The Lit Club: Books that changed us


[Image description: On the right, image of the book cover for 'Nobody told me' by Hollie McNish. On the left, image of the book cover for 'Notes of a native son by James Baldwin. Above both covers is the title: "Books that changed us.]


Edited by Emily Bourne and Kseniia Gridneva

Hello, bookworms! This month’s Lit Club theme is Books that changed us. Enjoy!


If you want to watch (we made a video review for October) our most recent edition click here, or for all of our archived editions, click here


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[Image description: Cover for Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish. It has a light pink colour with 2 flowers: green and yellow overlapping. The title and author's name is written in black font.]

Nobody told me by Hollie McNish

Hollie McNish creates a beautiful prose of poetry mixed with memoir talking about her experiences with being a new parent. Nobody Told Me is a heartbreaking, challenging read, but honest and rewarding all the same.

Review by Megan.

[Image description: Cover for Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin. On the cover James Baldwin is sitting down, dressed in a white shirt and black pants. There are two cloths in the background: olive and orange in colour. The title is written in white, while the author's name is in black.]

Notes of a native son by James Baldwin

Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son show readers a view of black life and thought at the rise of the civil rights movement. The edition I read of Notes of a Native Son included Baldwin’s preface to the 1984 edition of the book, which has quite a few interesting revelations. James Baldwin uses this preface to talk about his way of moving forward by examining America’s past: “In the context of the Negro problem neither whites nor blacks, for excellent reasons of their own, have the faintest desire to look back; but I think that the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further, that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly.” 

The 10 essays collected in Notes of a Native Son – on subjects ranging from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Baldwin’s stay in Paris – illustrate the personal touch felt in all of his writing. Indeed, the whole collection is framed as a search for the self. At first, he confronts his complex relationship with his father, a preacher and accepts that no matter what, they could never connect meaningfully throughout their lives. What a man is and what a man can be were very different ideas to the two men’s different generations. Baldwin was a young adult in a time of gentle optimism, while his father was not.

At the same time, almost as revealing, he had to investigate himself: “I was trying to discover myself – on the whole, when examined, a somewhat dubious notion, since I was also trying to avoid myself.” To do that he went to such lengths as to move to Paris with almost nothing to his name. That move - tinged with hopes and dreams of a better life - was the kick in the back that Baldwin needed to continue his political writing. By escaping the realities of subtle racism in New York City and witnessing the less concealed racism of rural Europe he allowed himself to write his story with the authenticity of a biography.

James Baldwin is one of the rare writers who never shies away from a frank and disquieting acknowledgement of his feelings: “There is no negro living in America who has not felt, briefly or for long periods… naked and unanswerable hatred; who has not wanted to smash any white face he may encounter; to violate, out of motives of cruellest vengeance, their women, to break the bodies of all white people...” He acknowledges the desire to come from the unfair situation that the black people of America are put in, a sort of catch 22. As anything written or done for a white audience or by a white progressive will inevitably be less confrontational and less direct than is necessary for societal change, while a protest novel written by a black writer must – almost inevitably – be truly, truly, bleak or fundamentally aggressive, both of which limit its potential to reach the wider readership that is required to affect societal change.

All of James Baldwin’s experiences with his identity being politicized against his will, therefore, culminates in the title essay, his own declaration of independence. Speaking of his struggle to establish himself as an artist whether political or not, he writes: “This fight begins, however, in the heart and it has now been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair.” And no matter how hard it is, we must do the same. 

Review by Kseniia.