18 Books to Pick Up in January 2014

Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations

Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations

832 pages; Little, Brown
A compendium of quotations that illuminate a shared humanity.

Words tell us who we are. They teach us our values. They remind us where we've come from and help create a path for the next generation. Words hold such power that some states outlawed the teaching of reading and writing to enslaved African Americans; for abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass, teaching himself to read was a subversive act that altered the course of his life: "[Reading] was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things..." he wrote. "From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom."

You won't find Douglass's words in the original 1855 edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Later versions made some effort at racial inclusivity, but for more than 100 years, African American voices were sorely underrepresented in the popular volume. Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations makes up for that. Edited by Retha Powers, with an incisive foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr., it draws on nearly 5,000 years of richly diverse culture to create a profoundly moving account of the black experience. The poems, speech excerpts, lyrics, letters, slave narratives and aphorisms establish a new canon; you could call it a history lesson. From Exodus to Stevie Wonder, from soul-cleansing blues to soul-stirring spirituals, this book bears the light of our journey and deserves a spot on everyone's bookshelf. Hold it close. Open it so often that the pages start to mold to your fingers.
— Nikki Giovanni