Librarian's Pick

Here's what our librarians are reading lately.

Librarian’s Pick: Soul City – Thomas Healy

” Author Thomas Healy tells the story of Soul City, North Carolina, an intentional community founded in the 1970s by the Black lawyer Floyd McKissick, aimed at helping Black people achieve the American dream. While not an exclusively Black community, Soul City was intended to be a place for Black people to grow, prosper economically and exercise their hard-won civil rights outside of segregated cities.

Envisioning a city whose main streets were named after the likes of Nat Turner, John Brown and Dred Scott, McKissick lobbied for help from the federal government to pursue his municipal dream, and surprisingly, the Nixon administration eventually granted him the seed money. However, despite years of effort, the town is now little more than a blip on the historical radar. And by some dark irony, Soul City’s largest industry today is the operation of a for-profit prison.

So what happened? Was Soul City doomed from the beginning, like so many ambitious utopian experiments? As Healy shows, it’s not that simple. Soul City’s bumpy background is littered with statewide backlash, legislative resistance and financial undercutting, which prevented the project from flourishing. This chronicle of what went wrong, and who wanted it to go wrong, outlines both missteps by the city’s planners as well as outside obstacles that contributed to the experiment’s failure. Even so, McKissick’s shining vision for Soul City will inspire readers to dream of what kinds of communities we could create next.”

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Librarian’s Pick: You’ll Never Believe What Happened To Lacey – Amber Ruffin & Lacey Lamar

“Now a writer and performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers and host of The Amber Ruffin Show, Amber Ruffin lives in New York, where she is no one’s First Black Friend and everyone is, as she puts it, “stark raving normal.” But Amber’s sister Lacey? She’s still living in their home state of Nebraska, and trust us, you’ll never believe what happened to Lacey.

From racist donut shops to strangers putting their whole hand in her hair, from being mistaken for a prostitute to being mistaken for Harriet Tubman, Lacey is a lightning rod for hilariously ridiculous yet all-too-real anecdotes. She’s the perfect mix of polite, beautiful, petite, and Black that apparently makes people think “I can say whatever I want to this woman.” And now, Amber and Lacey share these entertainingly horrifying stories through their laugh-out-loud sisterly banter. Painfully relatable or shockingly eye-opening (depending on how often you have personally been followed by security at department stores), this book tackles modern-day racism with the perfect balance of levity and gravity.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Four Hundred Souls – Ibram x. Kendi

Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain“If you’re looking for a single work that spans the entirety of the Black experience in America, pick up a copy of Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. This comprehensive meditation on Black history in the United States features 90 noteworthy Black authors and poets ruminating on the last 400 years—beginning with the date of the first recorded arrival of enslaved people from Africa on these shores.

Each author reflects on five years in America, focusing on a different “person, place, thing, idea, or event”—such as Phillis Wheatley, Oregon, cotton, queer sexuality and the war on drugs. At the end of each 40-year section, a poet captures that historical period in verse. With contributions from huge names in the community of Black thought leaders, such as Nikole Hannah-Jones, Isabel Wilkerson, Angela Davis and Jamelle Bouie, just to name a few, the scope of the writing is immense and powerful, the content both celebratory and harrowing.

You may feel drawn to this book because of its heavy-hitting roster of big names, but look forward to widening your familiarity with more up-and-coming writers, too. With so many authors and topics represented in these pages, you’re sure to gain new insight about every tumultuous period in our nation’s history.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Forbidden Promises – Synithia Williams

“Get in and get out. That was India Robidoux’s plan for this family visit. But when her brother needs her help with his high-profile political campaign, India has no choice but to stay and face the one man she’s been running from for years—Travis, her sister’s ex-husband. One hot summer night when Travis was still free, they celebrated her birthday with whiskey and an unforgettable kiss. The memory is as strong as ever—and so are the feelings she’s tried so hard to forget.

Travis Strickland owes everything to the Robidoux family. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for them—his divorce could never change that. Still, he has one regret. Impulsive and passionate, India always understood him better than anyone else. And the longer they work together on the campaign, the more torn he is. Coming between her and her sister is out of the question. But how can he let love pass him by a second time?”

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Librarian’s Pick: Ida B. The Queen – Michelle Duster

“Ida B. Wells gets the royal treatment in Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells, written by Michelle Duster, Wells’ great-granddaughter.

From the 1890s through the early 20th century, Wells was a pioneering activist and journalist who fought racism by publicizing heinous acts of violence toward Black Americans during the Jim Crow era. Crafted with empathy for and intimate knowledge of this American icon, the book recounts Wells’ many groundbreaking achievements, which caused the FBI to dub her a “dangerous negro agitator” in her time. Unlike in a typical biography, however, Duster integrates her own perspective of her great-grandmother into this narrative, inspecting her family’s legacy along the way. Duster also outlines the cultural impact Wells had on her contemporaries, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, and draws a throughline from Wells’ defiant voice at the turn of the 20th century to the struggle for Black lives today.

In addition to its compelling content, this book is also drop-dead gorgeous. Vibrant illustrations of Wells and other important history makers, such as Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Malcolm X and Bree Newsome, add even more color to their colorful lives. Wells was righteously indignant and wise beyond her era, and Duster translates her drive to today’s racial discourse with insight and grace.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Remote Control – Nnedi Okorafor

book jacket for Remote Control “A beautiful, sad, enthralling novella set in a futuristic Africa, Remote Control is a refreshing oasis of creativity. One day, an object fell from the sky and Fatima forgot her name. The encounter imbued her with terrible, destructive powers, and she gave herself a new name: Sankofa. With a fox companion and a reputation for bringing death to everyone she meets, she searches endlessly for the object in the hope of finding answers to the innumerable questions in her mind. Hugo Award winner Nnedi Okorafor is no stranger to the novella; her Binti trilogy is a laudable (and much lauded) example of how freeing the form can be. Remote Control never includes any detail that isn’t needed, and Okorafor’s word choices have a simple beauty. They’re elegiac, like a translation from a text recently restored to us from the sands of time. I implore you to discover this lovely, captivating story for yourself.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Julian Bond’s Time To Teach

“One valuable yet often overlooked leader in the fight for Black equality is finally getting his due in Julian Bond’s Time to Teach: A History of the Southern Civil Rights Movement. The late author’s lectures from his prolific teaching career, assembled here for the first time, are full of firsthand lessons from his direct involvement in the civil rights movement.

As one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Bond participated in myriad sit-ins and protests in the Southern United States and even worked directly with Martin Luther King Jr. Later he became an elected member of both the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate and then began teaching at institutions such as Harvard, the University of Virginia and American University. As a lifelong activist, Bond not only protested for Black civil rights but was also an early advocate for LGBTQ rights and rights for disabled people, long before any legislation, courts or popular thought addressed these needs.

Reflecting his storied life of activism, Bond’s lectures offer a road map of the history of the United States and white supremacy, covering the formation of the NAACP, the treatment of Black soldiers through World War II, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and other milestones. Along the way, he meticulously details the daily efforts to build and expand the Southern civil rights movement throughout the 20th century, highlighting the contributions of many underrecognized individuals.

During his life, Bond wanted to educate the world about the history of the Black experience, as well as about the nuts and bolts of starting and maintaining a protest movement. With this posthumous collection, and with the help of the editors who assembled it, he can finally share his teachings with the broad audience he deserves.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Black Buck – Mateo Askaripour

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour“In his debut novel, Mateo Askaripour offers a witty yet thrilling examination of the complexities of race in corporate America. The novel centers on Darren Vender, a 22-year-old Black man who shares a Brooklyn brownstone with his mother and works as a shift leader at Starbucks. Despite graduating at the top of his high school class, Darren did not go to college and seems to lack ambition. That changes after a chance encounter with Rhett, the CEO of a buzzy tech startup called Sumwun, who invites Darren into the ruthless world of corporate sales.

At Sumwun, Darren’s attempt to climb the corporate ladder is met with multidimensional racist resistance. Sumwun’s director of sales and Darren’s direct supervisor, Clyde, is a quintessential racist. He disproportionately criticizes Darren and employs incredibly demeaning language while doing so. However, Sumwun also features more subtle forms of racism. For example, white employees often remark that Darren resembles Black celebrities who look nothing like Darren—and who look wildly different from each other.

While fighting for his upward mobility at Sumwun, Darren risks alienating his family, friends and himself. Eventually, an unfortunate incident rattles the foundation of Sumwun and sends Darren on a life-changing and culture-shifting journey that is full of twists, turns and some truly profound messages.

Black Buck is an ambitious book. While being an intellectual and captivating work of satire, it also serves as an instruction manual for Black and brown people working in white-dominated spaces. Askaripour embeds tokens of wisdom in his well-crafted plot and delivers direct messages of advice and encouragement to readers. There is great risk in such ambition, but Askaripour is a fine writer and superbly executes his vision.

This is an entertaining, accessible and thorough look at America’s race problem, a book both of the moment and one for all seasons. It’s a necessary read for those living under the weight of oppressive systems as well as for those looking to better understand their complicity within them.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Mystery Of Mrs. Christie – Marie Benedict

“In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her World War I veteran husband and her daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.

The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted. With her trademark historical fiction exploration into the shadows of the past, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such murky historical mysteries.

What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?

Agatha Christie novels have withstood the test of time, due in no small part to Christie’s masterful storytelling and clever mind that may never be matched, but Agatha Christie’s untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all.”

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