30 books by women of color that I read this year

"the new jim crow" book next to container of chinese hand-pulled noodles

Some light lunchtime reading.

Inspired by Victoria Law’s decision to read 50 books by people of color in 2014, I decided to do a similar challenge: 25 books by women of color (which turned into 30).  I’m happy to report that I read some really awesome books, and found many authors whose work I’d like to read more of.

I’ve organized the books I read by genre, as Victoria did in her summary post. If you have book recommendations, leave them in the comments! I’m not sure whether I will do another challenge for 2015, but either way I would like to continue reading more books by people of color, especially women and queer poc.

Sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
Two novels about a young black woman who lives in a near-future climate change dystopia and founds her own religion. I loved the first book, but felt the sequel wasn’t as good for many reasons. (For example: the first book came out in 1993, but feels like it could have been written yesterday, whereas the second book was published in 2000 and feels rather dated in its focus on the dangers of fundamentalist Christianity.) Both books are absorbingly written, but incredibly bleak–I recommend reading them only if you’re in the right head-space to process a never-ending string of loss and trauma.

Ash by Malinda Lo

Memoir

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock
Janet Mock is awesome. That is all.

Crazy Brave: A Memoir by Joy Harjo
Joy Harjo is also awesome. Seriously, you need to read this book.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
This is the heart-breaking story of five young black men in the author’s life, including her brother, who died within four years.

Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee’s Return to Korea by Jane Jeong Trenka

Hapa Girl: A Memoir by May-Lee Chai

A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez
A beautiful book; you can read excerpts here and here.

Political theory/essays/other non-fiction

Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
This should be required reading for everyone who lives in the US.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
This should also be required reading. Alexander makes the powerful case that our current system of mass incarceration–mostly for nonviolent drug offenses–is not accidental, but in fact designed to control (and profit from) black people. This is important. People need to understand this. Racism hasn’t gone away–it’s just found new ways to operate.

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs
Boggs is one of my heroes: she’s been an activist for seven decades, in movements from civil rights to feminism to workers’ rights. She is now 99 and near death, and her friends and family are asking for donations to aid her final transition–donate if you can, and signal-boost.

Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors by Louise Erdrich
A short, moving meditation on a trip she took with her baby daughter to their ancestral homeland.

The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
I had really mixed feelings about this book. It asks important questions about how activist communities, especially low-income and/or queer communities of color, can keep their members safe from domestic violence and abuse without turning to the criminal “justice” system, which itself is a major source of violence.

However, although the questions it asks are incredibly necessary, and there are many thoughtful and important personal essays, the book is very short on actual, proven solutions. And some of the strategies lean dangerously close to the school of “just talk nicely with the rapist/abuser, and make sure not to shame them, and then they’ll stop raping/abusing.”  As this Goodreads reviewer says, “Rape apologism couched in smiley PC language is still rape apologism.” There must be a way to deal with rapists and abusers without either throwing them in jail wholesale or just talking without concrete accountability measures, but unfortunately this book didn’t go into much detail about what that middle ground might look like.

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
I loved about 99% of this book: it is hilarious and brilliant, and takes on everything from pop culture to rape culture. Although I had already read many of the essays online, I appreciated having them collected in one place. However, I strongly recommend skipping the essay “Reaching for Catharsis,” which is about body image and fatness. This quote sums up everything I found so painfully wrong about it: “Fat people wear their shit on the outside, with sagging breasts and swollen ankles and heavy thighs. Unlike a heroin addict, who might be able to cover track marks with long sleeves, a fat person cannot hide the fact that something has gone awry.” Gay seems unable to move past her internalized fat shame and realize that society’s views on fatness, not fatness itself, is the problem. She gets close a few times, but never quite makes the leap–which is disappointing in a book that’s otherwise so thoughtfully critical of our culture.

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, ed. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua

Other novels

The World in Half and The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
These were possibly my favorite books of the entire challenge–they’re utterly absorbing. I love Henriquez’ writing style and can’t wait to see what she writes next!

The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
This is a somewhat predictably tear-jerky YA novel, but still a good read, and a fascinating exploration of gender in Iran: where homosexuality is a crime, but gender-affirming surgery for transgender people is legal and accessible.

Poetry

Honeybee: Poems and Short Prose by Naomi Shihab Nye

Love Cake by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

– I also flipped through a few of Joy Harjo‘s books of poetry, but didn’t finish any one of them in its entirety (since I tend to read poetry books by flipping around and reading poems randomly, rather than sitting down and reading the whole book end-to-end). Her poems are incredibly powerful; you can read a few of them here.

Children’s books

For A Girl Becoming (illustrated by Mercedes McDonald) and The Good Luck Cat (illustrated by Paul Lee) by Joy Harjo
The former would make a great gift for any young girl, and the latter is a sweet and adorable story.

A book that needs its own category

Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriquenas by Aurora Levins Morales
Describing this book as a combination of history and memoir doesn’t do it justice. It’s a lyrical, raw, meticulously-researched journey through the history of the women from the Americans, Europe, and Africa who ended up in Puerto Rico, interspersed with Levins Morales’ own experiences of horror and healing.  I so, so, so wish more history books were like this. (And on the personal level, as a Jew, I was really glad to see the inclusion of Jewish women’s history.) A must-read.

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2 thoughts on “30 books by women of color that I read this year

  1. Pingback: A few more reflections on the end of 2014, and the beginning of 2015 | Tutus And Tiny Hats

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