Thank you to the incomparable Cindi Boiter and Jasper Mag for thinking of lil’ ol’ me for this Summer Sixes blog series. I am always very humbled and honored when (for reasons I still cannot figure out) people are interested in anything I have to say – so, thank you. I LOVE to read, which I don’t know if many people know that about me. So I’ll share my summer six of which, I believe, are six awesome books to read this summer. With that said … let’s get to it … in no particular order. – Sherard Shekeese Duvall
Ironically, it was my mama that put me on to Mama Day. My mom was, and still is, a ferocious reader. And often either bought or told me about books to read. This is a favorite of mine from my high school years that came at a time when I was consumed with anything black and anything science fiction. What’s even better, the story is based on the coastal islands of South Carolina, so there are numerous fictional references to the Gullah people here. I still haven’t figured out why this hasn’t been optioned as a movie yet – if you read it on your next road trip, you’ll see why it should be.
Down Second Avenue | Es’kia Mphelele | 1969
I have a ‘thing’ for writers and writing that is very authentic. I love it when the characters and their dialogue, even if you have never met anyone like them, to your brain, feel real. Mphelele brings you into a world that lets you know EXACTLY what it was like on the ground in segregated South Africa as a young college student trying to find ones way in society. It’s these types of everyday life stories that can literally make you forget that you are reading until you realize there are no pages left. Excellent quick read for a weekend trip.
Mission Earth Decalogy | L. Ron Hubbard | 1985-1987
Got hours and hours of time to burn on vacation this summer? How about a wildly, sexual, violent, multi-galactical science fiction romp for your imagination? I discovered this series also when I was a teenager, at a time when I was burning through comic books and looking for something more for my wild imagination to devour…and oh…what a wild trip it WAS. Way before I knew that L. Ron Hubbard was L. RON HUBBARD, I ate these crazy sci-fi stories up. I remember, before I could afford to buy em, my mom would go on shopping trips to the mall and I would hide in Waldenbooks for hours reading these absolutely off the wall stories. Need a wacky mind trip? You found it.
E.A.R.L.: The Autobiography of DMX | Smokey D. Fontaine | 2002
The phrase “you think you know, but you have no idea” was a popular tagline for VH1’s Behind The Music, but should have been the marketed description of this self-portrait. On DMX’s debut album, “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot” (which, once you read the book, you find out is scarily apt) he rhymes, “Feel the pain, feel the joy…of a man…who was never a boy… for real.” You don’t really GET what that means until you take dive into the deep water of what is Earl Simmons’ life. It’s very dark, and hard, and complicated, and beautiful, and emotional — if there was ever a rose that grew from the concrete…it was DMX. Pack this in your carry-on bag for your next long flight.
Walden | Henry David Thoreau | 1854
Thank you to my Columbia High 10th grade English teacher, Ms. Tate … wherever you are. When I first read this book, I had no idea who Thoreau was and even less of an idea of what the heck a Walden was. This is one of the books that I love because it struck a chord with me at an age when I was trying to find out who and what I was. Reading about this man’s inner thoughts about how we lived and related to the world around us felt a lot like the questions that were pinging around my head at 15. Need a brain getaway? Walden is a great read for a long day on the side of a mountain overlooking a forest. Hello, Appalachia.
Manchild In The Promised Land | Claude Brown | 1965
This is my favorite book of all time. And, to me, the most important book of my life. What Claude Brown was able to do in this autobiographical account is literally the blueprint to inner-city America. It is one of the most textured, tangible and authentic reads I have ever experienced. Like my own childhood, it details perfectly the conflicted life of growing up too young and too soon in an environment that is dealing with a toxic mixture of the effects of racism, classism, sexism, poverty, crime, and about every ill you can fit into a neighborhood – juxtaposed with the happiness, joy, fun and bliss of growing up in a place that – despite the broken glass and winos – you call home. The characters and conversations leap off of the page and put you right smack dab in the middle of the place that birthed the ingredients that created hip-hop culture. You want to understand how complicated and beautiful and creative and cold that life can be growing up in the inner-city? There is NOT another book better. Period.
Sherard Shekeese Duvall = TV/Film Producer | Media Literacy Educator | Media Consultant | Hip-Hop Advocate & Executive Producer, Co-Owner at OTR Films