America the Beautiful: 8 Books That Open Your Heart and Mind

in Nonfiction by

For some time, the political discourse in America has not reflected our core value of inclusion and it appears intolerance is at an all-time high. Following the Charlottesville incident, which left 32-year old Heather Heyer dead and 19 others injured earlier this month, more people are standing up and rejecting hate in favor of love, diversity and an enduring spirit of cooperation. We’re tired of the racism, sexism, and discrimination against various communities. And while we may not have a plan of action just yet as to how we eradicate these, we can gain insight through research and literature.

Literacy opens minds and one way to expand our cultural views is to read and embrace authors of all backgrounds. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up 8 of our favorite reads that reflect the America we want to be: one where everyone feels they belong, especially in times of uncertainty. Here’s to an open mind and an open heart:

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates 

Written in the form of letters to his son, Coates’s powerful memoir is both the story of his life and an intimate dissection of race in America. He takes us from the past to the present, showing how race is a social construct that exploits the most vulnerable, a systematic assault that often falls most heavily on black men and women. Blending personal narrative with larger social commentary, Coates paints a clear and moving picture of what it truly means to be a person of color in America.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean Vuong 

Vuong’s gorgeously moving poetry collection won the 2016 Whiting Prize – and we can certainly see why. Lyrical while also telling the powerful story of his life, Vuong takes us across continents and cultures, showing the lasting violence of war, the complicated constructions of race and gender, and so much more.

Night, Elie Wiesel 

If you haven’t yet read Wiesel’s classic holocaust narrative, now is the time. With haunting and clear prose, Wiesel takes readers through his experiences as a teenager in a Nazi concentration camp. It’s a devastating portrait of what happens when hate wins, and the kind of narrative that will stay with you long after you read it.

Something in Between, Melissa de la Cruz 

De la Cruz’s semi-autobiographical young adult novel tells the story of high-achieving teen Jasmine de los Santos, whose Filipino family has been living in America for most of her life. But when she learns that she’s actually undocumented, her carefully laid plans for the future disappear. Something in Between hits a lot of the sweet and uplifting beats of a novel for teens, but at its heart is a complicated and emotional story of what it means to be an immigrant in America.

If Not Now, When?, Primo Levi 

Levi’s work has always tackled tough subjects – and as a survivor of the holocaust, he understands exactly what’s at stake when we turn a blind eye to hate and fear. If Not Now, When? is about a group of Jewish rebels who travel across Europe fighting the Nazis and risking everything in the name of freedom. It’s a motivating and emotional story, and one that’s bound to inspire your own call to activism.

The Watson’s Go to Birmingham, Christopher Paul Curtis 

If you’re struggling with how to inform your kids about what’s going on politically (or if you simply prefer a picture book), then we recommend this Newbery Honoree by Curtis. In 1963, 10-year-old Kenny and his family head to Birmingham to visit his grandfather and become caught up in the bombing of the 16th Avenue Baptist Church – a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Blending hilarious family drama with the realities of being African American in the South during a time of violence and turmoil, this is a story that will appeal to readers of any age.

Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney López 

To understand how political rhetoric had a hand in shaping the Charlottesville march, then pick up a copy of Dog Whistle Politics. López dissects how politicians use coded racist phrases (or “dog whistles”) as a way to rally and unite white voters. This powerful and insightful nonfiction book will open your eyes to how veiled racism, the declining middle class, and the current language of the Republican Party are all dangerously interconnected.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, Ayisha Malik 

For a slightly lighter read that may still give you a new cultural perspective, try Malik’s contemporary romance that’s often referred to as the “Muslim Bridget Jones.” After finding herself single again, Sofia Khan agrees to write a book about what it means to date as a modern Muslim woman. Along the way she discovers more about herself, her family, and her faith.

We want to know what books have taught you more about yourself and the world? Let us know in the comments!

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Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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