For the January 2021 Read With Jenna book club pick, Jenna Bush Hager selected "Black Buck" by Mateo Askaripour.
"'Black Buck' is raw and intimate — and a title I knew our book club readers needed to read as we begin this new year with a fresh start," said the TODAY co-host.
Askaripour's debut novel begins with 22-year-old Darren living a happy, status-quo life in Bed-Stuy, New York. Despite being the valedictorian of his high school class, Darren did not go to college and instead worked his way up to manager at a busy New York City Starbucks. He lives with his mom, spends his free time with his longtime girlfriend and enjoys his unambitious existence until a fateful encounter with the CEO of a hot New York City tech startup.
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While Darren is on shift at Starbucks, Rhett, the CEO of Sumwun, sees something special in the young barista and gives him a chance as the only Black salesman in his cult-like company. Darren, who takes on the company-given nickname of Buck, navigates racism, explores what it means to be successful and uncovers harsh truths about life in sales in Askaripour's humorous and heart-wrenching novel.
When Darren hits rock bottom and things at home take a tragic turn, he uses his smarts and his new job to help young people of color break down the barriers of the sales world.
"Mateo Askaripour’s voice is so fresh. The writing is so intimate. At moments, it's satirical and funny and then at moments, it's heartbreaking," said Jenna.
While telling Darren's story, the book is also written as a how-to for becoming a salesman.
"I wanted this book to truly double as a sales manual," said Askaripour.
Throughout the book, the author doles out advice for how to navigate cold calls, persuade others to buy what you are selling and close a deal.
"I was first and foremost, honestly, writing for myself," said Askaripour. "This is something that I would want to read, and then secondly, writing for people who have been in situations like Buck."
The first-time novelist used his own experience facing racism and having an early career in sales to help inform his writing.
"I was sort of at creative rock bottom," said Askaripour. "It was that do-or-die mentality that allowed me to say, 'Let me not shy away from the themes of my life that I had been avoiding about race, sales, startups and things that were so close to my life for years, that I didn’t think I could effectively write about.'"
Jenna said, "The details are so intimate, spot on and beautiful. I found myself underlining constantly."
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For more book recommendations, check out:
- Jenna Bush Hager selects from 'favorite author' for December 2020 Read with Jenna
- Bookmark this list! 41 gifts for the avid reader in your life
- 15 diverse children's and young adult books recommended by kids