This December, I read only books by authors of colour—and boy, did I learn a lot. I seriously feel like I learned more from the five books I read this month than from the rest of the year combined. (It made me feel pretty damn stupid for not having read more writers of colour before, I tell you.) My Diverse December books showed me how new dialects can broaden your mind, and how to make feminism more trans inclusive; these books undermined my assumptions, and they introduced me to whole new worlds. Which is what reading’s all about, right?!
But the most exciting part is that my Diverse December books, which seemed to infinitely open up my outlook on the world, actually only a cover a few new narratives—and I’ve still got hundreds more to choose from. This month, I heard voices from black women in America, US immigrants from the Dominican republic, Nigerians from different classes of society, and a black transgender experience—and these were all absolutely fascinating. Next month, perhaps I’ll read books about India, or the Middle East, or the Caribbean; I’d like to start reading some books in translation… There’s a whole world out there!
One thing I noticed when looking on Goodreads is how many of the reviews included sentences like, “I never thought I’d be interested in a book about Africa”. Isn’t it crazy that this is such an accepted way of thinking: why should we be interested in books that aren’t about people just like us? Well, I can promise you that I shan’t be thinking that way again. The magic of books is that they can transport you places, introduce you to people, and open up your narrow world. This month, these five books did exactly that.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I loved loved LOVED this book. My friend who lent it to me told me it was a “happy book”—but the first half was so terribly sad I thought she was playing an evil prank on me. By the end, though, I was practically glowing from the inside out.
Read my full review of use of dialect in The Color Purple here.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
Although I was hooked from the beginning of this unique story, it took me a while to get used to the novel’s narration: it switches to a new character’s point of view each chapter (and it’s not always immediately obvious who’s speaking). Once I got into the swing of that, though, I found it actually a really significant part of the book: although Shoneyin is obviously critical of the misogyny behind the polygamous marriage, she doesn’t over-simplify it. Having a glimpse into multiple perspectives forced me to address my mistaken assumptions that the educated youngest wife would automatically be the most interesting character in the book.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
I wrote a whole blog post about the effect Janet Mock’s book had on my own feminism, which you can read here.
While Redefining Realness is framed around Mock’s journey towards sex reassignment surgery, she cleverly manages not to make the surgery appear a necessary part of the trans experience—as many trans women either cannot afford or actively choose not to undergo it. The title Redefining Realness should almost be renamed Undefining Realness (except, you know, that’s not a word…). By the end of the book, it had become clear that when it comes to womanhood and gender identity, it’s nobody’s place to define what “real” is at all.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
When I read a few reviews of this one in advance, a common complaint I came across was about the way Diaz constantly slips in Spanish vocab. However, after writing my blog post on authors writing in dialects, I actually enjoyed this aspect. It’s supposed to mirror the alienation of the immigrant experience, and I liked that; it didn’t really matter that I missed the meaning of some of the sentences!
Overall, though, this book wasn’t my favourite of the Diverse December books I read—perhaps because I tend to be more captivated by stories about the experiences of women. (Reverse sexism? Yes, probably. I’ll work on that.)
The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo
After reading The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, it was great to dive straight into another novel set in Nigeria. The Spider King’s Daughter followed a romance between a hawker and the wealthy daughter of a powerful businessman—and the secrets that turn out to tie their lives together more dramatically than they knew. It was certainly a page-turner, though I did find the ending a bit over-the-top.
So, thank you Naomi Frisby for introducing me to the concept of Diverse December, and setting me off on one of the most fascinating and enjoyable months of my reading life!
Click here to browse the rest of my Diverse December posts, and watch this space for plenty more reviews of books by BAME authors in the future!