The new Netflix series, Luke Cage, starring Marvel’s bulletproof powerman, is beautifully peppered with civil rights, historical, and literary references. The story itself parallels a narrative of black struggle and success, intellectual and artistic, in the Harlem community of New York. From the Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting, “The Red Kings,” hanging in Mariah’s office to the youth center named after Crisps Attucks, the first casualty of the American revolution, Luke Cage embraces black culture beyond its blaxploitation roots and distinguishes itself from a comic book history filled with racist stereotypes. To that end, a good amount of great reads can be found on the book shelves and in the conversations of nearly every character. Not only is Luke’s library filled with works of uplifting social justice, but it also contains some downright excellent fiction, also. After a little superhero butt-kicking, pull up a chair and enrich your mind with some inspiring texts. Here are our top 5 powerman reads:
5. Invisible Man (1952) – Ralph Ellison
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
Part of Luke Cage’s personal collection, Ellison’s Invisible Man is a modernist text with flowing steam of conscience prose and is simultaneously poetic and proselytizing. The story follows its narrator from the deep south to Harlem as he becomes increasingly disillusioned with institutions, both societal and revolutionary, that make false promises of liberation and equality. At one point, the narrator is given electroshock therapy, without his consent, to calm his internal unrest. For a superhero who was unjustly imprisoned and becomes an unwitting science experiment, Invisible Man seems an appropriate read. Lucky for us, it is also great literature.
4. Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison (1998) – Allen M. Hornblum
“It was like a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time.”
The show thoughtfully choses its allusions, making sure they are relevant to its characters and setting. None so much as Acres of Skin, which chronicles the real life experiments performed on black inmates in Holmesburg prison over two decades. The experiments were dermatological in nature and were performed without adequate consent by the volunteers–recalling the terrifying Tuskegee syphilis studies. Cage’s power, we all know, is in his impenetrable skin, the strength and regenerative quality of his skin. This is a book that recounts a history where the color of one’s skin leaves victims vulnerable. It is now part of a story where skin becomes one’s liberator. Amen.
3. Mystic River (2001) – Dennis Lahane
“Happiness comes in moments, and then it’s gone until the next time. Could be years. But sadness settles it.”
Lest we forget, Luke Cage is not just a superhero story. It is an effective crime drama with shifting questions of guilt and a search for redemption. Where else would you find a dog-eared copy of Mystic River? Lahane’s novel follows three friends through a cyclic history of distrust and violence, where lies are commonplace and revenge is likely to find you. Set in the streets of Boston, featuring a police detective and an ex-convict as central characters, Mystic River’s grittiness mirrors the ugly side of Cage’s Harlem. Plus, the guys at the barbershop have it on their reading list, so pick it up.
2. The 48 Laws of Power (1998) – Robert Greene
“Many a serious thinker has been produced in prisons, where we have nothing to do but think.”
Luke Cage’s chief adversary and half-brother, Diamondback, has this book memorized from front to back; although, considering this particular bestseller has a large following among both entrepreneurs and prison inmates, is it really so surprising? Probably the least “literary” (and most poorly researched) on our list, 48 Laws is still a fun read…if you don’t take it too seriously. Greene came up with the idea after reading about the conquests of Julius Ceasar and then compiled the laws using a random list of unrelated events to prove their effectiveness. But hey, it’s 2016! We don’t care about pesky facts, anymore! And, I’m sure, neither does Diamondback. Because of that, it ranks number 2 on our list.
1. Outliers (2008) – Malcolm Gladwell
“In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”
Malcolm Gladwell’s exploration of success, Outliers, tops our list for good reason. The author does exhaustive research, seeking to explain the meteoric rise of individuals like Bill Gates and The Beatles. And, what does he discover? Practice. All one needs to do, barring peripheral disadvantages, is practice, practice, practice…for approximately 10,000 hours. Luke Cage, at its heart, is about struggle and perseverance; if you want to survive, you have to commit yourself and stick it out through the most difficult of times. Plus, Gladwell is an excellent writer who manages to transform mounds of data and statistics into fascinating reading. If you’re one of the ten people who missed this bestseller, go grab a copy. Luke did!
Let us know if you had any other favorite reads! Luke had so many on his list!