Monday, December 15, 2008
How Diverse Are Your Bookshelves?
This July 2007 New York Times article, by Martha Southgate motivated me to make a commitment to read a broader range of work by authors of other ethnicities and cultures. It wasn't that I was consciously reading only white American authors, but Ms. Southgate made me realize I was missing out on a lot of great work I hadn't heard of.
Pakistani writer and blogger, Usman Rafi recommended The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid and Snow, by Orphan Pamuk and Tim Hallinan, blogger and author of, most recently, The Fourth Watcher recommended Twinkle Twinkle, by Kaori Ekuni and Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto.
I'd read Denver writer Carleen Brice's superb debut novel Orange Mint and Honey and I've got her second novel, Children of the Waters on pre-order. You can read an excerpt here. I heard about Boulder author Kim Reid's memoir, No Place Safe, the 2008 Colorado Book Awards winner in creative non-fiction, through publicist Bella Stander's Literary Ladies Luncheon. For the most part, I'd only read the work of black authors I'd met (either in person or on line) or I'd read the work of very famous black authors.
It wasn't until Carleen Brice declared December "National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black" month that I decided to revisit my goal of reading more broadly to see how I did.
Carleen's new blog (you may know her from her blog, The Pajama Gardener) is White Readers Meet Black Authors and people are talking about it all over the internet. New York Magazine placed National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give it to Somebody Not Black Month on the brilliant side of their approval matrix.
This very funny video puts a tongue and cheek spin on the project.
I went through my bookshelves to see how many books I've got by non-white authors. It's not as easy to figure out as I thought it would be. My goal to read more widely included black authors, as well as Middle Eastern, Asian and Latino authors. If you look at the picture of me reading Martha Southgate's, Third Girl From the Left you'll see two piles of books on the shelf behind me and one on the shelf below that one.
The double stack is my collection of books by black authors; some African-American, some British, some from the Caribbean and some African and the smaller pile has Middle Eastern and Asian authors.
I didn't fare as well in the Latino category; however, my favorite lit-blogger, Scott Esposito, regularly reviews books in translation at Conversational Reading and he features them in The Quarterly Conversation. Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives and 2666 are on my Christmas wish list.
In addition to Carleen Brice and Kim Reid's books, I've read some notable novels by black authors this year, including Leaving Atlanta, by Tayari Jones, The Fall of Rome, by Martha Southgate and Like Trees, Walking by Ravi Howard. I recommend all of these fine works of literary fiction.
Whether literary or genre fiction is your preference, take a look at some of the recommendations at White Readers Meet Black Authors and join in the discussion.
What recommendations do you have when it comes to reading authors of another race or culture? What's on your wish list?
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It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.