Brit Bennett’s Recommended Reading List
Here, the author of The Vanishing Half – Service95 Book Club’s November Monthly Read – shares the books she read to research her novel, which, in turn, will deepen your understanding of her process and the themes she covers.
This book was foundational to my understanding of the personal ramifications of racial passing. Hobbs grounds this topic in the stories of individuals, which helped me to think of it less as an intellectual concept and more as a personal experience.
Passing by Nella Larsen is about a pair of childhood friends – one who passes when convenient and one who passes full-time. Although these characters are not twins, they are doubles in a way that was instructive as I thought about the relationship between Desiree and Stella. How might their dynamic change as they choose very different paths in life?
Caucasia is about sisters whose racial identities are assigned by their parents – when the parents divorce, they each take a child. The daughter who lives with the white parent is forced to pass. This novel is a more contemporary exploration of passing than the Nella Larsen classic, so that was helpful for me in thinking about the time period of The Vanishing Half. But it’s also a moving story about a character who is forced to erase parts of herself for the sake of her family.
This book delves into the elite Black communities of Chicago, and it helped inform my thinking around the insular enclave of Mallard. Although Mallard is not a wealthy community, its residents share the ideology that whiteness or lightness is necessary in order to move up in the world.
This novel follows a man who discovers that an old friend has undergone surgery in order to change his race. It’s a provocative book that tackles questions about racial identity and choice.