Books to Read That Will Make You a Better Person

Black Lives Matter is one of the most talked about topics of the moment, aside from Covid. We've compiled a list of books to read that will educate you about the past prejudiced and racist ways of the world.

Many of these books have also been made into movies or television series, so if you prefer to gain information that way you can.

Note: These are five books that have had an everlasting impression on me. The opinions and interpretations are strictly my own.

The Green Mile

This 1996 classic from Stephen King was adapted into a movie in 1999. Originally published as six separate books, it tells the story of death row supervisor Paul Edgecomb and his encounter with John Coffey in Louisiana, 1935.

Coffey is a black inmate on death row who possesses inexplicable healing powers. He was found next to the body of two dead girls, attempting to bring them back to life, however, is automatically accused of raping then murdering them. He is kind, gentle and afraid of the dark but the colour of his skin automatically makes him a criminal in the eyes of the Louisiana Justice System.

The Green Mile is a book that can teach us a lot about race and prejudice. Coffey’s attorney labels him ‘a negro’, automatically dooming his fate. His attorney further compares him to a dog that bit his child’s face. The man never had a chance to defend himself because from the moment he stepped into the courtroom, he was already labelled a murderer and rapist. Seemingly some 85 years later, people of colour are still having to defend themselves for crimes they didn’t commit all because of their skin colour.

The Help

Written in 2009 by Kathryn Sockett, a film followed in 2011. The story follows the lives of African American women working in privileged white households during the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi and a white woman who wants change. It is told in first-person from three women: Aibileen, Minny and Eugenia ‘Skeeter’

Aibileen is a maid who takes care of children and housework for the Leefolt family. She finds herself in trouble multiple times over trivial things that are only a big deal because of her skin colour.

Minny, a friend of Aibileen, isn’t afraid to speak her mind, telling employers what she really thinks of them. It has landed her in hot water many times.

Skeeter is the daughter of a wealthy white family who owns Longleaf, a cotton farm outside of Jackson. She is curious about the disappearance of Constantine, the maid who brought her up. Whilst she investigates, Skeeter realises how Constantine and other black employees are treated compared to those who are white. Thus, Skeeter sets out to reveal the truth in a book.

The Help is the epitome of white privilege. Here, we have wealthy families who live their lives however they please. Those wealthy families employ people, who are largely coloured, to raise their kids and do all their dirty work. Most of these employees are underpaid and made to feel like the scum of the Earth.

It shows us just how terrible the segregated life was for coloured people. Above all it shows that, no matter how far we’ve come with integrating whites and blacks, there is still a long way to go.

To Kill a Mockingbird

A classic novel, written by Harper Lee in 1960, with race and prejudice at its core. It tells the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer during the Great Depression in Maycomb, Alabama. This is one of those books that will stay with you for life.

Atticus is appointed the case of Tom Robinson, a black man who has been accused of raping a white woman, Mayella. His children, Jem and Scout, are bullied at school because of their father’s willingness to defend Tom. (The term often used by the kids is N****r lover).

The trial attracts great interest from the community. Here we see the segregation of whites and coloured, sitting in different areas of the courtroom. It comes to light that Mayella made sexual advances toward Tom, resulting in her father beating her. Tom, however, is still convicted and killed as he tries to escape prison.

To Kill a Mockingbird has many educational points about prejudice, racism, and southern life. Atticus Finch famously says, ‘Shoot all the blue jays you want, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird’. This quote is a metaphor for the entire book- mockingbirds are harmless and live in peace so it would be a sin to kill something so innocent. Tom Robinson is the mockingbird in this context, teaching us that killing an innocent man will always be wrong.

Hadamar: House of Shudders

This isn’t widely known novel (but should be) written by Jason K Foster in 2019. It is a fiction novel based on true events that took place during WWII. Ingrid Marchand is a black girl living in Nazi Germany. She is taken away to the euthanasia camp, Hadamar, where she experiences many terrible things. 

Hadamar: House of Shudders is a reminder that we can’t forget the events of the Holocaust. If we do, it might happen again. It teaches us of the terrible things people did under the lead of Hitler and how horrific it was for those who endured it. We learn that people believed that skin colour or religion determines a person’s right to live. Above all, this book teaches us of the everlasting scars trauma can have on individuals and how hard it is to break free of what they once endured.

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence

Written by Doris Pilkington in 1996 with a film adaptation in 2002, this book is based on a true story. Molly, Daisy and Gracie were forcibly removed as part of the stolen generation. In 1931, the three girls escape the government settlement in 1931, trekking over 2400 kms by following the rabbit-proof fence through Western Australia.

Rabbit-proof Fence should be a reminder to all Australians about the Stolen Generation, whereby mixed racial children (or colloquially called half-castes) were taken from their indigenous home and usually placed with a white family.

Upon white settlement in 1788, Indigenous Australians became outcasts, seen as the inferior race. The Stolen Generation occurred between 1905 and 1970. The aim of removing children was to train them to work in a white society where they would likely marry a Caucasian, slowly seeing the Aboriginal population diminish.

There are many other books that you can also add to your reading list dealing with racism and prejudice:

  • Gone with the Wind
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • The Book Thief
  • How to Talk to Black People
  • Black Like Me
  • Negroland: A Memoir
  • How to Be an Antiracist
  • Between the World and Me
  • The Color Purple
  • Invisible Man
  • Brown Girl Dreaming

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