Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Cry to the Captain Begins

In my last post, Cry to the Captain, I spoke about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and my own personal reading challenge for 2015 to read more diversely.

Because I have awesome reading buddies who lend me awesome books, I have just read Gail Tsukiyama's Women of the Silk. I loved it!

I realize that this book is fiction and if I really wanted to be pristine in learning hard facts about a country, people and their culture, I would read non-fiction (but even then, history is written by the victors, eh?); however, there can be something vastly humanizing about reading and learning about a culture through fiction. In this book in particular, I felt I learned a bit about Chinese culture and the silk industry from about 1919 - 1930s not in addition to, but because of the events that unfolded for the main character, Pei. Tsukiyama wrote rich, complex characters that made me care about them. I wanted to throttle the non-communicative characters at times, I felt Pei's sadness and curiosity, I wondered at Lin's self-control. For me, the history and the facts are lifted from dust to breath by the characters (which is another reason it is so important for authors to research meticulously and be a part of the culture about which they write).

If you haven't read Women of the Silk, I'd recommend it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cry to the Captain

I am not a New Year's resolutions person. I am an anti-resolutionist. In fact, I think this year, I will simply change the '4' to a '5' in my road map from 2014. I am still working on all of it.

However, I'd like to issue a challenge this year - to me, to you, to everyone. Sparked by The Book Riot's 2015 Read Harder Challenge, which challenges us to read about experiences, places and cultures that may be different from our own, my challenge narrows it down to culture.

The We Need Diverse Books campaign has been long overdue and diverse books have finally gotten some attention this year. But have they gotten enough attention? And are publishers really listening and responding? I don't think so. Certainly some publishers are. But not enough. Maybe the publishing industry is akin to trying to steer an enormous steel ocean-going vessel (I'm trying not to say Titanic because I absolutely do not think that the publishing industry is sinking) - it takes a frustratingly long time for the captain to hear the cry, to then believe the cry and give the order to change course, and then a subsequently excruciatingly long time for the ship to begin to veer from its original course.

There are a number of concerned readers and writers who have made a resolution or given a challenge to read more diversely. I add my voice to theirs in attempt to have our cry heard.

I found the The Book Riot's 24 tasks very helpful in thinking about what I'd like to do to read more diversely, so I am borrowing from their list, with modification, to form my own challenge.

Here is my challenge task list, should you choose to join me:

  • Read at least 2 books that take place in Africa by an African author.
  • Read at least 2 books about Asian culture and heritage by an author of Asian heritage.
  • Read at least 2 books involving American Indian or First Peoples culture by an author who is American Indian or First People. On this task, I have suggestions for you. I'd suggest Sherman Alexie, Tim Tingle, Louise Erdrich and Cynthia Leitich Smith and Eric Gansworth as starting points.
  • Read at least 2 books about black or African American culture by a black or African American author.
  • Read at least 2 books about Mexican culture by a Mexican author.

You'll notice that my tasks differ from The Book Riot's in an important way - my tasks specify authors who are a part of the cultures about which they write. Within the conversation about the need for diverse books, there are two camps: those that believe that an author of any culture can, with research, write about any other culture and those that believe that it is extremely difficult and almost never happens for an author to write about a culture with authenticity unless h/she is part of that culture. I fall more in the second camp. As a Native person, I have read a lifetime of cringe-worthy books about American Indians. With all the research available to authors, there is simply no excuse for much of it. But even with well-researched books, there are things that a writer simply would not know, things they misinterpret, things they *think* they understand about Indians - and do not. To write authentically, I feel more and more that you must be part of that culture.

If anyone from those cultures has recommendations for my other challenge books, I'd love it if you would let me know in the comments. 

My diverse reading challenge for 2015 is not an overly-ambitious-for-over-achievers list. It might be a realistic list for me, given my other responsibilities. And I can cry to the captain through my diverse purchases.