My Plans for #ReadDiverse2016

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I don’t do New Year resolutions. I learnt some years ago that those vague statements – I’m going to do more exercise/eat less/learn a language – don’t last beyond mid-January. But goals do, at least specific ones you can work towards and extend, if necessary, or not beat yourself up about if you don’t quite fulfil them do.

Last year, I set a goal to read more books by women of colour. I joined Eva Stalker’s #TBR20 project with the caveat that I’d continue to read review copies I was sent as well. I still haven’t completed all the reviews of those books yet but the main effect it had was I paid attention to what I was reading, specifically who the writer was. In 2014 10% of my reading was by writers of colour, in 2015, it was 32%. The unintended consequence of this, however, is that the number of books I read by writers from LGBTQIA communities plummeted from 6% to 0.5% and books in translation from 11% to 0.6%. (The latter was partly a consequence of me not really taking part in #WITMonth due to personal circumstances but still, it’s poor.)

The plan for this year then: more reviews of books by women of colour; more reviews of books by women who identify as LGBT; a proper focus on women in translation in August.

I’m aiming for 50% of my reviews to be of books by women of colour. I’ve changed the focus from the percentage I’m reading with the intention of even coverage on here. What I noticed last year was that although I was reading books from my #TBR20 stack, when I got back to reading and reviewing after my break in the summer, I was focusing on books by white women, the ‘big titles’. As a consequence, I have a stack of review copies by women of colour. These are now at the top of the pile.

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I’ve also created a new #TBR20 pile focusing on writers from the LGBT communities. And here they are…

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IMG_0335Half of the books (those on the left, except Anaïs Nin who appears to be in the wrong pile) are by women of colour. I used several sources to help me compile the list: More than 50 books by Queer People of Color by zarahwithaz; 10 Novels & Memoirs By and About Black Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women on Autostraddle;100+ LGBTQ Black Women You Should Know: The Epic Black History Month Megapost also on Autostraddle, and the Wikipedia list of LGBT Writers.

Elsewhere, you might have seen on social media that Media Diversified have created Bare Lit Festival (@BareLit). ‘A literary festival focused entirely on writers of colour’, which will run from the 26th – 28th February 2016.

We want to counteract the trend of equating literary merit with whiteness by highlighting the amazing variety of work currently being produced by BAME writers. That’s why we’ve put together an exciting programme of performances, panels and conversations — such as ‘Second-Generation Poets in Exile’, ‘What Does Liberation in Literature Look Like?, Sci Fi vs. Afrofuturism’ and much more.

I’ve already bought my weekend pass and you can support the festival by buying passes or single event tickets now and helping them to raise the cost of running the event. Find out more on their Indiegogo page.

Mention of Media Diversified brings me to this interesting piece, posted a couple of days ago: Decolonise, not Diversify by Kavita Bhanot. I agree with everything she says.

Speaking only for myself, I didn’t get involved with #diversedecember because I thought it would change the world but I did hope it might lead some people to question their world view or the view the white-dominated world imposes upon us.

During December, Salena Godden (@salenagodden) posted a video of her performing her new poem ‘I Count’. ‘I have become a woman that counts…’ she begins. Yep. I became a woman that counts when I started this blog. I don’t think it’s a solution and it’s certainly not going to bring about one on its own, but while ever white/male/hetero/cis domination exists, I’ll count. For me, #ReadDiverse2016 (@ReadDiverse2016) is about hoping you’ll join in that count too.

In the Media: 15th March 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

It’s been a great week for women writers and prizes. The Wellcome Prize shortlist was announced on Monday, including four books (of six) by women. Congratulations Miriam Towes, Alice Roberts, Sarah Moss and Marion Coutts. On Tuesday, the twenty-strong Bailey’s Prize longlist was announced. Chair of this year’s judges, Shami Chakrabarti discussed the need for the prize in The Guardian and Buzzfeed created a guide to the longlisted booksThe OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature has five women (of nine) on the longlist. Congratulations Tanya Shirley, Monique Roffey, Tiphanie Yanique, Elizabeth Nunez and Olive Senior. The PEN/Faulkner award has three women on a shortlist of five. Congratulations Emily St. John Mandel, Jennifer Clement and Jenny Offill. The Stella Prize, the Australian prize for female writers announced its shortlist this week too. Congratulations to Maxine Beneba Clarke, Emily Bitton, Ellen Van Neervan, Sophie Lagune, Jean London and Christine Keneally. Marina Warner won the Holberg Prize 2015. And women won four of the six categories at the National Book Critics Circle Award. Congratulations Marilynne Robinson, Roz Chast, Ellen Willis and Claudia Rankine.

It’s Mother’s Day in the UK today. Jo Hogan writes ‘Surprised by a Jumper: On Being Motherless on Mother’s Day‘ on her blog; Scottish Book Trust list ten books that celebrate pioneering women; Emma Healey wrote, ‘From Offshore to Oranges: a literary tribute to Mother’s Day‘ in the Guardian; Emylia Hall wrote, ‘The Mother of All Years‘ on her blog; Windmill Books published an extract of Charlotte Gordon’s forthcoming book, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley on their website, and Kate Hamer wrote, ‘Literary matriarchs and their daughters, from Little Women to Carrie‘ in the Independent

Two in-depth Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie interviews have been published this week, one in Vogue and the other on Olisa.tv: part one and part two.

The woman with the most publicity this week is Caitlin Moran. She’s interviewed on Buzzfeed and on the British Comedy Guide with her sister Caroline Moran; Pilot Viruet wrote, ‘Caitlin Moran’s UK Series ‘Raised by Wolves’ Is the Teen Sitcom America Needs‘ on Flavorwire; she’s profiled by Vanessa Thorpe in the Observer and her own Times Magazine column this week was ‘What it really means to be a mum‘ which you can listen to for free here.

And the latest on the Harper Lee story: on Wednesday, The Bookseller reported, ‘State investigators interview Harper Lee‘ and on Friday, Lee’s agent issued a statement, The Bookseller reported, ‘Nurnberg blasts ‘shameful’ Lee claims‘.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

Claire Fuller Colour

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland

To enter a freak show, one has to either suspend one’s disbelief or spend the entire time trying to work out how the acts have been created. The same goes of reading a novel largely built on magical realism. I’d suggest that the former will provide you with an interesting experience, the latter will prove frustrating and largely fruitless. And, after all, isn’t all fiction reading – to some extent – about suspending your idea of what the world looks like and entering someone else’s vision? If, on opening Rosie Garland’s debut novel ‘A Palace of Curiosities’, you hand yourself over to her view of Victorian London, you’ll have an interesting time, indeed.

The novel is dual narrated by Eve and Abel. In the first chapter, Eve’s mama goes on a date to the circus with Bert. They sit on the front benches. During the performance, a lion – Django – ‘is hauled out…It has been beaten bald as an old carpet. Its face is swiped with ancient scratches and one flank sports a hand’s-breath of dull pink skin.’ The lion sits, staring between Eve’s mama and his handler before the crowd begin to heckle him:

The lion ignores them all and opens his mouth wide, gusting Mama with a reeking gale of dead breath. She clasps her hand over her nose, but it is too late. Deep in her belly, the clot of blood that will be me in under an hour has smelled it, too.

The lion goes on to maul his trainer to death and Eve’s mama has sex with Bert in an alleyway on the way home in order to conceive Eve – ‘to flush me out’.

 

When Eve is born, she’s covered in a ‘thick pelt of fur’, which her mother shaves regularly. Eventually Eve’s imaginary friend/conscience Donkey-Skin convinces her that her mother ‘doesn’t want a baby…She wants a piglet’ and when Eve is ‘old enough’ and ‘tall enough’ she smacks ‘the razor from her hand’.

I stood in front of the looking glass and admired myself. My moustache wormed across my lip, the tips lost in the crease behind my ears. My eyebrows met over the bridge of my nose and spread like wings up the side of my forehead. My chin sprouted a beard the colour of combed flax, reaching to my little breasts.

At this point, Eve leaves the house and is treated horrifically on a visit to the zoo. Not long after, ‘Josiah Arroner. Amateur Scientist. Gentleman of Letters. Entrepreneur’ appears and whisks her away to be his wife. It seems that everyone bar Eve can see through her new husband and the nods to Bluebeard that Garland gives here are appropriate as Arroner has her locked up and performing for him in no time at all.

Meanwhile, we’ve met Abel, lying on the banks of the Thames having been fished out of the water. He’s dead and the crowd is looting his possessions.

At that moment my body chooses to unseal itself: eyes crack open, mouth gapes and I cough black water. They spring away: the corpse they thought I was is suddenly too lively for comfort.
‘He’s alive!’

Abel, it turns out, is a slaughter-man. He works with his friend Alfred, who he also lives with in an overcrowded lodging. Every morning Abel has to recall who he is, where he is, what he does and who his friends are. Abel’s memory loss is caused by a much more significant issue though, one that some would describe as magical and others as a curse. It’s an issue that begins to be revealed during the scenes in the slaughterhouse. Scenes that I mention, not only because of significance they come to have to the plot, but also because they are some of the most vividly written scenes in the book. Even as a vegetarian of 20 years, I couldn’t help but admire the dexterity in both Abel and his creator’s work.

So, the scene is set for some weird and wonderful but also some dark and disturbing events. Garland shows the squalor of Victorian London – the living and working conditions for the poor; what passed as entertainment (there’s a very grim scene towards the end that Eve tries not to watch but even the limited information we are given is enough to create horrific images in our mind), and the treatment of women.

(I had a brief discussion on Twitter with Rachael Beale (@FlossieTeacake) who said she ‘was surprised at how much I warmed to Eve – normally completely loathe heroines that passive’. It seems to me that Eve is a product of her time and circumstances and eventually she takes drastic action to escapes her chains.)

I highly recommend ‘The Palace of Curiosities’. There are moments where I felt it dragged a little – what should’ve been key scenes were slightly overdone – but, if you allow yourself to believe in the dark and mysterious recesses of our world, then this is well worth a few hours of your time.

Thanks to Harper Collins for the review copy.