Books About Oakland, Race, Sports and Tech to Add to Your Summer Reading List

Summer is almost here, and that means it's time to make a million plans and actually complete only three of them, two of which you didn’t plan on doing in the first place.

That said, the one thing I'm committed to this summer is reading. In order to stick to it, I’ve created a summer reading list and a system of accountability. Well, it’s more like this: I’ll write this list and hold myself accountable.

I’ve done this in the past with certain books I just had to read. Books about my hometown, like Summer Brenner's Oakland Tales and Tobie Gene Levingston's Soul on Bikes. Or the book I’m currently reading, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth Of Other Suns, which isn’t about Oakland specifically, but mentions it along with other cities north of the Mason-Dixon Line and west of the Mississippi River, in a deep dive into the Great Migration.

After I finish this book, I’m going on a reading spree. All summer. Here’s my list:

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First up is Chinaka’s Hodge’s Dated Emcees. Hodge, a well-known poet and playwright, is also a friend and writer I’ve long admired. Needless to say, she’s going to have some strong words for me when she finds out I haven’t read the book she published over a year ago.

I also plan to read Golden by Marcus Thompson II, another writer I know from Oakland. It's an unauthorized biography of Steph Curry from the point of view of a journalist and longtime Warriors fan. I got it a year ago, and Thompson even signed it himself. I was going to read the book as soon as I bought it, but then the Warriors won the championship, I celebrated and played with my daughter all summer and forgot about reading in general. Not happening this year. Well, I will celebrate the Warriors winning the finals and I'll certainly play with my daughter, but I won’t forget about reading.

I have to read Darryl "Lil D" Reed’s Weight. Reed, who I met at the 510 Day anti-gentrification gathering on the bank of the tidal lagoon we call Lake Merritt, is an Oakland legend. The former drug kingpin rose to the status of a local folk hero in the '80s. He was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison and served 26 before being pardoned by former President Barack Obama. He's been an active member of the community since his release, attending local events and making appearances in the media, sharing his perspective as a formerly incarcerated person. I’m inspired by his influence and can’t wait to learn more about how he used to move back in the day.

Let’s talk about new releases.

The ones I'm interested in include collections of personal poetry, investigations of data breaches and the anti-black political philosophy of the United States. And all of the authors are either originally from or currently reside in the Bay.

Zoé Samudzi, a doctoral student at the University of California San Francisco, a public scholar and probably one of my top-10 people to follow on Twitter, is on the verge of publishing her first book co-written by William C. Anderson, As Black As Resistance. When I asked Samudzi about the book, she said, “I’d love readers to walk away with a better idea of how central anti-blackness is to how race in the United States is organized. And also that we can’t simply be reactive in our politics, we have to have a more thorough understanding of this country’s origins and what it was created to protect and maintain.”

Russell Morse, with whom I spent a couple summers at the now defunct New America Media, just published his book, Holy Name. Morse, a native San Franciscan who once wrote for Rolling Stone, told me that this publication is a “lyric memoir.” He says it chronicles the journey of a formerly incarcerated kid who lost a girlfriend to a police shooting, only to find his redemption byway of writing his way through the “apocalyptic” Bush years. “Readers can expect an acute, at times poetic reminder that political issues—police shootings, mass incarceration—are intensely personal and emotional experiences that transcend discourse and might be better understood poetically,” said Morse.

Dameon Bledsoe, an author from Richmond, just published his first book, America's Young Black Male 2000. This lengthy coming-of-age memoir is “a testimonial meant to help broaden horizons, provide reason and dispel stereotypes,” as the author and emcee told me.

Melissa Jones' Black Girl Mango Seeds is a collection of poetry that I’m excited to pick up. Jones, whom I know as another active member of my community—a dancer, educator and now published author—told me that the book “focuses on the multi-layered experiences of black women, both traumatic and celebratory, which is an opportunity for readers to build awareness around the beauty and complexity of black womanhood.”

Cyrus Farivar, editor at Ars Technica, is a go-to voice on the issue of data and surveillance. Farivar’s book Habeas Data is “about 50 years of surveillance law in America and how the current state of the law is in many ways inadequate for the type of police tech commonly in use nationwide, including in Oakland,” as he told me. I’ve been reading his work for over four years now, and I’ve even had a chance to have a beer with him to discuss more than just the world of data, as we are both fathers, bearded bikers, avid baseball fans (although he likes the Dodgers—yuck!) and regulars at the Oakland Museum’s weekly Friday night festivities. Can’t wait to read his book!

Lastly, the books I’m most excited about: children’s books!

My daughter and I have been meaning to read Robert Trujillo’s Furqan's First Flat Top: El Primer Corte de Mesita de Furqan and Jesse Byrd’s A Sunny Tale For Rainy Days. And I’ll get to those, but it might have to wait until I finish The Three Gems, which is written by an elementary school-aged author named Maureen Tran, with illustrations by Jessica Jones. Jones is another longtime friend and creator whom I’ve admired since—sheesh, I can’t even tell you.

An illustration by Jessica Jones from Maureen Tran's 'The Three Gems.'
An illustration by Jessica Jones from Maureen Tran's 'The Three Gems.' (Jessica Jones)

I’ve commissioned Jones for illustrations, asked her about designing tattoos for me and dreamed about the day I'll be able to afford one of her large art pieces. One day. But until then, I’ll settle for having a book of her work. And not just any book, but a children’s book that is written by a young person. When I asked Jones about the book, coming out this weekend through Chapter 510, she said, “If the reader can take anything from this story, it would be that you can accomplish the strangest things with determination and support.”

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Accomplish strange things, like reading all summer? Sounds like the perfect motivation for me to complete my summer reading to-do list.

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