What I’m reading: In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, The Fire This Time & Fiyah, issue 1

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I went to In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, by Alice Walker, The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward, and Fiyah, Issue 1, to recapture the trick of living while oppressed. I seem to have lost it in my 20s or 30s when I could wrap the privilege of having a job with money, living in NYC among a chosen community, with the status of a married woman around me like a force field. I had left behind the teachers who belittled the idea of a woman or a black man inventing the cotton gin and the boyfriend who hit me and I channelled most of my rage into my non-profit job securing women’s reproductive rights and occasionally at the men on the street who told me to smile. I had money for taxis at night and didn’t worry as much about walking home after dark.

I forgot what it’s like to live not feeling safe.

I forgot what it’s like to live with white skin my only privilege (yes it’s a big one).

The world has not been free of injustice, but it seemed it was getting better. And now it’s getting so much worse with bewildering speed. So I’m drawing on the coping mechanisms, the organizing strategies, the ideas of how to live, how to resist, how to be an artist, of people who never had a chance to forget. Who didn’t have the privilege to forget. And I’m crying, but it’s not all tears of rage and despair, some of those tears are for recognition, beauty and strength.

I chose In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens because it was immediately available at my library, I remember reading her essays in college and because she is (relatively) old school now. I wanted to see what a black womanist activist was saying about the 60s and 70s (knowing that so much has changed and so much has not changed). I went to The Fire This Time, because it’s current and can tell me about now, this moment we’re living in. And it blew me away. There’s not one essay or poem in the collection that didn’t bring connections up to the surface for me or move me. “Message to My Daughters” by Edwidge Danticat made me cry in public, at a restaurant. “Know Your Rights!” by Emily Raboteau made me hopeful, because there is always resistance. “White Rage” by Carol Anderson told me about my people and I have her book on hold at the library now. Everyone should read this book. It will galvanize you. It will help you understand our world. It will give you models for resistance. And I went to Fiyah because life is about more than essays, it’s about art, which reveals reality, and hopes and fears, and speculative fiction is my go-to reading choice. I recommend it, even if, especially if, you’re not white and the stories don’t “resonate” with you. How are they going to ever resonate if you don’t immerse yourself or give them a chance? And even if they don’t resonate, ever, at least you learned something about others and yourself.

 

 

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Things that Keep Me Living: A Poem About My Rights by June Jordan

This poem got me through some tough times before, and it’s still a little lantern of one black woman’s rage and survival:

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
go to Poetry Foundation for the rest of it or listen to June Jordan herself recite it.

What I’ve been reading: The Obelisk Gate and Orleans

obelisk-gateThe Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin. I thought The Fifth Season was one of the most exciting books to come out in the SFF genre in a long time, both thematically and from a craft perspective. It was also one of the most emotionally challenging books I had read in a long time for many obvious reasons, but the hardest part for me were the descriptions of child abuse. It would be hard to top all of that, and I don’t think The Obelisk Gate managed. I also had to put it down for a long time because of something Essun does fairly late in the book. I could deal with her being a mass murderer several times over, but not this very intimate betrayal. More than everything, this book seemed to be about coping mechanisms, how they help people survive and how they brutalize the people who use them and wield them against other people in their quest for survival.

orleansOrleans by Sherri L. Smith. I can read most dystopias/post-apocalyptic stories without a problem because they are more like fables than anything else, but some are too real and hard for me to read (like The Handmaid’s Tale, which I will never re-read). This story of a young black woman in a post-hurricane, post new epidemic New Orleans was one of the ones that seems too real and too possible. It’s a tough read but good in a heart-wrenching way, though I was not a fan of the ending.

 

What I’ve been reading: Ninefox Gambit, Too Like the Lightning & Infomocracy

ninefoxNinefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. A challenging read that’s worth it. Starts off with a steep learning curve as it all seems to be in English but you don’t know what any of the concepts mean put together like that. It’s like learning a new language and I could practically feel the neurons connecting in new ways. I actually re-read the first chapter, once in the sample and again after I bought the book and it helped a lot. Definitely something different, if you’re tired of the same old, same old.

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Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer. “I got this,” I said, “after reading Ninefox Gambit, Too Like the Lightning can’t be too hard.” I was wrong. This was even more challenging. With Ninefox Gambit, I knew I didn’t know what the words he was using meant. With Lightning, it seemed like I knew what all the words meant, but did I really know? I felt like I was testing every word, every concept and asking, Is this what the author intended? Is this how she meant this? Partly because this book has lots of chewy ideas and partly because I was derailed fairly early on by Mycroft’s response to Danae’s gender performance in a world where supposedly those gender markers aren’t common (and the explanation for that doesn’t come for another 300 pages.) I’m glad I read it though I
wasn’infomocracyt always glad while I was reading it.

Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older. This was fun to read on the heels of Too Like the Lightning as it had some of the same ideas about near future and micro nations (for lack of a better word that applies to both) but in a much more accessible form. It reads a bit like a thriller, but with lots of
ideas about democracy and social media and voting.

 

Reading Diversely 2016 Check-in

I’ve read 43 books so far in 2016.

23 books by white women

4 by white men

9 by women of color

7 by men of color

That’s about 37% authors of color. And 63% white authors.

Better.

If I look at new books only, that’s 15 books by white women, 2 by white men, and still 9 by women of color and 7 by men of color. So I’m almost 50-50 in the the new-to-me books but when I’m re-reading (for comfort and/or writing books) most of those are by white authors.

Distpatches from Abroad: Mansplaining

“Do you know about mansplaining?” asked the man I was sharing a cab with.

I wondered if the cab was moving too fast to jump out of. But then I’d be stuck in the middle of 6 lanes of Bangkok traffic in 110 degree heat. That was probably worse than a stranger mansplaining mansplaining to me. Probably. “Yes,” I said cautiously.

“I was just about to lecture you on American politics,” (we had been talking politics; he was British, I’m American) “but I thought of the article I just read and I thought I shouldn’t.”

“Um.” It’s a toss up what I hate more: talking about American politics and Trump or the American obsession with guns to non-Americans.

“It would have been so fun. I wish I had never read the article.”

“Is that the attraction of it, do you think?” I asked, somewhat recklessly. Yes, he had resisted mansplaining once and didn’t seem too upset, but I didn’t know him, and who knows what kind of abusive garbage he might spew? But here was a chance to get it from the horse’s mouth, from a man who had brought it up and didn’t seem hostile.

“It’s great to have a captive audience. And women are so polite, they always look interested and it’s a great way to pass the time,” he said cheerfully.

I changed my assessment of his hostility. (My British coworker, when I told her this story, said she thought there might have been a cultural misunderstanding there, that he was probably saying it tongue in cheek. I maintain that even if it was, it was still a hostile thing to say.)

“Hmm.” I sort of desperately tried to make small talk (the code in sharing cabs with strangers seems to be either you talk or you don’t talk. The lapsed conversation feels much more awkward) until I realized was doing the gendered task of keeping the conversation going. I stopped. The conversation lapsed.

I guess he wasn’t very good at conversation now that the crutch of mansplaining had been taken away from him.