decolonizing my bookshelf (ongoing)
Towards the end of last year I made a resolution to start decolonizing my bookshelf. Fiction, nonfiction, plays, everything. So much of my foundational understanding of art, history, culture, THE WORLD has been filtered through the white male patriarchal supremacist capitalist gaze, and I am very convinced this is the least interesting gaze there is. Since January of this year I have made it an intentional priority to read ~almost exclusively~ works by women and people of color.
I am going to keep a running list of the books I read here, with a thought or two about each. I have felt more creatively inspired by the things I’ve read in the past few months than probably ever, and it is so refreshing to read voices that aren’t often given platforms in mainstream American culture. Maybe this can serve as inspiration or a place to start with decolonizing your own bookshelf (cause we all need to do it).
ALL ABOUT LOVE: What better way to start decolonizing than with bell hooks’ most recent book rejecting capitalist patriarchal structuring of society and choosing instead to live by an ethic of love :). Bring a pencil and try not to underline every line. This book has already informed so much of my thinking in my daily life and interpersonal relationships as well as my thoughts on society as a whole.
KINDRED: Sci-fi historical fiction time traveling OG Octavia Butler. This book yanks its reader back and forth from the 1970s urban life to 1800s slavery in the south. It’s so good and painful and beautiful. Hard to read but worth it.
MS MARVEL: (graphic novels count too). This spin on the Captain Marvel narrative focuses on a young Pakistani Muslim girl living in Jersey who suddenly finds herself laden with super powers and super problems. Identity politics meets super heroes meets teenage lyfe.
CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS: Sally Rooney’s title for her book is a super accurate description of its contents. The conversations had by the millennial artists in this book, despite the fact that said millennials are all white and living in Ireland, are SO similar to the conversations I have with my friends. In a way very little happens in the book, excluding the complicated friendships and romantic and sexual entanglements the characters get themselves into, but i basically devoured it in 2 days and it felt more realistic and relatable to me than almost any novel I’ve read.
THE FIFTH SEASON: the first of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Sci-fi that ISN’T written by a white dude??? So refreshing, and so much better. While the real world parallels are clear and the hair and skin color of the characters is always specified (and guess what the uber white tall blonde people run the world and think they’re better than everyone), Jemisin still manages to provide a completely original and meticulously crafted world that challenges societal norms while centering around a woman who is middle aged, black, and not considered physically attractive - a person our real world is NEVER asked to empathize with. AND CRYSTALS are a super important part of the story and I love crystals. If you are into sci-fi this is a must and if you are not into sci-fi this is a must.
THE OBELISK GATE: the second in the series, see above. This one was maybe my least favorite of the three but still great and I still devoured it.
THE STONE SKY: the final of the trilogy. It’s kind of all blurring together in my head because I read them back to back but it’s so good.
WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST: I listened to this memoir on tape, narrated by its author, Patrice Khan-Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matters. It is devastating and written in a way that is simple, direct, and effortlessly poetic. This is required reading for all white people, and NBPOC, though I imagine could be quite triggering for black people.
AM I THERE YET: I’ve loved Mari Andrew’s instagram illustrations and writings for a while, and not just because we share a name. (Though I have stolen her “rhymes with starry” which is significantly better than my typical “rhymes with sorry”…). My former roommate gave me her book for my birthday (amazing gift) and I have been slowly working my way through her drawings and stories of being in her 20s and navigating life and traveling and different cities.
PERSEPOLIS: A graphic autobiography by Marjane Satrapi that tells the story of her childhood in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. The drawings are beautiful and the story being told from the point of view of Marjane as a child is so touching and unique and also so important! Stories from the perspective of children are refreshing and honest and imaginative and a device I really love. The content of the book is pretty dense, and it helps to have a basic understanding of the history I think. I knew a decent amount about Iran during this time from various theatrical pieces I’ve been involved in and from Iranian friends, but I still found myself occasionally googling a timeline. So worth it though!
DIARIES OF ADAM AND EVE: jk Mark Twain definitely does not count as “decolonial” lol but I read this while visiting my 99 year old grandmother in Florida when I had run out of my own things to read. It was actually comical how offensive the stereotypes of women (Eve) and men (Adam) are, but also I think that is part of the point because it is Mark Twain? So it is simultaneously making fun of men, but also reenforcing stereotypes about women… hmmm…
SALVAGE THE BONES: This book by Jesmyn Ward is now one of my absolute favorite books ever. It tells the story of a poor Black family living in Mississippi in the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina. Ward is a phenomenal writer who so completely captures the fullness and richness and poverty and familial love and struggle and pain of this family and this community. It is the definition of touching on the universal through the specific, of providing political and social commentary without ever explicitly stating things that are political. It was so good that I immediately started reading the following book by Ward…
THE MEN WE REAPED: This is a memoire of Jesmyn’s life told specifically through the stories of the young black men that her community loved and lost. It is devastating. She shows the different ways that institutional racism and white supremacy are murdering young black men in America. We all know this is happening. All I can say is this book makes it personal for people who aren’t experiencing it first hand. One of the most amazing things about reading this book right after reading Salvage the Bones was that I saw how she had taken things and people from her real life and turned them into places and characters and themes in a work of fiction. I felt like I got to see a glimpse inside her process almost just by reading both of these books. I found it really inspiring as a writer.