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From the mind of Gil Scott-Heron, (whose “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” both energized a generation and set the table for the next as the foundational piece to what was to become hip-hop), we offer his memoir penned before his death in 2011. The Last Holiday is among our Best Books for 2012 list, which also features a book about the Godfather of Soul, a book from a doctor who died and met God in heaven (true story), as well as an Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick by debut author Ayana Mathis. And what 2012 list would be complete without 50 Shades of Grey (yes, we went there)? Our Best Books List is both eclectic yet well-rounded, giving a little something for everyone.
Taking a twist on a commonly used phrased, Karen Quinones Miller examines her tragic life and what made her so angry for most of it, as she finds herself battling to live through a brain tumor that has left her in a coma. It is in this coma where an unconscious Miller comes face-to-face with the demons that have plagued her as she relives her childhood, and all of the things that have left her bitter and anger. But it is also in this coma where she finally finds her salvation. This is a story that any woman of any race can relate. It was named one of the best street fiction books of the year. Beyond the streets, this book resonates with anyone struggling to find their center. Compared to Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, Miller’s story is transcendent.
Mr. Please, Please, Please. The Godfather of Soul. The one who paved the way for Michael, and all that would come after. This is his story, from his humble early beginnings in Barnwell, SC to his unlikely but meteoric rise in the music industry. James Brown “was pint-size, lacking a formidable build, but Brown compensated with a way of moving that gave off waves of energy,” wrote author RJ Smith, a Los Angeles-based music writer. Smith interviewed more than 100 people for this book, everyone from record executives and musicians to ex-girlfriends. And he shows a man determined, fierce, unyielding and willing to not just step outside of the box, but create his own. When James Brown said, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud,” it was in a time when black pride was needed. And he provided an anthem. Smith, through his lyrical prose, gives the reader perspective on Brown and his character that hasn’t been given before, and places him firmly in the annals of history. Beyond his music, James Brown was a force to be reckoned with.
The prolific Lawson is back with her ninth book in the reverend Curtis Black series. In this tome, the odds are against Charlotte Black, the preacher’s wife, as she tries to save a marriage that she destroyed through her unfaithfulness. Given the “D-Day” or divorce date by her husband as after her son’s graduation, First Lady Black has very little time to turn things around and rekindle the fire that once was her marriage. Will she be able to win back her husband, Rev. Curtis Black, who now has another woman waiting in the wings to swoop down and take him and become the new First Lady? And where will God play into all of this? Roby is adept at weaving a compelling story as evidenced by her string of award-winning and best selling books.
Is there a heaven? And does God really exist? Before having a near-death experience, Dr. Eben Alexander was unclear on the matter. And before his near-death experience, it was thought by the scientific community that these happenings, that included tunnels and bright lights were merely universal patterns created when the brain is stressed. However, when the experience happens to one of the scientific community’s own, and happens during a chronicled illness that would prohibit any brain activity at all, it bears explanation. Dr. Alexander attempts to do just that in his vivid and very real depiction of the spirit world and heaven. He has lucid conversations with God and other beings that poke holes in those scientific findings. In essence, Dr. Alexander proves that heaven does indeed exist. And so does God.
This book chronicles the life of one of the more complex figures of our American politics from his birth in Edgefield, South Carolina, to his rise in politics, to his death. Crespino outlines the strong influences on Thurmond early in his life that shape the man he was to become. It is a chronology that leads through his victory as governor to his transformation to statesman. It even tells the story of his children–even the black one. It is an interesting historical depiction of America during a time when white supremacy was something to not only fight for but also to revere.
By Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegan Books)
Some of the best books of the year come from the young adult genre. There were series like Beautiful Creatures,Clockwork Angel, the Percy Jackson Olympianseries and the Diary of a Wimpy Kidseries. They all topped the bestsellers list and have had rave reviews. Insurgent is among the best of the genre for 2012. The book introduces the reader to a world in the future—after human beings destroyed society. The new world is broken into five factions, each representing a characteristic that if people held to, would lead to a harmonious and prosperous society. There is Amity (those commitment to good cheer and friendliness), Candor (those committed to absolute, black-and-white truth), Erudite (those who put the search for knowledge and answers above everything), Dauntless (the fearless; these are the people who provide this new world with protection and security), and Abnegation (the truly selfless, those who put all others before self). At 16, everyone is tested to see what faction they have an aptitude for and then they have the option of choosing where they will spend the rest of their lives. “Faction Before Blood” is the motto and once you choose, that’s your family. There are initiations into each group, and if you don’t pass the test, you end up factionless—a group of undesirables that are tossed out of this “perfect” world and forced to fend for themselves on the outskirts. In the first book of the series, we learn that there is another group, The Divergent, whose aptitude is for several factions. They have to hide their affinities or face probable death. In the Book 2, the Divergent come out of the shadows, along with the factionless, to present a real challenge to this “perfect” world.
Gil Scott-Heron is celebrated for being an influence on every generation of hip hop. But what should be celebrated is his intellect, which allowed him to grab hold of all the struggles of the black race and infuse them into his music. Scott-Heron attended one of the most elite high schools in New York City, where he received a full scholarship after impressing the English Department with a paper he wrote. He was one of five blacks attending the all-white, exclusively wealthy Fieldston School. On his final interview to get into Fieldston, the admissions director asked, “’How would you feel if you saw one of your classmates go by in a limousine while you’re walking up the hill from the subway?’ His response was, “Same way as you. Y’all can’t afford no limousine. How do you feel?” Clearly ahead of his time, Postscript’d celebrates the genius of Gil Scott-Heron. And The Last Holiday is his story, written in his words.
This novel, which was 16 years in the making, is broken down into seven short stories starring the macho Dominican American character named Yunior. Readers will live vicariously through Yunior on the rollercoaster ride that is his love life. From the loves of his youth all the way through midlife, the reader gets to witness the never-ending game of hunting women, are left to wonder if Yunior can ever rise above his carnal nature. This is the second novel from Diaz, who won a Pulitzer Prize and the John Sargent Jr. First Novel Prize for The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. In 2012, Diaz was one of 23 people to receive the $500,000 MacArthur’s Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant,” given to those individuals who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”
Best book? Perhaps not, but certainly the most successful and most-talked-about book of 2012. We have personally seen this book passed around among church ladies, and we have seen people secretly reading it on the train systems throughout the world. It is the bestselling ebook and paperback of the year. It was so successful that its publisher, Random House, gave out bonuses of $5,000 to every single person who works at the company, from warehouse workers to top editors. Merry Christmas, from E L James. Trashy, yes. But you know what you’re getting. And according to the sales, most people seem to like every trashy bit of it. There’s some bondage, some intrigue and a whole lot of steamy sex scenes. It is what you think it is. So enjoy!
Oprah Winfrey made this book one of her Book Club 2.0 selections for 2012. About this author, Oprah said,”Not since Toni Morrison have I read a writer whose words have moved me this way.” That’s a lot to live up to for first-time novelist Ayana Mathis, but an Oprah Winfrey endorsement is a sure-fire road to success. Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a look at the great migration through the eyes of children, Hattie’s children, who each take a turn telling the story of their mother. Hattie left rural Georgia at the age of 15, before settling in Philadelphia and giving birth to a dozen children, raising nine of the them the only way she can imagine. We learn through her children that Hattie was a complex woman, whose circumstances forced her into making some very curious maternal choices. Each of them talk about the love they craved but never received and the scars and pain that Hattie left them with. Like Beloved, this book explores the mind of a woman who did some things that most of us would find despicable, and like Morrison, Mathis attempts to explain the choices and behavior.