Donate now
Tackling life's big challenges through the proven power of reading

BBC Radio 2 Book Club

Book of the Month

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

"Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked..."

To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably-priced furniture, making a life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver's Row don't approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it's still home. Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his fa├žade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger and bigger all the time.

See, cash is tight, especially with all those instalment plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace at the furniture store, Ray doesn't see the need to ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweller downtown who also doesn't ask questions.

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa - the 'Waldorf of Harlem' - and volunteers Ray's services as the fence. The heist doesn't go as planned; they rarely do, after all. Now Ray has to cater to a new clientele, one made up of shady cops on the take, vicious minions of the local crime lord, and numerous other Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he starts to see the truth about who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?

Harlem Shuffle is driven by an ingeniously intricate plot that plays out in a beautifully recreated Harlem of the early 1960s. It's a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.

"Exciting and really well-paced novel, which was hard to put down. Harlem Shuffle is ultimately a heist novel taking place over several years. Following Ray Carney, a furniture store owner and sometime middleman for the criminal underworld of Black Harlem, the book explores the consequences of the decisions we make - or are pushed into - and the challenges of reconciling one's past with their present. Interesting explorations of navigating race and class tensions, and fantastic historical detail that embeds the reader in the time and place of 1950-60s Harlem. While Ray Carney was a compelling main character who was easy to empathise with, I was as interested in the well-drawn secondary characters and their lives and backstories. I think it would appeal to a wide range of readers and lends itself to discussion. Good humour and great noir elements." Reader review

Find out more about the book at readinggroups.org or buy through The Reading Agency's Bookshop to support us and independent bookshops.

Harlem Shuffle,

Colson Whitehead

The Book Club is now part of Steve Wright In The Afternoon, where Steve will interview the chosen authors each month, and also have brilliant guest stars on the show to talk about the books too.

Steve Wright high res 2.jpg

Steve has said about the Book Club: "Books have boomed in lockdown, with thousands of people rediscovering the joy of reading, so it's great news that the Radio 2 Book Club will move to afternoons where it will get the full bells and whistles Big Show treatment!"

The Reading Agency, along with a team of librarians across the UK, help the BBC to choose the Book Club titles each month. Hundreds of the best brand-new fiction titles are submitted to us each year and are then read by our expert library readers, who select their favourites. The best books are shared with the BBC, and they choose the final picks for the Book Club.

Find out more about the librarians, and why they love being part of the Book Club.

About The Reading Agency

The Reading Agency is a UK-wide charity using the proven power of reading to tackle life's big challenges of social mobility, mental health and wellbeing and loneliness. Every year the organisation reaches 1.8 million people across the UK with the support of 13,817 partner organisations, ensuring that everyone is reading their way to a better life.

Find out about The Reading Agency's programmes here