Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge

Meaty by Samantha Irby
During this project I've really been enjoying the books of essays I have read. I do not normally read that many essays but these collections have been a great way to introduce myself to an author's nonfiction.

Meaty was by and large a very funny read... but it also included some poignant moments, mostly from Irby's troubled childhood. It was quick, and it was interesting. Definitely worth a shot.

Read all about it here!

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child by Keiko Tobe
baby pushup
I believe I mentioned earlier that my cool former housemate E gave me a bunch of books for my project before she moved. With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child by Keiko Tobe was one of them. This is a loooong (522 pages!) josei manga about raising an autistic child. This covers the main character Hikaru's birth and preschool years. There are other volumes (eight in the US edition) that show more of his life, although sadly the author passed away before she was able to complete the series.

I find the graphic novel a wonderful medium for communicating information. Tobe includes practical tips for parents of autistic children, as well as a compelling story she wrote based on interviewing autistic families about their experiences. I thought this book was great and I highly recommend it. Reading a chapter or two every night it passed quite quickly.

Read more about it here.

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays
Joan Smalls, Yoncé

The introduction to Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays has Zadie Smith explaining that the book was written quite accidentally while she was suffering from writer's block while penning a novel. To take her mind off her book, and continue working and flexing her writer muscles, she worked on short assignments, penning book introductions, giving lectures, and even writing movie reviews. The book is her collected (and edited) efforts of those years.

Organized into thematic sections (like Reading, Being, Writing, etc), the book has a little something for everyone. For the writers there are book intros that delve into the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Nabokov, Eliot, Kakfa, Barack Obama and (in one overly long and acadamic work) David Foster Wallace. There are personal essays that examine Smith's childhood, especially her relationship with her (now deceased) father that pay tribute to him and the influence he had on her work. There are personal tributes to Katherine Hepburn and Greta Garbo and (my personal favourite) an entire section of movie reviews penned for the Guardian where Smith went to see the most popular popcorn fare and was baffled at the results. The witty way in which she eviscerates these movies is wonderful to read even if you have only the vaguest inclination of what they're about.

It's a good book to pick up and leaf through and hopefully Smith will one day collect and publish the essays and material she's written since Changing My Mind.

Book 30 (Again!) Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
Okay, so, first, my confession. You may notice this is my second post marked book #30. Read more...Collapse )

Shadowshaper is an amazing book, one of the best I've read for this project. The protagonist, Sierra, is a teenage Carribbean-American girl. It's so lyrical, and really different than anything else I'd read so far. (It does remind me of a great book I read before I started the project, Gabi: A Girl In Pieces by Isabel Quintero.) I had read 20-30 pages of Half-Resurrection Blues by the same author but it didn't really grab me. This book, however, was amazing from page 1. So amazing that I'm considering giving Older another try with Salsa Nocturne, which is a collection of short pieces.

This book is short, partly due to its status as a YA novel. It's just come out this year. It does include some fantasy elements and there is some violence. I enjoyed everything about it. For the full review, look here.

Book 30: We Came All the Way From Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? by Achy Obejas
Book 30 was a re-read for me, though an unintentional one. About halfway through (in the disturbing story Man Oh Man) I realized I had read it many years ago. I think this was in college.

The book is excellent and a short read. Highly recommended. Many adult themes - trigger warnings for abuse, sexuality, drug use, violence, HIV/AIDS. There was one erotic piece that some survivors of sexual assault are likely to find quite triggering.

I enjoyed the collection immensely! Read my full review here.

Yakuza Moon - Shoko Tendo
Watch any gangster movie and there is one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb: virtually no women. Yakuza are Japanese gangster's and I was interested in reading this book as the subtitle is: memoir's of a gangster's daughter. I thought it would offer me a fresh perspective on a well-worn story. Unfortunately Tendo's father was only a successful yakuza early in her childhood and she had limited knowledge of what he did before he had to give up the lifestyle and struggle the rest of his life. In fact the book barely talks about yakuza culture at all (I imagine the attention grabbing title was used to pique interest) but about Tendo's childhood as a juvenile delinquent (most of which was spent estranged from her parents), her addiction to heroine and the string of abusive men in her life.

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Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Joan Smalls, Yoncé
Purple Hibiscus is Adichie's first novel, but the last work of hers I've read. Reading it confirmed to me she was a huge talent right out of the gate and that she doesn't have one bad book among her oeuvre.

Hibiscus is set in Nigeria in an undefined period during which there is a sudden military coup. It's told from the point of Kambili during a roughly three year period from the ages of 15 to 17. Kambili is the overly sheltered daughter of an extremely wealthy and religious man. Her father is respected outside the family, but Kambili both loves and deeply fears him because he is incredibly abusive, with him often telling her the abuse is punishment for her own good. His strictness and abuse also leaves her completely isolated from her peers and completely dependent on him.

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Book 29: Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
I deeply enjoyed this noir mystery by Walter Mosley. It never occurred to me before, but given that noir typically portrays a bleak and unjust world, it is a perfect place to talk about racism and other forms of oppression. I enjoyed Mosley's language and I also found his main character Easy very relatable.

TW- This books contains a great deal of violence, including sexual assautl.

I'm planning to take a look at the movie as well, featuring Danzel Washington - I've heard it's excellent!

Read my full review of the book here!.

Catching up on this year
I've read several books by PoC this year, though there's no way I'll get to 50. Here's the list through July (9 so far). I'll try to add others as I get to them (I have several in my to-read stack).

I really enjoyed Ayize Jama-Everett's The Liminal People. Jama-Everett is clearly working from famous comic-book ideas (especially the X-Men), and doing very different things with them. I especially appreciated the ways he fleshes out (quite literally) those ideas with a level of detail that wouldn't work in comic books at all. It should almost go without saying that I appreciate the focus on people of color (just about everyone of importance in the book is not white). And his ending is the kind of ending that is going to get me every single time, but I won't spoil it for you beyond that. (I now own the sequel, The Liminal War, and hope to get to that soon.)

laurieopal has been strongly recommending Nell Irvin Painter recently, and especially The History of White People, and as usual, she is right. Painter’s subject is the long, complex, internally contradictory history of how European peoples have divided themselves and been divided by observers. So we get to how “Caucasian” became the weird substitute for “white” that it is now, how German, Teutonic, and Aryan changed value over the years, and how Britain came into the equation, but much of the book is also set in the New World, and covers the amazing contortions of “race science” over the centuries. Painter, who is African-American, has a knack for reporting the most ridiculous positions and attitudes with a quiet, dispassionate air, and then she will throw in a quick word like “cockamamie” just when you think she was making no judgments at all. The book is well-written, thoughtful, and not too dense; I am so glad I read it. Between my pleasure in it and Laurie’s urging, I will probably read a lot more Painter, too.

I read all of the Aqueduct Press Grand Conversations series, which brought me to Lisa Bradley’s The Haunted Girl, a completely excellent mix of poetry and prose. Most of the stories and poems are creepy, all of them are original, some draw heavily on Bradley’s Latino background. I showed Steven one of the formal poems, because it was beautifully done in a form I’d never heard of (a “kyrielle”) and he was as impressed as I was. Highly recommended.

Jennifer Brissett’s Elysium is an Aqueduct Press novel which was honor listed for the Tiptree Award and was an honorable mention for the Philip K. Dick Award (which does not generally give honorable mentions). This book follows three characters who shift their genders, ages, relationships to each other, and settings frequently; the shifts are marked by failed computer code, so the reader is aware of something somewhere trying to program the situations for the characters and failing. Their situations vary from bittersweet to desperate, and their personalities shine through the shifts. A real tour-de-force and extremely original.

A friend gave me Ann Mah’s Mastering the Art of French Eating, a memoir by an American woman of Chinese ethnicity who spent a year alone in France while her diplomatic corps husband was in Iraq, traveling the countryside and learning about the foods of various French provinces and areas. The food writing is good and I learned a lot, but the author’s voice drove me around the bed—she is irritatingly privileged and selfish, and I kept wanting to shake her. Worth a try if you can tolerate the author.

Some time ago, waywardcats lent me Anita Hill’s (yes, that Anita Hill) Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home. This never looked attractive to me, but I was short on nonfiction and didn’t want to read another food book, so I picked it up, and it was way better than I imagined. The title and cover led me to think it would be preachy, but instead it is anecdotal and thoughtful, and I was very drawn to her essential point, which is that laws and regulations can only go so far to create racial equality, and we must look to other means as well. She concentrates on what home is and why it matters, and in particular what it means to black women of roughly my generation and why. Like Isabel Wilkerson and others, she does this with stories of people’s lives, including her own family’s lives. She only mentions her own public history once, to make a point. Well worth reading.

When my partner and I were in Portland last November, we went to Powell’s, and I continued my practice of always buying something by a writer of color whose work I haven't read. This one was Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Alexie gets talked up a lot, and I’ve read very little Native American literature, so I’d always meant to read him. Absolutely True Diary is a young adult novel, based on some of his life experience. It’s a very easy (though often painful) read, with delightful illustrations by Ellen Forney. It is apparently also one of the most frequently banned books in the U.S., and I cannot figure out why. I will read more Alexie.

Atul Gawande is a favorite essayist of mine. I think of myself as being very calm and level about the subject of death, so I was looking forward to his Being Mortal, which turned out to be one of the most painful and upsetting books of recent memory (and really worth reading). He thoughtfully and compassionately examines both old age and death, how we deal with them as a culture, how the medical establishment deals with them, and what needs to change. Like Hill (and Wilkerson and Malcolm Gladwell and others) he offers up his own family experience as example. The book made me cry several times, and made me think and worry throughout. More valuable to me than anything else was his crystallization of the questions doctors (and family members and friends and society) can ask people who are aging and/or dying to help tease out true wants and needs from the welter of confusing emotions. I can’t genuinely recommend this, because it’s so hard, and at the same time I hope everyone will read it.

Lonely Stardust: Two Plays, Eight Essays, and a Speech is a collection by the lovely and talented Andrea Hairston. The plays are 17 and 15 years old, and they read as a little bit slanted toward the didactic for my tastes; on the other hand, I completely agree with everything she's being didactic about. I think they would both perform better than they read, especially since they depend a fair amount on visual and linguistic efffects. Most of the essays are movie reviews, and I really appreciated those. She made me think more about Wall-E, and once again reminded me that I want to watch Pan's Labyrinth. As you would expect, she never loses sight of marginalization and whose voices are valued (and whose voices are not). The speech was, well, familiar, since we were WisCon guests of honor together in 2012. On the whole, an excellent book and well worth your time, especially if you read plays for pleasure, which I do.
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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe - Charles Yu
I really, really enjoyed this book. It had all the things I traditionally love in good books: great writing, some science fiction and a compelling family plot thrown in.

The book follows an unnamed (to my recollection though I've seen other reviewers call the character Chales Yu, like a fictionalized version of the author) a guy in his early 30s who works as a low level bureaucrat for a time-travelling company going and fixing mistakes for people who have time-travelled and are about to screw up a time-line or create a paradox. He's thrown himself into his work and avoided his life for the past ten years because his father, an amateur pioneer in time-travel technology has gone missing and to a certain extent the narrator blames himself.

The book is a rather short read but it's a lot of fun and very lightly but beautifully written. There are so many interesting things going on that Yu only gives us a peep at, but I did like the central story of trying to find his father and reconcile with him. Super enjoyable. I highly recommend it. 


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