I read 7 books in June – 4 non-fiction, 3 fiction. 4 were on Kindle, 3 in print. In June, I only read books by authors of color and it was a challenge that I enjoyed. I had to make an effort to find a wide range of books by diverse authors, since I seem to mostly find books by/about white folks through my regular sources. I’ve added a bunch to my To Read list, but I have to say without the self-imposed restriction, so far in July, I’ve read mostly white folks again – so I think I’m going to try to insure that going forward at least half of my reading in a month is by or about people of color.
Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely (1992).
When I first read the description of Blanche on the Lam in this Booklist article, I thought “this sounds just like me”. I LOVE a mystery with a strong female crime solver. Especially one where the protagonist isn’t in a traditional law enforcement career. The sleuth in this book is Blanche White, an African American housekeeper, who stumbles into trouble on this job while hiding out after some difficulties with bad checks. I was a little surprised by just how much race and class were a factor in this book. Blanche tells it like it is, and how it is for black folks in fictional Farley, North Carolina, is Not Good. (I was going to qualify that by saying in the 1990s, which is when this book was written, but given the news lately, Not Good probably describes a lot of places today as well). My reading of this overlapped some with my reading of Beyond Mercy and it was eye-opening to see how much the injustices discussed in that book, were reflected in this fictional mystery. (The criminalization of minor behaviors that disproportionately affect poor black and brown people – like Blanche being given jail time for writing a bad check at the beginning of this book, the truly horrible targeting of black men by law enforcement as a perpetrators of crimes they didn’t commit). Apparently even my mystery reading has privilege! Anyway, the book is a great one if you enjoy the same kinds of mysteries I do. I definitely recommend it.
How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012).
A mix of memoir, humor and social commentary. Thurston grew up in Washington, DC in the 1980s and it was really interesting to read about the city I call home in that time period. Really smart, really funny. Recommend.
Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean Woman in America by Mary Paik Lee (1990).
I am admittedly a huge nerd who loves history and I just geeked out over this book. It’s the autobiography of a Korean born woman who moved to the United States in the early 1900s as a child, a time when there were very few (in the low hundreds) Koreans in the U.S. Simply fascinating.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (2013).
I had heard good things about this book, but I didn’t actually pick it up until Roxane Gay ringingly endorsed it. So glad I did – it is the guilty pleasure, soap opera drama of the exceedingly wealthy fiction families on Singapore. This is a vacation read incarnate.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (2014).
This book is so very, very good and also so disturbing. It shattered what remained of my trust in the U.S. justice/prison system after Ferguson and all that has followed. Should be required reading in high school history/government classes/everywhere.
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (2014).
Super fun middle school caper. Think Ocean’s Eleven, except a middle school election instead of a Vegas heist. Really fun. Would love it if this became a series!
Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy (2015).
One of the interesting things for me this month has been reading books that weren’t written *for* me. Like, I’m welcome to read them, but I am not the target audience. This book is by/for/about Muslim feminism and is worth reading for anyone who is interested in intersectional feminism.