We’ve surveyed a number of independent bookstores to ask, What should we be reading this summer? Over the coming weeks, we’ll bring you recommendations from each.
In Los Angeles’ predominantly black neighborhood of Leimert Park, Eso Won Books is something of an institution. Eso Won—which according to co-owner James Fugate means “water over rocks” in Yoruba—has been in business for 25 years. Despite the declining numbers of indie and people of color-owned shops and stiff competition by the majors, the store remains a literary destination and a frequent stop for black authors looking to share their work with the community. In the first of our series of summer reading recomendations, Fugate shares his current favorites:
1. “Long Division” by Kiese Laymon (Agate Bolden, 2013) “Kiese Laymon is a new writer who should get more attention. His debut novel, ‘Long Division’ is a book set in the present but it also concerns the past and racial issues quite a bit—even Trayvon Martin comes up in the book. It’s a look at African Americans [in Mississippi] who are from a background I can relate to. Usually [Southern blacks] are presented as these poor downtrodden people who are struggling and facing racism. It’s like, ‘How are they going to make it?’ But Laymon’s characters are regular teenagers. Everybody I’ve talked to who’s read ‘Long Division’ has said ‘I’m going to have to read it again.’
2. “Hold It ‘Til It Hurts” by T. Geronimo Johnson (Coffee House Press, 2012) Johnson, like Laymon, is from the South. His book concerns two brothers who have served in Afghanistan. They’re both black and they were adopted by a white family. When they get back from the war they find out that their father passed away and left an envelope for each of the brothers. It’s a good novel of Southern life, but also a look at black people who just aren’t depicted enough in literature.
3. “High Price” by Dr. Carl Hart (Harper Collins, 2013) “Carl Hart’s ‘High Price’ is almost a companion to Michelle Alexander’s ‘New Jim Crow.’ Hart is a neuropharmacologist at Columbia University, and he’s done a lot of research into what drugs do to the human body. In ‘High Price’ he dispels a lot of the myths that people hold [about drugs], especially about crack cocaine. Hart is also really good on the effects of poverty because he himself came from a very tough background in Miami. By talking about his own life and the choices he made he shows the importance of [having] mentors and the importance of having social service programs available. What he has to say about drugs and the human body is very good, but when he talks about his own life it’s even better.”