My Year’s 10 Best Reads

I expect to be posting about a lot of things in this space, and not “just” on Congo, or even Africa, although there will naturally be a lot of the latter. In the weeks and months ahead, there will be things to share about American presidential politics, about China (I teach a seminar about the country each spring), about photography, perhaps music, and certainly many other unanticipated things that will come up along the way.
I’ve been thinking for some time about what I am beginning with this post, and that is my own modest entry in the proliferation of year-end lists of best books.
I obviously have none of the sway of the New York Times or Time magazine (ha ha), and these offerings are unlikely to move the book market more than a teeny blip, if that. But sharing is at the heart of the spirit of blogging, and since there are few things I love to do more than read, sharing about this pastime and vocation brings a particular pleasure.

I’m going to roll out my ten choices one by one, and in no particular order. They are all fantastic and truly special, each in its own way.

My first nomination is The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, by Daniel Sharfstein.

Invisible Line is a book about the experience of very light-skinned, mixed-race descendants of American slaves and how they negotiated the society’s “color line.” More precisely, it is an exploration of the phenomenon of passing, and of the unpredictably strange and powerful effects that attached to the highly personal, portent-laden choices made by people torn between racial identities.

This is simply the most profound and original book I have read on race in America for some time. Sharfstein, who teaches law at Vanderbilt, is an extraordinary reporter and researcher who manages to delve deeply into the most sensitive and even secret aspects of the history of the three families who bring his subject to life.

Their stories themselves will change the way you think about race, and indeed about American history from the Reconstruction down to the present.

One feels a remarkable and yet quiet intelligence on every page, and as if that were not enough, Sharfstein writes beautifully, as well.

A bit of personal disclosure is in order. Daniel worked for me as a stringer in Ghana in the mid-1990s, and we have remained friends ever since. Let that take nothing away from what is a truly impressive achievement.

Some reviews:

http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2011/02/20/tracing_lives_of_three_white_families_and_their_black_forebears/?page=full

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fc%2Fa%2F2011%2F02%2F25%2FRVVS1HFMPD.DTL

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/nov/24/escape-whiteness/?pagination=false

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