Friday, 13 May 2016

Improving my #BAME Game

I've read 28 books so far this year, and only 4 of those 28 were written by non-white authors. Last year I read 97 books, and only 6 of them were written by non-white authors. Judging by my reading this year I'd exceed 6 non-white authors if I read 97 books, but one thing is certain: I need to improve my BAME game.

Why? Some might ask. Why make a conscious effort to read more BAME authors if you're naturally drawn to white authors? Are the authors really that good if you have to remind yourself to read them?

I don't like that train of thought. Isn't it awfully sad that so many white readers have to make an effort to read more BAME authors because they can't remember the last time they did? Isn't it awfully sad to have to make an effort to read them at all? Why aren't they as well known to us as our white authors? Is it because we're all racist?

Well, no. That's also unfair, and a ridiculous self-defense that many jump to when they feel like one person calling out the odd prejudice is akin to being labelled bigots. But we can be ignorant without being racist, and we can be ignorant while also being nice people. You might never consciously be racist, but you can still contribute to the issue without realising simply by not acknowledging that the reason you're only reading white authors isn't because 'only white authors can write'. (That is racist).

Anyhoo, below are a list of books by BAME authors I'd really like to try and read this year. Are any of them on your TBR?

I have read and loved the late, great Maya Angelou's 'Phenomenal Woman', which is probably one of my favourite poems, but I've never actually read a whole collection of hers. I picked up a copy of And Still I Rise on a whim last year, as I've been trying to read more poetry, and I'm really looking forward to reading it some time this year. I should have read it last year, it doesn't take me long to devour a poetry collection, so I'm determined to read it very soon.

Unlike the majority of the authors on this list, Salman Rushdie is an author I'm familiar with. In my first year of university I had to read Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and I loved it - if you're a fan of retellings you need to pick it up. Earlier this year I went to Florence, and ended up picking up The Enchantress of Florence in the Uffizi Gallery's gift shop because I couldn't not. I'm really looking forward to reading more of Rushdie's work, and I think reading a book set in Florence having been there will be wonderful.

I hadn't heard of Tan Twan Eng until last October when I came across The Gift of Rain in the Waterstones in Trafalgar Square. I didn't buy the book then, though I certainly considered it, and I kept thinking about it afterwards. Recently I finally picked up a copy and I'm looking forward to reading it; I've read so few books set in Asia, and I'm always interested in books that have mixed race protagonists.

I'm not totally unfamiliar with Octavia Butler. I actually started reading Kindred around this time last year, and I enjoyed it, but for some reason one day I put it down and didn't pick it back up. I want to read it properly this year because I've heard nothing but praise for Butler, and I'd like to read more science fiction and more historical fiction with poc protagonists.

Another author who's not a complete stranger to me, because last year I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists which I really enjoyed. Now, though, I'd like to read some of her fiction and I've yet to hear a bad word about Americanah; I know very little about Nigeria, so I'd like to explore it through the work of someone who is Nigerian.

Somehow Stacey Lee's Under a Painted Sky managed to completely pass me by last year, and as someone who loves historical fiction, and especially loves historical fiction when it's told from the point of view of people history has forgotten, I had to rectify that immediately. I still have yet to read it (story of my life) but I'm looking forward to a historical road trip following two girls of colour posing as boys along the Oregon Trail.

I'd heard of Helen Oyeyemi, but I wasn't properly introduced to her until about a month ago when she appeared in a documentary about the Bron sisters on the BBC. Lately her latest short story collection, What is Not Yours is Not Yours, has been everywhere, and when I saw how beautifully it had been published I couldn't resist picking up my own copy. I'm really looking forward to trying out Oyeyemi's work, and if I enjoy her short fiction I may try one of her novels.

I should have read Zen Cho by now. The lovely Mikayla @ Mikayla's Bookshelf and I decided to buddy read her debut, Sorcerer to the Crown, back in February and I completely failed at it because I suck at buddy reads. It's like as soon as I 'have to' read a book it's the last thing I want to read, and I wish I wasn't so stubborn. I will be reading it soon, though, because it's more historical fiction and a little bit of magic, too.

I've owned my copy of Battle Royale for years, so it's pretty appalling I still haven't read any of Koushun Takami's work. After dystopian fiction started appearing everywhere, and I wrote about the genre for my dissertation, I went off it, and I haven't really read any dystopia since. I think I'll need to be in the right mood for Battle Royale, but I'm determined to cross it off my TBR eventually.

My relationship with Chigozie Obioma is similar to my relationship with Octavia Butler and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; I started reading his debut, The Fishermen, last year, and then for whatever reason put it down and didn't pick it back up, but I'd like to finish it and read more fiction set in Nigeria from a Nigerian author. Plus if Obioma's debut can make the Man Booker shortlist, I look forward to seeing what his future career will bring.

Who are some of your favourite BAME authors?


  1. Karen Lord is amazingly talented. Redemption in Indigo is like a Neil Gaiman fairy tale, only less dark. The Best of All Possible Worlds is a slow, but joyful read - think The Long Road to a Small, Angry Planet: a story less driven by conflict and perhaps a little more feminine at heart than most SF.

    Kindred by Octavia Butler is a masterpiece.

    I'd also recommend Jasmine Nights by S P Somtow.

    For a light read, The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu is not bad.

    Looking at the list of books I've read, I have to admit that the proportion of writers belonging to ethnic minorities whose books I've read is very small. It's not a conscious choice - I actually do want to read books set in different parts of the world and different cultures. However, I also have to admit that some of the books set in those cultures and places that I've read (and loved) weren't written by the locals / natives, so-to-speak, but by white authors writing stories set against exotic backdrops. G Willow Wilson and Zoe Ferraris spring to mind as writers of superb fiction set in the Middle East, for example, but both are white / not born into the cultures they write about.

    (If you're interested in non-fiction at all, Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a very good book, though somewhat disheartening and harrowing)

    1. Another white author writing non-European cultures incredibly well is Ian Mcdonald, though he has now stopped. At a convention, he said that he would now like to leave the field of science fiction set in developing nations open to writers from those nations. I think there is real demand for fiction that is set in different cultures - but perhaps a disproportionate amount of that demand is being met by white Western writers....

    2. Thank you very much for the recommendations! :)