4 Life-Lifting Books for 2019 Beyond ‘Becoming’

4 Life-Lifting Books for 2019 Beyond ‘Becoming’

I don’t know a woman who doesn’t have Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, and isn’t following her tour, whether up close or via Twitter. Never has a book been more heavily hyped, analyzed, and quoted — and it has paid off. Even Oprah must be thinking, ‘Daaammn!’ Like Lady Michelle, we are all always on the road to becoming our best imagined selves and great books can help us get there. Here are four life-lifting books for 2019, that I encourage you to take along for the ride.


Go back in time with Zora

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” (Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers) is a first-person history of Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the last slave ship to make the transatlantic journey. Painstakingly transcribed in his own dialect, it requires an attentive reader.

If you’re shaking your head no to another slave story, here are three reasons to at least try this one:

For starters, Cudjo’s story is recounted by the magnificent Zora Neale Hurston, who interviewed him at his home in Plateau, Alabama, over the course of three months in 1927. We often forget that Hurston was not only a great writer, she was a trained anthropologist, and to read this is to experience all parts of her intellect, interests, and cultural contributions and to see her in a new light.

Reason two: the brief, but illuminating, foreword by Alice Walker who begins with a warning: “I’m not sure there was ever a harder read than this.” But she goes on to note how universally Cudjo’s storytelling resonates, bringing to life “the nobility of a soul that has suffered to the point almost of erasure, and still it struggles to be whole, present, giving.”

Finally, there is incredible importance in this story itself. We are a people who suffer from so much lost history. Hard as it may be, we are strengthened by learning all we can, and sharing it.

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Open your brave heart

Have you heard of Cleo Wade? As a creative – through storytelling, public art, and community building largely on social media – she has been noted above all as a poet and influencer. If you haven’t heard of Wade, it’s time you do.

Peppy, motivational, inspiring and relatable, her book, Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom For A Better Life (37 Ink/Atria Books, Simon & Schuster) is easy to read in quick bursts, each of which will leave you feeling a bit lighter, and brighter, and braver.

It’s dedicated to “every human being,” opens with a letter to “Dearest You,” and ends with a highly quotable poem that goes on for 17 pages. It says, in part: “I see that the clearest route to bliss is to be alive while you are here to be with yourself in a love so deep the oceans get jealous and even outer space wants to be inside.”

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Are you enough?

Self-help books almost always have catchy titles and tap into something that makes total sense. But a few pages in we may become lost, or bored, or not wanting to be preached to, worked over, or challenged. That list is already, too, long.

That could be why “The 7 Laws of Enough: Cultivating a Life of Sustainable Abundance,” drew me in.

Although the book covers some well-tread territory, (“You are enough. You do enough. You have enough, already,”) the idea of sustainable abundance feels like a worthwhile goal and the calm, compassionate tone of its co-writers Gina LaRoche and Jennifer Cohen will keep readers engaged. So does the book’s super-digestible 7 laws, a favorite is #5: Resting is Required.

Like any self-help tome worth its weight (this one is blessedly light), there is homework at the end of each chapter — lots of suggested journaling, reflecting, and inventory-taking designed to break unhelpful habits.

“Reading isn’t enough,” the authors note in their intro. “You must make an everyday practice of being who you wish to be, and living how you wish to live.” Practice is code for a committed vigilance to changing the habits and thinking derailing your joy.

“This is the gym of your life,” they write. “We invite you to a lifetime membership.”

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Join the Black Girl Cook Club

For an anthology of 2018 writings by black contemporary black woman authors, look no farther than Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves (Ballantine Books). Compiled by Glory Edam, the young visionary bookworm who founded the Well-Read Black Girl book club, the book is unique for its celebration of black women writers by 21 avid black woman readers who became gifted writers themselves. Their essays, prompted by the question, “When did you first see yourself in literature?” are thoughtful and intimate. Their responses, writes Edam, do more than pay homage to their role models, “They reveal what influences their craft, drives their curiosity, and defines their legacy.”

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