The FOLD Festival of Literary Diversity recently released its Diverse Books Reading Challenge for 2017, which reminded me that I still have reviews pending for some of the titles I read for the 2016 Reading Challenge. (Recap: Blog Post 1 | Blog Post 2) And so, before I kick off the 2017 Challenge, here are other #DiverseBooks bookish highlights from 2016:
The FOLD’s 2016 Reading List
- A book you’ve had for more than a year.
- A book outside of your ‘favourite genre’.
- A book you buy at an indie bookstore.
- A book by a person of a faith (different from your own).
- A book by an Aboriginal author.
- A book by a Canadian LGBTQ author.
- A book by a Canadian person of colour.
- A book by a FOLD 2016 author.
#3. A book you buy at an indie bookstore
I’m actually rather ashamed to admit I don’t remember which indie bookstore I bought this in. I visited a friend in Belleville last fall, and as we are both total bookworms, we went indie bookstore hopping in the area. We must have visited two or three that afternoon, and I remember buying at least one book at each store. A Disobedient Girl is the first Ru Freeman book I’ve read, and I love how beautifully she manages to evoke a sense of place. Set in Sri Lanka, the novel is about a young servant girl named Latha, who aspires to the wealthy lifestyle of Thara, her best friend and the daughter of her employers. A wilful act of rebellion leads to horrible, long-reaching consequences that threatens their friendship and brings realities of class and power to the fore. Parallel to Latha’s story is that of Biso, a mother of three who takes her children on a train to escape her abusive husband. As she fights to hold on to her freedom, her story unfolds to reveal threads that eventually intertwine with Latha and Thara’s story.
It’s a moving and beautifully told story that just completely transports you to the characters’ worlds. There are many beautiful passages, but one that stands out to me is from the very beginning, where Latha takes slivers from the family’s bar of Lux soap and rubs it into her armpits and the insides of her wrists. I remember Lux soap from childhood, and the image of such a young servant girl using such a strong flowery scent and having access only to tiny slivers, is such a potent image of wealth, privilege and the burning, heartbreaking desire to be part of that world.
Other books I bought on that trip are Margaret Atwood and Johnnie Christmas’ Angel Catbird (hilarious and fantastic, particularly for this crazy cat lady) and Anosh Irani’s The Song of Kahunsha (I haven’t read it yet, but I loved The Parcel).
#4. A book by a person of faith (other than your own)
I’m not sure if Jonathan Safran Foer is Jewish, but his novel Here I Am delves a lot into Jewish experience. The novel is a compelling, thought-provoking family drama that asks what it means to be an American Jew. I grew up Catholic, and found a lot of the references to the Torah (Old Testament) familiar, and I enjoyed seeing how the familiar story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is framed somewhat differently in Jewish tradition. The questions that protagonist Jacob Bloch asked about identity and one’s responsibility to their homeland resonated with me as an immigrant, and overall, I found Here I Am a hefty book, physically and mentally. It’s one to digest slowly, and well worth the effort.
#6. A book by a Canadian LGBTQ author
The first in Jeffrey Round’s mystery series starring gay missing persons investigator Dan Sharp, Lake on the Mountain begins with a potential murder on a yacht then reveals a much bigger and more tangled mystery involving various members of a wealthy family. It reminds me somewhat of an Agatha Christie novel, with story being driven by characters and their secrets more than by the crime itself, and I will likely check out other books in this series next time I feel like a mystery novel treat for the weekend. I also really like the interaction between Dan and his son, and look forward to seeing that develop further in future books.
Books I Wanted to Read in 2016 But Didn’t Get Around To Reading
Alas, in the end, there just weren’t enough days in the year to finish the challenge. Or perhaps these happened to be the categories I found most challenging?
#1. A book you’ve had for more than a year
Octavia’s Brood is an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements that seems like something I’d love immediately, but I haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.
#2. A book outside of your ‘favourite genre’.
Short stories aren’t usually my cup of tea, but I’ve always wanted to try Octavia Butler, so I thought I’d give Bloodchild and Other Stories a try.
#5. A book by an Aboriginal author.
I heard great things about Indian Horse when it was on Canada Reads.
Have you read any of the books listed above, or do you have another recommendation for any of the categories above?
I’ve read three of these and have added the others to my list to investigate. it was a fun challenge, eh? Another short story writer you might like is Richard Van Camp. There is a real energy to the stories and the characters often interconnect across collections. The first story in Godless But Loyal to Heaven is really awful/awesome/haunting/inspiring.
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