QUEENIE by Candice Carty-Williams was one of the most enjoyable books I read this year. I love books that center on Black Womanhood. I love books where I see myself in the characters. I love representation and that’s that. Were there things that annoyed me about Queenie? Sure, but I focused on the things that I loved and there were too many to count. The topics this book addressed were so spot on! The character development was brilliant. This is totally a book club read so you can unpack it with others. I wanted to do this book review justice so much that I considered reshooting it but decided my first take is my realest feelings innit (British voice). Anyway, by now I’m sure most of you read Queenie so let’s talk! And if you haven’t go get it!
Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad by Betty Deramus truly illustrates that love conquerors all. Even is a despicable system such as Slavery, black people were able to find hope in love, marriage, and freedom.
You can purchase this book recommendation here: https://kit.co/Lifestylebyky/books-by-ky
The word memoir used to sound like the most boring thing ever when I was younger. I stayed away from those types of stories. But within the last year, I’ve read more of them and it has grown into one of my favorite types of narratives. I think there’s something so inspirational about reading someone’s story (dead or alive) and learning how they navigated life. Life is full of ups and downs and we don’t have an instruction manual for it. Sometimes we all get confused about our place in it or if we will ever achieve our goals, but when you read how others navigated their lives and see that their situations were no different from yours it gives you a sense of hope and sometimes may even inspire you to take risks and go after dreams. I am one of those people who google the age of celebrities that I admire to compare where they were at my age. I know this is an odd thing to do, but I do it, to make sure I am on the right track. Most times I realize that I am, but there’s always that extraordinary person who’s killing it in their teens or twenties. For me, some of the key elements of really good memoirs are:
- Transparency: I love memoirs where the author is transparent about their life and their mistakes. No one wants to read a memoir that they can’t relate to.
- Started from the bottom: I love memoirs that take you on the journey of life starting from the beginning. Society and social media tend to show you what success looks like without showing what it took to get there. I like when authors take you on the journey from the bottom up and not just the “up”.
- Evolution or Growth: As humans, we are constantly evolving and growing. I love memoirs that show a person’s growth. If you are the same way at the beginning of the story that you were at the end, something is wrong. Life should always push you to be better, greater, stronger. We are constantly learning and evolving and I love memoirs that illustrate that.
Some of the memoirs that I read recently have all three of these characteristics:
A memoir that I am looking forward to reading this year is Foxy: My Life in Three Acts by Pam Grier. I absolutely love her and I know she has a powerful life story.
What are your favorite memoirs?
Religion. Suicide. Abortion. Sexual Abuse. Failed First Love. Grief. Depression.
The book The Mothers does not hold back on the issues it addresses. But although these topics seem heavy, the author Brit Bennett does such an excellent job with her writing and character building that you don’t feel weighed down by the story once it’s over. It feels real.
At the core of this story is an abortion that beautiful Nadia Turner, the main character feels like she must have. She doesn’t confide in anyone including her boyfriend, she’s just hell-bent on getting one. This book tackles the choice women make when they either have an abortion and pursue the rest of their lives and their dreams or become a mother. The idea is that both choices come with costs and for Nadia, having a child would mean halting her dreams of going to college and becoming successful to stay at home, where being home meant dealing with grief and depression that her heart could no longer take.
I would identify this as a coming of age story that is representative of reality; not those coming of age stories where characters jump in lakes and try to soak in the last real summer before adulthood. This story hits home for several reasons and really illustrates the reality of young adulthood for some people. It tackles real-life issues while intertwining religion and often time the hypocrisy of it. I don’t want to give too much away, but I liked this book, I didn’t like the ending that much but I enjoyed reading it overall and loved how the author developed such powerful relationships that may or may not withstand the test of time.
If you’re into podcasts, For Colored Nerds on iTunes has an amazing interview with the author Britt Bennet who gives further perspective into the narrative of this story.
Americanah is the best book I have ever read. After 27-years of life and reading, I finally have a favorite book. I’ve been searching for it all my life and finally, it’s here! The book follows the lives of Ifemelu and Obinzie, two lovers who first meet in a secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria. The couple eventually separates. Ifemelu moves to America to go to school, while Obinze moves to London in search of work. They are smart, charismatic, and hopeful in Nigeria, but their new lives as immigrants in these sensationalized countries prove to be hard.
This book illustrates the power of first love. It’s a love story at its core, but a culturally important book that explores race, immigration, navigating adulthood, education, relationships, culture, culture clashing, assimilation, and so much. Like I said, this is the best book I’ve ever read in my life. Check out the below concept trailer for the movie:
Jacqueline Woodson wrote a beautiful coming of age story, set in Brooklyn in the 70s which felt familiar to me. Her main character August is telling this story of her childhood as an adult. She’s a successful archeologist but has to come back to Brooklyn because of her father’s death. Seeing an old best friend triggers memories of the borough that made her who she is. The story is charming but very short. It deals with themes that include grief, friendship, poverty, religion and so much more. If you’re interested in a short read that feels like soul food, this would be it.
Super late with this, but still wanted to share. In 2016 I challenged myself to read two books a month or 24-books. In turn, I only read 20, not reaching my goal, but I still set a new standard in my book intake (In 2015, it was only 14 books). I read books about race, self-help, finance, and spirituality. I read books that built me up, motivated me to change my life, and taught me about my history. I learned things about Malcolm X that I never knew and Assata Shakur became my hero. I learned how important purpose and destiny was and to avoid complacency all together. My life reached new heights as a result. Each book on this list was great, some better than others but none not leaving a permanent mark on my mind and my heart. Let me know your thoughts and let me know if you’re interested in reading what’s on my list (click the picture of the book to be linked directly to Amazon):
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
I wanted this book to be better. Maybe it’s because I am used to unparalleled depth and history in Toni Morrison books and this was one of the first books she’s written set in modern-day. It tells the story of Bride, who has blue-black skin, born to a light-skin mother and her struggles with becoming successful and finding what she thinks is love in spite of her insecurities. I read a similar book, The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman a few years back and that one was similar but had a bit more depth than this.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
Funny. Relatable. So Issa. This book is a series of essays that navigate Issa’s upbringing in California. Daughter of a Senegalese father and American mother, Issa tells stories of her summer adventures in Senegal, her first relationships and the days of AOL AIM, where she (we) chatted with friends before Iphones and Group text messages were even a thought. Honest, comedic, and so darn good, Issa tackles race, the early beginnings of Awkward Black Girl, and what it really means to be “different” as a black woman. One of my favorites by far.
The Education of Kevin Powell by Kevin Powell
I went to a Kevin Powell event at the Brooklyn Historical Society and it was almost obligatory to buy his book. I am happy I did too. It was one of the first memoirs that I read from the perspective of a man which was interesting, to say the least. Kevin Powell is a man that was raised by an unattached single black mother, who had been let down by the system and the men in her life and in turn, took her resentment out for the world on her son. Kevin Powell is a man who would grow up to become a writer, an activist and apart of the first season of the groundbreaking reality show “The Real World.” But Kevin Powell is a man who was troubled and lacked the guidance of a positive male figure who would’ve been able to show him right from wrong when it came down to his treatment of women, especially his girlfriends.
If you like good memoirs, I recommend this one.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
Malcolm X autobiography is required reading. If you read it as a kid, I believe you should read it again as an adult. I loved everything about this book. I write a full review here, that you can check out. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and one of my favorite memoirs…ever!
Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
A close second to The Autobiography of Malcolm X is Assata Shakur’s autobiography. Try as I may, I wanted to write a review about this book but for me it defied description and I knew my review would do it no justice. I was left feeling angry, empowered, and moved after reading this book. Angry because of the injustices that went behind getting Assata convicted. The right to a fair trial was not given to her. They treated her like an animal left to die in jail, the abuse was inhumane and I was disgusted. Empowered, because of the ownership and agency, she took over her life and over the situation she was in. She eventually escaped her prison hell and received asylum in Cuba. Moved, because her story matters. Our stories matter. We can’t let others manipulate and tell our stories, we ultimately have to write our own and I am impacted to this day by her power and her spirit.
You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
I read this book during a very vulnerable time in my life. It was the perfect pick. I do a full review of this book here.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Hmmm. Good book, but not great. I like the concept of the book, especially for what saying yes did for Shonda. Basically, what she’s trying to get across is that we have to say yes to living. Say yes to opportunities. At times she came off a little bit haughty and other times pretty humble. I will be the first to say I am proud of Shonda Rhimes and all that she’s accomplished. I loved learning about her journey and listening to her words of encouragement. I guess I was looking forward to a book about Shonda’s trajectory, how she got to where she was, and not how she overcame her insecurities and social anxieties once success came. It just seemed like more of a second book, as opposed to her first. Nevertheless, one of the most poignant moments in the book for me was that in the midst of saying Yes to everything, she said No to marriage; an engagement proposed by her then-boyfriend. Ultimately, Shonda said yes to herself, her children, and her own happiness not the happiness defined by society.
What I Know For Sure by Oprah
This book is better via Audio than reading…just saying! Oprah has the perfect audiobook voice. This book navigates a series of things that Oprah knows for sure. It takes you on a journey through her life including epic recaps of birthdays and first jobs, relationships and career ups and downs. What I loved about this book was Oprah’s ability to be transparent about her mistakes and triumphs. If you’re not already in love with Oprah, this book will make you fall hard.
Between the World and Me by Ta’neshi Coates
Required Reading in present times, also keep a highlighter handy. I wanted to write a full review of this book, and I still might. Coates explores race in America in an explicit way so his son, whom this book was written for, is not disillusioned by his place and position in this world as a black boy-soon-to-be-man. Ta-Nehisi explores “the dream” and the different connotations it takes on for someone who is white vs. someone who is black. He navigates gentrification, and the freedom whites have to walk through our streets without fear, while we constantly live in fear for our lives. He talks about black bodies and how devalued they are in America. Most importantly, he addresses violence at the hands of police, as he consoles a friend’s mother who has lost her son at the hands of a senseless police officer. He didn’t deserve to die but he did. And so, with so much more to say but at the risk of giving too much away, I would recommend this book to any and everyone.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Redefining Realness was eye-opening. Janet Mock is fabulous. She has brown skin, big spiral golden brown curls, and an amazing body. Upon looking at her you would never think she was born male. This book takes you on a journey through her troubled childhood in Hawaii, born to a mother who put her boyfriends before her children and a drug-addicted father. Janet explores the perils of sexual abuse, human trafficking and the plight of her transgender identity which ultimately shapes the successful woman she is today. I loved what this book did to me. It opened my mind to the struggles of the LGBTQ community and how hard it is to be true to yourself when society is telling you how you feel is wrong. There’s still so much for me to learn, but I am proud that I tackled this book and have more of an understanding of this community that has been silenced and ostracized for so long.
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki’s
Rich Dad Poor Dad was a good book. It taught me that you should never judge a book by its cover as the first couple of pages unveils who Robert’s rich dad was and who his poor dad was and it’s definitely not who you would have expected. Money consciousness and financial awareness are very important if you want to secure your financial future. I learned many important lessons. One of them being that you must pay yourself first. Bills will always be there, but if you don’t pay yourself out of your own paycheck, you’ll be in a cycle that benefits your bill collectors but does not benefit you. I also learned the importance of entrepreneurship, owning something. Being the boss, not working for one all your life. Finally, I learned how dangerous complacency is. I was moved by this book, and would like to read more books about financial awareness in the future.
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I expected a bit more from this book than I received. After all, it was one of Oprah’s favorites. What separates this novel from others of its kind is that the author Colson Whitehead, actually makes the Underground Railroad, a railroad. Another unique characteristic of this book is that the main character is a black woman named Cora. This book tackles mental health, the horrors of slavery, the medical experiments performed on blacks both dead and alive, and the hopelessness of many blacks whenever they thought the system was on their side (and it wasn’t). I was empowered by the main character Cora but slightly disappointed in the ending.
You Can and You Will by Joel Osteen
One of the most transformative books for my mind. I read You Can and You Will, while I was interviewing for a new job. When you’re in such a vulnerable position, you immediately want to be hard on your self. You want to tell yourself, you will never make it and that you will mess up during the interview. You say a bunch of things to yourself so you won’t be disappointed when the rejection email comes through. However, Joel wouldn’t allow me to do that. This book encouraged me. It helped me to realize that I have to think positive and change my outlook on life. Good things will happen to me. In fact, he encourages you to say that every morning “Today something great will happen to me” and it’s that type of upbeat positivity that has changed my life. I don’t have to be miserable like everyone else. I don’t have to think negatively. I want amazing things to happen in my life and because I believe it will…it will. I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of this book. It will change you for the better.
Destiny by T.D Jakes
Destiny by T.D Jakes was good but not earth-shattering great. I think listening to his sermons every Sunday was more transformative for my 2016. One thing this book made me realize is how your ego could get in the way of destiny. When we’ve been hurt by someone, we can’t forgive them because our ego won’t allow it, but we have to. I was also amazed when a powerhouse like Corretta Scott King revealed that her destiny was being the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It made me realize that sometimes our destines have nothing to do with us, but how we can impact and help others. I really enjoyed the stories in this book and the different way it made me look at destiny. Not all of us will be huge superstars and that’s ok. Getting to your destiny is a process but we have to remain faithful through it.
Colliding with Destiny by Sarah Jakes
Colliding with Destiny dissects the bible story of Ruth, which some believe is about love, but Sarah Jakes characterizes it as a story about destiny and Purpose. She takes the book of Ruth and intertwines it with her own personal stories. It was important for me to read this book because I am constantly on the search for purpose and what this book showed me was that having integrity, humbling your self in rough times, keeping faith, and always looking to God will eventually allow God to do a work in you, leading you to his plan for your life. In Ruth’s case it was her Boaz, a man that was equally upright and equally yoked with Ruth. At the heart of the story is a beautiful love that was ignited as a result of loss and pain, but God abundantly restored everything that the devil tried to take from Ruth.
Negroland by Margo Jefferson
Eh! It wasn’t the best memoir I read this year, but it served its purpose in teaching me about the life of elite blacks or as they refer to themselves the third race. Margot Jefferson has been raised privileged all her life during the 1950s but learns that money and class do not erase your blackness in the eyes of whites during the civil rights era. She takes us on a journey through her childhood, sharing experiences about her awkward but funny habits and we follow her into adulthood as she becomes more conscious of race and advocates against the injustices of her people. I learned a little more about the origins of Jack and Jill and organizations like it so the upper-class blacks could network with one another. I still wasn’t moved by it. Maybe it was a bit pretentious for me. Maybe it was because I couldn’t relate.
I read this book, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi in about 4-days which is shocking to me because I didn’t want to read it at all. Let me just say I REALLY enjoyed this book and learning that the author was my age was a proud moment for me. Homegoing is an amazing novel about our ancestry and the significance of returning back home, wherever home might be; in the case of these characters, Ghana.
The book starts with Effia and Esi, half-sisters who were not only beautiful, but didn’t know each other existed until their familial histories were revealed to them by family members and foes. Unknowingly, their lives would cross paths through generations. The book takes place in both Ghana and America chronicling the trajectories of both Effia and Esi’s descendants as they navigate Tribal Wars, Slavery, Jim Crow, Chain Gangs, British Imperialism, Drug Wars, and Mental Health. The book navigates history through the eyes of its characters and brings us to a full circle moment in the end. This book filled me up with pride and it made me want to go to Ghana. Gyasi is such an excellent writer. Reading her work, you can only wonder how she’s able to articulate her words with such detail and eloquence. The characters she created have depth, their stories similar to my own. I can say with certainty this is one of the most captivating novels I’ve read. Although our culture and history were taken from us, we should try to understand our family history from our mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and family-friends before it dies with them.
I first learned the term “Self-Care” in 2016 while at Blavity’s first Women’s Conference called “Empower Her.” I listened intently to a group of panelists, zeroing in on Francheska of HeyFranHey as she discussed self-care and the importance of taking a break from the world when it gets tough. Some of her tips included:
(1) Turning off your phone
(3) Taking nice baths
I thought these were great ideas. You can read some more about her tips here in this recent article published by the Huffington Post Black Voices. Hey Fran Hey, inspired me to create 5-self-care tips of my own that I want to share with you all for 2017:
- Prayer (Church): First, let me address what church does for me. Even before I was a believer, I always went to church. Initially, I was forced by my mother but eventually, it became a personal choice. I would go after spending all night out at a party, I would go when I knew I was doing everything God didn’t want me to do; it didn’t matter, I would still go. There was something captivating about Church. The peace I had as the service ended and feeling more encouraged to tackle the cruel world eventually had an effect on me. Today, it still serves as my refuge. A place where I can lift my hands and worship Jesus through song and prayer for all he’s brought me through. As I mature in my walk with Christ, I realize that I don’t have to get down on my knees to talk to God, I can talk to him throughout the day, when I’m in the elevator, on the train, at work, in my head, out loud, it doesn’t matter, because he’s always there. Sometimes saying a simple prayer about whatever is bothering me, makes me feel better. Sometimes, reading a spiritually based devotional or the bible makes me feel better too. I feel like prayer is a very important self-care tip, if not the most important because you have the security in knowing that you are not alone. God sees everything; he knows what you’re going through before you even say it. He can intervene on our behalf, we just have to talk to him.
- Limit Social Media Intake: Notice I said limit, I didn’t say get rid of completely (although for some people that works too). For me, social media has become a part of my life. It’s where I discover news and keep up to date with my family and friends. In reality, I don’t want to rid myself of it entirely, but I understand that if I spend too much time on it, it becomes overwhelming. I also know how draining it is to follow people who only post negative or nonsensical things. So, if you’re like me try limiting your social media intake. Spend10-15minutes on Facebook or Instagram a day. Unfollow the people who annoy you for peace of mind and keep it moving.
- Read a book: I love reading so this might be a bit self-indulgent but getting sucked into an amazing book is one of the best feelings ever. I always feel most accomplished and fulfilled after I finish a great book. It definitely helps to take your mind off of everything else.
- Positive Vibes: Hanging out with people who have amazing vibes is one of the best feelings in the world. Discovering a new restaurant or spot that you enjoy is equally as amazing. Being surrounded by positivity is one of the best self-care tips I can suggest for anyone. Self-care doesn’t always mean you’re isolated and alone. It has taken on a new meaning for me in recent months as I discovered a tribe of women who I can just be transparent with, letting my hair down, discussing insecurities and imperfections and not feeling judged according to my flaws. I can’t emphasize the importance of positive vibes in everything you do whether it’s the friends you choose, the people you choose to work with, or even the places you visit during a night on the town. You make the choice, and the choice has to be one that makes you feel good.
- Activities: I dance in the mirror. It’s something that I do. I like looking at myself while I dance. It makes me happy. Weird quirks aside, I like to paint, take a class that builds a skill (TV Writing, DJ’ing, Cooking), take myself out to dinner or a movie, write, exercise (don’t sleep on a Twerkout or Aerial Yoga), make collages, watch DVDs…basically, I do anything that makes me feel good. I try not to limit myself and what I do and you shouldn’t either!
What are some of your self-care tips?
Before reading the book, What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey, I set out to answer that very question for myself. In the beginning, my answers were pretty cryptic. I know for sure that I’m going to die (as we all should know). I also know for sure that I believe in Jesus. But what else did I know for sure? I was stumped. If this book was anything like my answers, I was in for a rude awakening. So I decided to figure out what it was all about first and then try to answer the same question once I was done.
What I Know For Sure, made me fall in love with Oprah. It humanized her, as she talked candidly about her 20’s and 30’s, building a career, feeling worthless and even dealing with bad guys in relationships. There were a lot of things that I didn’t know about her life, that I was so happy she shared. For her 58th birthday, Oprah’s friends surprised her with one of her favorite singer’s Snatam Kaur. I know what you’re thinking, big deal, its Oprah, but the beauty of this story is that she didn’t think she was worthy enough to invite the singer to perform at her own birthday. She went to bed kind of disappointed in herself, only to find out a few hours later her friends had the singer come to her home and serenade her with her favorite songs. It was a beautiful story.
This book is filled with the advice only Oprah can give. She is transparent, infusing personal stories with life lessons. She talks about her relationship with Gayle and how supportive she’s always been as a best friend. She also talks about aging, how she chooses to celebrate growing older as opposed to begrudging it because it represents more opportunity to live. There are a couple of things that Oprah knows for sure, which now serve as life lessons for me which you can find below:
- Reading opens you up and exposes you to access anything your mind can hold.
- Love, a relationship built on real love should feel good most of the time, it should involve bringing who you are to the table and walking away with more.
- Encountering Obstacles, every experience is a valuable teacher. It’s a blessing to be able to survive them and make the climb up life’s mountain.
- Unworthiness, unconscious feelings of unworthiness show up in everything you do or don’t do.
- Combating Shame, when you know who you are and what you stand for, stand in wisdom.
- Haters, naysayers will always feel threatened because they don’t believe they are enough and will never feel satisfied.
- Fear, what would you do if you weren’t afraid of feeling rejected, making a mistake, looking foolish, or being alone? When you remove the fear, the answer you’ve been searching for comes into focus.
- The Journey, never lose faith in the path. Changing the way you think about your situation is the key to improving it. Learning to appreciate your lessons is a clear sign you are moving in the right direction.
- Prayer, if the only prayer you ever said in your entire life was thank you, it would be enough.
- Gratitude, sometimes we get so focused on the difficulty of our climb that we lose sight of being grateful for having a mountain to climb. When you focus on the goodness of your life you create more of it.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for some encouragement in their lives. Oprah’s outlook on life is simply magnificent. She finds beauty in everything around her and is willing to share with us, some of her mistakes and triumphs that made her the wise woman she is today. Make gratitude a priority.