February is Black History Month! To celebrate, many readers who are active on social media channels are declaring a #ReadingBlackout—that is, prioritizing the reading of books written by black authors for the month. This movement was started by a BookTuber (definition: a person who dedicates their YouTube channel to reviewing and talking about books) named Denise D. Cooper.
Why is this a worthwhile cause? Well, minority authors are significantly underrepresented in the publishing industry – by A LOT. White authors are more likely to get published, much more likely to get publicity for their books, and are therefore more likely to find success as writers – and the cycle repeats. The only thing readers can do to break this cycle is to make sure publishers notice that there is an appetite for diversity in literature. While I’m not doing the #ReadingBlackout challenge myself, there are several great, new books I have read recently that would certainly fit the bill and are definitely worth a look any time of year.
First of all, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (aka Oprah’s latest book club pick) is really good! Keeping things surface level and relatively spoiler-free, it follows an upwardly mobile newlywed couple living in Atlanta. While Roy and Celestial have their issues, their future looks bright. That is, until Roy is sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. This novel touches on SO MANY interesting themes: marriage, commitment, black incarceration, justice, family dynamics, patriarchy, and class. While the characters are all complex, flawed and empathy-inspiring, I found myself firmly on Team Roy. Yes, a lot of readers will choose sides, which is yet another reason why this is an excellent book club choice.
In non-fiction, Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race is a purposeful call to action against systemic racism. With clarity and compassion, Oluo discusses privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, etc. and does so in an accessible, engaging way. I did not feel good reading this, I wasn’t meant to feel good reading this, and I appreciate that she doesn’t pat the reader on the back for merely being “woke” enough to pick up a book about dismantling systemic racism. I’m still trying to unpack some of Oluo’s arguments, some of them I’m struggling with, but I’m glad I read this book. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever spent more time thinking about a book’s concepts than actually reading it.
For a Canadian perspective, try Brother by David Chariandy, which made the most recent Giller Prize longlist. Set in Scarborough in the early 90s, Brother follows two teenage brothers as they navigate racism, police brutality, poverty, and gang violence in their marginalized community. Their hardworking mother, an immigrant from Trinidad, does what she can to protect and provide for her sons but so much is stacked against her. Brother is short (too short?), eloquently written and perfectly captures the vibrant multiculturalism of the GTA. If you are looking for a novel that has overwhelming resonance with the Canadian Black Lives Matter movement, this is it.
All of the books mentioned here can be reserved from your branch of the County of Lennox & Addington Libraries or online here.
This article was originally published in The Napanee Beaver.