Books, Beans & Brews: A spotlight on Black History Month

Happy Black History Month, readers!

By Samantha Jacquest

Samantha Jacquest is the owner of Blue House Books, Kenosha's full-service independent bookstore in Downtown Kenosha. Sam loves sharing her love of books with the community and bringing in popular and local authors for events. When not at her shop, Sam enjoys traveling and spending time Downtown with her friends, family, and rescue dog Flash.

Here at Blue House Books, we strive to carry diverse titles all year round, but during these important cultural celebrations, we bring extra attention to relevant authors and stories. While it may seem obvious that nonfiction books on history or social science  are a great way to learn, some people don’t realize just how much they’re learning by reading novels. You may have picked up a book just because it’s the latest New York Times bestseller without realizing that what you’re actually reading is an in-depth look into other cultures and stories that you don’t directly relate to. The characters may be fictional, but oftentimes the feelings, actions, histories are someone’s reality.

Whether it be a memoir, history book, or novel, I hope you will choose to pick up a book by a Black author this month. For some of you, this is a no-brainer and they are reading a story they relate to. For others like myself, it’s a great way to learn about someone else’s story that I will never experience directly. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to talk about race or people with different backgrounds or lifestyles than yours, and books are a great way to get answers to questions you may not know who or how to ask. When reading You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar, I learned how difficult it is for Black women in the medical world and how they are often misdiagnosed or not properly cared for at all (this was only one of many stories but I remember this one stuck out to me). In Maame by Jessica George, I learned about the harsh responsibilities of Ghanaian women in familial caregiving roles, but also found myself relating to some of the experiences of the main character Maddie, like the horrors of dating in the 21st century.

I hope you will choose to use cultural and commemorative holidays as a way to pick up books that are outside your everyday experiences so you can learn about those different than you and biome a more empathetic citizen! Here are a few monthly celebrations that we follow at Blue House Books. There are definitely more than what I’m listing here, so be sure to check out this guide for inspiration when picking out a new book:

February – Black History Month

March – Women’s History Month

April – National Poetry Month

May – Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

June – LGTBQ+ Pride Month

July – Disability Pride Month

September – National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15)

November – American Indian Heritage Month

For this month’s featured review, I’m excited to tell you about Chain Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. In this novel about modern gladiators, women are forced to fight in a private prison system for the entertainment of society and for the ultimate prize: their freedom. And with it being Black History Month, I feel no shame in once again promoting BLAK Coffee and a drink from their current seasonal menu:  Poetic Justice. Appropriate name for this social commentary book, don’t you think? Poet Justice is a cold chai drink with raspberry syrup and chocolate cold foam. Use this delightful drink to help you balance the gut-wrenching themes in this book that will both terrify you and keep you turning the page!

Laura Marran, a Blue House Books test reader, was lucky enough to get her hands on a copy of Chain Gang All-Stars before it was published and she has been singing her praises ever since! Here is an excerpt from her review:

The novel’s most painful jolt comes not from the graphic cruelty of a literal bloodsport, but from the crushing realization that this futuristic farce isn’t actually farce at all. America’s for-profit prison system, lust for high-stakes competition, and never-cured racism all twist into a tale of a not-too-distant dystopia that is all too real.

Throughout the chaos, Adjei-Brenyah’s writing is nothing short of amazing. He somehow imbues this brutal tale with attention to minute details which make everything feel authentic, from the anagram-laden corporate overlord structure and pervasive abuse of technology to the intersectionality of sexism and racism. The most obvious, yet difficult questions about crime, punishment, and victims are raised. 

From the smallest details to universal truths of human nature, the author deftly ties his futuristic novel to the past and, sadly, the present. Read Chain Gang All-Stars. It’s not just a book, it’s a deep, dark, truthful mirror.