One of my resolutions last year was to only read books by women and writers of color for a year. My goal was to both read more and to push myself outside of authors who look like me.
I fell out of the habit, so rather than clear a book a month, this lingered for 18 months, but the last 12 books I’ve read fulfilled the goal. This has resulted in a couple lasting points for me: a recognition of authors from underrepresented backgrounds and a new reading habit of more smartly using my library card (thanks for the process, SACMW!)
Below find my reading list.
Here’s what I’ve read for the last 18 months:
- White Teeth (2001) by Zadie Smith: I kicked things off with Zadie Smith’s celebrated debut novel “White Teeth” from 2000, well timed with her latest recent release. Among my favorite lines of hers: “Time is the horizontal axis of morality.” Her themes on immigration remain timely. This one was long on my list to read, so it was a great kickoff.
- You Can’t Touch My Hair (2016) by Phoebe Robinson: This memoir-cum-cultural review from a comedienne (and Pratt graduate) is voicey and fun. Some of the pop culture references were beyond me (but I shared with SACMW!) but I liked the approach. (Thanks to Corinne for this birthday gift).
- The Bridgegroom Stories (2001) by Ha Jin: What an incredible exploration of a mindset and culture I know very little about: a collection of short stories from Chinese-American poet Ha Jin. He writes in this stilted and unorthodox way that gives it a feel of a translated work even though he wrote this in English. It’s as if he’s conveying the translation of living in a provincial communist state to me. On page 198, he writes “If I could eat (fried chicken) and drink Coke everyday, I’d have no use for socialism.” This was a gift from Patrick!
- Black, White and Jewish (2001) by Rebecca Walker: The memoirs focus on her growing up as the child of a marriage of purpose between her famous author mother Alice Walker (Pulitzer winner The Color Purple) and Civil Rights activist turned suburban Jewish lawyer father. Before this, I didn’t know Rebecca’s story, not even her as the originator of the “third-wave feminism” movement that embodied intersectionality. (Thanks for the loan from Alexandria!)
- Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Old age begins with the first major fall and ends with the second. It’s one of so many heady asides from Colombian ?? author in his 1985 classic novel about forever love and its sickness. I delighted in this but I was slow moving and kept setting it aside This was a major reason I fell behind in this reading resolution. Proof? It was supposed to be the May contribution to my resolution but I finished in October. Though it took me some time, I loved it. RIP Gabo.
- The Writing Life (1989) by Annie Dillard: Writing isn’t about finding something everybody already knows, it’s finding some detail you only see from your experience and *making* it something everyone knows. As Thoreau put it: “know your own bone.” That was one of so many treasured perspectives in the 1989 staple “The Writing Life,” from the Pulitzer winning author. This quick read is to fiction writers what the Elements of Style is to grammarians. I enjoyed this so much, I captured a whole post of notes.
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) by Junot Diaz: “Success, after all, loves a witness, but failure can’t exist without one.” That’s Junot Diaz from his 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a thoughtful, cross-generational look at the immigrant experience that I’ve been meaning to complete for years. This has been sitting on my bookshelf for years.
- Kinky Gazpacho (2009) by Lori Tharps: From growing up attending an elite mostly-white private school in a Milwaukee suburb to studying abroad in Morocco and Spain ??, Lori Tharps writes in her memoir “Kinky Gazpacho” about her many attempts to live “incongnegro”, as she memorably puts it. It’s a thoughtful contribution to first-person narratives from black women navigating race and identity. (I ended up interviewing Lori for my writing podcast too).
- The Guest Cat (2014) by Takashi Hiraide: Quick, with the sparse writing of a poet, the English-translation of “The Guest Cat” by the Japanese writer is full of sparkle. Consider this: “Looking back on it now, I’d say one’s 30s are a cruel age. At this point, I think of them as a time I whiled away unaware of the tide that can suddenly pull you out, beyond the shallows, into the sea of hardship, and even death.” (p29) (Another gift from Patrick!)
- Brokeback Mountain (1997) Annie Proulx: She was was 62 in 1997 when the New Yorker published her short story “Brokeback Mountain.” It won heaps of awards and for good reason: it’s even more beautiful and haunting than the (great) movie version. I love stories of the American heartland, and this has it all. Of a cloudless mountain sky: “The boneless blue was so deep, said Jack, that he might drown looking up.” (p36) It’s a brief and brilliant read, long enough that it’s worth buying one of the little printed copies.
- The First Word (2008) by Christine Kenneally: Somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 years ago, humans began communicating verbally in a more structured way than any other species on the planet ? It was the beginning of language, and we estimate that based on an explosion of evolutionary biology work in recent decades. It’s one of the big ideas from this intriguing 2008 book from a linguist that has cut through a rather male-dominated academic form. I loved the book (read fuller notes on the book here), and it sparked my dive into linguistics this year.
- The Power of Babel (2003) by John McWhorter: Language is never permanent. The right metaphor is to fashion. Choose to wear a bow tie ? or not but to be too critical of how someone uses it misunderstands its constant flux. That’s one of the wonderful big ideas from linguistics that John McWhorter tries to make more approachable in many of his books ?, including three of his that I tore through in the last month. Find more notes on this book here. The lasting gift of these two books was how deeply I dove into linguistics in recent months.