The best books to inspire good feelings

The Books I Picked & Why

Another Brooklyn

By Jacqueline Woodson

Another Brooklyn

Why this book?

Woodson’s narrative comprises a mix of genres (poetry, fiction, and non-fiction) to capture the real and imagined memories of her childhood in Brooklyn and the fictional town of Sweet Grove, Tennessee. This book encompasses so much of what is fascinating about nostalgic memory. While nostalgia generates feelings of happiness and hope, these memories often emerge in times of sadness, loss, and uncertainty. Woodson’s exploration into the lives of four black girls as they navigate friendship, the joys, and perils of youth, and the possibilities and broken promises of the future is a rare and compelling take on how nostalgic memories inspire feelings of hope and belonging even when they are largely products of our imagination.


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The Known World

By Edward P. Jones

The Known World

Why this book?

I realize that it is somewhat counterintuitive to recommend a historical novel of slavery in a list comprised of books that are supposed to inspire good feelings BUT The Known World is a masterful narrative of survival and redemption. It is lost on many readers that this book is a riff on William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom. Reading the two texts together highlights the depth and dimensionality that Jones affords the novel’s black characters, and allows them a rich interiority that makes for an intensely satisfying reading experience. While there is ample heartbreak in The Known World, the novel’s proleptic narrator offers a vision of the future that also warms the soul.


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Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being

By Kevin Quashie

Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being

Why this book?

Every now and then I come across a book that I wish I had written, and Quashie’s Black Aliveness is among them. One of the motivating premises of Afro-Nostalgia is the sense that so much of black life is narrated through a trauma, oppression, and death. Black Aliveness operates from a similar premise and is centrally concerned with the “quality of aliveness” in African American poetry and literature. Here is one of my favorite passages in the book: “As necessary as ‘Black Lives Matter’ has proven to be, so efficient and beautiful a truth-claim, its necessity disorients me…I want a black world where matter of mattering matters indisputably, where black mattering is beyond expression.”


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Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces

By Davina Cooper

Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces

Why this book?

The word, utopia, derives from the Greek terms ou “not” + topos “place”---“no place.” Yet, the idea of a perfect “place” or society is one that has captured the imagination of artists, writers, politicians, and governments for centuries. I really love the concept of “everyday utopias” because it focuses on small, local spaces of joy and pleasure that people create for themselves outside and beyond the boundaries of social norms and expectations. Inherent in the term “utopia” is the impossibility of the idea and yet, readers witness thriving communities that show the possibilities of alternative systems of governance, self-sufficiency, civility, and citizenship, as well as well-being and pleasure.


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World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Fumi Nakamura

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments

Why this book?

World of Wonders was my salve during the early months of the pandemic. In spring 2020, I was craving something light, beautiful, and engaging to read. During quarantine, my family, like many others, rediscovered the beauty in our gardens and our neighborhoods. Nezhukumatahil’s prose poetry encouraged an enlivening of the every day, and inspired a reconnection with nature in ways that made us feel less “quarantined” and more connected to the smaller beings that share and shape our world. World of Wonders is also an invitation to nostalgia— the author’s recollections of her own ‘wondrous’ childhood memories sparked my own, especially the simple joy of catching fireflies in the summers in Chicago.


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