January 4, 2011

The Best Book I Read in December

I went into a reading frenzy in December and gobbled down a total of nine books! Blame it on the lazy holiday season and one extremely delayed flight in the Philly airport. (Delayed flights = Lot of time to read!) Here are the books I read last month:

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Love, Aubree by Suzanne M. LeFleur
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Soulless by Gail Carriger (Thanks Lynn, for letting me borrow this!)
Siren by Tricia Rayburn (And this!)
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Overall, most of the books were enjoyable reads. I absolutely adored---and I mean adored---Anna and French Kiss. Paris! Pastries! A cute boy with tousled hair and a British accent! Ah, so swoonworthy. Definitely one of my favorite YA novels of all time.  I also loved the setting in Water for Elephants: a crazy circus during the Great Depression. The romance was a bit melodramatic for my tastes but I'm excited to watch the upcoming movie. 

When it came down to choosing my favorite book of the month, however, there was one clear winner. This book absolutely blew my mind with its stunning, lyrical writing and its exceptional attention to historical detail. Ladies and gents, I present to you my pick for my fave December read: 

It even won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in History! A quick blurb:

In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson interviewed more than a thousand people to write this definitive account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.

To pull in her reader, Wilkerson narrates the story of the Great Migration through the lives of three people who lived through it: a sharecropper's wife in Mississippi, a fruit picker in Florida, and a distinguished doctor who left the backwaters of Louisiana for Los Angeles. It's heartbreaking to read what these men and this woman went through (family members beaten to a pulp, dozens of lynchings in their towns, blatant and horrid racism). It's no wonder why they packed their bags and headed North, oftentimes leaving in the quiet of night so they wouldn't stir the suspicion of whites. 

Before I read this book, I had heard about the Great Migration but I had never given it much thought. It was an event glossed over in my history classes---slipped in between lectures about European immigration and Asian immigration. And yet, the impact the Great Migration has had on our country is astounding. This statistic particularly astounded me:

Before the Great Migration (pre-WWI), about 90% of African-Americans lived in the South.
But after the Migration (circa 1970), this number fell to about 50%. 

What an amazing shift. And what amazing changes this event has brought. Consider this: if it wasn't for the Great Migration, cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit would still be mainly white. Indeed, Chicago was only 3% Black before WWI. Would a man like Barack Obama have been able to ascend politically in Illinois if it wasn't for the Migration? 

And what about people like Toni Morrison, Jesse Owens, Michael Jackson, Venus Williams, and Jackie Robinson? All of them come from Great Migration stock. What would have become of them if their forbears had stayed in the South where they lived in constant fear of beatings and lynchings and rapes? 

I'm sorry if I'm rambling, but this book really shook me. Inspired me. Awed me. I studied history in college and so I've read my share of history books. Thus, I know firsthand how boringly dull some history books can be! But The Warmth of Other Suns is far from boring, far from dull. Wilkerson made her subject matter come to life and she shed an important light on this seminal event in American history. 

Seriously, you should give it a try. Go history! 

8 comments:

  1. Loved this book intro. And it sounds like a book I'd love.

    It's funny that when I was young, I hated History in school but absolutely loved reading historical fiction on my own time. Now, I find anything historical fascinating - including dreary, textbook-like stuff. It must mean that I'm getting REALLY old! :)

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  2. You know this is totally up my alley- I'm going to have to hunt this one down.

    And I adored Water for Elephants. Some of my students have read it- it's on their spring book list I give them. I've had students tell me they hate reading, but couldn't put it down. That's a pretty high recommendation!

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  3. I loved Water for Elephants too - we should go see the movie when it comes out! (I <3 Reese Witherspoon)

    I will add Warmth of Other Suns to my history-books-to-read list, but I still haven't worked through the list Gene gave me to read while he was gone >.<

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  4. Hey. I read Water for Elephants in December too. Oooohhhhh... Spooky. :)

    Always love your recommendations. I've been thinking I needed some good nonfiction.

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  5. Sajidah, haha I totally hear you! My history textbooks in high school were incredibly boring. I'm so glad I had a great history teacher who showed me that history can be *gasp* really interesting!

    Stephanie, I hope you get the chance to read this book! It's such a great read and the narrative is almost like fiction.

    Lynn, let's definitely watch Water For Elephants! I don't think Justin would want to watch it with me. Haha. And I'm so happy that Gene is home!

    Lex, oh spooky indeed! What did you think about Water For Elephants? Like it? Dislike it?

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  6. Okay, you know I'm sooo reading this book, right? I've always loved history but most of the history of people who look like me wasn't really mentioned when I was in school. So I devour anything I can get my hands on--including history about other folks as well. :-D

    Thanks so much for mentioning this book. ;-)

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  7. I loved, loved LOVED Anna and the French Kiss. OMG so wonderful.

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  8. i've been wanting to read The Warmth of Other Suns (the title alone is amazing!), so i'm glad to hear it's a great read.

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