Mailbox Monday

mailboxmonday

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came in their mailbox during the last week.

Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists

It’s been ages since I’ve participated in this meme, but it’s lovely to see that it’s still around. You’ve probably noticed it’s been a bit more quiet around here and many know I’m one step away from graduating, but I need to concentrate on studying and so I thought I’ll leave you with bookish envy until I return August 4th.

Usually, I don’t get that many books in my mailbox but this week has been lovely and added three exciting works to my shelves:

feminist bookstore movement

The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability (Kristen Hogan)

From the 1970s through the 1990s more than one hundred feminist bookstores built a transnational network that helped shape some of feminism’s most complex conversations. Kristen Hogan traces the feminist bookstore movement’s rise and eventual fall, restoring its radical work to public feminist memory. The bookwomen at the heart of this story mostly lesbians and including women of color measured their success not by profit, but by developing theories and practices of lesbian antiracism and feminist accountability. (Amazon)

on being included

On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (Sara Ahmed)

What does diversity do? What are we doing when we use the language of diversity? Sara Ahmed offers an account of the diversity world based on interviews with diversity practitioners in higher education, as well as her own experience of doing diversity work. Diversity is an ordinary even unremarkable feature of institutional life. And yet, diversity practitioners often experience institutions as resistant to their work, as captured through their use of the metaphor of the “brick wall.” On Being Included offers an explanation of this apparent paradox. It explores the gap between symbolic commitments to diversity and the experience of those who embody diversity. (Goodreads)

underground

The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all slaves, but Cora is an outcast even among her fellow Africans, and she is coming into womanhood; even greater pain awaits. Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her of the Underground Railroad and they plot their escape. (Goodreads)

The first two books I splurged on when Duke UP had a 50% sale and I’ve been wanting them for quite some time. Sara Ahmed is one of my favorite activist academics even if she is intimidatingly smart and I love the intro. Hogan’s books sounds amazing and it’s a topic I wish I knew more about. It’s written by a white woman but I’ll be interested to see how she works the antiracism angle. And finally @BlackBrainFood (must follow for amazing tweets on Black culture) over on twitter send me their copy of Whitehead’s new book, I’m so excited to read this!

Which books are new on your shelves? Bought or otherwise acquired.

10 International LGBTQIA+ Reads

10 LGBT International

Pride month may be over but that seems like a good reason to keep promoting LGBTQIA+ literature. I mostly read books by Western women of color because I seek out stories of marginalization at the intersection of gender and race. But I want to read more of the experiences of marginalized people from other countries and cultures, too. Since I cannot choose my reading freely at the moment, I love to make tbr lists of what to read when I’m done with uni. I know, procrastination, but you all get to take a peek:

Miaojin last word from montmatre

Last Words From Montmatre by Qio Miaojin (Taiwan)

Posthumously published, this is a short epistolary novel about heartbreak, female sexuality, language and transnational Asian identity. Warning for what is apparently an experimental and modernist style.

hairdresser

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe)

Set in post-apartheid Zimbabwe, this book follows the rivalry and friendship of two hairdressers and takes a hard look at illegality and attitudes towards homosexuality. Have read it and can absolutely recommend it!

Black Bull, Ancestors and Me

Black Bull, Ancestors and Me by Nkunzi Zandile Nkabinde (South Africa)

This is a memoir of a sangoma, about life as a revered healer but also the difficult position of being a lesbian in a South African community. Resh, I think this is the healer book I was talking about!

twelve views

Twelve Views from the Distance by Matsuo Takahashi (Japan)

This is the memoir of the poet Takahashi about poverty, boyhood in rural Japan and becoming aware of his attraction to men before Western images of homosexuality were more widespread.

stone of laughter

The Stone of Laughter by Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)

Set around the Lebanese civil war, the novel follows a young gay man, Khalil, as he tries to escape political and military affiliations. This is said to be the first Arabic book with a gay main character, I had no idea.

lovetown

Lovetown by Michal Witkowski (Poland)

This one’s from Poland and about the clash between two generations of gay men, those who grew up in the age of communism and aids and the younger ones enjoying a post-communist world.

Red Azalea

Red Azalea by Anchee Min (China)

Min’s memoir about the last days of Mao’s China, being sent to work in a labor collective, finding solace in a relationship with another woman and then being recruited to work as an actress.

The Ucle's Story

The Uncle’s Story by Witi Ihimaera (New Zealand)

The book is about the story of both Michael Manahan and the titular uncle Sam, who fought in Vietnam and fell in love with an American soldier. Ihimaera writes about war, love and homophobia and the spaces for being gay in Maori and Western culture.

out

 Out! Stories From the New Queer India by Minal Hajratwala, ed. (India)

With the change in laws, more Indian stories about being ‘queer’ have been published and Hajratwala here collects different short stories about the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community in India. The anthology features established and emerging writers.

pillar of salt

Pillar of Salt by Salvador Novo (Mexico)

This is the memoir of Salvador Novo, a man of letters, about growing up during and after the Mexican revolution, coming to literature and living as an openly gay man in Mexican society.

Have you read any of these works? Or can you recommend more?

Sadly, this list skews towards the tragic, so I’d love recommendations that go beyond that single story. But perhaps it also shows what gets translated and what gets published. Getting LGBTQIA books out is obviously more difficult in some societies than others, but I’m glad I found some available in a language I can read, though I am curious to see what might have been translated into German, since Germany publishes a lot of translations, luckily.

On Building A Personal Library: Attempts At Decolonizing My Shelves

personal library blog pic

I’ll be graduating soon and for the first time ever, really, I will not be spending most of my book money on course literature. Which is not to say that many of these books were not ones I enjoyed and want to keep, but some were indeed books I lugged around with me from place to place and never touched after the term paper was handed in. So in considering the current state of my shelves, how much I’ve grown as a reader and a person over the last years and also that I will probably be moving again sometime this year, well I decided it was a good time to start thinking about building a personal library.

My first step will be getting rid of more books (no worries, I’ll donate them). I’ve been sorting out books over the last year and frankly, it has been a relief. Not beholden to any institution or reading list any longer, I started looking through my bookstacks, yes also those in the very back, and found that about half of my library is made up of classics, dudebro lit and other mainstream white works. And so, I find my shelves are in desperate need of decolonizing.

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case in point

Why do this? For me, this is a project of personal growth and working at transformation and social justice. It’s not a corset I’m trying to make myself fit into, or strange restrictions to make my reading life harder. This is who I am and who I hope to be and I want to surround myself with the thoughts and experiences of other people at the margins. I want to look at my shelves as a how-to on transformation, a place of support and an archive of knowledge.

Consider this an intro post, because writing about building a personal library is something I want come back to more often in the coming months, partly to document my progress (yes, there will be pics) and partly to think more on various specific building blocks. These are the acquisition of backlists of my favorite writers, secondary literature and non-fiction on race, feminism, food justice and history of medicine, and novels by women of color and further intersections beyond the few core texts I have. An example is that I have started to look for German writers of color, which is much more difficult than it should be and so I need to educate myself on where to find these works because I want to connect more with my own history. Hopefully, decolonizing my shelves will go hand in hand with decolonizing my mind. Big words, but this is necessary.

What’s the start of your personal library? Are you happy with it or do you have any plans?

Diversity & Nonfiction: Writers of Color as Experts

poc nonfic blog pic

So here’s something I’ve been mulling over recently:

Where are the writers of color in non-fiction?

Sure, you might argue that there’s a lot of nonfiction available written by people of color, just look at Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and Between the World and Me or Just Mercy. These works are – very deservedly getting attention and accolades. However, they are narrative non-fiction and memoirs or works about race and racial justice. And because there is always someone: I love such works and I do not want to take away from these achievements at all, I am simply trying to make different point. Suffice it to say, that ‘the personal is political’ applies to people of color, too, and what is more, other less rigid genres and non-Western formats might work better for the things we want to say.

Thinking about the non-fiction I tend to read, two things stand out: One, I focus on social justice works written by women and people of color, and two, when I read other non-fiction (bees, Monsanto, dinosaurs) the authors are almost exclusively white. So let me  rephrase my earlier question: What is the place of writers of color in non-fiction?

People of color have claimed the right to be experts on our own experiences and the fight has been long and is not over by a long shot. In literary fiction, this right is being re-claimed again and again under the hashtag #ownvoices. In non-fiction (including  academic texts), there is excellent work being done in nearly all disciplines, demonstrating the intersection of for example food justice and racial justice or architecture and racism. But we can also see plenty of cases like white scholars putting together research groups on Blackness without any Black people or white ethnologists producing the narrative on Black urban communities.

There are plenty of reasons for people of color to write about issues of race, we want to tell our own stories and we need to be there and fill these roles of authority. Looking at the work being done in non-fiction by and about people of color is such a joy! But another aspect is, are we allowed to be experts on anything else? Will we ever be allowed to be experts on the human condition? On ballet or on the planetary system?

We have had this debate about women writers (and it keeps popping up), and all campaigns to shove white men off the expert throne are very welcome, but stopping at this point reproduces the same tired old power relations that work to keep marginalized voices out of positions of authority. And non-fiction is about authority, oftentimes taking on the mantle of logic, rationality and facts that present us with the ‘master’ narrative. We cannot leave this up to those ensuring our oppression! So what would hopefully be the benefits of diversifying by having nonfiction writers of color writing not on issues of race: Sharing in the building of archives of knowledge, demonstration of our humanity and complexity – we contain multitudes, prevention of for example biologically essentialist science (at least as the truth).

I’ve put together a list of six titles by writers of color writing about space, pandemics nd business. It’s an attempt at finding diverse authors in nonfiction by focusing on mostly US (and not generally Chinese, or Indian authors, because PoC is not the same as non-white) scholars and scientists of color, but of course we need to highlight other voices as well. Sometimes, it’s a bit more difficult to find out how authors identify, but hopefully I will find time soon to do this, or perhaps one of you will give it a try?

Tyson-death by black hole

Death by Black Hole (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

shah_pandemic

Pandemic (Sonia Shah)

(recommended by Jenny)

The Gene

The Gene (Siddhartha Mukherjee)

Liquidated-Ho

Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (Karen Ho)

Khan- next pandemic

The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind’s Gravest Dangers (Ali S. Khan)

Khan-Adapt

Adapt: How Humans are Tapping into Nature’s Secrets to Design and Build a Better Future (Amina Khan) – Will be out April 2017 from St Martin’s Press

chu songbird

Songbird Journeys: Four Seasons in the Lives of Migratory Birds (Miyoko Chu)

(recommended by Debi)

cosmopolites

The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen (Atossa Araxia Abrahamian)

(recommended by Sharlene)

michio kaku future of the mind

The Future of the Mind (Michio Kaku)

(recommended by Naz and Vishy)

connectome

Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes us Who We Are (Sebastian Seung)

emerging mind

The Emerging Mind (Vilayanur Ramachandran)

gathering moss

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Moss ( Robin Wall Kimmerer)

(recommended by Stefanie)

What are your thoughts on writers of color in non-fiction? Do you have any titles to add?

Thoughts: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

girlwhofell

In a tragic incident, a woman and her three young children fall from the roof of a high building in Chicago. 11 year old Rachel is the only one to survive.

Heidi W. Durrow’s debut novel examines Blackness, biraciality and belonging in the context of the US during the 1980s. After the fall Rachel, the child of a Black American GI and a white Danish mother, is sent to live with her Black grandmother in Portland Oregon. It is only then that light-skinned Rachel with the “bluest eye(s)”is confronted with how exactly she is to fit into the Black community. Until this point, we are told, Rachel has not had to confront this issues or colorism or anti-Black racism. Having grown up on US bases in Germany and spent vacations in Denmark has apparently allowed her to live in the in-between without having to choose either parts of her identity. I’m emphasizing this because while, yes, I do understand that this book focuses on biraciality in the Black community and obviously reflects the author’s own experience, I was confused about Rachel’s life before. I want this post to be spoiler-free, so let’s just say that the impact of racism plays a key role in the mysterious incident that lost Rachel much of her family, and then thinking about army bases as microcosmos and how racism in Germany operates – well it felt like there was a huge gap that asked me to ignore all these issues to buy into the premise that racism and having to explain her identity only really began in the US. Likely this is a stylistic choice and is not meant to leave me with this impression, but it took me a while to get into the story that I was actually presented with.

It’s important to remember that this story is set in the 80s, before Obama and more media outlets presented people with stories and images of biracial people. Rachel’s attempt of making sense of how she is positioned in relation to Blackness, from being an outsider to benefitting from colorism, is the main storyline of the novel. She is forever removed from her mother and the Danish language so crucial to her identity. Instead, she is told that she is an “Oreo,” speaking and acting as if she were white. Her grandmother meanwhile tries to mold her in the image of a good Black girl who is supposed to aim no higher than a secretarial job and lonely and hurt at never quite fitting in anywhere, Rachel goes looking for validation in all the wrong places.

These attempts of Rachel at forging a self are by far the strongest aspect of the novel and I would have gladly learned more. Another is of course the mysterious tragedy and multiple narrators are drawn on to act as witness and to provide the context to the way racism and mixed-racedness impact families. While the information and perspective provided by these different voices – a young boy named Brick, Rachel’s mother Nella, her father and Laronne who was Nella’s employer – help understand the reason for the tragedy, they also serve to fragment the book. And perhaps this is also a reason I felt distanced from Rachel for much of the novel, I would have liked spending more time with her and perhaps following her journey into adulthood. There is much material for a sequel.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is a welcome contribution to literature about mixed-racedness, identity and belonging. Fittingly, it has won the Bellwether Prize for Literature of Social Change. This is a debut novel that perhaps not always does justice to its fantastic premise, but it has an important story to tell and I will be reading the author’s next novel.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading

The meme that we use to share what we read this past week and what our plans are for the upcoming week. Now hosted by The Book Date.

Last week

There was all the excitement about #DiverseBookBloggers and our directory. Make sure to add your blog and grab a blogger/ally badge!

I also really started on my exam prep and so most of my reading is secondary literature at the moment and excerpts from academic books about Chicana feminism. But I also read a fantastic novel:

juliet takes a breath

Isn’t that the most amazing cover? Go read it now! Especially if you’re a brown girl, lesbian or interested in racism in feminism.

Currently

Still slowly making my way through Borderlands, and might be for a while yet. It’s still amazing!

Gloria-Anzaldua-Borderlands-0829-main

And then during the weekend I also got back into A Stranger in Olondria, and I’m finally really into this world and loving the slow, detailed way in which the story unfolds.

olondria

Soon

I got so many fantastic recommendations for audiobooks from you all, but Scribd didn’t have that many of them, but I put them on my audible wishlist! Since I had to redeem a credit, I chose to go with this one, which comes recommended by Naz from Read Diverse Books.

book of unknown americans

What are you all up to? And what are you reading?

Building an Archive: The #DiverseBookBloggers Directory

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More exciting #DiverseBookBloggers news: We now have a directory up and running! It’s still a work in progress but please stop by and if you’re a diverse book blogger make sure to add your blog! And send me a photo of your header for example if you’d like one included. Also, we have badges! Stop by and make sure to grab one for your blog/space and link back to the directory. There’s also an “I support”- badge for allies, we’d appreciate the support and spreading of the word:)

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There’s a resource page, where we list book lists by bloggers that highlight for example Mexican-American authors or Chican@ Speculative Fiction etc. Please let me know if you have created such a list on your blog, we’d love to add it to the directory! An index page with categories for easier navigation will be up soon.

The directory will hopefully function as an archive and a resource for bloggers, authors and publishers. We’d like to make an impact collectively! So please stop by, browse, add your blog and follow us! I’m admin, so feel free to contact me with any concerns and questions you might have.

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In other #DiverseBookBloggers news, Whitney at Brown Books & Green Tea has started a fantastic new feature in which she will spotlight diverse book bloggers. She was kind enough to ask me to start things off and asked me some tough questions. Thanks so much, Whitney! So if you’re still not tired of hearing from me, make sure to read what I had to say here. And make sure to follow her for smart and in-depth reviews of diverse books!

What’s the last diverse book you read? Let me know in the comments!