Saturday, August 16, 2014

A More Diverse Universe

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Signups are now underway for A More Diverse Universe (aka #Diversiverse), a yearly reading event. Founder Aarti asks participants to read and review at least one book by a person of colour during the last two weeks of September. In previous years, Diversiverse has focused on speculative fiction of all varieties; this year, it's open to every genre and marketing category under the sun.

Many people avoid reading diversely because they feel like they need to completely alter their habits and/or impose restrictions on themselves in order to do so. They worry they'll end up reading unsatisfying books in unappealing genres.

This is far from the case. White, heterosexual mens' stories are so prominent in many readers' lives not because they're the best books, or because anyone has a natural preference for them, but because those are the books that get the most publicity. They're the ones you see when you enter a bookstore or click onto your favourite online retailer's main page. They're the ones that get the majority of the reviews and social media buzz.

You don't limit yourself when you decide to read diversely; you open yourself up to tons of exciting books you might not have discovered without a little extra effort. As Aarti has said on multiple occasions:

You may have to change your book-finding habits to include POC authors in your reading rotation. You absolutely do not need to change your book-reading habits.

I myself decided to aim for at least 25% books by POC in 2014. As of this morning, 50% of what I've read has either been solely authored by a people of colour or has featured POC contributors (I read a lot of multi-author works like anthologies, literary magazines, and comics). And I haven't altered my reading habits in the slightest; I've simply sought out a few more author photos to ensure POC are well represented on my TBR and in my weekly library pile.

No matter what you like to read, I guarantee people of colour write it. And Diversiverse gives you the perfect excuse to seek it out.

So, okay, you're sold. You've toddled on over to Aarti's blog and officially signed up, but now you're not sure where to start. Which authors should you try?

Glad you asked.

If you like secondary world fantasy, try....

cover art for Hunter's Oath, featuring two white men with blonde and brown hair running with several dogs against a forested background. A horned, humanoid figure looms in the background. Cover art for Cast in Shadow, featuring a pale, leather-clad woman with dark hair crouched in front of a blue-toned, arched architectural feature. The woman has dark, non-arabic characters marked on her arms.
Michelle Sagara/West, a Canadian of Japanese descent.

Y'all knew I was gonna bring her up, didn't you? She's my favourite (re)discovery of 2014, and I desperately want you to read her.

If you're fond of thick-as-a-brick epic fantasy, I highly recommend Michelle West's Averalaan Universe. Start with the Sacred Hunt duology (HUNTER'S OATH and HUNTER'S DEATH), then move along to the six-volume Sun Sword series (which starts with THE BROKEN CROWN) and the five-volume-and-counting House Wars series (which starts with THE HIDDEN CITY and overlaps the other two series to a certain extent). I plan to review at least one of the Sun Sword books during Diversiverse, now I've finally managed to get my hands on them.

If you like your secondary worlds with a more urban fantasy/police procedural feel, give Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra a go. The series begins with CAST IN SHADOW and currently stretches over ten books.

If you like historical comics, try....

cover art for volume one of Emma, featuring a pale young woman wearing a black and white maid's uniform. She has brown hair gathered under a cap and wears glasses. Cover art for A Bride's Tale, featuring a pale young woman wearing an elaborately embroidered, long-skirted coat in black and red. She has a long white skirt on underneath it, along with a pair of dark blue boots embroidered in lighter blue. Her arms are spread to the sides and one foot is in front of the other, as though she's dancing.
Kaoru Mori, a Japanese mangaka.

The Anglophiles among you will want to investigate Emma, Kaoru's seven-volume saga of a Victorian maid and the young gentleman who loves her. It's meticulously researched and heavy on the emotion, with plenty of fascinating side characters to flesh out this detailed world.

I'm currently working on a review of the whole series. It should be up soonish, unless I decide to save it until Diversiverse.

If you're more interested in central Asia, you'll need to get your hands on A Bride's Story, a tale set along the Silk Road. It, too, is meticulously researched and endowed with a multitude of fully-realized characters, but I don't find it quite as emotional as the Emma books.

If you like memoir, try....


Zeina Abirached, a Lebanese writer and artist who now lives in France.

Abirached's graphic memoir, A GAME FOR SWALLOWS, is both the best memoir I've ever read and one of the best comics that's crossed my path. It's so good, and so immersive, I forgot I was reading a book.

Abirached has written and drawn several other comics, too, but I don't believe any of them have been translated into English. If you read French, though, I encourage you to look for them as well. Let me know how they are.

If you like general fiction, try....

Cover art for My Year of Meats, featuring a small plastic toy of a black and white cow. The cow is posed with its head down, as though it's grazing, and is held upright between two red chopsticks against a white background.
Ruth Ozeki, a Canadian/American of Japanese descent.

I've already recommended A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING, Ozeki's recent dip into genre-defying fiction, to a great many people, and I doubt I'll stop any time soon. It's the perfect pick for those of you who enjoy epistolary fiction, history, and anything that examines how people react to and interact with stories.

I haven't yet read any of Ozeki's other books, but MY YEAR OF MEATS sounds particularly intriguing. My library has it on audio, so it's another of my potential picks for my own Diversiverse reading list.

If you like action-oriented science fiction, try....

Cover art for The Lives of Tao, featuring twelve black silhouettes against a bright yellow background. Eleven of the silhouettes stand brandishing weapons from throughout history; mostly guns, with some swords and morning stars. The twelfth sits in a desk chair, holding a video game controller. All appear to be male. Cover art for The Deaths of Tao, featuring twelve bright yellow silhouettes against a black background. Ten of the silhouettes carry bladed or weapons or early guns and appear to be male. The two silhouettes at the centre stand back to back. The one on the left, which appears female, brandishes a handgun. The one on the right, which appears male, has its fits raised.
Wesley Chu, an American of Taiwanese descent.

Want action, aliens, and plenty of humour? You must try Wesley Chu. THE LIVES OF TAO is an enormously fun fish-out-of-water tale. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, THE DEATHS OF TAO, in the near future.

If you like literary fantasy, try....

Cover art for A Stranger In Olondria, featuring a brown-skinned young man with long brown hair tied back in a tail. He wears a pale blue coat of vaguely eighteenth century cut and carries a hardcover book with a red cover. He stands before a limited cityscape of domes and flying buttresses, with white trails through the pale blue sky above.
Sofia Samatar, an American.

I'm afraid I don't know Samatar's cultural heritage, but her debut novel is gold. You want to read A STRANGER IN OLONDRIA if you appreciate gorgeous prose, subtle plotting, and stories that sneak up on you. I'm sorta-kinda ruminating a review which I hope will eventually appear here--maybe during Diversiverse.

I'll stop there lest I end up rambling on all night. If you do want some other recs, please reach out either through the comments or on Twitter (I'm @xicanti there) and let me know what you normally read. I'm sure we can find something to your tastes.

8 comments:

  1. Hooray! I'm looking forward to this event so much! I anticipate a great ballooning of my TBR list.

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    1. As do I. It's such a great way to celebrate authors.

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  2. Replies
    1. Didja spot the one I got from you? ;) I pass it on whenever the opportunity arises.

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  3. I also need to look into some of these graphic novels - they sound fantastic!! I tried A Stranger in Olondria but could not get far. I found the writing a little too verbose. May need to give it another shot.

    Thanks so much for posting about the event :)

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    1. It took me a while to sink into A STRANGER IN OLONDRIA; I actually started it way back in May or so and decided it needed to be one of those books I returned to every so often rather than something I read straight through. Once I found the swing of it, though--maybe at about 1/3 of the way through?--it became difficult to put down.

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  4. yay, I love this post. Everyone should read Kaoru Mori! Also, I added A Game For Swallows to my wishlist a while back because of you. Thanks for reminding me I could get it for Diversiverse.

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    1. I'll be shocked if you don't love it.

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