It’s Friday morning after Thanksgiving. You’ve decided the eschew Black Friday Shopping in favor of a blissful morning of sleeping in late. It’s chilly outside but warm in your bed as the sunlight streams through the window. What better time to crack open a book or two and spend the day reading? Those research papers can wait until tomorrow.
Here’s a playlist and a reading list for your sleepy day-after-Thanksgiving.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Told through the author’s own evolving understanding of the subject over the course of his life comes a bold and personal investigation into America’s racial history and its contemporary echoes,” says NPR of this 2015 bestseller. National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas recommends this book to anyone hoping to understand the black experience in America. It’s an often painful but necessary read.
Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
NPR summarizes this 2016 bestseller: “In an effort to understand why low income conservatives seem to hate the idea of liberal government intervention, a sociologist embarks on a journey to Louisiana bayou country, a stronghold of the conservative right.” National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas recommends this book to those striving to read “across the lines we’ve drawn in our lives.”
Jonathan Alter wrote in the New York Times Book Review that this “cogent and exceptionally clarifying guide helps to understand what ‘populism’ means, where it comes from and why it is advancing on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
Published in June of this year, Hillbilly Elegy is one of the newest books on this list. New York times critic Jennifer Senior wrote of this memoir about growing up in a once-thriving steel town in Ohio, “An investigation of voter estrangement has never felt more urgent … Now, along comes Mr. Vance, offering a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald J. Trump. Combining thoughtful inquiry with firsthand experience, Mr. Vance has inadvertently provided a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election, and he’s done so in a vocabulary intelligible to both Democrats and Republicans.”
Night by Elie Wiesel
Written by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who died on July 2 of this year, this memoir gives a firsthand account by a Holocaust survivor. Amazon book review summarizes, “His memories of the nightmare world of the death camps present him with an intolerable question: how can the God he once so fervently believed in have allowed these monstrous events to occur? There are no easy answers in this harrowing book, which probes life’s essential riddles with the lucid anguish only great literature achieves. It marks the crucial first step in Wiesel’s lifelong project to bear witness for those who died.” This book was anonymously recommended by one of our First Floor Cherry readers as essential reading.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This 2013 novel by the Beyonce-sampled Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the story of Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman who moves to America to attend college, leaving behind Obinze, the love of her life. The author described Americanah as being about “love, race … and hair.” The result is a thoughtful and engaging look into America from the eyes of an outsider.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer
Dwight Garner of the New York Times says of this 2013 nonfiction bestseller, “In The Unwinding, George Packer took a wide-angled look at this country’s institutions and mores and was appalled by what he found. The book begins like a horror novel, which to some extent it is. ‘No one can say when the unwinding began,’ he writes, ‘when the coil that held Americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way.’ What follows are profiles and meditations on personalities as diverse as Sam Walton, Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Warren and Newt Gingrich … His book hums with sorrow, outrage and compassion.”
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Submitted by one of our readers, this novel tells the story of three generations — from the Civil War to the 20th century. The Amazon book review describes it as, “A story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart … Gilead tells the story of America and will break your heart.”
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
As a lyric poem, this one’s a shorter read. However, don’t let its brevity fool you. With a cover that evokes the story of Trayvon Martin that kickstarted a new generation of racial protest, this poem about race in America will challenge you. Holly Bass of the New York Times says, “Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry’s forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves”
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
This 2010 nonfiction work by legal scholar Michelle Alexander describes the current system of mass incarceration in America. She argues that the system of mass incarceration operates as “the New Jim Crow” to imprison and enslave a striking amount of people of color. Alexander told NPR’s Fresh Air, “People are swept into the criminal justice system — particularly in poor communities of color — at very early ages … typically for fairly minor, nonviolent crimes. .. Many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again, once you’ve been branded a felon.” It’s a must-read to understand our criminal justice system.
Wishing you a happy and safe Thanksgiving!
In the words of one of our readers, “Reject cynicism. Embrace hope. Don’t give up.”
You can still submit your suggestions for books to help bridge the political divide here. You can also leave some words of encouragement to share with our readers while you’re there.