Diversify Your Shelves: Recommended Reading

Diversify Your Shelf: Recommended Reading
If you’ve been paying attention to the bookternet recently, you’ve probably noticed a lot of discussion about the need for diversity in books. When the line-up for BookCon was announced a little over a week ago, there was a huge outcry about the lack of diversity in the authors and bookish celebrities appearing. Of the 37 BookCon guests, there is not a single person of color. (There is, however, a cat.)

I’m not going to write too much about this issue, since so many others have spoken more eloquently and knowledgeably on the subject. Book Riot has posted many articles about the controversy (see their post Diversity, Authenticity, and Literature or browse the site for ongoing commentary), and a three-pronged campaign called #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been launched. On May 1, people took to Tumblr, posting pictures of signs describing why diversity in books is important. On May 2, there was a Twitter conversation. Today, the organizers are launching the third part of the campaign, Diversify Your Shelves, calling for people to share their favorite diverse books. I’m here to do just that! Continue reading

Book Review: Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Book Review: Men We Reaped by Jesmyn WardMEN WE REAPED
by Jesmyn Ward

Nonfiction; Memoir
Bloomsbury; Sept. 17, 2013
Hardcover; 256 pages
Source: Purchased

In four years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men she cared deeply about. On the surface, these men, including her brother, died from drug overdose, homicide, suicide, and car crashes. However, in her struggle to make sense of these deaths, Ward sees a deeper cause. These men died because they were male and Southern and Black*. In her memoir, Ward tells the story of her family, memorializes the men she lost, and seeks insight into their deaths.

Men We Reaped is a devastating, gut-wrenching book. Anyone who has read Ward’s National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones knows how elementally powerful her writing is, and Men We Reaped is possibly even stronger. It howls with grief as she tries to deal with the losses she has suffered and her constant fear of more bad news as the men she loves die, one by one. Continue reading

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads

Hello darlings! Why don’t we start off the week with a few mini reviews of books I read in the last month or two?

interpreter of maladiesInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Purchased)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; May 22, 2000

This Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories is made up of pieces about characters with ties to India. Some are the American-raised children of Indian immigrants, some are immigrants themselves, and some are white Americans observing Indian culture through their friends and neighbors.

The writing is beautiful, and I loved the way Lahiri portrays the tensions between Indian and American culture as characters re-visit the India of their childhood, struggle to understand American customs, and preserve their culture among US urban and suburban settings. The stories are written from really interesting perspectives, and I learned a lot about a culture I’m unfamiliar with. Continue reading

Book Review: For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu

Book Review: Burial Rights by Hannah KentFOR TODAY I AM A BOY
by Kim Fu

Fiction
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Jan. 14, 2014
Hardcover; 239 pages
Source: Publisher

The only son among three sisters in a Chinese Canadian family, Peter Huang is under enormous pressure to live up to his father’s ideals of Western masculinity. However, Peter struggles with his father’s expectations, for he knows in his heart that he is really a girl.

For Today I Am a Boy is a fantastic portrait of a transgender boy growing up in a small Canadian town. Although his father is keen to assimilate into Western culture, his mother has trouble letting go of her “superstitious” beliefs and customs. Peter’s sisters, Adele, Helen, and Bonnie are vibrant characters in their own rights, and I loved reading about their relationships with each other and with Peter. Continue reading

Book Review: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Book Review: Beloved by Toni MorrisonBELOVED
by Toni Morrison

Fiction
Vintage; 1987
Paperback; 324 pages
Source: Purchased

I’m not quite sure how to talk about this book. It’s been sitting on my shelf for over a year, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “yeah, I’ll read that next,” only to guiltily pull something else from my shelf when the time came. It’s no secret that I’ve felt intimidated by the work of this Nobel laureate. Everyone has told me that yes, Morrison’s books are complex and layered, but even if you don’t catch 100% of the references, they’re amazing stories and not difficult to read.

I finally got up the nerve to read Beloved for Banned Books Week. (Yes, that was almost a month ago, but I’m having as much trouble figuring out what to say about this book as I had trying to pick it up.) I really struggled with it at first. For the first 50 pages or so, I felt confused and disoriented. I wondered whether it would get “better,” easier, and it did. It took a while, but I finally settled into a world that Morrison evokes really powerfully. And I loved it. Continue reading

Mini Book Reviews: Short Fiction and the Immigrant Experience

As I mentioned last week, I recently realized that I read quite a few interesting books this year that I haven’t yet written about in depth on this blog. I don’t want to end the year without discussing them, but I don’t have the time or recall to write full-length reviews of each of them. Instead, I’m writing a short series of mini reviews. In last week’s segment, I wrote about books written by and about women, and this week I will write briefly about a few books by male authors.

uncle tom's children richard wrightUncle Tom’s Children by Richard Wright

This is a collection of novellas by Richard Wright, who is known for his writings about race relations and the dangers African Americans faced in the first half of the 20th century. Like his other works, such as Native Son, these stories are filled with shocking violence and horrifying brutality.

Wright’s writing is incredibly powerful and made all the more effective by his use of sickening details, such as the sight of “a tar-drenched body glistening and turning” at a lynching. These stories were at times hard to read, and it was even harder to accept the fact that the horrendous acts of violence Wright depicts are not entirely fiction; the fear and the violence his characters are subjected to were very real issues in America’s past. However, despite the brutality of some of the stories, one or two offer hope that black and white people can work together for change. Continue reading