One of the great pleasures of One Read, the library’s community-wide reading program, is the opportunity to use a single book to explore a myriad of topics and to connect with other readers through that exploration.
This year’s selection, “The Turner House” by Angela Flournoy, provides an intimate portrait of a family, a home and a city. By following the lives of Francis and Viola Turner, we witness one black family’s experience moving north as part of the Great Migration and get a glimpse into that period of American history. We celebrate and suffer along with the Turner siblings, gaining an appreciation of the complexities of being a member of a large family, or perhaps recognizing dynamics from our own families. We also come to know Detroit, which is a character in and of itself. The following books will enhance your experience of Flournoy’s novel.
“The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson is a compelling read, rich with oral history and powerful storytelling. Rather than simply chronicling the decades-long movement of black Americans from the South to urban centers in the north and west, Wilkerson mainly focuses on three individuals, weaving their personal experiences into the larger historical narrative.
A fictional account of the legacy of the Great Migration in one family, “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie” by Ayana Mathis, is a gut-wrenching and haunting, but beautifully written novel. Hattie Shepard’s move from Georgia to Philadelphia in 1923 was meant to bring a better life. Instead, she finds herself in a desperately unhappy marriage and broken by the death of twin children who poverty prevented her from saving. Hattie has nine more children plus helps to raise a grandchild, and the different narratives of these children quilt together Hattie’s life story, steeped in loss and struggle.
Stephanie Powell Watts’ “No One Is Coming to Save Us” examines African-American family life, but in the contemporary South. With echoes of “The Great Gatsby,” the novel tells the story of the now-wealthy J.J. Ferguson’s return to his economically struggling North Carolina hometown to build a mansion and pursue his childhood sweetheart. The true center of this lyrical book, however, is the empathetically rendered women, each grappling with longing and disappointment — in their relationships, in their offspring and in the elusive promise of the American Dream.
Home ownership is a cornerstone of that dream, and the crisis that brings the Turners together is a dilapidated family house and a dying matriarch. In “A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler, a well-worn family home and the messy relationships among siblings similarly drive the drama (and some of the humor). Three generations of Whitshanks have lived in their Baltimore house, and now the 70-something Red and Abby can’t take care of themselves or their house alone. This is a novel full of flawed characters, family secrets and plenty of heart.
Finally, if this year’s One Read piques your interest in the story of Detroit itself, seek out Herb Boyd’s “Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination” or “A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City” by Drew Philp. Beginning in the 1700s, Boyd’s comprehensive work outlines Detroit’s significance to African-American identity and looks back at the City’s past and the evolution of its economics, politics and culture to make a case for its future. Philp’s memoir about buying a crumbling house at auction illuminates the current social and racial complexities of Detroit’s recovery. Philp, a white, idealistic college student, sets about rebuilding his house with his own hands, slowly earning the trust of his mostly black neighbors, and learning about the power of “radical neighborliness” in the face of extreme decline.
I hope you’ll check out “The Turner House,” and then join us in September for films, presentations, art and conversations exploring family stories, African-American history, the evolution of Detroit and other related topics. The month of One Read events will include a visit from author Angela Flournoy on Wednesday, September 27 at 7 p.m. at Columbia College’s Launer Auditorium. Find more information at www.oneread.org.