I heard this bit on Morning Edition earlier this year, and immediately took note. I had loaded up my 2016 bookbag with nonfiction titles, most of them centering around the issues of race and racism in this country. Important reads, and tough ones. I still have several books on my library hold list, so these titles are in high demand. Post-election season has left my mind spinning, and I’ve been really working on turning off my brain to the best of my ability at bedtime. I needed a couple of good fiction reads, and then this interview came along.
Librarian Nancy Pearl had several under-the-radar recommendations for good books, and I immediately populated my hold list with them. The Turner House, by Angela Fourney, was the first title to show up. Angela Fourney’s writing is impressive, and it was interesting to see her connection to the University of Iowa as well.
At its heart, this is a story about a family, but it’s also about the death of a city (and the legacy of the family home). The Turners left the south during the Great Migration, landing in East Detroit, raising thirteen children in a modest family home on Yarrow Street. On the first page spread, the generations of Turners are spelled out over many decades. In the story, we meet each child, unique, complex, but deftly woven into this very American story. At the center is the family home, too many stairs for the elderly matriarch, too much upkeep for the children busy with their own lives, too isolated by the abandonment of the neighbors, white-flight, redlining, race riots, drug wars, the mortgage crisis, predatory lending. Having recently read The Warmth of Other Suns, The Turner House felt like a natural extension of this story of movement and change within our country and our cities. I could escape within the fictionalized family’s stories, but it still felt like an important story to read.
It is a universal story, it is my parents’ story, it is our story. My goal for this year is to read more books like this. I think it is essential that we all broaden and deepen our bookshelves this year. Thank goodness for librarians, especially the Nancy Pearls of the world. Start with her, and with your favorite indie bookseller, and fill your nightstand with our stories. I’m working my way through Pearl’s list as we speak, and it does not disappoint.