> One More Stamp: September 2016

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How I Changed my Reading Habits to be More Diverse

Some Background

I don’t know if you have seen all the discussion about #weneeddiversebooks and #ownvoices either on twitter or on the interwebs.  It boils down to the fact that books in general and Children’s literature and YA in particular are very dominated by white characters. The publishing industry is largely white and breaking into it as a POC in incredibly difficult.  There are important and diverse stories that we are not hearing because authors can’t find a publisher.  On top of that often when a POC is written in a work the author is white.  This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing but it is important to note that it is much easier to publish a novel with a POC main character as a white author than it is for a POC person to get a novel about a POC character published.  This is significant for a whole lot of reasons and infuriating for a whole lot more.

I don’t want to talk that too much because other people have a much better understanding than I do and because frankly I am already represented.  I have never had to struggle to find books that reflected my reality.  Books have never disappointed me by telling me that I didn’t exist.  Books have never told me that being who I was meant that I would never be happy. There is some great stuff (like this!)  out there about people needing books to be both mirrors and windows.  If you are interested in this  then I recommend following @debreese, @shgmclicious, @zettaelliott, @bglcollective on twitter for a much more authentic and informed discussion.  This is not about me.   

How it began
So why am I writing this?  I ran into this review of the book The BlossomingUniverse of Violet Diamond which really started me thinking.  I went to https://mclicious.org/  which is Hannahs website (awesome) and started doing some reading.  I had seen the #weneeddiversebooks hashtag and thought ,”Yeah!” but was I backing up that sentiment? I started looking at my goodreads list and found that I wasn’t reading all that many books with POC main characters and even books with POC authors. I think the ratio was something like 275:45.   I am a pretty diverse reader and I am comfortable with diversity so the gap was pretty troubling.  It made me examine myself and my biases.  Which is never comfortable.

Becoming Deliberate
It was time to become more deliberate in my reading choices.  I don’t know about you but my TBR list is pretty out of control.  I think that I add three books to it for every book that I finish.  I live in China and read almost exclusively on my kindle (aka: the best invention ever) so I do my browsing almost exclusively on Goodreads and Amazon.  I get some blogs and from twitter (now that I have it).  Both Goodreads and Amazon have a place where they suggest books.  Unfortunately, it is bases on your reading habits and the reading habits of others who read the book you are looking at.  If you are trying to get outside your reading bubble this isn’t ideal. 

Importance of #ownvoices
I started looking at authors more.  Before the author was just a name that I looked at so I could find them again.  If a book had a POC main character I started looking to see it it had been written by a POC author.  It is interesting how often that isn’t the case.  I don’t insist on #ownvoices.  The closest thing that I have to a literary mirror was North of Beautiful which is about about a white girl and written by a Chinese-American woman Justina Chen. Authors can use empathy and imagination to tell all kinds of stories and not just their own.  But it is important to ensure that POC stories aren’t being told for them.  I can research and empathize and imagine all that I want but I am never going to be a black woman, or an Asian woman, or a native woman. I might not notice the lack of the nuance of experience while reading but I internalize them as truth.  This doesn’t even touch on how damaging it is to read about someone who is supposed to reflect you only to be staring into a bizarro carnival image.

What I Found Out 
I found out that I have been missing out. A whole lot of great books that I had been unconsciously avoiding.  I found out that noticing what you are reading and who you are reading makes a difference.  I noticed that there had been books in my TBR pile for months (sometimes years) that had POC authors and main characters but that I hadn’t gotten around to them.  After I started paying attention I was much more likely to actually pick up the book and read it.  It has been about a year and I have read about three times as many diverse books this year than last.  It is still a work in progress but I am learning a lot.

Tomorrow I will list ten books to start with if you are looking to diversify your reading.

PS: If you are a POC author?  Write your story, fight to get it published.  You will have readers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Top Ten Books I am Looking Forward to Reading this Fall

So many books that I am looking forward to reading this fall!

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
My mother recommended this one and I am all over it.  

And I Darken by Kiersten White
I haven't read anything by this author and I need to change that. I feel as if I am missing out.

The Inside of Out By Jenn Marie Thorne
I am very interested in the concept of this novel.  I think that the idea of exploring appropriation is brilliant.  How do you support without taking over. I have high hopes for it. Also, I love the cover.

Beast by Brie Spangler
I have had this preordered for six months.  Transgender beauty and the beast.  I really want this to be good.


Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
One of the girls in my MS book club has been yammering on about this for almost a year.  I am getting to it, Molly!

The Good Women of China by Xinran
Because I am trying to learn more about the country that I live in.  The more I know the less I feel like I know.  China is complicated.  This book looks heartbreaking.

Starcursed by Nandini Bajpai 
Starcrossed loves in fantastical version of ancient India.  Yes, please.

The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo
I am trying to expand my #ownvoices horizons.  If I don't support them by readind them then I am really not doing my part.  Also, it looks amazing!  I want it now. The cover is beautiful.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

I will get to them, I swear!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Full disclosure: I am reading this series because I want to read Six of Crows and I CANNOT read a series (or even a spinoff series) out of order.  I do not care if people tell me that they can be read as standalone novels.  You are lying and should be ashamed of yourself. Shadow and Bone is the story of Alina Starkov who lives in a fantastical version of Russia.  The country is guarded by the Greisha, masters of the small science (aka magic).  They are pretty necessary because the country is split in two by something called the “Unsea” which as far as I can tell is a rip in the space time continuum.  Black and with monsters.  The Unsea has a mysterious and unnatural origin that you discover as the story unfolds.

The pseudo-Russian thing was kind of interesting as well.  I was sort of imagining a Russian circa 1890.  I have read a couple reviews where people were a little put out that there wasn’t more research done but it didn’t bother me because it is a fantasy novel.  I think that I would have been much more inclined to critical if this had been a historical fiction novel.  Also, for most of the novel Alina is in either the Little Palace where things are insanely opulent or with the Greishas where the ascetic is kind of fancified peasantry.  Neither of these would have a real grasp on reality.

I liked the writing.  The world building was very well done.  I find that authors can get bogged down in the world building and forget about moving the story forward.  I thought that the pacing of the story was good.  Even the drudgery of learning to control her magic and the sort of “Greisha high school” thing which was my least favorite part of the book really didn’t feel as if it was being drawn out more than necessary. 

The characters are where I ran into some problems.  Unfortunately, I didn’t like Alina.  There is this whole cool world of magic and she got hung up on girl drama, clothes, and why Mal doesn’t like her back.  I know that she has potential and I am looking forward to seeing what is done with this character in the second book.  Mal felt a little cardboard cutouty.  I suspect that this has to do with the way that Alina sees him.  Although they have grown up together and are best friends I don’t think that she really knows him.  In many ways she sees him as a symbol.   The Darkling is also quite a mystery.  Alina has no clue how to deal with him or how to view him.  Because this book is first person the reader also gets a confused view of the Darkling.  Even at the end of the novel I wasn’t entirely clear about his motivations or where he truly stands.

I do really enjoy a good YA fantasy and will definitely be reading the next book.  If for no other reason than because I really want to read Six of Crows and The Crooked Kingdom.