10 Novels on My ‘Book Bucket List’

WP My TBR (to be read) list is a mile long and filled with books I want to blog about or have simply piqued my interest.  But there are a few novels – 10 to be exact – that I absolutely have to read before I die.  Some of these selections are critically acclaimed and highly recommended by readers.  Others have been recommended by friends/family whose reading taste I highly respect. There are also a few that have simply been on my TBR list for so many years that it will be a huge accomplishment to check them off.

Taking a slight detour from our typical Afro-lit theme (there are not many titles left on my afro-bucket list), here is my latest ‘Book Bucket List’:

A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving)
This is one of the few classic novels my humanities-focused high school did not require us to read. I will use that as an excuse for how I somehow missed out on reading this gem. I’m intrigued by this novel because of its themes of faith and acceptance of fate.  A Prayer for Owen Meany also makes my list because my baby brother, a fellow avid reader, lists it as his favorite book of all time. This novel has quite a heavy expectation to live up to!

The Sound and the Fury (Faulkner)
I actually was required to read this one in high school but after suffering through reading As I Lay Dying, I was NOT interested in hearing another word from Faulkner.  I used Cliffnotes and Sparknotes to fudge my way through class discussions on The Sound and the Fury so I owe it to myself (and my humanities teachers) to finish this behemoth as an adult.

The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck)
I’ve read snippets of John Steinbeck’s novels and have to say that I am in love with his writing style. The Grapes of Wrath is another one of those critically acclaimed novels that no one wants to admit (publicly) they haven’t read. But the Afro-library is a safe space so…”Hi, my name is ____and I have never read Steinbeck”.

Jane Erye (Bronte)
Speaking of books that are near and dear to the hearts of many readers, I have never read Jane Erye. There, I said it.  I have to admit, this novel has never intrigued me. But countless friends, readers and fellow bloggers tell me that I MUST read this book and so it makes the list. Lit lovers, I hear you! It’s on my list…

The Spyglass Tree (Murray)
Albert Murray is one of the most underrated African American authors of the 20th Century in spite of the fact that he writes beautifully and brilliantly. He is the favorite author of one of our Afro-Librarians.  Also, The Spyglass Tree happens to be my husband’s favorite novel. This one had to make the list.

Dandelion Wine (Bradbury)
Speaking of men in my life whom I love and respect, I consider my dad to be a pretty cool dude as well . . . just don’t tell him I said that. He has often said that as a teenager, Dandelion Wine, a coming of age tale loosely mirroring Ray Bradbury’s life, was his favorite book. For that reason alone, it’s on my must-read list.

11/22/63 (King)
Growing up, I was a HUGE fan of Stephen King.  I had a mild obsession with his writing until I read one of his earlier works — It. After reading It, King’s most famous horror novel, I was left disturbed, rocking in fetal position and unable to read anything scarier than R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. I’ve had several years to get over this trauma and am now ready to rekindle my love affair with King. The first novel of my choosing will be his epic politico-thriller titled 11/22/63.

Infinite Jest (Wallace)
I get it, he’s some sort of genius. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is one of the most acclaimed (and lengthiest) American novels of the 21st Century and I have yet to read a word of it. I plan to correct this problem (and find out what all the fuss is about) before the end of this year. Stay tuned for my reactions of either high praise or bitter disappointment…

The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien)
Any book snob worth a grain of salt would never admit to seeing the movie version before reading the novel. But I admit that I overlooked the magic and beauty of Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’ until the films were released in the early 2000’s. I now own the films, prequels, and over 16 hours of extended footage. Suffice it to say, I am somewhat of a fan. But, I’ll never reach true LOTR fandom until I read this novel in its entirety. This sounds like a summer project….

The Handmaiden’s Tale (Atwood)
I saved this entry for last because I could not think of an interesting reason as to why this novel has been on my ‘Book Bucket List’ for so many years. The primary reason is simply that the plot sounds really cool: “a ‘dystopian’ novel . . .  set in the near future, in a totalitarian Christian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government . . . explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency.” I’ve been drawn to this book for years so it’s time to verify whether my instincts about it are correct.

Tell us which books are at the top of your reading ‘bucket list’…


Filed under For Lovers, Readers and Me

Four Great Cookbooks for Afro-Vegans & Vegetarians

If you’re anything like me, the hardest part about permanently committing to a vegetarian lifestyle is giving up favorite foods – American soul food, Caribbean cuisines, and African dishes.  Sure, I can load up on collard greens (sans the meat flavoring) and sweet potato souffle, but there are so many other dishes I gave up because I don’t know how to prepare them without using meat. 

In my struggle to remain a vegetarian and (once) attempt a vegan diet, I’ve fallen short many times. But recently I found a few great books to help me in my journey. I hope that sharing my finds may help our readers who have similar goals. We hope this list is useful and please don’t be shy about sharing you recommendations or tips with us!  It takes a village to raise a vegan/vegetarian 🙂


 1) The Vegan Soulfood Guide to the Galaxy by Aya Ibomu

This book is more than just a cookbook, it’s a lifestyle guide to help new vegans learn where to shop, how to plan meals, understand restaurant menus and simply eat healthy.  This is a must-read for those even considering a dietary change. 



 2) Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy and Creative African-American Cuisine by Bryant Terry

Soul food doesn’t have to be greasy and loaded with meat. It can be fresh, healthy and also taste amazing. This wonderful cookbook will help you think outside of the box and eat flavorful comfort food without compromising your health and nutrition goals.



 3) Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry

Another vegan cookbook by acclaimed Afro-Vegan Bryant Terry.  Here you will find recipes from Africa and the Diaspora with a creative and delicious vegan twist. This is a great book to add to your culinary rotation if you’re getting bored with traditional American vegan recipes. 



 4) Vegetarian Soulfood Cookbook: A Wonderful Medley of Vegetarian, Vegan and Raw Recipes Inspired by the Southern Tradition by Dawn Marie Daniels and Imar Hutchins

This cookbook will convince any nonbeliever that you can maintain the same delicious soul food flavors you grew up eating without using meat or unhealthy ingredients. The cheese grits and sweet potatoe pie recipes are my favorite but there are so many recipes here I am itching to try. 


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What He’s Reading: Wole Soyinka’s ‘Prisonettes’

In 1967 Wole Soyinka was imprisoned for twenty-two months, a large part of the time in isolation.  He has said that the prison is meant to “break down the human mind”, and yet, without much opportunity to write, and often having to memorize in large part, he constructed, A Shuttle in the Crypt, a book of poems which he terms ‘prisonettes’.  A ‘prisonette’ is not a poem of or about prisons, but what can come out of the prisons given that they are not the constructions in which anyone can occupy such a space.  The prison is the specific expression of the prisoner; the prison was made for the prisoner—it is the natural expression of poetics of place.

‘Prisonettes’, though, are not ontological, though, in the sense of producing a certain kind of being—”a new kind of man, a Negro”.  They are the expressions of those beings for whom prison is their ‘natural end’.  In other words, a ‘prisonette’ is the expression of what Abdul R. Jan Mohamed terms, in his description of Richard Wright, as a death-bound subject.  A ‘prisonette’ addresses the question posed by Etheridge Knight, “can there anything/good come out of/prison”

                “We sought to cleanse the faulted lodes

                To raise new dwellings pillard on crags…

                …Forge new realities, free our earth 

                Of distorting shadows cast by old

                And modern necromancers.” (Excerpt from “Conversation at Night with a Cockroach”)

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World Poetry Day: You Are Oceanic


You Are Oceanic

By Tapiwa Mugabe

All she wanted

Was find a place to

Stretch her bones

A place to lengthen

Her smiles

And spread her hair

A place where her

Legs could walk

Without cutting and


A place unchained

She was born out of

Ocean breath.

I reminded her;

‘Stop pouring so

Much of yourself

Into hearts that have

No room for


Do not thin yourself

Be vast

You do not bring the

Ocean to a river’

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Three Tips for Getting Out of a Reading Slump

I have been an avid reader ever since I first learned my ABCs.  On Saturdays, my mother would take my brothers and I to our local library and allow us to check out all the books we wanted to read that week…which, for me, was as many children’s books as my tiny arms could carry.

I was a voracious reader as a child and am even more ravenous as an adult.  But even the most passionate lifelong reader can lose steam from time to time.  For me, it usually happens after I finish a truly exceptional novel and can’t bring myself to start another because I’m unmotivated to move on. This feeling usually goes away after a week or so but every now and then, the feeling lingers.  When I am unable to start a new book after several weeks, I officially consider myself to be in a reading slump. Oh, the turmoil!

In recent years I’ve learned how to pull myself out of these slumps.  The following tips have helped me regain focus and recharge my love of reading.  I hope they can be helpful to other readers experiencing the same:

1) Switch Genres. If you typically read sci-fi, switch to historical fiction. If your reading queu is filled with literary fiction, try a romance novel. If lengthy world literature is your modus operandi, explore a collection of short stories. Whatever you do, shake things up!  For me, short stories are are great for getting out of a book slump because they allow exploration of new authors without committing to reading an entire novel.

2) Leave it to fate. In other words, allow someone else or something else to choose what you read next. That could mean picking up a title completely at random, joining a book club, or simply taking a friend up on her most recent reading recommendation. Removing the need to make a decision is a great way to get back into the swing of things. Sometimes having no choice gives you the freedom to read without bias. Having little to no expectations for a book opens up the opportunity to be surprised and appreciate something you may not have read on your own.

3) Choose a different medium of expression.  There are many ways to tell a story – theater, music, film. Different artistic forms of expression can inspire creativity and unique perspective.  In fact, Somali-British poet Warsan Shire is responsible for bringing me out of my most recent book slump and inspiring me to read a novel in my book queu written by another East African author.  This tactic may inspire you to read an old favorite with new eyes or to explore and appreciate a lesser known author or avant-garde writing style.

If the above tips don’t work, simply taking a break from reading for a while. Great books have a magical way of finding you when you aren’t looking!

Happy reading…

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Writing While Black (Words from Toni Morrison)


I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don’t know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say ‘people,’ that’s what I mean.   

– from Conversations with Toni Morrison

I deeply understand Toni’s frustration.  Writing from one’s own truth/perspective/history is the surest way to resonate with readers from all walks of life.  I myself have felt deeply moved by authors whom I have little in common with – Edith Wharton, George Orwell, Charles Dickens, John Keats, etc.  From their hearts they wrote their stories, not mine.  Yet their words spoke to me, a black girl from Ohio (like Toni), in meaningful ways that still resonate today.  Similarly, Toni Morrison, Richard wright, and countless other black writers do an exceptional job of tapping into their introspective selves to tell their story in a way that resonates with a multitude of readers.  Why, then, are they asked to write “universally”?


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A Poem by Warsan Shire

1. I’m lonely so I do lonely things
2. Loving you was like going to war; I never came back the same.
3. You hate women, just like your father and his father, so it runs in your blood.
4. I was wandering the derelict car park of your heart looking for a ride home.
5. You’re a ghost town I’m too patriotic to leave.
6. I stay because you’re the beginning of the dream I want to remember.
7. I didn’t call him back because he likes his girls voiceless.
8. It’s not that he wants to be a liar; it’s just that he doesn’t know the truth.
9. I couldn’t love you, you were a small war.
10. We covered the smell of loss with jokes.
11. I didn’t want to fail at love like our parents.
12. You made the nomad in me build a house and stay.
13. I’m not a dog.
14. We were trying to prove our blood wrong.
15. I was still lonely so I did even lonelier things.
16. Yes, I’m insecure, but so was my mother and her mother.
17. No, he loves me he just makes me cry a lot.
18. He knows all of my secrets and still wants to kiss me.
19. You were too cruel to love for a long time.
20. It just didn’t work out.
21. My dad walked out one afternoon and never came back.
22. I can’t sleep because I can still taste him in my mouth.
23. I cut him out at the root, he was my favorite tree, rotting, threatening the foundations of my home.
24. The women in my family die waiting.
25. Because I didn’t want to die waiting for you.
26. I had to leave, I felt lonely when he held me.
27. You’re the song I rewind until I know all the words and I feel sick.
28. He sent me a text that said “I love you so bad.”
29. His heart wasn’t as beautiful as his smile
30. We emotionally manipulated one another until we thought it was love.
31. Forgive me, I was lonely so I chose you.
32. I’m a lover without a lover.
33. I’m lovely and lonely.
34. I belong deeply to myself .

― Warsan Shire from Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth

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What She’s Reading: Love Is Power Or Something Like That

Its been a long time since we’ve written – sorry.  One major life update is that we got hitched!

We are back from our honeymoon and have not forgotten about our loyal readers. In fact, we read Incidence In The Life of a Slave Girl during our vacation and can’t wait to blog about it!  Yes, we read a book during our honeymoon.  We love reading almost as much as we love each other so it’s fitting that it was one of our activities 😉

Back to the matter at hand…

A. Igoni Barrett’s fascinating collection of short stories surrounding the lives of several unconnected characters living in both rural and urban Nigeria. This collection has completely captivated my attention since the new year began. The title is what initially grabbed my attention but Barrett’s prose is equally engaging.  He is outstanding in his use of witty and, at times, his devastating exploration of humanity in stories ranging from a trouble youth involved in money scams, a police officer balancing his unethical work life with his familial commitment, and an old woman struggling with isolation. These stories take you by surprise, unfolding the lives and relationships of each character masterfully.  It is clear that Barrett’s illustration that love is a dynamic force, transforming the actions of each character.

I’m in love with this collection. I highly recommend giving it a read but, as always, am interested in hearing your thoughts on Barrett’s work as well.  Share your impressions…

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Should African Writers Feel Obligated to Address “Issues” In Fiction?

“At the end of October I was at the Port Harcourt Book Festival, along with 22 of the writers featured in the new Africa39 anthology (Bloomsbury), which I have edited. As with any festival, the best conversations happened after the events – over meals or late at night, outdoors in the muggy air. Here’s what I didn’t hear being discussed: the plight of being an “African writer”; the burden of having to address “issues” in fiction; the lack of a reading culture. ”


Read more here:


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What She’s Reading: Corregidora

20140802-192930-70170024.jpgHave you ever read a book that was so good you purposely delayed finishing?

Corregidora is only 184 pages, a book I could zip through on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but I have been reading as slowly as possible. My goal was to limit myself to reading only 25 pages a day but, unfortunately, I have no self control. With 20 pages to go, I will soon have to move on 😦

Let me try to explain why this novel is so captivating. Corregidora is the story of Ursa, a young woman whose ancestors were held as slaves on a Brazilian plantation and forced to work as prostitutes. Ursa was born after emancipation but her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother passed along their horrific stories in order to ensure that future generations bear witness to the harsh psychological and physiological realities of slavery.

The novel follows Ursa as she attempts to navigate the world as a black woman in the early 20th century, simultaneously living in the past (through her ancestors) and present. But this dichotomy renders her love life dysfunctional. Gayl Jones, the author, portrays Ursa as a young woman living with a form of cultural PTSD – post traumatic stress syndrome – passed down by her family’s tragic history. The impact of this trauma, brilliantly expressed in Jones’ writing, is crippling. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the impacts of inhumanity within American history.

I can’t say enough about this book (as evident by my numerous tweets on the subject) and its succinct and compelling description of slavery as a historical event as well as a long-term systematic means of dehumanizing a people. If that doesn’t tell you enough, I’ll leave you with the following reviews from a few literary greats, who were also blown away by Corregidora:

“Corregidora is the most brutally honest and painful revelation of what has occurred, and is occurring, in the souls of black men and women.” – James Baldwin

“Gayl Jones has concocted a tale as American as Mount Rushmore and as murky as the Florida swamps”– Maya Angelou

“She (Gayl Jones) lit up the dark past of slave women with klieg lights and dared to discuss both the repulsion and the fascination of these relationships.” – Toni Morrison


Filed under Afro-American Lit, What We're Reading