Friday, January 8, 2016

Reading Wokely

I read Jia Tolentino's piece about noisy literary resolutions yesterday and I feel conflicted. I had been planning to do a (typically late) #DiverseDecember post but now I'm worried that I'm just being self-righteous and reinforcing binaries. I don't think I'm interested in scoring points for my own open-mindedness but I suppose that I wouldn't think that. And I do think it is a positive thing to make a concerted effort to read outside your own milieu and to read/buy/support authors and stories who have historically been overlooked and excluded from literary circles...

So rather than chase my own, anxious tail indefinitely I'm going to shout out some great books by BAME authors that I have read over the last year.

  • We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo: Child protagonists can be risky but Bulawayo's Darling is a delight - joyful, sharp, unsentimental. The book is alternately glowingly happy and deeply scary in its depiction of Darling's childhood in Zimbabwe and her emigration to Michigan.
  • The Turner House - Angela Flournoy: Big families are full of love and trouble. The lives of the Turner children are beautifully drawn and woven together here. And the book is especially good on both Detroit and our current economic sitch. (More from me.)
  • Negroland - Margo Jefferson: A fascinating and unexpected (to me) memoir of upper-middle-class black life in America. Growing up as part of the black bourgeoisie seems remarkably emotionally complicated and Jefferson recalls her own experiences and the history of this subsection of society with sly elegance.
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N. K. Jemisin: In terms of fantasy this was a little trad for me but that might be your cup of tea and I want 1000% more awesome POC fantasy heroines. 
  • The Twelve Tribes of Hattie - Ayana Mathis: This novel has a similar basic premise to The Turner House - a large black family in a rundown American city - but it has a wider historical and geographical sweep. If I could only pick one of the two I would go with The Turner House but I don't have to choose either/or and neither do you. Spoil yourself, read both. (More from me.)
  • Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I have said it once, I have said it twiceAmericanah is FIRE. If you're one of the seven people who hasn't read it yet I would suggest you remedy that sharpish. Ride the hype or overcome it, depending on your own disposition.
  • The Woman Next Door - Yewande Omotoso: You know what is awesome? Sharp-tongued, short-tempered old women hating each other and gradually becoming friends. One to watch in 2016.
  • Men We Reaped - Jesmyn Ward: A crushing memoir of black death in America. Not pleasant but beautiful and very moving. A powerful book in its own right and your daily reminder to read Salvage the Bones like yesterday. I don't know why you're even here. Why aren't you reading Salvage the Bones right now?? (More from me.)
(Also, these kind of exercises, while imperfect, can be useful. In putting together this list I realised that none of these are British authors. That is shocking and something that I want/need to correct. Recs, specifically fiction, very welcome.)

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