Many of you will have heard that some good souls have started the reading initiative #DiverseDecember which has seen umpteen people joining in to read BAME authors, who many feel don’t get the coverage or attention that they deserve. I am not going to open up that whole can of worms as I think I have made my thoughts quite clear on it over the last few months. However if you missed the origins of all this it was based around the lack of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) on the World Book Night 2016 selection of titles which caused some debate in various parties – to put it mildly, some people should have been ashamed – and then this positive idea was born by Dan of Utterbiblio (one of the good souls mentioned above) saying he would read only BAME authors in December and encouraging other people to join in.
I need little encouragement with things like this. I am a big fan of voices from all minorities and genders being read, I wouldn’t have started a prize for LGBT authors if not. However, to only read books by BAME authors, whilst being very diverse I am sure, I don’t think really hits the spot for my reading taste and views. I could do it and I am sure I would love it, yet wouldn’t that then be excluding some very talented non BAME authors from my reading life? I thought about this a lot when the subject of publisher’s only publishing books by women for a year came up when I said…
So could I read only books by women for a year? Yes, easily and I bet it would be a real treat at times and less of a success of times, just like and (and every) reading year. Will I do it? No. You see only reading books by women by its very nature wouldn’t be me reading for equality, it would be halving the experiences I could have in missing out great male authors of all walks of life and backgrounds. Narrowing your reading options really doesn’t do anyone any good. For example, if I chose to only read BAME authors or LGBT authors I would be missing out on white or straight novelists of both genders form all sorts of social backgrounds. In any of these scenario’s I am going to be cutting out some wonderful reads and with books that is what I want: wonderful reads, so I would be missing out really.
So what I have decided to do is read four BAME authors for #DiverseDecember, roughly one a week. I am going to read a favourite BAME author, a BAME novel I have wanted to read for ages, a new to me BAME author and some BAME non fiction. These are the titles…
Americanah –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I love, love, love Chimamanda’s writing and was thrilled when she won the Best of the Baileys a few weeks ago. I started Americanah when the proof arrived and stopped, why I do not remember, so now I shall return to it.
As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?
Delicious Foods – James Hannaham
This is a book I bought at the first book shop I entered in America as I had been dying to get my hands on a copy since several people, including Nikesh Shukla who has been writing very openly about the BAME issue of late, raved and raved and raved about it. Why did I buy it in America? It has yet to get any UK release date. I loved Hannaham’s God Says No, which is one of the books I lost when I moved up north. I must replace it.
Darlene, a young widow and mother devastated by the death of her husband, turns to drugs to erase the trauma. In this fog of grief, she is lured with the promise of a great job to a mysterious farm run by a shady company, with disastrous consequences for both her and her eleven-year-old son, Eddie–left behind in a panic-stricken search for her. Delicious Foods tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son, and the drug that threatens to destroy them. In Darlene’s haunted struggle to reunite with Eddie, and in the efforts of both to triumph over those who would enslave them, Hannaham’s daring and shape-shifting prose not only infuses their desperate circumstances with grace and humor, but also wrestles with timeless questions of love and freedom.
The Vegetarian – Han Kang
I have not read Han Kang but have both of her books on my shelves as Granta have kindly sent them my way. I find both North Korea and South Korea and their cultures fascinating so this will be a really interesting look into the South I am hoping. Plus, lots of people I trust have loved it.
Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree.
Negroland – Margo Jefferson
I spotted this book out the corner of my eyes in Foyles when I had accidentally fallen in on one of my work trips of late and was intrigued. I then saw BuzzFeed raving about it and when I went back (on another work trip, I always seem to pass it between one or two meetings) couldn’t see the display shelf but they had one left hidden away. Hoorah. Its sounds an interesting memoir from a very different angle…
Born in upper-crust black Chicago—her father was for years head of pediatrics at Provident, at the time the nation’s oldest black hospital; her mother was a socialite—Margo Jefferson has spent most of her life among (call them what you will) the colored aristocracy, the colored elite, the blue-vein society. Since the nineteenth century they have stood apart, these inhabitants of Negroland, “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments—the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of postracial America—Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions. Aware as it is of heart-wrenching despair and depression, this book is a triumphant paean to the grace of perseverance.
So those are the books I am reading. Head over to The Writes of Woman if you want more on #DiverseDecember and where Naomi (another one of the good souls) will also give you some good recommendations too. I now want Claudia Rankine’s Citizen quite badly. I will clearly be buying many BAME books this month to show my support so do recommend some of your favourites too in the comments below, oh and let me know if you have read any of the above.