Those words deserve italics, because I love books. Like many of you, I am a committed and admitted bibliophile. This of course causes many of the problems we all struggle with: overstuffed shelves, precarious stacks of books on the nightstand, 'libraries' so big on e-readers that it would be impossible to read it all in one lifetime, and marital discord ("I don't WANT to throw any of these away! They're my FRIENDS!") But, it also brings great joy, transports us to different lands, and provides fodder for blog posts.
In the past, I've blogged about the books that made me a writer, as well as my favorite childhood books, and I've vaguely promised to blog about Books That Got Me Through Puberty Without Committing Heinous Bodily Harm To Myself or Others, as well as Books That Changed The Way I Write. I will post about those some day, but not today.
Today, I want to post a different sort of list, one that feels appropriate to the discussions about diversity that are (thankfully) all over the place these days: Books I Wish Someone Had Told Me To Read, But No One Ever Did. I have to state first that no one told me to read them mostly because they are by and about marginalized and/or minority populations (at least in the U.S.), but also because I am white and American and grew up in a white and American suburb. I'd be interested to know if people who grew up in the States, but from other backgrounds, did have a more diverse list of Books To Read - but I'd bet, unfortunately, that the answer is no.
Most of these are fairly well-known, critically acclaimed books - although there are a few exceptions - and I know I'm not listing anything shocking or unheard of. There aren't a lot of unknown gems here. But this is my real list, a list of books I loved, that changed me, moved me, widened my world-view - and they are all books I found on my own, only recently.
So without further adieu, here are the Books I Wish Someone Had Told Me To Read, But No One Ever Did:
- Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie: I know Rushdie is on a lot of people's lists, but he never made it onto any of my assigned or even recommended reading lists until a few years ago. I loved this book. It's vibrant and funny and infuriating, rich with details about the best and worst parts of India's history. It's also a brilliant work of magical realism, which is one of my favorite underwritten genres.
- What Looks Like Crazy On an Ordinary Day, by Pearl Cleage: I'm embarrassed to admit this, but for the sake of this list, I have to say that this was the first book I'd read by a modern black female author not named Toni Morrison. When I first read it, at least 15 years ago, I fell in love with it for its humor and wisdom and craft, but also because I could so easily relate to it. The book is about the black community in Atlanta and in the MC's small town in Michigan, but it's alive with human fears, failures, and hopes. I loved the main character, and identified with her, and if that's not essential in our world of divisions and misunderstandings, I don't know what is.
- In The City of Shy Hunters, by Tom Spanbauer: I'm not going to lie - this is a very strange book. The plot wanders and meanders, and sometimes falls down shifting rabbit holes of drug-induced insanity. The ending is unconventional, to say the least. But, it's also heart-wrenching and hilarious, gritty, real, and sometimes down and frighteningly dirty. It paints a crystal-clear picture of New York City during the AIDS epidemic, and another, equally clear (and devastating) picture of what it was like to grow up gay in 1960s-70s middle America.
- Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Ok, I'm cheating, here. No one told me to read this book because it just came out last year, so no one really had a chance to - BUT I loved it so much that I don't care if I'm cheating. It should be required reading on any list of modern American literature. For those who would argue that it's about Nigeria, I would say it's also first and foremost about being an immigrant in America, and there is nothing more American than that. It's also a frank, unflinching look at race and racism in the States.
- The House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende: Yes, I love magical realism, if you can't tell. And while everyone told me to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, nobody mentioned I might also want to try Isabel Allende. This is a fantastic, sweeping, epic book, at times ridiculous; at others, hideous; at still others, tender; and also violent, romantic, magical, political, and wonderful. It'll take a while to read, but it's worth every minute.
- Orlando, or Mrs. Dalloway, or To The Lighthouse, or The Waves by Virginia Woolf: During my high school and college years, I felt like most teachers and students talked about Virginia Woolf the way that people talk about tax reform: everyone agrees it's important, and no one wants to touch it. So there was a lot of talk about how great Woolf was, and very little in the way of actual reading. These four titles are my favorites of hers, listed here in what I consider their order of readability, from easiest to hardest. They are each brilliant and experimental and wonderful, but The Waves might be the most challenging - and rewarding - book I've ever read.
- The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, by Louise Erdrich: To be fair and honest, I have to admit two things. First, a teacher did tell me to read Erdrich in college, albeit a different, more well-known book; and second, my aunt recommended this book to me. But then, my aunt is gay and Jewish and not remotely mainstream, so I think this book still deserves to be on this list. Here's the teaser from the Amazon page: "For more than a half century, Father Damien Modeste has served his beloved people, the Ojibwe, on the remote reservation of Little No Horse. Now, nearing the end of his life, Father Damien dreads the discovery of his physical identity, for he is a woman who has lived as a man." 'Nuff said, I think. Oh, and, it's a great book.
What about you? What books would make it on your list? What did I miss - and what should I read?