As the days are at their shortest and coldest, is there anything better than curling up with a good book? Better yet, in lieu tromping through store after store or guessing at sizes online, is there anything better than walking your fingers to the laptop and gifting a good book (or several) to the bibliophiles in your life?
Frankly, it’s been a great year for black books. Trump may be pouring bleach on our democracy, but black authors continue to make the literary world more colorful this year—especially black women authors. No, really: there were so many great books I couldn’t include them all here. I suggest checking The Root’s 2018 Book List for any I may have omitted because we were already over capacity here.
These selections are in no particular order, other than being loosely categorized, but we have exempted two obvious choices: current bestsellers Becoming, by forever First Lady Michelle Obama, and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, which topped each of the Obamas’, Oprah’s, and pretty much every other “best book” list of 2018. They’re both incredible books and should be copped and gifted copiously. That said, they weren’t the only amazing books by black authors this year (Fun fact: Several of them are also Root 100 honorees this year!)
With that in mind, here’s our list of gift-worthy tomes (with a couple suitable for kid readers), arranged by category. You’ll note that we don’t have one for folks who “don’t read.” That’s because they really don’t, and we don’t want you to waste money or good books on them. (But when in doubt, always gift a hardcover.)
So without further ado, our good book gift guide—with built-in endorsements and reviews!
For the Intersection
Eloquent Rage, Brittney Cooper
Brittney Cooper turned the “angry black woman” stereotype on its head with Eloquent Rage, a memoir detailing how she arrived at feminism. In a series of essays touching on subjects from black girl friendships to Beyoncé, Cooper gives us permission to own our anger—and our power.
This Will Be My Undoing, Morgan Jerkins
Another memoir that made a major impact this year was feminist manifesto This Will Be My Undoing. Debut author Morgan Jerkins’ exploration of coming of age strikes both nerves and very salient points, all with a confessional and candid tone.
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics, Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry and Minyon Moore with Veronica Chambers
We watched a blue wave heavily fueled by black women take over the midterms, but veteran political powerhouses Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, and Minyon Moore were the original Colored Girls ... behind the scenes. Now, they share their incredible journeys.
Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History, Blair Imani
Playfully illustrated, Modern HERstory celebrates 70 women and nonbinary change-makers who have made (or are making) a profound impact upon the world we live in, providing a much-needed history lesson and inspiration for all ages
For the Storytellers
Well Read Black Girl, Glory Edim
This anthology of essays and interviews with black female writers is a revelation, reminding us not only why we love to read and write, but why representation is so important. If you have a storyteller in your life in need of inspiration (of any gender), Well Read Black Girl is an incomparable gift.
Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, Imani Perry
The tragic but incredible story of Lorraine Hansberry garnered its own documentary this year, but Imani Perry takes us on a gloriously deep dive of this brilliant woman’s brief life and enduring impact with Looking for Lorraine.
For Colored Boys ... (Who Have Stories to Tell, Too)
I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé, Michael Arceneaux
When 2018 Root 100 honoree Michael Arceneaux took the stage to accept his award, he expressed gratitude for arriving at a moment when diversity, even among the narratives of black gay men, is welcome. I Can’t Date Jesus, his bestselling collection of essays, is at turns hilarious, searing and poignant—just like life.
No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America, Darnell L. Moore
With No Ashes in the Fire, journalist Darnell L. Moore chronicles his journey from bullied teenager to outspoken activist; taking his place as one of the most prominent voices moving conversations about race in America forward, while existing at his own intersection.
Heavy, Kiese Laymon
Already on too many best books lists to count, novelist Kiese Laymon’s Heavy is a memoir, told through essays on the heaviness of secrets, lies, race, oppression, shame and love. As VSB’s Damon Young wrote: “Among the many, many, many, many things that Heavy is, it’s mostly (to me) the guts of Kiese’s truth-finding.”
For the Movement
When They Call You a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele
A memoir born of the Black Lives Matter movement, When They Call You a Terrorist, chronicles the evolution of co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors from at-risk child to world-changing organizer, artist, mother and wife—a trajectory that is never predictable but also never wavers from her steadfast commitment to justice.
So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
Ijeoma Oluo has become well known for her incisive commentary on race in America on woman-run multimedia site, The Establishment. So You Want to Talk About Race takes the conversation further, dismantling even the most difficult issues to discuss in Oluo’s always frank and often funny style.
Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, Charlene Carruthers
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Charlene Carruthers was exposed to activism early on. With Unapologetic, she shares that education, along with powerful insights on what true movements really require. “When I was coming up, there were very few options for books or resources that were written by organizers about how to organize,” she told The Glow Up in August. “And so, just like Toni Morrison said, ‘If there’s a book that you want to read and it hasn’t been written, you need to write it.”
For the Shape-Shifter
Meet Behind Mars, Renee Sims
Is it real, or is it surreal? This is the question that repeatedly arises while reading Meet Behind Mars, Renee Sims’ striking collection of short stories. Drawing on nostalgia, middle-aged malaise, family, race and gender dynamics and fantasy, Sims crafts intoxicating and interlocking narratives that are transfixing, long after the last page.
Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
An instant bestseller when it debuted in late October, Friday Black tackles race and injustice in America from a fictional, occasionally fantastical approach, causing the reader to wonder which is grimmer: truth or fiction?
A Lucky Man, Jamel Brinkley
Jamel Brinkley’s debut collection of stories explores manhood from many angles, casting a lens on facets of masculinity the world doesn’t always consider. A finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, A Lucky Man gives voice to the vulnerability of black and brown men—and it is well worth the listen.
For the Culture (and the Coffee Table)
Somnyama Ngonyama: Hail the Dark Lioness, Zanele Muholi
Acclaimed artist Zanele Muholi turns the lens on herself in Hail the Dark Lioness, a collection of over 90 incredibly evocative self-portraits. “I am producing this photographic document to encourage individuals in my community to be brave enough to occupy spaces―brave enough to create without fear of being vilified,” the visual activist writes, “to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back.”
Seeing Deeply, Dawoud Bey
Dawoud Bey’s photographic career spans over four decades, and Seeing Deeply commemorates his remarkable body of work with a retrospective beginning with his days as a street photographer in Harlem. His elevation of the every day to the extraordinary is in the tradition of Gordon Parks and Roy DeCarava, but the legacy is all his own.
Deana Lawson: An Aperture Monograph, foreword by Zadie Smith
Deana Lawson’s images challenge conventional notions of identity, class and art, so unabashed is her love for black people and black life. The intimacy of her work is immediate and intoxicating; so much so that Rihanna even posed for her lens. An Aperture Monograph takes us inside her work with an extended interview with the artist.
Black Girls Rock!, edited by Beverly Bond
Bev Bond has made celebrating black womanhood her lifelong mission, and Black Girls Rock! takes her mission to the next level, featuring dozens of dynamic black women in their own words, interviewed and edited by Bond herself. If black girl magic was a book, this is it.
Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop, Vikki Tobak and Questlove
Help your favorite hip hop head retrace the origins of the art form with Contact High, an incredible pictorial retrospective, co-authored by none other than The Roots’ musical director (and music historian) Questlove.
Fiction, But Make It Historical
Washington Black, Esi Edugyan
Another regular on “best book” lists, Washington Black starts as slave narrative and explodes into a fantastical adventure, traversing continents as it explores the realities of race, friendship, and ultimately, freedom.
Housegirl, Michael Donkor
In his tale of three separate but entwined young women, Michael Donkor’s Housegirl engages intimately with the nuances of female friendships in this beautiful coming-of-age story.
She Would Be King, Wayétu Moore
Revisiting the genesis of the country of Liberia, She Would Be King forges an uncommon bond between its characters and with the reader, as Wayétu Moore blends history and magical realism to tell the tale of an emerging nation.
For the Fantasists
Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi
Children of Blood and Bone could’ve easily been mentioned amongst our bestsellers; after all, author Tomi Adeyemi’s breathtaking debut was an immediate bestseller that has already been translated into several languages. But while this Orisha-laden fantasy epic is categorized as a young adult read, it offers fantasy to all ages.
Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi
More metaphysical than fantasy, the semi-biographical Freshwater explores detours the mind takes following trauma, and the selves we must sometimes splinter into to survive to tell the tale.
Song of Blood & Stone, L. Penelope
It has the unfortunate fate of bearing a name similar to a 2018 bestseller, but the characters of Song of Blood & Stone have a fate all their own. Part romance, part epic adventure, star-crossed lovers are in a race against time, prejudice and evil to save their worlds.
For a Pick-Me-Up
What a Time to Be Alone: The Slumflower’s Guide to Why You Are Already Enough, Chidera Eggerue
Sometimes, we all need a reminder that we’re enough, just as we are. Millennial self-esteem guru and body image activist Chidera Eggerue’s What a Time to Be Alone is a master class of self-love, “peppered with insightful Igbo proverbs from Chidera’s Nigerian mother and full of her own original artwork,” reads her book jacket.
Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist, Franchesca Ramsey
Comedian and MTV Decoded host Franchesca Ramsey has become an entertaining yet insightful voice on racial and cultural issues, but she’s not infallible. Her debut memoir, Well, That Escalated Quickly, offers essays on how she evolved from upstart to influencer—while dodging trolls along the way.
For the Next Generation
Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, T.R. Simon
Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground is actually a sequel, the first installment published in 2010. But T.R. Simon once again follows a fictional Zora Neale Hurston as a child as she and best friend Carrie try to unravel yet another mystery. Want to start at the beginning? You can buy both for the 5th to 9th grader in your life for under $20.
Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
Written in poetry, Poet X follows Afro-Latina Xiomara, who comes of age through her words on the page as she finds her own voice, way and talent in her sometimes repressive family and Harlem, N.Y., neighborhood.
Monday’s Not Coming, Tiffany D. Jackson
A fictional meditation on missing children of color, Monday’s Not Coming is a mystery told through the lens of adolescent friendship, masterfully told by author Tiffany D. Jackson.
I don’t know about you, but I want all the books ... seriously, alladem. With something for everyone, all these pages need is wrapping paper.
Speaking of wrapping, we’ll be wrapping up our 12 Days of Gifting tomorrow. Have you shopped yet?