore list is reduced, and my schedule is under my control–no school or homework to take the last of my “good” energy.
I’m especially excited this summer because I have been thinking about so many books by excellent authors.
What books will I read this summer?
My first book selection for this summer is inspired by Maya Angelou. Her death has moved me to sadness but also to introspection and renewed energy. Yes, I have been thinking about this great woman and her lessons. But I also have been longing to read her books again. I’ve decided to start with her “flagship” book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I read this book in high school, found it difficult to experience, but still just couldn’t put the book down. I was moved into kind of “transport” that swept me into her life as a young girl and her thoughts and feelings. I was (and still am) impressed with her openness and candor in writing about these events–and writing them without shame or apology. She had courage. Who could walk away from such a book? Certain scenes have stayed in my heart and memory. I want to experience the book again—this time as an adult with more life experience, knowledge and, hopefully, less judgment.
My second book selection came from listening to a National Public Radio show about Richard Wright. When I heard that story and excerpts from some of his books, I knew that I had to read (or re-read) one of his books. Oh, there were so many from which to choose: Uncle Tom’s Children, Black Boy, and The Outsiders! In the end, I decided to read the iconic novel, Native Son. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have never read it though I did read WEB Dubois’s book, Notes of a Native Son. So, why did I choose Native Son? As I said, I have not read it. Second, this book was an influential example of “protest fiction” that described the racial divide in the United States. One critic stated, “American culture was changed on the day this book was published.” Third, and most importantly, my son is interested in reading it. He has recently discovered the “true crime” genre and likes the setting that Richard Wright uses in Native Son. I think that my son can relate to the main character, named Bigger, and he is intrigued by the setting, struggles, and story as told by him. I am a bit concerned about some of the scenes, but we will take the opportunity to discuss them. So, I am excited to read Native Son with my own son this summer.
The third book on my list is from another author who intrigues and challenges me like no other writer has. Ralph Ellison is one of the most descriptive, introspective, and challenging writers that I have ever read. That is why I will re-read his game-changing, autobiographical novel, The Invisible Man. I read this book in high school and have never forgotten the “sweet potato” scene. That was when I discovered how great writing can bring feelings, emotions, and past experiences to life. That was when I decided that I wanted to be a writer. My life was, thereafter, divided between BEFORE reading the book and AFTER reading the book. The first paragraph of the novel where he describes his invisibility brought tears to my eyes. Here is the an excerpt:
I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.
In reading The Invisible Man, I had discovered the power of the written word. I don’t know if I will have that same experience but I know that I must read this book again because of its profound effect on me as a person and as a writer.
As the summer ends, I hope that I have the time to read something of a different genre: A play by William Shakespeare. Okay, he’s not an African American writer. But this year is the 450th birthday of the Bard so I have started researching his works, particularly as they involved black people. Of course, I have read Othello. But I recently saw Shakespeare’s most violent play, Titus Andronicus because I wanted to see his most interesting black character, Aaron. This play is nothing like Othello who was a sympathetic and noble character. Aaron is cunning and evil. He orchestrates terrible events against Titus Andronicus and his daughter. He has an affair with this Titus’s wife and convinces her sons to commit terrible acts of violence. (Members of the audience at the Globe Theatre actually fainted!) But he loves his daughter with all of his heart and he is totally devoted to her. He is witty, clever, and evil. Without a doubt, he is one of Shakespeare’s most interesting and complex characters—and he was brilliantly portrayed as a Moor in the play. His race was never discussed. Having just seen the play, I want to read it again and the get full flavor of this great character directly from Shakespeare himself. This will be a challenge but I think that it will be worth the effort.
So, here you have it: my summer reading list. It is not long, but it is meaningful. It is a great feeling to re-read a beloved book; it’s like seeing an old friend.
By the way, I highly recommend these books and Shakespeare’s play to read this summer. I would love to hear your comments and critiques. Great reading should be shared and remembered.