For many, summer is one of the few times of the year when life slows down a little. And for many, it is one of the few periods when there’s actually time to sit still enough to read an entire book. So whether you like to spend these precious moments escaping with some juicy drama, learning tips for self-enhancement or getting caught up in beautiful wordplay, Books on the Root has compiled 30 reading suggestions to match any speed.
By Percival Everett
Graywolf, June 2009
Few writers could pull off the premise of Everett’s new novel. After the sudden death of his smart yet “certifiably crazy” mother, Not Sidney Poitier (that is what his Mama named him) is a parentless adolescent. He doesn’t know who his father is; his mother neither confirmed nor denied that it is the actual Sidney Poitier. He’s invited to live with Ted Turner in Atlanta. Yes, that Ted Turner. Turns out, Not Sidney’s mother wasn’t just smart; she was also a shrewd investor who poured her life savings into Turner Broadcasting, which made her son filthy rich. Although Ted makes it very clear that he isn’t Philip Drummond and that Not Sidney is not Arnold Jackson, he is one of Poitier’s only friends and the closest thing he has to a father.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of fun at the expense of Not Sidney’s name, which makes him the butt of many jokes (and because Everett is so good, you laugh every time) and fairly unpopular among peers. He does have a skill—the ability to “fesmerize,” or hypnotize, people—that he learned through his bookworm ways. It’s an ability that comes in handy to see Jane Fonda’s breasts and eventually to gain protection for his life. He’s also a dreamer, and his dreams allow Everett to place Poitier in different points in history, from slavery to the Jim Crow ’50s. While some of these visions add unique texture to the story, others slow it down.
Eventually Not Sidney drops out of high school, which is partly prompted by the antics of a sexually harassing teacher. Bored, he enrolls at Morehouse College after donating a large sum of money to the university. There he meets Percival Everett. Yes Everett has written himself in the book. Well, sort of. As a professor at the college who wrote a book called Erasure (sound familiar?), this Everett teaches the “Philosophy of Nonsense,” basks in ridiculousness and spouts both foolishness and wisdom. “People,” he tells his student, “are worse than anybody.” He, too, befriends the young man.
During his college days, Poitier, who begins to look more and more like the actor, manages to date a girl briefly, only to be confronted with her baggage when he visits her light-skinned, class- and color-conscious family for Thanksgiving.
Still feeling confused and unfilled, Poitier leaves college to head back to the Los Angeles house where he grew up. Along the way he meets some nuns, agrees to help them build a church and solves a murder of a young man who looks just like him. Does he find himself in the end? Not really, but then most of the rest of us don’t either.
Through this seemingly absurd plot, Everett throws in politics, racism, commentary on identity, shots at Bill Cosby and BET, sarcasm, wit and humor, lots of it. Most importantly, he makes all the elements play nicely together for a surprisingly meaty novel that will have you laughing out loud wherever you go this summer.
And for those with more time on their hands, here are additional titles to make you forget how quickly summer goes by:
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Knopf, June 2009
In her first short story collection, the acclaimed Nigerian writer tackles class, assimilation and broken ties in Africa and America.
By Rabih Alameddine
Anchor, June 2009 (paperback)
By Monica Ali
Scribner, June 2009
Using the intense, hot and multicultural environment of a London restaurant kitchen as a backdrop, the packed novel centers on a troubled chef.
By Biyi Bandele
Amistad, March 2009
Published originally in the U.K., the novel focuses on black African soldiers who fought in WWII, a story that until now has been severely overlooked.
By Michele Andrea Bowen
Grand Central, April 2009
The Essence best-selling Christian fiction author returns with her fourth novel about two souls searching for love, happiness and faith.
By Connie Briscoe
Grand Central, June 2009
Briscoe returns with her brand of love and life fiction in this anticipated sequel to Sisters & Lovers.
By Stephen L. Carter
Knopf, July 2009
What comes out when a former CIA head and Wall Street mogul is on his death bed? Secrets, foreign involvement and betrayal.
By Margaret Cezair-Thompson
Random House, July 2009
Once out of print, this debut novel by the award-winning author of The Pirate’s Daughter has been brought back to life and tells the story of three women living in the harsh yet beautiful paradise that is Jamaica.
By J. California Cooper
Doubleday, March 2009
The treasured writer continues to impart wisdom, joy and relatable struggles through the colorful characters who inhabit a Midwestern town from the dawn of the 20th century.
By Petina Gappah
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June 2009
By Mat Johnson, Art by Warren Pleece
Vertigo, May 2009 (soft cover)
Recently released in paperback, this graphic novel mixes politics, the American South, lynching, murder charges and racial passing in a neatly packed mystery.
By Kasper Hauser
Little, Brown and Company, June 2009
Written by a comedic team, this parody of what the president’s BlackBerry would read includes silly text messages from his staff, crazy news alerts and funny e-mails from foreign officials.
By Patrick and Gina Neely with Paula Disbrowe
Knopf, May 2009
The collection of recipes from the Food Network’s lovable cooking couple may motivate carryout aficionados to whip up something.
By Clarence Nero
Broadway, June 2009
The sequel to Three Sides to Every Story follows the conflicted love between Johnny and James, who, having met in prison, try to maneuver their new worlds in Washington, D.C., after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
By Lisa Nichols
Grand Central, April 2009
A contributor to “The Secret” DVD, the motivational speaker has developed a plan to teach you how to flex your “bounce-back” muscles and capture your dream life.
Random House, June 2009
The young and highly imaginative novelist returns with her third book, a tale about twin girls, a haunted house and family secrets.
Edited by Otto Penzler
Pegasus, March 2009
The proprietor of New York’s The Mysterious Bookshop has gathered a signature cast of past and present black wordsmiths— like Paula L. Woods, Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, Gary Phillips and Edward P. Jones—for a collection of writings that he believes “transcend race and genre to fulfill their primary purpose—to inform and entertain.”
By Larry Tye
Random House, June 2009
The former Boston Globe reporter turns his attention to the myth, truth and mystery behind Satchel Paige, the Negro Leagues pitcher who never really got his proper due.
By Alexis Wright
Atria, April 2009
They Just Keep Giving
Classics to devour (again) this summer.
By James Baldwin
Escape to Greenwich Village in the 1950s.
By Octavia E. Butler
Bask in the genius of the late, great Octavia Butler.
By Bebe Moore Campbell
The touching story of the bond between father and daughter that’s strengthened during summers.
By Paulo Coelho
Following one’s dreams seems like a reality for anyone, including a young shepherd in this well-crafted literary fable.
By W.E.B. Du Bois
Is an explanation really necessary?
By Gabriel García Márquez
An undeniable sweeping novel for epic-lovers.
By Terry McMillan
Love is beautiful but not easy in this non-romanticized romance.
By Toni Morrison
Magical, memorable and Morrison.
By William Shakespeare
How many can really serve oh-no-he-didn’t responses like the original king of drama?
By Sister Souljah
The street-lit book that other street-lit books wish they were.
Felicia Pride is the book columnist for The Root and the founder of BackList. Her most recent book is The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs.
is a writer, speaker, author of books for adults and youth, and the book columnist for The Root. Her most recent book is \"The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs.\" Visit her at feliciapride.com.