15 Books Published by Back Bay Books on AALBC — Book Cover Collage

Click for more detail about The Sweetness of Water (Paperback) by Nathan Harris The Sweetness of Water (Paperback)

by Nathan Harris
Back Bay Books (May 03, 2022)
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An Instant New York Times bestseller / An Oprah’s Book Club Pick

In the spirit of The Known World and The Underground Railroad, an award-winning “miraculous debut” (Washington Post) about the unlikely bond between two freedmen who are brothers and the Georgia farmer whose alliance will alter their lives, and his, forever

In the waning days of the Civil War, brothers Prentiss and Landry—freed by the Emancipation Proclamation—seek refuge on the homestead of George Walker and his wife, Isabelle. The Walkers, wracked by the loss of their only son to the war, hire the brothers to work their farm, hoping through an unexpected friendship to stanch their grief. Prentiss and Landry, meanwhile, plan to save money for the journey north and a chance to reunite with their mother, who was sold away when they were boys.

Parallel to their story runs a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers. The young men, recently returned from the war to the town of Old Ox, hold their trysts in the woods. But when their secret is discovered, the resulting chaos, including a murder, unleashes convulsive repercussions on the entire community. In the aftermath of so much turmoil, it is Isabelle who emerges as an unlikely leader, proffering a healing vision for the land and for the newly free citizens of Old Ox.

With candor and sympathy, debut novelist Nathan Harris creates an unforgettable cast of characters, depicting Georgia in the violent crucible of Reconstruction. Equal parts beauty and terror, as gripping as it is moving, The Sweetness of Water is an epic whose grandeur locates humanity and love amid the most harrowing circumstances.

• One of President Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021
• Winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
• Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
• Longlisted for the 2022 Carnegie Medal for Excellence
• Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
• A Best Book of the Year: Oprah Daily, NPR, Washington Post, Time, Boston Globe, Smithsonian, Chicago Public Library, BookBrowse, and the Oregonian
• A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
• A July Indie Next Pick

Click for more detail about This Is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism by Don Lemon This Is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism

by Don Lemon
Back Bay Books (Apr 12, 2022)
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In this “vital book for these times” (Kirkus Reviews), Don Lemon brings his vast audience and experience as a reporter and a Black man to today’s most urgent question: How can we end racism in America in our lifetimes?

The host of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon is more popular than ever. As America’s only Black prime-time anchor, Lemon and his daily monologues on racism and antiracism, on the failures of the Trump administration and of so many of our leaders, and on America’s systemic flaws speak for his millions of fans. Now, in an urgent, deeply personal, riveting plea, he shows us all how deep our problems lie, and what we can do to begin to fix them.

Beginning with a letter to one of his Black nephews, he proceeds with reporting and reflections on his slave ancestors, his upbringing in the shadows of segregation, and his adult confrontations with politicians, activists, and scholars. In doing so, Lemon offers a searing and poetic ultimatum to America. He visits the slave port where a direct ancestor was shackled and shipped to America. He recalls a slave uprising in Louisiana, just a few miles from his birthplace. And he takes us to the heart of the 2020 protests in New York City. As he writes to his young nephew: We must resist racism every single day. We must resist it with love.

Click for more detail about Infectious Madness: The Surprising Science of How We Infectious Madness: The Surprising Science of How We "Catch" Mental Illness

by Harriet A. Washington
Back Bay Books (Oct 04, 2016)
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"Fascinating…A superb book."—Robert Sapolsky, Stanford professor of neuroscience and neurosurgery and author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

What causes mental illness? We’ve long blamed stress, trauma, and brain-chemistry imbalances. But a new theory is quietly achieving critical mass. In INFECTIOUS MADNESS, award-winning science writer Harriet Washington reveals that schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Alzheimer’s, and anorexia also may be caused by bacteria, parasites, or viruses. Weaving together cutting-edge research and case studies, INFECTIOUS MADNESS shows how strep throat can trigger rapid-onset OCD in a formerly healthy teen and how contact with cat litter elevates the risk of schizophrenia. Featuring a new afterword by the author, and rich in science, medical mysteries, cultural nuance, and evidence-based recommendations, INFECTIOUS MADNESS pulls back the curtain on a new paradigm with profound implications for us all.

Click for more detail about The Water Museum: Stories by Luís Alberto Urrea The Water Museum: Stories

by Luís Alberto Urrea
Back Bay Books (Apr 26, 2016)
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NAMED NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR by Washington Post, BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Kirkus Reviews, NPR, Men’s Journal

A new short story collection from Luis Alberto Urrea, bestselling author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter and The Devil’s Highway.

From one of America’s preeminent literary voices comes a new story collection that proves once again why the writing of Luis Alberto Urrea has been called "wickedly good" (Kansas City Star), "cinematic and charged" (Cleveland Plain Dealer), and "studded with delights" (Chicago Tribune). Examining the borders between one nation and another, between one person and another, Urrea reveals his mastery of the short form. This collection includes the Edgar-award winning "Amapola" and his now-classic "Bid Farewell to Her Many Horses," which had the honor of being chosen for NPR’s "Selected Shorts" not once but twice.

Suffused with wanderlust, compassion, and no small amount of rock and roll, THE WATER MUSEUM is a collection that confirms Luis Alberto Urrea as an American master.

Click for more detail about Queen of America: A Novel by Luís Alberto Urrea Queen of America: A Novel

by Luís Alberto Urrea
Back Bay Books (Dec 04, 2012)
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At turns heartbreaking, uplifting, fiercely romantic, and riotously funny, QUEEN OF AMERICA tells the unforgettable story of a young woman coming of age and finding her place in a new world. Beginning where Luis Alberto Urrea’s bestselling The Hummingbird’s Daughter left off, QUEEN OF AMERICA finds young Teresita Urrea, beloved healer and "Saint of Cabora," with her father in 1892 Arizona. But, besieged by pilgrims in desperate need of her healing powers, and pursued by assassins, she has no choice but to flee the borderlands and embark on an extraordinary journey into the heart of turn-of-the-century America.

Teresita’s passage will take her to New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis, where she will encounter European royalty, Cuban poets, beauty queens, anxious immigrants and grand tycoons-and, among them, a man who will force Teresita to finally ask herself the ultimate question: is a saint allowed to fall in love?

Click for more detail about Into the Beautiful North: A Novel by Luís Alberto Urrea Into the Beautiful North: A Novel

by Luís Alberto Urrea
Back Bay Books (Jun 16, 2010)
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Nineteen-year-old Nayeli works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the US when she was young. Recently, it has dawned on her that he isn’t the only man who has left town. In fact, there are almost no men in the village—they’ve all gone north. While watching The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men—her own "Siete Magníficos"—to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over. 

Filled with unforgettable characters and prose as radiant as the Sinaloan sun, Into the Beautiful North is the story of an irresistible young woman’s quest to find herself on both sides of the fence.

Click for more detail about Say You’re One Of Them by Uwem Akpan Say You’re One Of Them

by Uwem Akpan
Back Bay Books (Sep 18, 2009)
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Each story in this jubilantly acclaimed collection pays testament to the wisdom and resilience of children, even in the face of the most agonizing circumstances.

A family living in a makeshift shanty in urban Kenya scurries to find gifts of any kind for the impending Christmas holiday. A Rwandan girl relates her family’s struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy amid unspeakable acts. A young brother and sister cope with their uncle’s attempt to sell them into slavery. Aboard a bus filled with refugees—a microcosm of today’s Africa—a Muslim boy summons his faith to bear a treacherous ride across Nigeria. Through the eyes of childhood friends the emotional toll of religious conflict in Ethiopia becomes viscerally clear.

Uwem Akpan’s debut signals the arrival of a breathtakingly talented writer who gives a matter-of-fact reality to the most extreme circumstances in stories that are nothing short of transcendent.

Click for more detail about One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life--A Story Of Race And Family Secrets by Bliss Broyard One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life--A Story Of Race And Family Secrets

by Bliss Broyard
Back Bay Books (Sep 09, 2008)
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Ever since renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard’s own parents, New Orleans Creoles, had moved to Brooklyn and began to "pass" in order to get work, he had learned to conceal his racial identity. As he grew older and entered the ranks of the New York literary elite, he maintained the façade. Now his daughter Bliss tries to make sense of his choices and the impact of this revelation on her own life. She searches out the family she never knew in New York and New Orleans, and considers the profound consequences of racial identity. With unsparing candor and nuanced insight, Broyard chronicles her evolution from sheltered WASP to a woman of mixed race ancestry.

Click for more detail about Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

by Malcolm Gladwell
Back Bay Books (Apr 03, 2007)
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In his landmark bestseller The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell redefined how we understand the world around us. Now, in Blink, he revolutionizes the way we understand the world within.

Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant-in the blink of an eye-that actually aren’t as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work-in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?

In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple; the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance. Here, too, are great failures of "blink": the election of Warren Harding; "New Coke"; and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police.

Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of "thin-slicing"-filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

Click for more detail about The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luís Alberto Urrea The Hummingbird’s Daughter

by Luís Alberto Urrea
Back Bay Books (Apr 03, 2006)
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Discover an epic historical novel of a young saint escaping death from Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels.
The prizewinning writer Luis Alberto Urrea’s long-awaited novel is an epic mystical drama of a young woman’s sudden sainthood in late 19th-century Mexico. It is 1889, and civil war is brewing in Mexico. A 16-year-old girl, Teresita, the illegitimate but beloved daughter of the wealthy and powerful rancher Don Tomas Urrea, wakes from the strangest dream-a dream that she has died. Only it was not a dream. This passionate and rebellious young woman has arisen from death with a power to heal-but it will take all her faith to endure the trials that await her and her family now that she has become the Saint of Cabora. The Hummingbird’s Daughter is a vast, hugely satisfying novel of love and loss, joy and pain.

Click for more detail about The Portable Promised Land: Stories by Touré The Portable Promised Land: Stories

by Touré
Back Bay Books (Apr 04, 2003)
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Welcome to Soul City, the fictional American metropolis where magic is as natural as sunshine. With this inspired collection—in which irreverent humor and sharp-eyed social satire combine to produce unforgettable stories—Toure emerges as one of the most talented and inventive young writers at work today.

Book Review

Click for more detail about The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

by Malcolm Gladwell
Back Bay Books (Jan 07, 2002)
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The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

Click for more detail about River, Cross My Heart: A Novel by Breena Clarke River, Cross My Heart: A Novel

by Breena Clarke
Back Bay Books (Oct 01, 1999)
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Five-year-old Clara Bynum is dead, drowned in the Potomac River in the shadow of a seemingly haunted rock outcropping known locally as the Three Sisters. River, Cross My Heart, which marks the debut of a wonderfully gifted new storyteller, weighs the effect of Clara’s absence on the people she has left behind: her parents, Alice and Willie Bynum, torn between the old world of their rural North Carolina home and the new world of the city, to which they have moved in search of a better life for themselves and their children; the friends and relatives of the Bynum family in the Georgetown neighborhood they now call home; and, most especially, Clara’s sister, ten-year-old Johnnie Mae, who must come to terms with the powerful and confused emotions stirred by her sister’s death as she struggles to decide what kind of woman she will become. This highly accomplished first novel resonates with ideas, impassioned lyricism, and poignant historical detail as it captures an essential part of the African-American experience in our century.

Barnesandnoble.com Review by Glenda Johnson

For new arrivals Johnnie Mae and her kid sister Clara, the Potomac is a seductive force. Wide and deceptively calm, the river attracts many visitors to its verdant banks. But beneath the benign surface, powerful currents carry the waters past all, colored and white, penitent and power broker. And, in Breena Clarke’s River, Cross My Heart, the siren call of the Potomac can shatter lives and break hearts.

Soon after World War I, the Bynums leave North Carolina behind, bringing their young family to Georgetown, in the nation’s capital, in search of greater racial tolerance and opportunity. On the cusp of adolescence, Johnnie Mae Bynum is responsible for her sister Clara’s care. Amid the hustle of Washington’s postwar frenzy and the bustle of the nascent African-American community, the girls find adventure. But in the nearby Potomac, they find trouble.

The danger signs are clear. Although it looks inviting, whispered stories say the Potomac has a long history of luring unsuspecting souls to a watery death. Despite the local legends, despite parental warnings, Johnnie Mae and Clara venture past the C & O Canal, beneath the Frances Scott Key Bridge, into the mouth of Higgins Hole. There, in a momentary and devastating lapse, one sister succumbs to the treacherous Potomac currents, leaving the other to carry forever the burdens of guilt, shame, and heartache.

When Clara’s body is recovered from the river, Johnnie Mae’s pain is acute and permanent, her sister dead and her own childhood abruptly ended. For the parents, too, Clara’s drowning creates an immediate void, and the accident resonates throughout the family. Author Breena Clarke painstakingly describes the repeated emotional injuries generated by such a sudden loss. With the passing of Clara, River, Cross My Heart becomes ever more the story of Johnnie Mae’s journey toward awareness and understanding.

Even in Washington, D.C., the physical and psychic home of America’s freedoms, grim reminders of racial inequity challenge the grieving Johnnie Mae. Why are the swimming pools segregated? Who are the omnipresent "they" the older folks refer to in their myriad conversations? Why is her mother constantly obligated to her white employers and the church? In addition to the normal angst of adolescence, Johnnie Mae bears the guilt and loss of Clara’s death. To Johnnie Mae, the drowning is especially galling, for she is a standout swimmer, and this ability proved insufficient when needed most.

Unfortunately, the profoundly difficult questions posed in this gallantly attempted novel are only partially answered. Nevertheless, Johnnie Mae’s dilemmas are infused with passion and compassion.

Haunted by her sister’s spirit, Johnnie Mae sees Clara in the oddest places. Swimming, once Johnnie Mae’s secure relaxation, is forever tainted. Attempting to find solace, Johnnie Mae embraces a classmate she believes is the reincarnation of her sister. Pearl, whose hair bears a striking resemblance to Clara’s, becomes Johnnie Mae’s confidante. In a manner that is tender and beautiful, Clarke’s portrayal of their budding friendship is one of the most memorable aspects of the book. Johnnie Mae protects Pearl from the taunts of the other schoolchildren but engages in little riffs that are indicative of sibling rivalry. She even convinces Pearl to defy the rules of the whites-only swimming pool by breaking in and taking a late-night swim. More revealing than the girls’ "acting out" are the layered family and community reactions generated by their behavior.

Clarke’s evocation of the "colored" Georgetown of yesteryear is fascinating. The varied cast includes Miss Ella, the medicine woman who has a concoction for any ailment, and Reverend Jenkins, the minister who helps secure a swimming pool for the "colored" children. One of the most vividly described scenes occurs when Johnnie Mae joins her mother and some of the other older women on a streetcar ride to Union Station. There, they meet the fancy Gladys Perryman, who has just completed her training at the Madam C. J. Walker School of Beauty. From the people on the street to those racing around Union Station, Washington is alive in Clarke’s panoramic vision and multilayered scope.

While River, Cross My Heart brims with metaphorical significance, particularly the many references to the Potomac, the novel would benefit from a more cohesive narrative. In her debut effort, though, Breena Clarke delivers a worthwhile offering. The extensive research into the early African-American community of Georgetown is resoundingly evident, as the streets come alive. Moreover, the confident manner in which Clarke explores Johnnie Mae’s inner turmoil will resonate for anyone who has had to cope with loss.

Click for more detail about Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

by Nelson Mandela
Back Bay Books (Oct 01, 1995)
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Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality. The foster son of a Thembu chief, Mandela was raised in the traditional, tribal culture of his ancestors, but at an early age learned the modern, inescapable reality of what came to be called apartheid, one of the most powerful and effective systems of oppression ever conceived. In classically elegant and engrossing prose, he tells of his early years as an impoverished student and law clerk in Johannesburg, of his slow political awakening, and of his pivotal role in the rebirth of a stagnant ANC and the formation of its Youth League in the 1950s. He describes the struggle to reconcile his political activity with his devotion to his family, the anguished breakup of his first marriage, and the painful separations from his children. He brings vividly to life the escalating political warfare in the fifties between the ANC and the government, culminating in his dramatic escapades as an underground leader and the notorious Rivonia Trial of 1964, at which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Herecounts the surprisingly eventful twenty-seven years in prison and the complex, delicate negotiations that led both to his freedom and to the beginning of the end of apartheid. Finally he provides the ultimate inside account of the unforgettable events since his release that pro

Click for more detail about The Best Short Stories By Black Writers, 1899-1967: The Classic Anthology by Langston Hughes The Best Short Stories By Black Writers, 1899-1967: The Classic Anthology

by Langston Hughes
Back Bay Books (Feb 28, 1969)
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Includes contributions from James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Richard Wright, Frank Yerby, and Others. Edited by Langston Hughes.