So I recently commented on Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge video about African Author recommendations.
Disclaimer: Take everything I say with a grain of salt. There are a lot of generalities, but this is something that’s been bouncing around my head before (completely inelegantly) being poured out here…
I think another difficulty in reading more diversely is that the content that we get tends to be (from what I can tell) a lot of family/immigrant stories and stories about race and other ‘outsider’ hardships and heavy-hitting issues which can all be super fascinating BUT (and this is a big one) I’m sure those aren’t the only stories POC are capable of telling and they certainly not the only stories I’m interested in hearing from them.
What if you’re mainly a fantasy or sci-fi reader who wants to read more diversely too? Where are the authors of colour and LGBTQ+ authors in those genres? How about if you’re into historical fiction? What about romance? Or non-fiction like philosophy and psychology and natural sciences?
WELL, I feel like one great way to get a better variety of content from authors of colour, is to look for translated works directed at an author’s own people. I believe that in many instances, an author writes differently for their own people than for outsiders. Outsiders need to be initiated, shown things, oftentimes they need to be told how they are implicit in oppression, etc. But when a book is directed inward to a people rather than outwards (except in certain instances of ‘author as teacher’ as one might come across in a lot of classic African literature) concepts are proposed, the conversation is more open and less admonishing, the text can often be more conceptual or flighty or whatever. Take, for example, the works of Haruki Murakami. His books are (arguably…?), or certainly initially were, for a Japanese audience. He was not thinking of Western audiences when he first set pen to paper. There is no explanation or juxtaposition of West and East. He is surreal and the underlying themes are both less overt and concerned with different types of problems. The differences his characters have are nothing to do with where they are from or the fact that they’re Japanese and the way they interact with people like us, the Western reader. These people are different in some other, often unplaceable way, and it is perhaps more universal. There is no dropped-in cue “I, your narrator, am Japanese asian”. That is the assumed default because the book is for Japanese audiences in the same way that (bizarrely* for the whole of the west…) straight white male is our default narrator.
*It is bizarre because Japan is way more homogeneous than all the many countries that comprise “the West” combined and yet we still have a ‘default’ narrator…the same default narrator we’ve always had: straight+white+cis+male… But moving swiftly on!
None of this is to say that those stories about family and race and immigrant stories aren’t brilliant and needed or that they shouldn’t be read, because they absolutely should be read and they definitely are needed! I can’t stress that enough. But I find it problematic that authors of colour often seem pigeonholed in a certain genre and are confined to telling certain kinds of stories. And you can’t tell me those are the only stories they want to tell because as a black chick who dabbled in fantasy writing as a teen (don’t we all?), I was interested in telling all sorts of different stories and I know I cannot be the only one.
Here is a list of a few authors of colour (and/or specific books by AOC) I’ve come across that have peaked my interest and that I believe will lead to the discovery of not only other diverse authors, but a broader breadth of topics covered by authors who also write more stories outside of just family, immigrant tales and race issues.
authors in italics (loose genre description bracketed) books I’m particularly curious about in bold
books I’ve read struck-through
Ryū Murakami (thriller/mystery):
In the Miso Soup, Coin Locker Babies, Audition
Natsuo Kirino (thriller/mystery): Out, Grotesque, Real World
Nnedi Okorafor (SFF/middle-grade/YA):
Akata Witch, Zarah the Windseeker, Binti
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (classic): Some Prefer Nettles, The Makioki Sisters, Naomi
Kōbō Abe (surrealist/literary fiction): The Box Man, Secret Rendezvous, The Face of Another
Haruki Murakami (surrealist/literary fiction):
Norwegian Wood, A Wild Sheep Chase, Sputnik Sweetheart
Xiaolu Guo (romance): I am China, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
Banana Yoshimoto (literary fiction): Asleep, Kitchen, Amrita
Kazuo Ishiguro (literary fiction): Never Let Me Go, The Remains of the Day
Hiromi Goto (fantasy/YA): Half World series, Kappa Child (fantasy/LGBT)
Young-Ha Kim (thriller/mystery): Your Republic Is Calling You
Ruth Ozeki (mystery/literary fiction): A Tale for the Time Being
Ha-Joon Chang (political economics/development economics): 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, The East Asian Development Experience, Economics: The User’s Guide
Michio Kaku (astrophysics): Physics of the Impossible, The Future of the Mind, Physics of the Future
Neil DeGrasse Tyson (astrophysics): Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries, The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet
Suki Kim (memoir/travel/culture/politics): Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite
All titles and authors are, naturally, tailored to my interests because these are authors and titles I’ve come across in my own personal book searchings (most of which are directly from my TBR). I’ve tried to show a mix, but there are obviously many genres I can’t recommend for at all because I simply don’t have enough active interest in them to have searched that area.
It hasn’t gone without my noticing that many of these titles are by Japanese (or otherwise asian) authors. This is probably not so much due to any keen interest in Japan itself as much as it is more reflective of the theory that books written for the author’s own people are possibly a good starting point for finding less didactic stories. Many of these works don’t really focus on many common themes found in books by more popular non-Western authors written for the Western market. I also wonder if asian authors can largely escape explaining themselves and “the asian experience in the context of living in the West” to Western audiences because we are happy to hear stories from that area of the world which don’t involve a lot of reminders of culture clashing because Japan (and many asian regions in general) is very homogeneous. I don’t know. There’s something there that I wonder at but I can’t explain well yet…
I would appreciate suggestions from elsewhere around the world though!
Comics (which includes graphic novels, graphic memoirs, anthologies, short story collections, single issues and bindups) are both terrible and good at representation… Alternative comics can be really great where mainstream comics are constantly falling into terrible potholes despite new (commendable!) efforts with characters like Kamala Khan and Cindy Moon. But I can if anybody is interested, I can do a comics version of this post.