The Writeous Babe Summer Reading List

Monday, June 2, 2014

As a teacher of early American literature I essentially read for a living. But summer is that time of year when I can take a break from bad students essays and books by dead white dudes. (Although, I do usually read some Edgar Allan Poe in the summer. I love me some Poe.) 

Here's what's on my reading list for this season:

John the Revelator by T.J. Beitelman

For the record, I'm totally OK with reading books by living white dudes in the summer, proven by the fact that Beitelman's book is at the top of my list. Black Lawrence Press describes the novel this way:

“Every prophet needs a home where they can hate him,” says the black buzzard of the title character’s nightmares. Part reluctant Tiresias, part locusts-and-honey outcast, teenaged John stumbles into the darker thickets of human insight—the high arts of vice and violence—and the small Alabama town he calls home will never be the same when he comes out the other side. T.J. Beitelman’s John the Revelator is the novel that Francesca Lia Block would write if someone dragged her kicking and screaming to Alabama and she started writing from the darkest corners of the Southern Gothic tradition.

Oh, did I mention that Beitelman is my co-worker. a creative writing instructor at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, the school at which I teach, and he's one of the nicest people on the planet. I can't wait to read his book.

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons, and Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage

Several friends have recommended this book to me, saying it's a must read for women writers. Cleage is one of the most popular playwrights in a America and a bestselling author. In this autobiographical work she retraces her struggles to hone her craft in the midst of a tumultuous personal and professional life.

Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

In 2007 Copeland became the third African American female soloist and the first in two decades at the American Ballet Theatre. Memoirs by women are my favorite thing to read, which the rest of this list will clearly reveal. Even though I'm a writer, not a dancer (unless you count me killing it in hip-hop fitness classes) I am especially eager to read about Copeland's life.  She's a role model to many of my students -- of all races -- who are in our school's dance department and I'm kind of obsessed with her Instagram account.

Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris Perry

This book has been on my summer reading list for the past two years because I'm a huge fan of Melissa Harris Perry. It's quite pathetic I haven't read it yet. In this book Harris-Perry examines the most persistent stereotypes black women face today in America such as the hypersexual Jezebel, the devoted Mammy and, of course, the angry black bitch.

Baby Proof by Emily Giffin

This too is from a previous summer reading list. Baby Proof tells the story of Claudia Parr a successful editor at a publishing house in Manhattan. While Claudia is a devoted sister, aunt, and friend, she's never wanted to become a mother--which she discovers is a major hurdle to marriage, something she desperately wants. Then she meets her soul mate Ben who, miraculously, feels the same way about parenthood. The two fall in love and marry, and begin a life of adventure and discovery together. Then, one of them has a change of heart. Someone wants a baby after all.

Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

Here's how Amazon describes this book: 

If parenting is making Americans unhappy, if it’s impossible to “have it all,” if people don’t have the economic, social, or political structures needed to support parenting, then why do it? And why are anxious new parents flocking to every Tiger Mother and Bébé-raiser for advice on how to raise kids? 
In Why Have Kids?, Valenti explores these controversial questions through on-the-ground reporting, startling new research, and her own unique experiences as a mom. She moves beyond the black and white “mommy wars” over natural parenting, discipline, and work-life balance to explore a more nuanced reality: one filled with ambivalence, joy, guilt, and exhaustion. A must read for parents as well as those considering starting a family, Why Have Kids? is an explosive addition to the conversation about modern parenthood.

Yeah, there's a bit of a baby theme here. I've always been told that the baby bug would bite me when I turned 30. Well, I'm 33 and no bites. But I'm reading this and Baby Proof to see if I get the itch. I'll keep you posted and let y'all know if there are any plans for a Writeous Baby. But don't get your hopes up. I adore my child-free life. 

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

Dr. Angelou's death last week hit me hard. I never met her but I felt as if I'd lost a great aunt when I learned of her passing Wednesday morning. I'm sure other many other women can relate. Dr. Angelou knew that her female admirers viewed her as family and fortunately she saw us as family too. Her book Letter to My Daughter is a collection of essays dedicated to the daughter she never had but saw in all the women of the world who looked up to her. 

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington

In Thrive, Arianna Huffington makes an impassioned and compelling case for the need to redefine what it means to be successful in today's world. But I'm also buying and reading this book because Huffington is speaking at this year's BlogHer conference and I'm determined to get her to sign my book (and take a selfie with me). 

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan

Another white dude makes the list! Fun fact: renowned food writer Michael Pollan was my thesis adviser at when I was in graduate school at UC Berkeley. Since he helped me get my thesis project in shape I'm hoping he'll help get me in shape too as I strive to change my eating habits for the better. I recently purchased a special edition of Pollan's Food Rules that includes illustrations by Maira Kalman. This handbook lays out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely. Kalman's paintings remind us that there is delight in learning to eat well.

Vagina: A Cultural History by Naomi Wolf

Vagina - I have one, it's pretty important to me, and I would like to learn all I can about it. Enough said.

What are you reading this summer? 


  1. I got bitten by the baby bug when I was in my early 30s, but then I got a major dose of the perfect antidote - a week with my sister's two-year-old daughter - and the baby itch has not been felt since.

    Misty Copeland's book is also on my to-read list. Now brb, going to find her instagram account.

    1. I have honestly never wanted kids. It's not something I ever really thought about growing up. I've always been so focused on career and creative pursuits and trying to change the world. But we'll see if that changes before my eggs dry up.

      You'll get hooked on Copeland's Instagram account too. You'll see!

  2. Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke (teaching it in the fall at church), and My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Remen (highly recommended by one Andy Bates).

    1. That Jesus > Religion book sounds very interesting! I can't wait to hear about it when you finish and I'd like to hear about your class too.

  3. These sound awesome! I'm totally with you on the books about strong, inspiring women and not wanting kids. I'll be adding a couple of these to my own list!

    1. Maybe we can meet up and discuss some of these after we've read them!

  4. I have (and love) Babyproof! I just saw the Misty Copeland autobiography at the bookstore. Can't wait to read that one! Sister Citizen peaked me interest, too. Thanks for the recommendations!

  5. I recently finished Beitelman's book. He's a great writer, no doubt. I'm going to add some of these to my own reading list! Seeing some books about the decision to be or to not be a mother makes me think of a book I saw reviewed in BUST magazine. It's Otherhood by Melanie Notkin. Looks really interesting, you should check it out!

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