Even though I actually finished reading this memoir last week, it seems fitting to launch February’s blog, on the first day of Black History Month, with bookchat about this memoir, penned by the woman who was the first black woman to teach history at Yale University, as an assistant professor of history in American and African American studies.
And don’t let that put you off, even if you are usually a fiction reader, because this memoir is anything but academic in tone: it’s an extremely intimate and bold story and it reads like fiction, at times a page-turner, even.
There are several things that stand out for me about this memoir, which initially I sought out after hearing her interviewed for the New York Times Book Review Podcast, and I highly recommend her work (although I realize that part of the appeal for me was rooted in the fact that the author and I grew up in a similar time period).
The first quality that I admire about The Black Girl Next Door is the degree of authenticity in the author’s voice: I was so struck by the shame and guilt that Jennifer Baszile felt about incidents in her younger years and the honesty bolstering her admissions about this. I still find it shocking how misjudgments that you made when young can still linger in the back of your mind as an adult, how they inform your later life, even with the benefit of better understanding why you made those errors in judgment at the time: I found it easy to relate with the burden she carried for so long.
I also admire the courage that it took to publicly reveal some of the inner workings of her family life and cultural experience which were not common knowledge. There are two scenes that stand out for me in this regard, both of which had an outward, physical effect on me. The first made me grimace and squint and wriggle in my seat as I was reading it on the way home on the subway (if you’ve read this, you’ll know exactly which scene I mean, though my spoiler-phobia prevents me from saying so here) and the second had me holding my breath and I could feel my pulse racing. This is not the stuff of J.J. Abrams, it’s 100% everyday, domestic action, but these scenes were relayed in such straightforward language that I felt as though I was inside them myself.
I don’t read a lot of memoirs but reading The Black Girl Next Door makes me regret that I don’t make more time for the genre.
Anyone else read a memorable memoir lately?