Find it at your library!

Back in January, I got bitten by the New Year's Resolution bug and decided to try jogging. It was one of those decisions made in a hasty blur of good intentions, and in stubborn denial of all existing evidence against it. Evidence like the fact that running makes me furious, and I hate it.

Not to toot my own horn, but I actually stuck with it for about two weeks. What ended my short-lived attempt at fitness glory? I ran a full mile without stopping, promptly hurt my ankle, and limped my way back to the car, sweat dripping down into my sports bra along with my dreams of 13.1 stickers and social media self-congratulation. Running is best left to the experts, people like my handsome husband and Olympians. I'll stick to walking and the occasional yoga DVD.

By the time I came to my senses, however, I'd already signed up for an Audible subscription. Audiobooks are expensive, after all, and not to hate on my beloved public library, but their audio collection at the moment consists mostly of CDs, to which all I can say is, holy antique technology, Batman. (Hey, the budget only goes so far. I get it.) Back when I pictured myself prancing merrily down the street several times a week, I thought audiobooks would be great because that way I wouldn't sacrifice any reading time. And they would have been, had I actually continued with my running plan past, I don't know, chapter three.

So anyway, it took me two months to listen to How to be Black, but that's my fault, not the book's, because the book is hilarious and thought-provoking and challenging. Thurston is, among other things, a writer for The Onion, and he has the rare and valuable ability to be simultaneously entertaining and sharply observant. I laughed even as I cringed in recognition of my own biases and assumptions.

With chapter titles like “How Black Are You?” and “How to Be the Black Friend,” Thurston explores his own experience as a black man in America, but he also broadens the scope by interviewing a panel of other witty, insightful people. A perk of the audio version is that it's narrated by Thurston himself, plus the audio from his interviews is included, so we get to hear each person's answers in his or her own voice. That added a lot for me.

It's clear from just a quick glance through my shelves that I don't read much non-fiction. When I do, I gravitate towards writing like this: personal, honest, funny, and illuminating. How to Be Black is a lot more than a book-length joke; it's humorous, sure, but it's also concrete proof that you can crack people up and make a point at the same time.

My jogging experiment may have failed, but at least I got this book out of the deal.

Find it at your library!

What can I say about this book?

It's just...perfect.

It's a series of prose-y poems that Jacqueline Woodson wrote about her own life, her memories of the years she spent growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn in the 1960s and '70s. It's hopeful, reflective, a little sad, and full of the wonder she felt as she discovered the words and stories she had inside.

Honesty time: Poetry is not my jam. I know it probably makes me a big lame-o to admit it, but most of the time I'd just rather not with poetry. I've always liked to read fast. To be a good reader of poetry, you must be okay with reading slowly. That, or you have to be okay with missing a lot. For me, attempts at poetry reading usually involve inhaling the stanzas like I'm at a pie-eating contest at a county fair and then feeling ripped off that I couldn't taste the fruit. You know, because I was distracted by trying to cram as much down my gullet as possible.

Dense texts make me a little tiny bit homicidal, is what I'm saying, and poetry is the densest of the dense. So in general, we keep a wary distance from each other.

But this book. THIS book! This book can make a poetry believer even out of a pie-eater like me.

One of my favorite moments comes from page 269, when Jacqueline makes up a song on the bus. When her sister asks what she's singing, she replies that she made it up. Her sister doesn't believe her, saying she couldn't have, it's too good. “I don't say anything back. Just look out the window and smile. Too good, I am thinking. The stuff I make up is too good.”

If that doesn't hit you right in the artistic solar plexus, I don't know what will.

On page 229, when she tells her family that she wants to be a writer, and they say, “Maybe you should be a teacher,” I swear my heart hopped out of my chest and flopped around on the floor for a while. I had to take a few deep breaths before I could tuck it back in.

So don't be turned off that this isn't a book of standard prose. Don't shy away because it's marketed for middle graders and you're on the shaded side of 42. Don't skip over it because it has the phrase “brown girl” in the title and you're a mustachioed man of the Caucasian persuasion. This book is beautiful, and it's for everyone. Buy it, read it, and taste the freakin' fruit.