The subtitle for this one goes like this: “A documentary novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem bookseller.” It’s not really nonfiction, though it looks and feels like nonfiction (with documents and pictures and “interviews” from people). It’s about Lewis Michaux, the owner of National Memorial Bookstore that was a fixture in Harlem until it went out of business in the mid-1970s. Many of the major players of both the black literary world and the Civil Rights movement spent time in Michaux’s bookstore, thinking and talking and reading.
The book follows Lewis and his family — his parents and a couple of his brothers — through most of the 20th century, beginning in 1906, through his many failed ventures to his inception and success in the bookstore. It’s fascinating to read and think about: Lewis’s big thing was that black people can’t stop being Negros — that is, defined by white people — until they know their history. Which means they need to read. And read about their people.
Even though I had issues with the not-quite-novel/not-quite-nonfiction format, I have to admit that this book got me thinking.
And not just about the history, but how the history can apply to me and my children. And I’d like to think that Michaux would be proud a book about him could do that.
Rated: Mild for some mild swearing.