Rose's Booklist Number Three



21. BELOVED by Toni Morrison
Beloved is another of my favorites, and it earned Toni Morrison the Pulitzer Prize in 1987. It was inspired by an 1856 article about a runaway slave who killed her children rather than have them taken back by slave catchers. The story haunted Morrison for years as she wondered what would make a mother do such a thing. She developed the character of Sethe and showed not only some of the unspoken horrors of slavery, but the unforeseen depths to which love will make you go. Unlike any of her other novels, Beloved has elements of fantasy and horror as the ghost of the murdered baby grows up haunting the house and takes form as an adult in the flesh, returning to reclaim the mother she had lost in death. Beloved is a difficult read, but well worth the effort it takes to follow the frequent changes in time and point of view.
When Oprah Winfrey took on the task of converting the book to a movie as producer and lead actor, we looked forward to the story with great anticipation. But confused viewers brought mixed reviews & the movie did not get the credit it deserved. You need to read the book and watch the movie to understand the full story.
I love them both. Here's the movie trailer:

22. SMALL, GREAT THINGS by Jodi Picoult

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • With richly layered characters and a gripping moral dilemma that will lead readers to question everything they know about privilege, power, and race, Small Great Things is the stunning new page-turner from Jodi Picoult.
Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?
Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy.
"With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game. Soon to be a major motion picture."

23. Nafisa Thompson-Spires' Short Story Collection, HEADS OF THE COLORED PEOPLE

In one of 2018’s most acclaimed works of fiction—longlisted for the National Book Award and winner of the PEN Open Book Award—Nafissa Thompson-Spires offers “a firecracker of a book...a triumph of storytelling: intelligent, acerbic, and ingenious” (Financial Times)

Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with race, identity politics, and the contemporary middle class in this “vivid, fast, funny, way-smart, and verbally inventive” (George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo) collection.
Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks—while others are devastatingly poignant. In the title story, when a cosplayer, dressed as his favorite anime character, is mistaken for a violent threat the consequences are dire; in another story, a teen struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with so-called black culture.
Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. She “has taken the best of what Toni Cade Bambara, Morgan Parker, and Junot Díaz do plus a whole lot of something we’ve never seen in American literature, blended it all us one of the finest short-story collections” (Kiese Laymon, author of Long Division).

24. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin

First published in 1953 when James Baldwin was nearly 30, Go Tell It on the Mountain is a young man's novel, as tightly coiled as a new spring, yet tempered by a maturing man's confidence and empathy. It's not a long book, and its action spans but a single day--yet the author packs in enough emotion, detail, and intimate revelation to make his story feel like a mid-20th-century epic.
Using as a frame the spiritual and moral awakening of 14-year-old John Grimes during a Saturday night service in a Harlem storefront church, Baldwin lays bare the secrets of a tormented black family during the Depression. John's parents, praying beside him, both wrestle with the ghosts of their sinful pasts--Gabriel, a preacher of towering hypocrisy, fathered an illegitimate child during his first marriage down South and refused to recognize his doomed bastard son; Elizabeth fell in love with a charming, free-spirited young man, followed him to New York, became pregnant with his son, and lost him before she could reveal her condition.   
Baldwin lays down the terrible symmetries of these two blighted lives as the ironic context for John's dark night of the soul. When day dawns, John believes himself saved, but his creator makes it clear that this salvation arises as much from blindness as revelation: "He was filled with a joy, a joy unspeakable, whose roots, though he would not trace them on this new day of his life, were nourished by the wellspring of a despair not yet discovered."
What is most striking about Go Tell It on the Mountain today is its structure and its scope. In peeling back the layers of these damaged lives, Baldwin dramatizes the story of the great black migration from rural South to urban North. "Behind them was the darkness," Baldwin writes of Gabriel and Elizabeth's lost generation, "nothing but the darkness, and all around them destruction, and before them nothing but the fire--a bastard people, far from God, singing and crying in the wilderness!" This is Baldwin's music--a music in which rhapsody is rooted anguish--and there is none finer in American literature. --David Laskin --
Watch the clip from the Netflix special on James Baldwin, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO:

25.PURPLE HIBISCUS by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie 

Purple Hibiscus, Nigerian-born writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's debut, begins like many novels set in regions considered exotic by the western reader: the politics, climate, social customs, and, above all, food of Nigeria (balls of fufu rolled between the fingers, okpa bought from roadside vendors) unfold like the purple hibiscus of the title, rare and fascinating. But within a few pages, these details, however vividly rendered, melt into the background of a larger, more compelling story of a joyless family.
Fifteen-year-old Kambili, the narrator, is the dutiful and self-effacing daughter of a rich man, a religious fanatic and domestic tyrant whose public image is of a politically courageous newspaper publisher and philanthropist. No one in Papa's ancestral village, where he is titled "Omelora" (One Who Does For the Community), knows why Kambili¹s brother cannot move one of his fingers, nor why her mother keeps losing her pregnancies. The father is a devout Catholic who serves in the Church, yet he won’t see his own father because he adheres to traditional African ways. A widowed aunt exposes the children to the best of both worlds. In many ways, the plot is very similar to last week’s selection, Go Tell It on the Mountain, with a father who dominates his family with religion and physical abuse. But in PURPLE HIBISCUS, we see the larger picture of traditional versus modern Nigeria, and its impact on one family. Adiche explores this theme even more in Americanah.
      "A sensitive and touching story of a child exposed too early to religious intolerance and the uglier side of the Nigerian state." J.M. Coetzee
"Adichie's understanding of a young girl's heart is so acute that her story ultimately rises above its setting and makes her little part of Nigeria seem as close and vivid as Eudora Welty's Mississippi."


26. THE YELLOW HOUSE by Sarah Broom 

“The memoir from Louisiana native Broom tells the story of her mother’s beloved shotgun house in east New Orleans and the family she raised there. The house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and Broom writes about the racial and economic inequality that has haunted New Orleans for decades. Author Heidi Julavits called the book “a masterpiece of history, politics, sociology and memory.”―Los Angeles Times, “7 Highly Anticipated Books to Get You Through the Dog Days of August”
Winner of the 2019 National Book Award in Nonfiction
“Sarah M. Broom's gorgeous debut, The Yellow House, reads as elegy and prayer. The titular house is the fulcrum for Broom's memoir about her large and complex family. Perhaps more important, it stands in for the countless ways America has failed and continues to fail African Americans...Sarah M. Broom is a writer of great intellect and breadth. She embraces momentous subjects. The Yellow House is about the relentless divestment of wealth from the African American family no matter how hard its members work; and our government's failure to protect its poor from predictable environmental catastrophe and subsequent trauma; and our gross neglect of poor neighborhoods; and sham promises that never materialize or are broken too easily, and the papering over of deep systemic problems by politicians and we the people. The Yellow House is also about the persistence of love and grit...There's a young woman whose winding journey takes her away from and back to her family, as she circumnavigates the world in order to connect with herself ― which means coming to the sober reckoning that some holes can never be filled.”―NPR

27. Terry McMillan's DISAPPEARING ACTS 

I thought it was time for some romance.
"He was tall, dark as bittersweet chocolate, and impossibly gorgeous, with a woman-melting smile. She was pretty and independent, petite and not too skinny, just his type. Franklin Swift was a sometimes-employed construction worker, and a not-quite-divorced daddy of two. Zora Banks was a teacher, singer, songwriter. They met in a Brooklyn brownstone, and there could be no walking away..."
In this funny, gritty urban love story, Franklin and Zora join the ranks of fiction's most compelling couples, as they move from Scrabble to sex, from layoffs to the limits of faith and trust. Disappearing Acts is about the mystery of desire and the burdens of the past. It's about respect, what it can and can't survive. And it's about the safe and secret places that only love can find.
This romance novel was McMillan's second, published in 1989. Unlike her other books that focus only on a female protagonist, the narration of Disappearing Acts goes back and forth between Zora and Franklin, with each sharing their impression of the developing relationship. This makes for an objective take on modern romance, and what we'll do to keep it alive and well.
There is a TV movie of this book starring Sanaa Lathan and Wesley Snipes, but for some reason, it is rarely aired. Both are worth checking out.

28. THE AUDACITY OF HOPE by Barack Obama 

As we round the corner to the 2020 election, it's important that we revisit the ideals we held 12 years ago. Keep these in mind as you head to the polls and as you reexamine how much things have changed in the last four years.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Barack Obama’s lucid vision of America’s place in the world and call for a new kind of politics that builds upon our shared understandings as Americans, based on his years in the Senate
In July 2004, four years before his presidency, Barack Obama electrified the Democratic National Convention with an address that spoke to Americans across the political spectrum. One phrase in particular anchored itself in listeners’ minds, a reminder that for all the discord and struggle to be found in our history as a nation, we have always been guided by a dogged optimism in the future, or what Obama called “the audacity of hope.”
The Audacity of Hope is Barack Obama’s call for a different brand of politics—a politics for those weary of bitter partisanship and alienated by the “endless clash of armies” we see in congress and on the campaign trail; a politics rooted in the faith, inclusiveness, and nobility of spirit at the heart of “our improbable experiment in democracy.”
At the heart of this book is Barack Obama’s vision of how we can move beyond our divisions to tackle concrete problems. He examines the growing economic insecurity of American families, the racial and religious tensions within the body politic, and the transnational threats—from terrorism to pandemic—that gather beyond our shores.
Only by returning to the principles that gave birth to our Constitution, Obama says, can Americans repair a political process that is broken, and restore to working order a government that has fallen dangerously out of touch with millions of ordinary Americans. Those Americans are out there, he writes—“waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them."   I'm sure Joe Biden learned a lot from him. Let's change the course.

29. TUMBLING by Diane McKinney-Whetstone 

I’m an avid reader, and what I love to read most are novels about Black love.  One of my favorite books is Tumbling (1996), by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. I decided to revisit the text for my book blog and I found it just as enthralling as I did when I read it twenty years ago. This is a story that does not disappoint.

Noon and Herbie are deeply in love and living in a tightly knit African American neighborhood in Philadelphia during the 1940s. But their marriage remains unconsummated because of a horrible incident in Noon's past, so each seeks comfort elsewhere: Noon in the warm acceptance of the neighborhood church; Herbie in the arms of Ethel, a jazz singer. Then one day an infant girl is left on their doorstep, and later Ethel blesses them with her five-year-old niece. Suddenly and unexpectedly a family, Herbie, Noon, and their two girls draw closer—until an outside threat reawakens a fire in Noon, causing her to rise up and fight to hold her family and her community together. Surprising secrets are exposed as the community and church fight against gentrification and destruction. Though a fiction novel, this story reflects the all too common chipping away of thriving Black communities by greedy outsiders who want their homes to make a profit, to take back the cities they, themselves, have abandoned.

Tumbling is a novel about love, community, and forgiveness. It explores the fate of the Great Migration and the attack on established, flourishing communities.  McKinney-Whetstone’s skill with language recalls the characters and settings of Toni Morrison. This was the first of many literary masterpieces. Her other novels include Tempest Rising, Blues Dancing, Leaving Cecil Street, Trading Dreams at Midnight, and Lazaretto. They are all set in Philadelphia, from the 1860s to the 1990s, and share lyrically described settings and creatively developed characters from all walks of life.  At the end of her home page on her website,, she wrote, "In my latest novel, Lazaretto, I return to doing what I most love to do: telling stories of everyday people existing in families and communities; characters faltering, yielding to their desires, falling, fighting, climbing, reaching for their better selves."    That's something we can all relate to. You'll never go wrong with a novel by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. 

30. RAISING THE ROSES by Ernestine Rose 

Yes! Every tenth book is one by me!  After I finished my first book, 7 Tips for a Successful Marriage, I quickly realized that this was not the kind of book I wanted to write. I love a good story, and while I had added some personal illustrations, this book was mainly an explanation of what I thought worked in a marriage. What I really wanted to do was to tell a good story. And I had shared many in my classroom about my own children, from things they said to how we handled parenting. My funny stories about my sons engaged my students and allowed them to see the mom side of me, not just the English teacher. I loved being both a mother and a teacher, and I juggled the mixed roles by bringing my four sons to many of my extra-curricular activities, from play practices after school to football games on the weekends. They knew my students and my students knew them. Sharing some of these stories was closer to what I wanted to write, so my second book became Raising the Roses.  While 7 Tips for a Successful Marriage was more expository with a few personal anecdotes, Raising the Roses was a memoir of motherhood, with lessons learned at the end of each chapter. They make a great pair for people who are just starting their families. 

Raising the Roses begins with “Soulmates,” and covers my choosing a college and later the husband I found there.  I move on to “The Wedding,” “The Newlywed Game,” and “Having Babies 101”.  They all share the idea that finding your partner and starting a family are usually not like you expected them to be.  You have to learn to compromise and be flexible as you quibble over everything from choosing baby names to defining husband and wife roles. I learned to juggle time and money as the boys grew older, to debunk the “Superwoman myth” that society tells us we have to take on,  and I share some of my tips in the middle chapters. We laughed as our teenaged sons explained their reluctance to choose and settle in “The Shelf Life of Girlfriends,” and I end the book when my oldest gets married and I start the cycle all over again as a grandmother. 

In the video below, I discuss Raising the Roses and what prompted me to write it. 

Check out my books and blogs on my website,