All parents with more than one child has a favorite. It’s just a fact. You can pretend that you love all children equally, but there is one that makes you laugh the loudest, one that reminds you of the possibilities life holds, one who needs extra attention because their lives are just a bit more challenging.
That said, asking a writer or avid reader to pick just five life-changing books is nothing like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. It is more akin to asking if a library were going up in flames, which books would you fight to save… or at least that’s how I approached it to avoid the anxiety that pulsated through my bloodstream when I started.
So this list is more about the books that lead me to a greater understanding of myself, my people, brought me immense joy or lead me to other books that did that.
1. The Autobiography of Malcom X, as told to Alex Haley. I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for this book. Malcom’s story taught me the importance of conviction and the honor of personal growth and evolution.
2. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. Anne Shirley and I were the same person; dramatic, passionate, talkative, strange. We both used the language of imagination and the worlds created in our heads to survive the worlds we couldn’t control. As a child, I felt strange and out of place. So did Anne, but she showed me that it was okay.
3. Willow Weep For Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression, by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah. The first book I’d ever seen about a Black woman struggling and living with depression. I read it in college when I was struggling with this thing that I had no language for. She gave me the language and did so beautifully.
4. Self-Help, by Laurie Moore. Her short stories are vivid, detailed snapshots rather than rambling narratives. She paints a complete picture of an incident or brief time and it doesn’t matter what happened before or after; all we need to know is the moment she gave us.
5. Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime: Stories, by J. California Cooper. She and Moore are the closest to where my writing style comes from. All of J. California Coper’s books taught me that beautiful writing and engrossing stories didn’t require big language or complicated storylines. She taught me to “just tell the story”.
Bassey Ikpi is a Nigerian-born writer, poet, and mental health advocate. She appeared five times on HBO’s Russell Simmons Def Poetry, and is a former cast member of the Tony-Award winning Broadway show “Russell Simmon’s Presents Def Poetry Jam”. In 2010 she founded The Siwe Project, a non-profit whose purpose is to cultivate safe spaces for persons of African descent living with mental illness. You can follow her musings at her blog, or her follow her tweets at @Basseyworld.