from Sheree L. Greer, author of Once and Future Lovers
I approached this challenge – and it most certainly is a challenge to choose five books and deem them favorites – in a really haphazard sort of way. I walked around my house, scanned my bookshelves, then sat on my couch, closed my eyes, and ran through a bunch of titles and memories of books both loved and thrown across the room (I literally throw books I dislike across the room). I opened my eyes and took to my journal, listing as fast as I could five books I felt I loved. I decided, before scribbling the titles, that I would go with whatever novels came out of the exercise, for better or for worse.
Here we go:
James Baldwin, Just Above My Head: So, this already made Katia D. Ulysse’s list, but it had to be repeated. I love Baldwin, and while I could have chosen any number of his books that I love, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, or If Beale Street Could Talk, Baldwin’s Just Above My Head is a sentimental choice. I grew up in a reading household, and when I tired of my Beverly Clearly and Roald Dahl, I took to my sister’s Stephen King and Dean Koontz then my mother’s Sidney Sheldon and Jackie Collins. One day, digging around in my mother’s book club books, I found Baldwin. Just Above My Head was the first time I felt my world shift while reading. The Baldwin experience was like an emotional work out, heavy-lifting for the heart. It was the first book to make me cry, the first book to fill me with awe. Two things happened to me when I read that book: I began my inspired, obsessive love affair with Jimmy, and I began my beautiful, dismantling love affair with the way a story can shake the very core of your being.
Alice Walker, The Temple of My Familiar: Shug. Avery. Seriously though, I love this book because of where it goes, where it takes me. The characters ask questions and give answers. They make me proud in one paragraph then disappoint me in the next. As a writer, I’m intrigued by the in-between, and that’s where these characters live, where they challenge each other through sex and love, doubt and faith. And did I mention Shug Avery? She makes several appearances in this novel, which is post Color Purple, and each time my heart swelled with so much love I feared it would burst. There’s a chapter titled “The Gospel According to Shug,” modeled after the Beatitudes, that could very well be the eternal blueprint for how to be a fully-realized, five-star human being.
Margaret Atwood, Blind Assassin: This choice surprised me. Not because I don’t love the book, but because I hadn’t thought of it in a long while. Atwood tells three stories simultaneously in this novel. The novel-within-novel form is expertly crafted, flawlessly executed. The stories are engaging, each for different reasons at different times, but you always knows what’s going on, and even though you might not always know where you’re going, you trust Atwood to get you there – safely and wiser for the wear.
Ann Rice, Cry to Heaven: A friend of mine suggested this book to me after she heard about my love of Memnoch the Devil, which details a reimagining of the crucifixion as witnessed by the vampire Lestat. I loved the rich history of it, so Cry to Heaven is a natural choice. The book follows the gorgeous but devastating lives of the castrato during the sixteenth century. The story is absolutely stunning, rich with history and romance, full of surprises and debauchery.
I hesitated here, knowing that this was my last choice. I just finished Segu by Maryse Conde and felt like I found myself. The historical fiction gives an account of an African village in the interior of the continent during the tail-end of the slave trade. The village of Segu is attacked both physically and ideologically by Christian forces from the coast and Muslim interests from the east. It’s an amazing novel that offered so much insight to my own history and pathologies as an African American that I felt tender and exposed after each chapter. My latest read notwithstanding, and perhaps to lighten the mood a little bit, I would choose Tananarive Due’s The Good House because of the imagery and the clarity of the tale, a showdown between good and evil with some of the most vividly haunting images I’ve ever experienced in a novel. Just thinking about it makes me want to flip on my night light.
There you have it. I gave it over to the exercise, and I’m pleased with the books that found their way to the list. As a writer always reading, always discovering, I’d love to revisit this list in a year or two to see how it’s changed, to see how I’ve changed. I can guarantee one thing though, Jimmy will always top my list.
A Milwaukee, Wisconsin native, Sheree L. Greer has been published in Hair Trigger, The Windy City Times, Reservoir, Fictionary, and the Windy City Queer Anthology: Dispatches from the Third Coast. She has performed her work across selected venues in Milwaukee, New York, Miami, Chicago, and Tampa, where she hosts Oral Fixation, the only LGBTQ Open Mic series in Tampa Bay. Ms. Greer received a Union League of Chicago Civic Arts Foundation Award, earned her MFA at Columbia College Chicago, and currently teaches writing and literature at St. Petersburg College. As an Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund grantee and VONA alum, she published a short story collection, Once and Future Lovers. A novel excerpt “Prom Story in Three Parts,” received a special mention in Publishers Weekly and appears inBest Lesbian Romance 2012.
Her novel, Let the Lover Be, will be published with Bold Strokes Books in August 2014.