The idea that deliberately seeking out works by authors of colour means compromising your standards of quality or deviating from your preferences is as persistent as it is frustrating. Aarti herself put it perfectly when she said, “You may have to change your book-finding habits to include POC authors in your reading rotation. You absolutely do not need to change your book-reading habits.” Much of this is down to the issue Tansy Rainer Roberts identified when I saw her speak at LonCon3: despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a lot of people still believe that the world is a meritocracy. They believe that talent alone will get you attention and success, and therefore the books that will get the most review coverage, or sell the most copies, or reach the most readers, will be the best and the most deserving.
Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Obviously this isn’t to say that no good books ever become popular — only that privilege in its many incarnations plays a role. We pay more attention to the voices of people who belong to groups we’ve been socialised to perceive as authoritative, and a lot of excellent works are unjustly ignored. Making a deliberate effort to diversity your reading is a way to redress the fact that the world is not a level playing field. It means acknowledging that the best works won’t “naturally” rise to the top. It means a small step towards righting a wrong. And it means enriching your reading life by seeking out valuable perspectives that deviate from the white default.
In the spirit of sharing the excitement, here are five books I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing in late September. I’ll probably not get to all of them, but oh well: I’ve long since embraced the pleasures of excessive and unrealistic reading plans. Here’s my provisional list:
Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo's belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.
But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America's famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo's debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her—from Junot Diaz to Zadie Smith to J.M. Coetzee—while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.
What is revealed in their coming together is the story of how they came apart: the hearts broken, the lies told, the crimes committed in the name of love. Splintered, alone, each navigates his[sic] pain, believing that what has been lost can never be recovered—until, in Ghana, a new way forward, a new family, begins to emerge.
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
No one really knows who Andrew Winston Winters is. Least of all himself. He is part Win, a lonely teenager exiled to a remote boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts the whole world out, no matter the cost, because his darkest fear is of himself ...of the wolfish predator within. But he's also part Drew, the angry boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who, one fateful summer, was part of something so terrible it came close to destroying him. A deftly woven, elegant, unnerving psychological thriller about a boy at war with himself. Charm and Strange is a masterful exploration of one of the greatest taboos.