So I had a post scheduled to come out on the site but normal service has been ground to a halt at a time when it feels like the world has done similar (or has been wound backwards). I find it hard to write about anything other than expressing my incredible anger, sadness, fear…a whole host of emotions too long to list. I want to rant and I want to scream but here at Dog Eared we will always offer a calm haven with books that show case voices from around the world, who have lived different experiences, we are open and inclusive to all. I have a strong faith in the arts, books, music, film, tv to make an impact in times like these, brave creators can fight back and often will have their message received by a far wider audience than any politician will, the first gay kiss on tv happened long before legislative change and I think went a long way in pushing forward the agenda and educating those who were simply ignorant of the issue because of lack of exposure. This belief has been expressed before and by many more eloquent than me, Toni Morrison saying the following:
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair. There is no place for self-pity. No need for silence. No room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal.
So in light of this belief I want to talk about some great books out there that make a reader think, books that are from/about those who Trump wants to marginalise and discriminate against, and also what books we turn to for comfort and escape. We need to amplify their/our message, make sure we are constantly heard. Take courage comrades, difficult times are ahead but I am confident, in the end, good will win.
This may be a bit of a longer post than usual so grab a cuppa and get comfy. It is all worth while however as we have two very special guest contributors AND two, read it, two fantastic prizes up for grabs (which, sorry, but you’ll have to read to the end to find out about!) so we are going to be positive, positive, positive.
I wanted to approach this piece with two aims in mind, hearing what people thought about writing in times like this and also getting recommendations for what we could be reading, either to help us through troubling times or to promote the voices of those who some may attempt to silence.
I knew immediately that I would want to feature ‘The Good Immigrant’ by Nikesh Shukla (Unbound £14.99) in this piece. I have long planned to review it on Dog Eared Reads (and a full review of the book will appear in another post soon) but it seemed fitting to begin with it today.
The book is a collection of essays from 21 different writers and is “A document of what it means to be a person of colour now”. One of the writers involved is poet Selena Godden (I spoke about one of her poetry collections here if you would like to read) and she kindly gave up her time to speak to me about how she is feeling as poet/writer and reader now:
I was recently asked by a journalist how important it was for me to see myself in books, how important it was for the lead role to be a woman of colour, someone I can identify with, to see my brown face in the centre stage of a book.
I responded with this: How important is it for you to see yourself in the books you read? When you read Toni Morrison do you struggle and think it won’t resonate because she’s different from you, because she is American and black? No you won’t because beautiful writing will grab you by the heart and it won’t stop yanking at your guts until the book is finished with you. That’s what a good book is meant to do, carry you away and into its heart.
I want to see more diversity – I am sick of the word diversity – but I do want to read more books by ALL women about the passion and the sacrifices we make living this writing life, writing this living life. I want to see more places set for women, and women of colour, at that great table that is the feast of books. I believe that if we do not start publishing more diversely, we only pass on half of our inheritance, half of our heritage, half of the story. If we only document these times from the perspective of the great white shark, we miss all the other diverse voices and fish in the sea. Britain is producing some exceptional and powerful BAME female authors, poets and playwrights, now more than ever. I see my face in the exceptional writing of Kit De Waal, Sabrina Mahfouz and Catherine Johnson…to name just three.
I am so proud of Nikesh Shukla and buzz and heat the ‘The Good Immigrant’ is making. Books lead to books and so I want people to read these 21 essays and then read further published work by these writers, to ask these writers what they are writing and who they are reading. Then find out who that author was inspired by and onwards. Reading is the gateway drug to writing, all books lead to books which leads to more books, that is the beauty, the journey, I believe that is how books work. I mean, when I love a book I want to read everything the author has written and then everything the author has read and been inspired by.
For me it is all about intention and passion in the work, the intention with which it was made, the unsaid, and the passion it is completed with. I don’t read the safe books or the popular books, the books you buy in airports. I like to discover lost books, old second hand books, books I find in junk shops. I follow and read so many passionate and colourful writers and poets.
Right now I sense an excitement, I can feel a rumble, a rallying cry. For all the shit things going on in the world we need our books, our poets and artists now more than ever. There is a rise in hate crime, our newspapers are filled with fear, ignorance and intolerance, we all know that now more than ever there is a need for more diversity and visibility, more books and understanding, less panel discussions and more doing and creating. If there is a rise in hate then now is the time for a rise in love.
When I read through what Selena had written I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. When I log on twitter each day and see images of swastikas appearing on walls, people being racially harassed on public transport, it can make you feel helpless and very lonely, but her talk of a ‘rumble, a rallying cry’ fills me with hope and courage, to constantly raise my voice against these injustices and to know there are so many out there ready to fight against them.
So, with The Good Immigrant getting us off to a wonderful start let’s carry on with some books that are brilliant in their own right, but are particularly pertinent to read right now.
Now I want to feature writers here that maybe are not so well known on our shores but I also cannot ignore two of our grand dames, required reading for every human really, as they bring to the page the personal and the political with masterly writing that has seen them both go into the canon of the Greats . Welcome Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. For Toni Morrison I am going to put forward ‘The Bluest Eye'(Vintage £8.99), this was her first novel and one that caused much controversy, leading to repeated attempts to ban it. The story concerns a young girl who struggles with her appearance, her eyes and skin colour especially, with themes not only of race but of child abuse and incest also running throughout. For Maya Angelou I am going to suggest ‘Letter to My Daughter’ (Virago £8.99). This is a collection of essays addressed to the women of the world, many of whom saw Angelou as a mother figure who spoke to them and often for those whose voices were not being heard. With no daughter herself she passed the wisdom she gained from her extraordinary life experiences on to us all.
Next up is a memoir by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, ‘Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Colour Dreaming her Way Home’ (Arsenal Pulp Press $18.95). Having to move to Canada to escape a past of abuse and the daily pressures of having to like as a queer, disabled, woman of colour in America, this book reflects on what she left behind and if she will ever be able to go home again.
Valeria Luiselli is a Mexican author who recently published a novel that certainly ticks the original box! ‘The Story of My Teeth’ (Granta £8.99) introduced us to our protagonist, Gustavo, who once trained as an auctioneer and is now using those skills in a dubious manner. Inventing fantastical tales for each item he sells, at one point one of his own teeth gets quite the high asking sum when he presents it as having belonged to… Marilyn Monroe!
Now, an interlude from our list as we hear from Jessica Johannesson Gaitan and Adam Ley-Lange, founders of http://www.therookeryinthebookery.org a great site dedicated to translated fiction, as they tell us what they think we should be reading right now, Jess first:
‘Borderlands/La Frontera’ by Gloria Anzaldua (Aunt Lute Books)
First published in 1987, Anzaldua’s was a relatively early voice entirely dedicated to the in-between, the undefined and endlessly possible. Borderlands/La Frontera is an exploration of the bilingual experience and identity, specifically focused on female experiences of the Mexican border. It’s a song as much as a manifesto for curiosity in the face of division.
‘Tenth of December’ by George Saunders (Bloomsbury £8.99)
An unsentimental reminder for us all to be kind, especially to those who appear to deserve it the least.
For my next pick I am offering up some Young Adult fiction, (which, because I don’t say this enough, is for EVERY AGE), this is by author Fox Benwell and the novel is called ‘The Last Leaves Falling’ (Simon & Schuster £7.99). This beautiful story introduces us to Sora, a Japanese teenager who is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). With important messages of friendship and acceptance this is a dose of fiction that is good for all right now.
I wanted to get some photography in here, as I tend to feature a lot of prose but I am just as enamoured with the visual arts. ‘Bordered Lives: Transgender Portraits from Mexico’ by Kike Arial (The New York Press $21.95) has the aim of challenging transphobic caricatures that are so often found in the media and does so with a collection of stunning photographs, images that are moving and arresting.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is an author who you should be running out to your local book shop to grab pretty much anything written by him if you haven’t already. For this post I am going to talk about ‘Between The World and Me’ (Penguin Random House £10.99) which is written as a letter to his son. He talks to him about what it is to be black in America and tells him that “racist violence has been woven into American culture”. I am yet to meet anybody who has read this book and not been effected by it.
Now, I think it is time we talked about what is comforting to read during these bleak days, when you just want to turn the news off and escape for a bit where can you go? But hey, you don’t want me yammering on here do you? Oh no, we have the blummin wonderful author Kirsty Logan in our mist! Here is what she has to say:
“My comfort reads always involve snow and magic: Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, Edith Patton’s East, and any retelling of The Snow Queen. All I need is one of these books, a big chair, and a mug of something hot and sweet – and I’m a child again.
Every time I read Ursula K. Le Guin, I’m blown away. No other author comes close to the strength of her ideas and the beauty of her prose. Her books feel as relevant and challenging today as ever.
No matter how awful the world gets, I’m comforted by the knowledge that love still exists. Stories of women in love can get me through just about anything. Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, and Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch are my favourites.”
Now I am not saying this just because Kirsty kindly got involved with this post as magic is something I turn to for comfort as well, so I can highly recommend her novel ‘The Gracekeepers'(Vintage £7.99) about a world divided between those who live on land and those who live at sea, one of my best friend and most trusted readers, Emma, recommended it to me and like the butterfly effect I now pass on this book to you!
For comfort I can also always be found turning to Dodie Smith with ‘I Capture the Castle’ (Vintage £7.99) and returning to the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter Is always going to see me right.
I could have ran on and on with this list of books, I have a notebook beside me full of amazing reads, but I don’t want to overwhelm with titles. I realise I will not have represented everyone in this list, and I am sorry for that, but please read it for what it was meant to be, an outreached hand to all, and if you are railing that I’ve missed something, please get involved and comment below, email email@example.com or tweet @dogeared_reads with your suggestions and I will get them included.
Before we go on to the competition details I want to leave this thought from Jackie Kay (in interview with Ali Smith, the whole fabulous discussion can be found on http://www.picador.com)
I think art makes things happen. Poetry makes things happen…To me the novel is the best form to explore everything: politics, culture, identity
Hear hear for the one and only Scottish makar!
Ok – competition time! And TWO chances for you to win here!
First up is a chance to get yourself a copy of ‘The Good Immigrant’. All you have to do for this is give your suggestion of which book you think the world (*cough*Trump*cough*) could do with reading right now and why, and the winner will have the prize winging its way to them.
The second competition offers a copy of ‘The Gracekeepers’ by Kirsty Logan to the winner. For this you need to let us know what you think is the all time comfort (hug in a book) read and why.
To be in with a chance of winning simply share this post and email your answer/s into firstname.lastname@example.org.
The winners will be picked and announced next Sunday, November 27th, and I’m sorry mam, dad and my two sisters, you’re not allowed to enter!
Good luck everyone, I can’t wait to read your suggestions, and until next time …happy reading!