Sunday Salon: A More Diverse Universe Reading Pool and Suggestions

I know that there’s a ton of blogging events that are going on in September but I wanted to remind everyone that the deadline to sign up for Aarti’s blog tour, A More Diverse Universe is coming up. September 12th , which is this Wednesday, is the last day to sign up. There’s almost 70 bloggers signed up for the event and I just want to say thank you for doing so. But maybe there are a few people who are having a hard time coming up with a fantasy book that they want to read by a person of color. That’s understandable. I don’t read much fantasy myself and I had to really search my tbr piles, virtual and not, along with several reading lists to come up with a reading pool. Aarti posted a list of suggested reads earlier last week and I thought I should do the same but also share which books I might read. If you’re thinking about joining, I hope this list helps.

Novels

Blindness by José Saramago. I’m probably the only person who would put this book in the fantasy category so I might be crossing the line just a little.  But seriously?  This book is just too good to pass up. In Blindness, over a matter of months, the citizens of an unnamed country go blind. At first, people think it’s an epidemic that will surely go away until the blind outnumber those with sight. What happens next is chaotic, maddening, and at times, beautiful. If you want to read fantasy that doesn’t include witches or dragons, I recommend Blindness.  Saramago’s writing is so good that it wasn’t surprising to find out that the Portuguese writer won the Nobel Prize in Literature soon after the publication of this book.

Note: After reading Ana’s comment below, I’ve decided to just recommend this book for the R.I.P. Challenge instead of both the tour and challenge.

Half World by Hiromi Goto. This book was first brought to my attention by the lovely M of Buried in Print. Half World is one of her favorite books and she recommended to me wholeheartedly. The book’s protagonist, Melanie, is an outsider. She’s poor, has no friends, and lives with her sickly mother. When her mother disappears, it’s up to Melanie to find her and bring her back to our world. I’ve just started reading this a few days ago. It’s a novel with very unusual characters.

Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith by Gina B. Nahai. If fantasy had a chick-lit sub-genre, this book would be on the list. I first read this book years ago and I can still remember images of it like the streets of Tehran and Roxanna, a character who sprouted wings one fateful night and flew out of her daughter’s life. If I owned a copy of this, it would sit next to Chocolat and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. This isn’t a book about food but it’s such a feel-good book that it reminds me of the previous two.

Short reads: Short stories and Novellas

Maybe you’re swamped with blog obligations, memes, and the like so you don’t have a lot of time to squeeze in one more novel. I’ve found a few stories that I’ve really enjoyed and you can read in less than an hour.

Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor Lavalle. I read this novella about the friendship between two young girls, one of whom is dying, a few weeks ago. No review yet.  Lucretia knows that Lily is sick but she hopes that one day her friend will get better. When Lily goes missing, it’s up to Lucretia to bring her back from the underworld. Lavalle takes less than a hundred pages and gives readers a sweet story about childhood friendships, love, and death. Note: this book is only available as an e-book and it’s priced at $ 0.99 at most ebook retailers.

“Pishaach” by Sweta Marayan. This story was featured in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s The Beastly Bride, an anthology of stories about shape-shifters. When her grandmother disappears, only Shruti knows her secret: that her grandmother is a shape-shifter who went back to her own world. Shruti is an outsider among her own family and longs to be with her grandmother. But will Shruti ever get the chance to? This story was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2010. Also featured in the anthology is Hiromi Goto’s  short story, “The Hikikomori”.

Collected Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez is one of those writers whose stories are anthologized so much that you can’t help but run into his stories. If you only read one story from this collection, make it “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”. It’s a story about a small village that discovers a man with enormous wings and what happens once he’s there. You could probably find this story posted online.

Graphic Novels

So maybe you don’t have time to read a full novel or you’re not a short story kind of person. There’s still hope. Here are four graphic novels you could try.

Ichiro by Ryan Izanama. You know how you read a book and then you’re basically a disciple afterwards, harassing asking people to read it, telling them how awesome it is? Ichiro is that book for me this year. Ichiro is the story of a young boy who’s obsessed with war. His father, a soldier, recently died in Iraq, and Ichiro’s clings to his father’s army things. It’s only after a move to Japan from New York that Ichiro learns about the country’s history. But it’s during a fateful encounter with several Shinto gods and a shape-shifting fox, that Ichiro realizes maybe war isn’t as simple as he thought.

Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. 2011 was the year that I wanted everyone to read Chew, though I knew it’s not for anyone with a weak stomach. Detective Tony Chu is a cibopathic, a person who gets psychic (and very graphic) impressions from the food he’s eating. If Tony eats one bite of a hamburger, he can tell you where each ingredient came from and even the type of life the animal lived.  When Tony finds a human finger in his dinner, he goes on the hunt for a murderer and his secret is leaked. Now Tony’s working for the government and has to deal with Russian spies, double agents, and cyborg co-workers. Did I mention that Tony lives in a time where owning and eating chickens is illegal?

Bayou series by Jeremy Love. I’m going to describe this book in the same way that I’ve always described it. Bayou is an amazing Southern Alice in Wonderland. Unlike Alice, readers are plunged into Southern folklore and characters like Brier Rabbit. It’s a dark and fantastic read.

Shaun Tan. Noticed that I didn’t put any titles in front of Tan’s name? That’s because pretty much everything by Tan is perfect for this blog tour. But if you want me to, I’ll give you the names of a few titles that I really enjoyed: Tales from Outer Suburbia, The Arrival, and Lost & Found. I’m not going to tell you what they’re about because it doesn’t matter. They’re all good. I do have to warn you though, if you buy a book by Tan, you need to buy two copies. One copy is to read and the other to tear out the pages and frame them for your walls. Seriously.

I hope this post helps you find something to read for the blog tour or even Carl’s R.I.P. Challenge. If you’re joining the blog tour or the challenge, what will you be reading?

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52 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: A More Diverse Universe Reading Pool and Suggestions

    • Hey Fence! After reading Ana’s comment (below), I think I’ll just recommend it for the R.I.P. Challenge instead. What book by Wells are you reading?

  1. I can’t help but ask, why would you consider Saramago a POC writer? I really, really don’t want this question to sound like me challenging you, or like I’m racistly saying “Oh, we Portuguese are white, please don’t lump us with POC!” or anything like that. It’s just that I know understandings of race vary from culture to culture, and I’m not 100% sure I fully get the one used in the US. I know that in America “Latino” is not the same as white, and I know that this category includes North, Central and South American and Caribbean Spanish speakers. I also know that sometimes Spanish and Portuguese speakers from Europe are included in the category. But the thing is, as white Europeans we’re in a position of privilege, and our history is the history of a colonial nation rather than of a nation that was colonised, with all the complications that entails. The reason why I resist seeing white European writers like Saramago thought of as POC is because it feels like an appropriation of a history of oppression that is not ours. Does that makes sense? It’s true that any kind of writing in translation is underrepresented in the anglophone market, but the struggles for representation of a white European writer who doesn’t write in English, while very much real, are not the same as the struggles of POC writers. Anyway, thank you so much for all the excellent suggestions in this post, and sorry again for ranting – I hope you understand where I’m coming from and that I don’t sound like I’m nitpicking.

    • Hey, Ana! Right now I’m writing my reply to you but it’s going to take me a while to figure out how to say everything that I want to bring up including colonization versus being the colonized and also when countries occupy each other. But I will make a note to future readers of this post and recommend Saramago for the R.I.P. Challenge and not the blog tour.

    • Brilliant reply, Ana. I was also amazed that Saramago was mentioned here. I’m a Western-European and we see the South-Europeans as like us but then more lucky for having so much sun shine and getting a great tan!

      I can certainly see why Americans might put Southern Europeans under the same category as Latino’s but for us, it makes absolutely no sense.

    • So I’ve been thinking about how to reply and instead of making some long statement, I’m just going to give you the short version. :-) For the past few days, I’ve been discussing this with other bloggers, some of whom are white and others who are not, and reached a conclusion that came to me yesterday morning.

      You’re right, the Portuguese are not Latinos. I had to ask myself, if you or someone else who was Portuguese came to the United States, what would you be considered by our standards. Looking at you, people was say “Ana’s white” until they heard you speak. Then you would be asked, “Where are you from?” That’s the crazy thing about humans, we often want to classify people (and things) that we can’t name right away. In the past, I’ve often been asked the same question, to which I usually reply “I’m from here”. That statement has never been good enough. People usually want to know exactly where I’m from. Once you reply that you’re from Portugal, then that’s it. You’re Portuguese. That’s how people would think about you once they know.

      While I was thinking about your statement, I stopped thinking about colonization and past histories and thought about privilege. You and many others with light skin have the privilege of “hiding” behind your nationality in a way that others can’t. Once you say your nationality, that’s it. You’re that. I may be considered an American when I go to another country, but here, I’m considered an African-American or black.

      So you’re right. Jose Saramago is not a person of color. Not only because he’s white, but because he’s considered Portuguese.

      • “You and many others with light skin have the privilege of “hiding” behind your nationality in a way that others can’t.”

        Yes, exactly! Love your comment, Vasilly – this is exactly what I was trying to express.

  2. This is a very helpful post, Vasilly. I also spotted a helpfut tweet conversation about all these potential reads for Aarti’s event on Twitter (between you, Trish C. and others). I’m definitely filing this away for future reference.

    I’ve already read Never Let Me go, which has given me quite some things to ponder about. I’m going to compare it to its movie adaptation and a few other similar novels.

  3. Hi Vasilly, what a nice reading event. I’m a fan of Marquez and have read a few of his short stories. I remember both being unique if not bizarre in some way.
    I’ve been wanting to read José Saramago. Happy reading :)

  4. Some of these books that you list are available to me, but I just didn’t know much about them. Now, I will have to read them, they sound do good, particularly Blindness and Ichiro.

  5. Wow, thanks for that comment about Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith. I, too, am trying to fulfill multiple challenges, and this one would fit perfectly with 4 of them all at once. :D

  6. As soon as Elle wakes up from her nap we’re going to head to the library to check some of these out. I was so bummed about our failed bookstore attempt yesterday. On my list is Icarus Girl by Oyeyemi, Half World, and Bayou. Looks like all should be in stock! :) Great post.

    And loved Ana’s question as it’s one I’ve been pondering. I was also hesitant to put Allende, Marquez, Murikami, or some of the others on my shelf because they are so widely published. Hmmm.

  7. Oh yes, Bayou love from me too! Re Blindness, being without sight is totally my biggest fear – SCARIER THAN CLOWNS!!! I can read about all kinds of bad things, but not those! (Anyway I prefer bad things to be things that would never happen in real life!)

  8. I love Blindness, I love the works by Shaun Tan. Thanks for creating this list for us, Vasilly, and as to Ana’s comment about what constitutes a person of color the only thing I can say is this: Perhaps we’re all on the spectrum. All human. All trying our best to love and understand one another.

  9. Oh Bayou! I can’t, can’t, can’t wait for the third volume of Bayou to come out. I think this series is so cool and creepy. I wish I hadn’t read it already, it would be a wonderful choice for Aarti’s thing and the RIP Challenge.

  10. I think I’m going to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. But The Arrival is a great idea! I didn’t even think of graphic novels. Maybe if THTK doesn’t work out I’ll try that.

  11. I don’t think I’ll join in for the simple reason that reading the books that I plan to read anyway is not really a challenge. There are 16 (sixteen!) books in my planning for this month, so there is no room for any more.

    But I happen to have on my list for this month a book by the UK writer Kazuo Ishiguro (of Japanese descent) and a book by the funny UK writer Mike Gayle (of Jamaican descent, I believe). So I guess I don’t actually need to be challenged to read POCs!

    • That’s great, Judith, that you already read books by people of color. To clarify, A More Diverse Universe is a blog tour that highlights fantasy by people of color, not a challenge. I also don’t need to be challenged to read books by people of color but since fantasy is a genre I don’t read very often, I decided to join the tour. The small amount of books that I and other participants have been able to find amazes me.

      Good luck with your reading this month.

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  12. Thanks so much for spreading the word about Hiromi Goto’s phenomenal storytelling. I’m still shocked that she’s not being more widely read; I mean, my copy has a cover blurb by Neil Gaiman…what does it take exactly!? I know you’ve just started, but believe me, it gets even better…truly!

    It’s always tricky, whenever there is talk of making anyone’s reading universe more diverse, because there are some objective truths to consider but there is such an inherent element of subjectivity when it comes to reading choices; for many readers, choosing to read Blindness will diversify their reading stack, and if this event and such recommendations encourage that, even with a single reader/book, then it’s a success to my mind. But it’s fascinating to think about the issues Ana has raised in her comment and a discussion about them might add another dimension to the reading event.

    I’m planning to post on Nalo Hopkinson’s new YA novel, The Chaos, but also some of the short stories from an anthology edited by Nalo Hopkinson, a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/847409.So_Long_Been_Dreaming”>So Long Been Dreaming. But now you’ve got me thinking about Hiromi Goto again. Maybe I should re-read!

  13. I am super duper excited for the week! I have three books on the Kindle, one of which I’ve read and two more lined up. Am really excited to see all of what gets reviewed during the week! Thanks for this list.

    (Also, Ana’s comment above is brilliant and has me thinking too! I’ve always kind of considered that authors of colour within the US and Europe also face different challenges than those based outside. I actually track that in two ways – international authors (meaning non ‘Western’ countries) and then authors of colour from within those countries. It’s been interesting for me, though doesn’t really work for everyone. Or for challenges like this necessarily either!)

  14. You know, it never even crossed my mind that Shaun Tan would have qualified for this challenge, mainly because I got a little bit stuck on wanting to read an indigenous Australian author. I am not sure if that says something about the role of Tan in the Australian publishing scene, Australia in general or me specifically?

  15. I love it. Just when I’d forgotten about graphic novels, here you are pushing them into the forefront of my thoughts. I need one badly! I haven’t read one in such a long time, I feel suddenly thirsty! Plus thanks for reminding me about Blindness, it’s somewhere here and needs to be opened. I’m really glad you’re still here and blogging, Vasilly. I feel so out of touch that familiar voices like yours are such a comfort.

    • Claire, I’m just so glad that you’re still around. I’ve missed you! :-) I hope you find something enjoyable out of the graphic novels I’ve listed. They’re all really good.

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  16. I’m not doing this challenge because of time, but I was impressed by your recommendation of MOONLIGHT ON THE AVENUE OF FAITH. I’d forgotten it has those magical-realism elements–and I know so few other people who’ve read it!

  17. I’m so excited about this project! I’m reading the follow up to NK Jemisin’s The Killing Moon. It’s called The Shadowed Sun. I really enjoyed The Killing Moon, so I’m looking forward to the second in the series.

  18. You’ve completely sold me on Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith! In the same ‘feel’ of books, I’d highly rec A Time of Angels by Patricia Schonstein, written by a Jewish South African.

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