I hear it all the time. In coffee shops. On panels lamenting the decline in reading. In educational centers. On the street. While out with friends. There aren’t any good books published anymore.
While there may be slight truths in this rather sweeping generalization, I think the problem lies more in the fact that great literature doesn’t always get its versus the fact that book publishing conglomerates seem to have made a unified pact to release only mind garbage. Literary gems of all shapes and sizes bless us with their presence every month. The question: Do we acknowledge them?
The Root is doing its part to shift more attention toward noteworthy reads. These recently released titles may not have been anointed with huge marketing budgets or splashy ads; the New York Times may have passed on a review; and your local bookstore may not have allowed them to grace those hot real estate positions on front tables. Nonetheless, they are worthy in their own ways and deserve some of the spotlight.
The Darker Mask: Heroes from the Shadows
Edited by Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers
Tor, August 2008
Mosley. Banks. Due. Barnes. The stellar cast of writers included in this anthology, which gives props to multicultural superbeings, is like the Olympic team of fantasy, noir and ultra-imaginative wordsmiths. From an HIV-positive heroin addict who gains supernatural powers to a bounty hunter with mystical abilities who takes on an Armenian crime syndicate, this collection—as great writing should—knows no boundaries.
By Jeffery Renard Allen
Graywolf Press, September 2008
Blurbs, those co-signs from other writers or personalities that tell the world how “superbly written” a book is, can sometimes be a bunch of crap. But the fact that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz has called Allen’s short story collection “beautiful” and “a gift” should make folk perk up. Even without such validation, Allen’s inventive and sharp journey through the fragility of humankind remixes what it means to be real and makes for a must-do ride.
By Judge Greg Mathis
Atria, September 2008
Okay, here’s a classic example of star power and the publishing industry’s fascination with it. Judge Mathis writing novels? Shut your mouth! Going beyond the obvious vanity of Mathis, who wrote himself into the book as the main character, there’s something intriguing, even from an entertainment standpoint, of a retired-judge-turned–reality-television-star penning an urban legal thriller.
By Jewell Parker Rhodes
Atria, August 2008
Part two of Parker Rhodes highly popular New Orleans trilogy mixes the city’s brutal past, present-day ghosts, mystery, jazz, voodoo and one of the most dynamic heroines to craft an enchanting tale that dips and travels through very real aspects of the African-American experience.
The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life
Edited by Kevin Powell
Atria, September 2008
In this essay collection/call-to-action/life plan penned by a who’s who of the young black male intelligentsia, including filmmaker Byron Hurt, actor Hill Harper (who wrote the book’s foreword), television host Jeff Johnson and writer William Jelani Cobb, black men of all ages are urged to redefine their manhood. Right now.
Deconstructing Sammy: Music, Money, Madness, and the Mob
By Matt Birkbeck
Amistad/HarperCollins, September 2008
Deconstructing an icon as revered as Sammy Davis Jr. can be risky business. Investigative journalist Birkbeck is up to the challenge and potential backlash by providing details of the entertainer’s off-stage life, including his IRS problems, mob connections and sexual exploits.
Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid
By Frank B. Wilderson III
South End Press, August 2008
The former member of the African National Congress intermingles his experiences fighting apartheid with an analysis of revolution, political activism and contemporary race relations.
It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop: The Rise of the Post Hip Hop Generation
By M.K. Asante
St. Martin’s Press, September 2008
Hip-hop’s dead. Well, not quite. But in this critique of a sprawling culture that’s shifted away from its roots of resistance and empowerment, the 25-year-old college professor asserts that young people like himself—the post-hip-hop generation—are creating a new movement that isn’t defined by a genre of music that’s corporately owned.
The Legs are the Last To Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying, and Other Things I Learned the Hard Way
By Diahann Carroll
Amistad/HarperCollins, September 2008
The first black woman to win a Tony Award has lived quite a remarkable life, which she details in all its fabulousness and pain—from her rendezvous with Sidney Poitier to her battle with breast cancer. At 73, the actress known from her “Dynasty”days has a story that screams tenacity.
Next Stop: Growing Up Wild-Style in the Bronx
By Ivan Sanchez
Touchstone Books / Simon & Schuster, October 2008
Drugs. Gangs. Street codes. Insurance fraud. Death. It’s all captured in this harsh coming-of-age story of a young Puerto Rican boy growing up during the ’80s and ’90s in the Bronx who hard-bopped down a path of destruction before turning his life around.
By Patricia Smith
Coffee House Press, September 2008
This veteran poet’s new collection depicts the haunting reality of Hurricane Katrina in extraordinary detail and its effects on the spirit and people of New Orleans. It’s a lyrical, political, sensory and utterly amazing feat that only an artist of her caliber, heart and imagination could pull off.
By Suheir Hammad
Cypher Books, October 2008
The former Def poet and Tony Award-winner returns with an ambitious collection that strips, bends, remixes and re-creates language to capture the simplest and most complex life moments.
Felicia Pride is a writer and word lover who runs BackList, an organization that celebrates that passion. Her most recent book is The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip Hop’s Greatest Songs.