Tag Archives: Diverse Books

Resolve to Read in 2019!

 

via dreamstime.com

We’re not terribly big fans of New Year’s Resolutions in general, beloved patrons, as I think we’ve mentioned here previously.  If you want to make a change in your life, there is no better time to start than right now(ish), regardless of the date or time.  And there is no reason to feel pressured to make changes if you don’t feel the need or desire to do so, no matter what anyone tells you.  We think you’re terrific.

That being said, there’s no time like the present to indulge in some good habits, right?  And in that spirit, we wanted to let you know about some of the phenomenal reading challenges and book lists for 2019 that will help you expand your reading horizons, walk a mile in some new shoes, and find some new kinds of storytelling the the new year.

A good place to start is right inside the Main Library, where we have some book displays to get you started.  Check out our “Resolve to Read” Card Catalog Display, which features some of the titles listed below, as well as the “Broaden Your Horizons in 2019” Display, which has books to help you become a better human; we have books to help you learn how to cook, how to fix things, about understanding your rights in the workplace, and about our brains and bodies, how they work, and what they can do, all of which have been organized to help you find some new skills or new facts to store in your brain for the perfect upcoming occasion.

via BookRiot.com

In addition to our curated lists, we also encourage you to check out Book Riot’s 2019 Read Harder Challenge, an enormously popular reading resolution list that provides (according to BookRiot) “24 tasks designed to help you break out of your reading bubble and expand your worldview through books. With new genres, new authors, and new points of view, the challenge will (hopefully) help you discover amazing books you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up.”  We had great fun following this list in 2018, and are looking forward to doing the same this year, as well!  For those of you interested, here is a discussion of the challenge, and the list as assembled by our friends over at BookRiot:

“We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try. But this isn’t a test. No one is keeping score and there are no points to post. We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help to even know which perspectives to try out. That’s what this is—a perspective shift—but one for which you’ll only be accountable to yourself.”

The BookRiot 2019 Read Harder Challenge:

  1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters
  2. An alternate history novel
  3. A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018
  4. A humor book
  5. A book by a journalist or about journalism
  6. A book by an AOC set in or about space
  7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America
  8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
  9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads
  10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman
  11. A book of manga
  12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character
  13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  14. A cozy mystery
  15. A book of mythology or folklore
  16. An historical romance by an AOC
  17. A business book
  18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author
  19. A book of nonviolent true crime
  20. A book written in prison
  21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator
  22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009
  23. A self-published book
  24. A collection of poetry published since 2014

Let’s see what we can accomplish together with this list, beloved patrons!


 

We hope these lists and challenges have provided you a good place to begin on your reading resolutions for 2019, beloved patrons!  We’ll be offering some reviews and suggestions as the year goes on from these lists, and, of course, sharing with you some of the titles that have made our 2019 “Best Of” lists.  So stayed tuned, stay well, and keep on reading in the New Year!

The 2018 Children’s Literature Legacy Award, History, and Inclusivity

At its meeting on Saturday, June 23, 2018, the Association for Library Service to Children Board voted to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.  This award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature.  In discussion this award, we’d also like to congratulate this year’s winner, Jacqueline Woodson.  As the committee chair,  Rita Auerbach noted, “From picture books through novels for young teens to her exquisite memoir in poetry, Jacqueline Woodson has established herself as an eloquent voice in contemporary children’s literature.”  Headlines, however, have been focused on the change in the award’s name, and it is that, specifically, we are addressing today.

This was not a decision that was taken lightly, nor was it done for frivolous reasons.  Indeed, there has been a discussion of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s historical legacy and descriptions of native peoples.  As Samira Ahmed wrote in The Guardian in 2010, “While she often writes of her desire to be “free like the Indians”, riding bareback, Little House on the Prairie is built illegally on occupied Osage Indian land.”

A photo of member of the Osage tribe, taken around the time that Wilder was living the experiences she would describe in her books.

The settlement of the American West fundamentally involved the dehumanization of the Native American/Indian peoples who were present on the land that settlers wanted to own.  Part of this process involved talking about Native American/Indian people as less than human.  Wilder utilized this language in her works.  Just one example can be found in Little House on the Prairiewhere she states that  Kansas had “no people, only Indians”.   Such language reflects the delegitimization and dehumanizing that settlers enacted in their move West.   In this specific case, Wilder refers to the Osage peoples.  A series of treaties and agreements from
1865 to 1870 forced the Osage people off the land that a previous treaty, signed in 1825, promised would be theirs in perpetuity.  They were sent to reservations in Oklahoma.  The travel, the lack of funds and support, as well as the violence they sustained impacted the tribes for generations.  Their population decreased by over 50% in the course of a generation.  But this is not merely a historical issue; when oil was discovered on their land, the Osage people were forced to sue the Federal Government over its management of the trust assets, alleging that it had failed to pay tribal members appropriate royalties, and had not historically protected their land assets and appreciation.  The suit was settled in 2011.

Over the course of time, Wilder (pictured at left) gained some insight into the damage such language could have.  Later editions of the book feature an edited line, which reads, ‘no settlers, only Indians’.”  While this edit is a positive change, it is a limited one.  Little House on the Prairie discusses the removal of the Osage people, but never condemns it.  In some ways, this does indeed make Wilder a product of her time.  But it is completely historically inaccurate to assume that her language, opinions, and descriptions represent a universal opinion.  There were a large number of people who spoke out against the removal of Native American/Indian people, and the kind of language that helped facilitate their dehumanization–including Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett, Massachusetts Congressman Daniel Webster, and a large number of missionaries–both male and female.  Additionally, the Osage people continue to condemn Wildler’s work for its language and representation of their history.

A map showing the ancestral territory of the Osage people. The land designated for their reservation is in purple. From https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/who-we-are/historic-preservation/ancestral-map

At the same time that Wildler’s work is being re-assessed, book writers, makers, and readers are realizing how poorly non-white, non-male readers have been represented, not only in terms of the types of books produced, but the authors who are honored by awards.  We’ve covered some of that debate here at the Free-For-All, but the ALA has also engaged in some soul-searing conversations.  These don’t condemn Wilder or her work, nor do they comment on the quality of her novels.  However, they do think meaningfully about how naming an award after Wilder might affect the ways readers see their engagement.

Changing the name of the award is part of a process that involves facing the problematic aspects of American history, and attempting to do better by current and future generations. It is part of a commitment to ensuring that readers have access to books that speak to them: to their identities, to their history, to their experiences, and to their abilities, and to recognize the ways they have been under-represented previously in an open, honest, and effective manner. To continue to award a prize named after someone who did not recognize the humanity of the non-white people around her makes a lot of the positive changes we see in children’s literature feel ultimately disingenuous.

For the record, no one–not I, not the Free-For-All, not the Library, and not the ALA are accusing Wilder of intentional hate speech or overt racism.  Indeed, her attempts to moderate her own words points to her potential to change and improve.  And we are actually enjoying a rich moment where Wilder’s history, experiences, and struggles are being honored and remembered in a new, and for more nuanced, way (see last year’s Pulitzer-Prize-Winning biography by Caroline Fraser).  But by renaming the award that previously bore her name, the ALA is acknowledging the harmful stereotypes that she used and promoted, and attempting to move beyond them.  In doing so, it allows us to create room to consider authors contemporary to Wilder who were not using the kind of language she did, and promoting their words, their message and their principles.  So doing can only enrich our literature by recognizing inclusion and diversity, as well as help those readers who have been outside our gaze for so long.

Getting Out of the Box

Last week, we addressed the #MeToo movement in the literary world by focusing on some of the headlines and debates that were taking place regarding the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, and the revelations regarding Junot Diaz.  Today, we thought we’d take a look into the literary implications of #MeToo, and the way the movement is changing how we read and write fiction.

Not surprisingly, perhaps the most prominent field where such changes have been occurring is romance, where issues of consent and power have always been debated and discussed pretty prominently.  Now, as The Guardian observed, we see workplace romances getting reconsidered, and the consent being made extra-explicit and enthusiastic (by a number of authors, if not across the genre as a whole).  And that is terrific.  As I reader, I have long been awaiting a turn in the genre to something more out-and-out progressive, feminist, and focused on fulfillment.

But it seems that other genres have been thinking hard about the portrayal of women in literature, as well.  The Hugo Awards for science fiction have been honoring the achievements of women and people of color for several years now, despite some highly-publicized campaigns to derail those efforts.  The establishment of the Staunch Book Prize launched a wide-reaching and generally thoughtful debate about how we treat out female characters, why we hurt them, and what we can do about it.  Heck, there is even an opera due for release in the UK this summer focusing on the victims of Jack the Ripper, in order to restore humanity to women who have been historically described by their gruesome deaths.

Via Creative Loafing: Tampa Bay

But have such sentiments actually translated into our literature?  To an extent…yes.  The world of publishing is not quick to react at the very best of times, and it will most likely be some time before the paradigm shift that the #MeToo movement has been establishing will be truly reflected in the books we read across genres.  But I’ve been noticing a trend over the past few years, as discussions and debates surrounding women’s issues, women’s lived experiences, and the intersectional problems that people of color, LGBTQIA people, working-class people, and people with disabilities face on a daily basis in our world have grown in prominence–stories are, in fact, beginning to change.  It sometimes subtle–and sometimes it isn’t at all, and that’s super, too.  But it is there.  So if you are looking for some works that are tackling issues of power, abuse, identity, and truth-telling, here are some ideas from around the world of fiction.  Some of these books are overtly speaking to the current cultural moment, and some are merely reflecting on them in a way, but all of them, in their own way, are acknowledging that it’s time to think outside the proverbial box–and we are all the better for it.

Note: This is not to say that older books have not tackled these issues.  They absolutely have.  See Jean Rhys’ The Wide Sargasso Sea, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, or Barbara Vine’s A Dark Adapted Eye.  But this is a round-up of a few new books that reflect some of the positive changes and debates taking place in fiction right now.

The Nowhere Girls: Amy Reed’s novel is at once a wonderfully fulfilling coming-of-age, misfits-united novel, and a searing indictment of the rape culture in which these characters are growing up.  Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal; Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who yearns for a life outside of their plans; Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, both of which help her cope with her concern that she might be an android.   When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.  This is a story with worlds of positive representation, from queer characters to female characters with autism-spectrum conditions, from religious and cultural difference to debates about sex and feminism–but it’s also one heck of a compelling read, especially as these Nowhere Girls lead a crusade for justice that is as applicable to the world outside the book as it is to them.

Anatomy of a Scandal: Sarah Vaughan uses all the insight and nuance she gathered during her career as a journalist in this story about political scandals, accusations, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to endure.  The novel focuses on Sophie and her husband James.  In Sophie’s eyes, James is the model of a good man–a caring father, a devoted husband, and a highly successful politician.  But then James is accused of rape, and  Kate Woodcroft is appointed by the Crown to prosecute him.  Kate is convinced that James is guilty, and is willing to bring all her legal expertise to this fight to bring him down.  But as this story unfolds, with the help of flashbacks and shifting narrative voices, we as readers are shown that no actions are isolated, and that all actions and all choices have tremendous impact, far into the future.  Vaughan is especially talented at crafting her female characters.  Sophie and Kate could not be more different, but they are both nuanced, compelling, and, in their own way, sympathetic characters, which makes their journeys in this book uniquely harrowing and suspenseful.  A top-notch courtroom drama as well as a pertinent look into the effects of power and privilege, this is a psychological thriller that fits in beautifully with our current real-world debates.

FellsideThis book is something of an outlier as a result of its age (it was published in 2016, which is by no means ancient, but what a difference a few years makes!), but M.R. Carey’s strange, haunting, and unforgettable novel deserves to be on this list for a number of reasons.  At the center of this work is a heroin addict named Jess Moulson, who is facing life in prison in the isolated and, frankly, terrifying Fellside prison.  Jess, we are told, is weak.  But no matter how many times the characters in this book repeat this judgement of her, Jess quietly and repeatedly proves she is anything but weak.  This is a story that repeatedly shows us the hopelessness of life, especially for those in prison–the ruthlessness of people who feel they have nothing left to lose, the craven violence of those who cling to power, obsession, greed, addiction…but this is also a story that repeatedly rejects those qualities in favor of hope.  Bleak hope, perhaps.  But hope.  So, for its discussions of abuse of power, its emphasis on the integrity and dignity of those whose humanity is so often overlooked, and the intimate discussions about what penance, sacrifice, and love really look like, this book definitely deserves consideration in this discussion.

And also, there are a huge number of romance novels to add to this list…but in the interest of time, we’ll have to get to them another day!

 

Resolve to Read: Romance Novels By Or About a Person of Color

As we mentioned here previously, we here at the Library are Resolving to Read (more…different….) in 2018, and tackling both Book Riot’s and Scholastic’s 2018 Reading Challenges.  In the hopes of encouraging you to broader your literary horizons along with us, here are some suggestions for books that fall within the categories of the various challenges.

Today’s Challenge: Book Riot 2018 Read Harder Challenge
Category: Romance Novels By Or About a Person of Color

We’ve talked a lot in the past about how we love romance novels here at the Free-For-All, and also about how we’re really ready to see more diversity in the genre at large.   So this week’s challenge is one very near and dear to our hearts.  There have been a number of sensation romances published in the past few years that feature People of Color–but that shouldn’t distract us from the classic romance novels that have stood the test of time and readers’ devotion.  What makes these books so great is that they are not only willing to confront issues of racial identity, but also to question issues of body image, sexual identity, class, and gender norms, making these romances as ground-breaking and thought-provoking as they are heart-racing.

So let’s take a look at some of the terrific titles that you can select to fulfill your resolution–and perhaps even discover a few new authors whose work you can savor for months and years to come!

An Extraordinary UnionNo list of romances featuring People of Color would be in any way complete or comprehensive without Alyssa Cole’s sensational novel of Civil War espionage and passion–and the first of what is sure to be an unmissable series.  Elle Burns is a former slave with a passion for justice and an eidetic memory. Trading in her life of freedom in Massachusetts, she returns to the indignity of slavery in the South–to spy for the Union Army. Malcolm McCall is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service. Subterfuge is his calling, but he’s facing his deadliest mission yet–risking his life to infiltrate a Rebel enclave in Virginia. Two undercover agents who share a common cause–and an undeniable attraction–Malcolm and Elle join forces when they discover a plot that could turn the tide of the war in the Confederacy’s favor.  This is a book that confronts the horrors of slavery in America, but still holds fast to the belief that love will not only conquer all, but can redeem us, as well.

BreathlessBeverly Jenkins is among the royalty of the romance genre, and all of her books, frankly, are wonderful.  She creates wonderful, vivid, and beautifully empathetic characters, and places them in (generally speaking) historically accurate situations that allow her to reflect on issues of identity, power, and freedom in really creative ways.  In this book, Portia Carmichael is the manager of one of the finest hotels in Arizona Territory.  She has respect and stability—qualities sorely missing from her harsh childhood. She refuses to jeopardize all that by keeping company with the wrong man–but the arrival of an old family friend may have her thinking she’s found someone right.  Kent Randolph has learned his share of hard lessons. After drifting through the West, he’s learned the value of a place to settle down, and in Portia’s arms he’s found that and more. But convincing her to trust him with her heart, not just her passion, will be the greatest challenge he’s known—and one he intends to win…You quite seriously cannot go wrong with Beverly Jenkins work, so make sure to check out her many others books as you make your way through this resolution!

A Bollywood AffairSonali Dev’s romances have it all–interesting characters, real issues, beautiful settings–but they also deal with issues facing women in India, from conforming to stereotypes and ‘proper behavior’ to the difficulty of balancing tradition with progress.  But there is also the deep bonds with family, the sensational food, and the meaningful tradition, all of which combine to make Dev’s books so enchanting.  In this story, Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years–not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. She was even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be–if her husband would just come and claim her. Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naïve village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life–cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.  This book is Dev’s first, but each of the four she has published to date are winners, so keep your eye out for this author!

Such a Pretty Face: The blurb for Gabrielle Goldsby’s lesbian romance may sound like it’s a tale of revenge-bods and vengeance, but, in truth, it really couldn’t be any further away.  It’s a story about learning to love yourself, and to find people who can see the best in you no matter what–and that is a message we all need to hear from time to time.  Mia Sanchez is a Mexican American financial adviser who has recently bought a new house with her partner of four years. She is stunned when her Brenda tells her she has accepted a 5-month job in Fiji, and that she’ll be using the time to  “think about their future together.” Mia hadn’t thought words could be more painful until Brenda followed up hers with, “You’ve really let yourself go over the last few years.”   Hurt and along, Mia finds a little comfort is staring at Ryan, the stunning blonde construction worker at Mia’s work.  Ryan has her own issues with physical beauty, in the form of a scar on her face, but neither the scar nor Mia’s weight seem to be a problem when they finally start talking.  This is a funny, insightful, and wonderfully honest book about the power of real love to see past the superficial, and to transform that holds up even on the second or third reading!

 

We’ll be back next week with another Resolve to Read post, but until then, feel free to stop by the Library and let us help you discover your new favorite book of 2018!

Resolve to Read: The Pura Belpré Award

2018 is a year for expanding our reading horizons, and we here at the Free for All are thrilled to be bringing you suggestions and discussions based on two different reading challenges.  This week, we’re looking at Scholastic’s Reading Resolution Challenge.  It’s a challenge geared towards younger readers, but since when should that stop anyone?  The suggestions on this list hold appeal for readers of all ages (I read to my cat on a regular basis, for example).

This post features the challenge to read a Pura Belpré Award-winning book.  The Pura Belpré Award was established in 1996, and is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library (hooray for Librarians!).  It is presented annually, as the award’s website explains, to a Latino/Latina writer andLatino/Latina illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.

As huge fans of #WeNeedDiverse Books, and as a Library community that revels in sharing all the cultural and personal differences that make our community such a rich one, exploring the books in this award was a real treat.  There are some stunning illustrations and moving stories to be found among the winners of the Pura Belpré Award, and we are thrilled to feature some of them here!

2017 Author Award Winner: 

Juana & Lucas, written and illustrated by Juana Medina: A spunky young girl from Colombia loves playing with her canine best friend and resists boring school activities, especially learning English, until her family tells her that a special trip is planned to an English-speaking place.  According to the award presenters, Medina “presents with breezy humor the day-to-day reflections and experiences universal to childhood—school, family and friendships—through the eyes of the invincible Juana, growing up in Bogotá with her beloved dog, Lucas. This charmingly designed book for young readers portrays the advantages—and challenges—of learning a second language.

2017 Illsutrator Award Winner: 

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, illustrated by Raúl Gonzalez, written by Cathy Camper: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria are living the dream–they are the proud owners of their very own garage. But when their beloved cat, Genie, goes missing, they must embark on a wild road trip through a mysterious corn maze, into the center of the earth, and down to the realm of Mictlantecuhtli. Mic’s the Aztec god of the Underworld, but even worse: he’s a catnapper! Now it’s three clever compadres against one angry, all-powerful god. How will the Lowriders ever save their cat–or themselves?  According to the award committee, “The ballpoint pen art creates a fantastical borderlands odyssey, packed with subversively playful cultural references that affirm a vibrant Chicanx cultura.”

2016 Author Award Winner: 

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir, by Margarita Engle: In her memoir for young people, Margarita Engle, who was the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War. Her heart was in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country–but most of the time she lived in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers fly through the enchanted air to her beloved island. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupted at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Engle’s worlds collided in the worst way possible. Would she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?  The awards committee noted that “Engle’s memoir of living in two cultures and the inability to cross the sky to visit family will resonate with youth facing similar circumstances.”

2017 Illustrator Award Winner: 

Drum dream girl : how one girl’s courage changed music: Illustrations by Rafael López; Poem by Margarita Engle: This lyrical tale follows a young Cuban girl in the 1930s as she strives to become a drummer, despite being continually reminded that only boys play the drums, and that there’s never been a female drummer in Cuba. Includes note about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl in 1930s Cuba, who became a world-renowned drummer, and Anacaona, the all-girl dance band she formed with her sisters.  The awards committee said that “Rafael López’s masterful art brings to life the drumbeats in Margarita Engle’s story. His dreamy illustrations transport us to Millo’s tropical island,”

For a full list of Pura Belpré Award winning books, check out the full list at the American Library Association’s website!

Love What You Love

Conversations about books are some of my favorite conversations.

Via https://3appleskdk.wikispaces.com/

recent discussions among some book-minded companions led to a fascinating discussion the other day regarding “books that you love but that are in some way objectionable to others.”  It’s a tricky subject, and one with which a lot of readers tend to grapple, especially as they grow up, and realize that the books they loved at one stage of their development might not fit them and their world view now.

Let’s use my own experience as an example: It’s something of an open secret that I love Jane Eyre.  It’s a book that enchanted me as a fourteen-year-old first discovering early Victorian literature, and one that sustained me in high school amidst all those books I had to read.   But, as an older reader, out of high school and navigating what we usually call “the real world,” I began to realize how whiny, self-centered, and, let’s be honest here, how reckless and dangerous his behavior was.  Secrets aren’t sexy, Edward.  Especially when they involve fire, bleeding, and/or locking people up in towers.  (To be fair, I would argue a great deal of the Rochester mystique is a product of more recent times, but still…).  But, after some soul searching, I realized that I could, and still did, love Jane Eyre.  Because, as I grew older, I began to really appreciate just how strong, how self-reliant, and how confident Jane had to be in herself to survive in the world she did, and to protect herself from Rochester’s more harmful tendencies.  Jane Eyre herself became one of my favorite characters all over again as a grew up, even as I got more and more fed up with Rochester’s fragile ego and his ceaseless emoting.

Similarly, a friend related that they had grown up adoring Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and that they still turned to it when life was being difficult and they needed something familiar to love.  Stephen King is a sensational author and a super guy, but, as my friend noted, Stephen King doesn’t do very well writing about people of color.  They tend to fall pretty hard into the character trope known as the “Magical Negro” trope (Note: the word ‘negro’ is used to denote the archaic view of Black people that this trope embodies).  Briefly put, “Magical Negroes” are characters (created by white authors) who are generally (though not always) outwardly or inwardly disabled as a result  of discrimination, disability or social constraint, and who appear to save the white protagonist through magic.  In other words, they are not human in the same ways that white characters are human.   In the Dark Tower series, Odetta Susannah Holmes is a”Magical Negro”; she is disfigured by a subway train after a white man pushes her onto the tracks.  She suffers from a magical kind of personality disorder in which she embodies two people (each figured and disfigured by American racism) and she is repeatedly victimized to save Roland, who is a white male in the novel.

This is not in any way, shape, or form to imply that Stephen King is a racist.  Far from it.  But it does indicate that he might not be the expert on creating realistic, thoughtful characters of color.

But sometimes, it can be an issue with the author.  Another book brought up in this discussion was Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game.  This is a novel that shaped the childhoods of many, and is still beloved by readers around the world.  However, it’s very difficult for many readers to reconcile their love of this book with the knowledge that Orson Scott Card himself holds very public, anti-gay and xenophobic views.  For those who find these views troubling, spending money on purchasing an author’s work can be difficult. It can also be difficult to separate the author’s views from one’s love of the books they write.

So what is a reader to do?

First and foremost, love what you love.  If a book or a film or a song has personal meaning for you, helps you to grow, or guides you through a dark time, or makes you a better person, then you deserve that thing in your life.  As The Velveteen Rabbit taught us, the things we love become real, and become a part of us and who we are.  I became a stronger person by reading Jane Eyre, even as I learned not to put up with whiners like Rochester.  My friends learned fortitude and strength and insight from the books they loved, above and apart from the problematic aspects of their construction and their authorship.  This does not mean to be blind to their faults or shortcomings, but, instead, to love the thing for how it helps you.

Secondly, as in so many other matters, the library can help you in these circumstances.  For example: do you love an author, like Stephen King, who may not be the best at portraying people of color (…or women? …or another group of people?)?  Why not come to the Library and learn about some authors who do?!  Use your favorite author or series as a jumping-off point to explore other works of literature than can become new favorites.  In the case of the Dark Tower series, we might recommend books by N. K. Jemisin, or Nnedi Okorafor, for example.

Finally, the library is a super-terrific place to access material that you might not otherwise want to contribute your hard-earned dollars.  As we discussed in our post on Fire and Fury, you can have your literary cake and eat it took by borrowing the book from us.

Ultimately, it’s a win-win-win situation when you come to the Library and learn to love the things inside it.  And we are here to help you find the books and films and music that you can and will love, and that will help you be better.  Just keep loving what you love, and we’ll be here for the rest of it.

 

Towards a Better History…

Pardon me while I climb up on my soap box…

Pardon me while I climb on my soapbox…

Okie dokie, now….Who watched the Bloomberg TV broadcast of the Boston Pops concert and fireworks last night?

Do you remember the montage of Boston that they’d played right at the beginning of the night?  Right after Brian Stokes Mitchell sang a stunning rendition of “American the Beautiful”, and added “sisterhood” after the line about “brotherhood”?

I know I did.  So did my cat.  And what we both noticed was that after a performance that honored not only the humanitarian goals of America (symbolized by “brotherhood”), but the determination and activism that is trying to bring us closer to that goal (symbolized by the “sisterhood”), as well as the recognition that America is made up of lots of different peoples…

…We get a montage about Boston that features images of men.

And I, along with my cat, who is himself a keen student of history, let out a huge sigh.  Not only because this kind of stuff happens all the time, because it does.  All the time.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either.  A Slate.com article last year pointed out that popular history books are not only largely about men, but are also largely written by men.  Click on the above link for more information, as well as a truly eye-opening graph about the state of the history publishing industry.   The problem with this isn’t the books themselves, or their authors (as long as they use good research practices and conscientious citations).  The problem is that these books, together, have the effect of a bullhorn–it makes it that much harder to hear any other stories being told around them.  And there are so many more stories that still need to be told.  Not only about Boston.

A painting recreating the Battle of Lexington and Concord

But Boston (and Massachusetts in general) is a phenomenal place to start telling those stories!  From the opening shots of the American Revolution fired in Concord and the riot that was the Boston Tea Party to the The Combahee River Collective in the 1970s to the being the first state to legalize gay marriage, Massachusetts has a history of producing and remembering people who change the status quo.  And to overlook that is to do a great disservice to its history, as well as upholding a troubling precedent of overlooking their contributions to history.

So let’s put together a list, shall we, of histories and people who weren’t discussed on Bloomberg TV last night, and celebrate all the people who make this area, this country, and this species we call humanity, so fascinating….

The Poems of Phyllis Wheatley:  The woman we know today as Phyllis Wheatley was born in West Africa around 1753, and was sold into slavery around the age of seven.   She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, and named after the ship that brought her to North America.  The Wheatley children taught her to read and write, and their parents, John and Susanna Wheatley encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.  Phyllis was emancipated in 1773, and became the first published female African-American poet the same year.  She corresponded with George Washington and the King George III, and wrote movingly about the rights of slaves in the emerging United States.  Phyllis Wheatley died at the age of 31, while working as a scullery maid in order to pay back her husbands’ debts.

Improper Bostonians : lesbian and gay history from the Puritans to Playland: Drawing on sources ranging from newspaper accounts to private archives, and incorporating more than 200 images, this book is one of, if not the most comprehensive LGBT city history around. Showcasing an extraordinary variety of perspectives and periods, subjects and sources, from Prohibition to World War II to  urban development to the AIDS epidemic, to tell a new and vitally important history of Boston.  The History Project is a volunteer-based organization that works to collect and preserve the history of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people in and of Massachusetts, and have a pretty remarkable digital archives on their website, which you can check out here.

Louisa May Alcott: A Biography: One of the faces that Bloomberg TV showed was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was, by far, the most well-known of the Transcendentalists living in Concord, Massachusetts in the 19th century.  But, nothing against Emerson at all, he was famous because he was the most mainstream of all the Transcendentalists.  He didn’t go build himself a cabin in the woods like his buddy, Henry David Thoreau.  He didn’t create a big scandal by implying that children had minds of their own and should be encouraged to think and contradict their elders, like Bronson Alcott.  And he wasn’t a rabble-rouser like Bronson’s daughter, my friend Louisa May Alcott.   Did you know that Louisa was the first woman in Concord to register to vote?  The state legislature passed a bill in 1879 permitting women to vote in town elections dealing with children and education, and Louisa knew that this was the first, critical step, to women gaining a voice in politics.  You can read all about Louisa’s remarkable life, and her unique family, including her mother, who worked at a shelter for abused women in Boston in the mid-nineteenth century, in this phenomenal biography by Madeline Stern.

The Trouble Between Us : An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement: Inspired by the idealism of the civil rights movement, the women who launched the radical second wave of the feminist movement believed fundamentally in universal sisterhood and a color-blind democracy. Their goals, however, remain unrecognized to this day.  Winifred Breines explores why a racially integrated women’s liberation movement did not develop in the United States, using sources as diverse as protest posters, pamphlets, newspapers, speeches, and oral histories with some of the most influential and active of the second-wave feminists.  Of particular focus in her work is the Combahee River Collective, a Boston-based organization of Black women whose published statement (which you can read here) is considered a bedrock of the Black feminist movement to this day.  This isn’t an easy read, but it is a vitally important one for those seeking for ways to improve the dialogue still taking place about race and feminism today.

Interesting in reading some more of Boston’s–and Massachusetts’–fascinating, diverse, and revolutionary history?  Come into the Library and we’ll be happy to help you find just want you’re looking for!