I somehow let my September reads go by, but fear not! I certainly read, though I may have been a little in over my head to reflect.
Black Card by Chris L. Terry (Counterpoint Press)
For September’s Book Cult, we read the phenomenal debut novel from Chris L. Terry, a punk rock take on Invisible Man. The unnamed narrator finally earns his Black Card from his friend, only to find himself in situations where he is either too Black or not Black enough. From the white “friends” in his band to his run-in with the police, the narrator finds that identity is more complicated than he once believed. Highly recommend this book, and you can check out our genre-bending playlist here.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Milkweed Editions)
In a time when we are alarmingly removed from nature and our role in global warming, Robin Wall Kimmerer makes a stunning and moving argument for people to come home to the land we live in. “For all of us,” Kimmerer writes, “becoming indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.” Drawing on knowledge from her own indigenous community and scientific background, Kimmerer’s totem reads like Thoreau for our modern times.
When I Spoke in Tongues: A Memoir of Faith and Its Loss by Jessica Wilbanks (Beacon Press)
In Jessica Wilbanks’ haunting memoir, she moves from within the safety net of her Pentecostal tradition to a spiritual crisis outside of it. Over time, she studies the roots of Pentecostalism and comes to love it differently, though it’s her personal story of living away from what she once knew that kept me underlining and dog-earing pages through to the end. Wilbanks mournfully remembers “the days when we were all together, under the same roof, sharing a home, a God, and a vocabulary.” Here and in other places she gives words to the often shapeless, yet no less heartbreaking, event of walking away from what you once knew: “It seemed like we had lost that now, and there was no path back to the time when threads of belief stitched our family together at the seams.” Finding her way, not quite back, but to something better, is a wrenching, worthwhile journey.
Pass Over: A Play by Antoinette Nwandu (Grove Press)
Two friends talk on a street corner, killing time and talking about what it means to be Black. When a strange white man, apparently lost, approaches them, their day takes a turn. Nwandu’s play is brilliant, its language, formatting, and ideas like a lightning bolt: quick but brutal. Spike Lee directed a film version which I have been meaning to get around to.
Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris (Theatre Communications Group)
In an especial mood for plays, I then turned to Jeremy O. Harris’s controversial Slave Play, which begins on a plantation where the typical narrative threads depicting slavery in fiction take on a sudden and subversive twist. The people are not actually on a plantation, but participating in a simulation as part of an experimental sex therapy for interracial couples. The plot alone should draw you in to a play that left me with more questions than answers.
The Earth Dies Streaming by A.S. Hamrah (n+1)
I’ve been reading more books on movies in the past few years, and A.S. Hamrah’s collection, drawing on essays he mostly wrote for n+1 Magazine, is another I’ve already recommended to friends. In his characteristically short reviews of films, he might give one scathing paragraph to a movie you love, or demand your attention for a movie you missed. Mixed with longer, critical essays on film, Hamrah’s The Earth Dies Streaming is both challenging and delightful.