2016’s Non-White Authors Reading Challenge

2015 was my year of avoiding male authors. This year, I focused on non-white authors*. I’m not about to defend the experiment again, since I have done so already.

My top ten picks of what I read in 2016, in no particular order aside from #1 which is short and amazing and you must read or listen to it.

  1. The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family by Usman T. Malik (the short story is available for free at the link; there is also an incredible audio version)
  2. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  3. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
  4. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  5. Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
  6. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  7. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  8. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  9. The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
  10. White Nights, Black Paradise by Sikivu Hutchinson

After the jump: A full list of the books of 2016 by categories that I made up, along with my reflections on them.

Also of note: 2016 was my year of rediscovering the public library, and newly-discovering the tech that many libraries now have. That I can check out e-books to my Kindle and audiobooks to my phone has been a game-changer. I listened to about the same number of audiobooks this year as I had listened to in all the years prior. it also meant discovering authors I hadn’t heard of before, since I usually try to keep at least one audiobook going at any given time and the library selection of digital audiobooks is not huge.

Asian Fiction

  • Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen
    This book was somewhat apolitical and a little bit hetero-romcom-typical, but it was far more interesting than most books like that because it delved into the science and history of (literal) soy sauce, which is a topic of which I was wholly ignorant.
  • Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee
    Reading this marked a return to an author whose then-current list of works I plowed through within a month as a teenager. This book is much less tragic than her other works but more sharp of wit. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Shanghai Girls & Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
    The first book is a bit typical insofar as it’s a story about immigrants going from being wealthier in their home country to humbly working in America, but the second is far more interesting. Against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, it explores how the children of immigrants can unrealistically fetishize their parents’ home country.
  • The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee
    This book is so, so very soap opera, but in a good way. The book is very well-written and explores interesting issues around expats in Hong Kong.
  • Frog by Mo Yan
    I didn’t quite like the fictional style here, but the facts woven into it about the Chinese Cultural Revolution were certainly interesting and edifying. Given that I read two far superior fictional works that also tackled the Cultural Revolution, I couldn’t get into this as much, and the only reason I finished it was that it was an audiobook.
  • Young Babylon by Lu Nei (in progress)
    Interesting if somewhat brutal and depressing fictional account of modern life as a Chinese worker. What I found most interesting is that the protagonist is not rich or formerly rich, an immigrant, or otherwise exceptional as far as his background. He is a genuine worker from a working-class family who stays in China, which is fairly rare to find in such English-language fiction.

Non-Eurocentric Sci-Fi/Fantasy

  • Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon and Engraved on the Eye
    You know how European-centric fiction is set in a world that is kind of Medieval Europe but not really? Saladin Ahmed does the same thing with the Medieval Muslim world. He was also the first male author I read after my year of not reading them, and was a good transition since he doesn’t embed even low-grade misogyny in his works.
  • The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik
    Like Saladin Ahmed’s work, this book is casually non-European-centric in the way that a lot of other fantasy is casually Eurocentric. Malik’s work is also steeped in Islam the way Ahmed’s is. The similarities end there. This novella is more magic realism or everyday fantasy than the high-medieval fantasy world of Saladin Ahmed. It left me wanting more, even though it was supposed to be the “I want more” to Malik’s goosebump-inducing short story, The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family (audio version), which everyone really should read.
  • Who Fears Death, Lagoon, & Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
    How was I not reading this author before 2016, I don’t know. Each of her books that I read this year was enthralling in different ways. Akata Witch is fun and playful and serves to set up some of what is later explored in Who Fears Death (though they are not sequels or canonically connected, the themes echo). Lagoon takes the familiar formula of alien visitation/invasion of a city but casts it in Lagos, Nigeria, instead of the usual New York City, Washington DC, or Los Angeles.  And Who Fears Death? I absolutely could not put it down. It’s set in a uniquely African post-apocalypse populated by some of the most real people I’ve ever met in fiction.
  • The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
    I had just enough familiarity with Hindu mythology that I knew something about the characters in this book, but didn’t know enough that aspects of it founded in myth didn’t surprise me. I’d compare it favorably to The Mists of Avalon in that it takes a familiar, old story and tells it remarkably faithfully to the original but from the perspective of the often-overlooked female lead.
  • Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
    This graphic novel is gorgeous and thoughtful and definitely emotionally evocative. I love the non-cliche and complex way in which it tackles the at-least-as-old-as-Frankenstein question of “But who is the real monster?”
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
    This book starts slow and picks up its pace in such a measured way that I didn’t realize how gripped I had become by it. Before I had even finished the audiobook, I knew it was going to become one of my favorite books of all time. I agonized over categorizing it, as it is modern fiction when contemplated in a certain light, but as a fan of unusual sci-fi, I classify it as one of the best such works I’ve read.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
    I would call this well-crafted sci-fi that is basically a Chinese version of Contact, but more barbed in its wit and unexpected in the unfolding of the tale. I find its exploration of the good and bad in humanity far more nuanced than is found in a lot of ultimately-optimistic sci-fi. I cannot wait to read the rest of the trilogy.
  • Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
    I agree with many reviewers, professional and armchair, that this is far from Rushdie’s best work. However, it is one of the few sci-fi/futuristic tales that is infused with non-European mythology, which makes for a delightfully different sort of story, and is ultimately optimistic about humanity and the future, which is not the most common thing in such works. It doesn’t hurt that Rushdie can write.
  • The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine
    Like Rushdie, Alameddine mines The Arabian Nights/1001 Night for his fantasy tropes and tales. It’s is irreverent, cheeky, and intelligent. This could be categorized as Modern Fiction but its magic realism elements makes it fantasy to me.
  • Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Brian Stelfreeze
    Waaaaay more angsty than most of the other Marvel fare, but much more heartfelt than the grimdark of DC. I like it but don’t love it yet. Only time will tell.

Memoirs

  • Fresh off the Boat by Eddie Huang
    I absolutely adore the sitcom based on this memoir, but given the author’s frustrations with it, I wanted to read the book. It confirmed criticisms of Huang that I’ve heard regarding his misogyny, and especially his misogynoir, but it was enjoyable and important to me in other ways. He tackles appropriation, racism, the “model minority” problem, and many other issues in a very straightforward and interesting way.
  • How to be Black by Baratunde Thurston
    I found this witty, funny, and engaging on the matter of race in America. It is not a must-read and didn’t cover any unfamiliar ground for me, but it’s definitely worth reading. I’d recommend it to any newbie non-black SJW.
  • Laughing All the Way to the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz
    This was chosen for me in a book Secret Santa and I was… underwhelmed? I enjoyed the show that the author created, Little Mosque on the Prairie, but this memoir offered no more humor or insight into being a Muslim in Canada than the show does, and the show does it better, in my view. A never-Muslim might enjoy it more.
  • My Girlfriend’s A Geek (manga series) by Rize Shinba
    This is a manga based on a young man’s blog entries which concern his real-life relationship with an older woman. She is a hard-core yaoi. Hilarity ensues. Very light and silly overall, though occasionally uncomfortable in how pushy the eponymous person is about her eponymous… lifestyle? hobby?
  • The Secret Loves of Geek Girls
    I love love LOVED this. It’s an anthology in the true sense: varied in every single way. Knowing who the authors are and having some familiarity with their work adds something to the experience, but any unfamiliarity is not a hindrance to enjoyment.
  • My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
    The Supreme Court Justice writes in a way that is interesting and engaging with lots of humor infused throughout the book, despite telling a tale that includes a lot of struggle and hardship. That the audiobook version is narrated by Rita Moreno added a lot to the experience.
  • Yes, My Accent Is Real: And Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You by Kunal Nayyar
    Frankly speaking, boring. So boring, even where it’s casually misogynistic. I guess I can’t expect much more from an actor who is proud of being on a show like The Big Bang Theory. Hard pass.
  • Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie
    Gosh but this was painful to read. Rushdie does not identify as a former Muslim, but a lot of what he goes through with regard to a lack of overall Leftist support against Islamists is something that hasn’t changed in the nearly 3 decades since The Satanic Verses (which I unreservedly love as a book) was published.
  • Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
    She is my not-that but-still-somewhat problematic fave, and her books are even better than her TV show as far as being clever. This one is even better than the one that preceded it, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    I love epistolary works, and this might be my favorite in that genre. Coates tackles race, gender, power, and the American dream in his usual amazing writing style and with unflinching insight.

Non-Fiction

  • Headscarves and Hymen: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
    I don’t wholeheartedly agree with Eltahawy on all matters political, but this is a must-read for anyone interested in gender/sexual politics in any region. She exposes the often-overlooked issues that affect people who aren’t men whenever political revolution is in the air through her own Egyptian-focused lens.
  • Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy
    A breath of fresh air in a world choked with pro-globalization propaganda (pun intended). Roy takes to task the idea that development and production as they exist are unmitigated positives through the lens of India.
  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
    I wrote about this already.
  • Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue by Sam Harris & Maajid Nawaz
    Frustrating and too shallow and brief for someone like me. A very die-hard white male New Atheist Four Horsemen lover might get something from it in terms of being less of an ignoramus about Islam, I guess.
  • Dear White People by Justin Simien
    Cute and funny, if somewhat shallow in its analysis in places, just like the movie. I still love both of them.
  • The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities
    Imperfect but necessary examination of abuses perpetuated within activism.
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
    Aside from a few references to his parents’ arranged marriage, this book could’ve been written by someone from any background, not necessarily Ansari’s. He delves into dating and love and technology in a way that is engaging and better than I expected, given how adamantly heterosexual it is (something Ansari admits). There were points in the book where certain nuances jumped out at me shrieking yet weren’t at all addressed, which was a bit annoying. Still, the book is well-researched and interesting.
  • The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi (in progress)
    Want to be outraged about classism, crony capitalism, and the police state? This is your book. Note: The author identifies as culturally white and barely skated in as an end-of-year read based on a technicality of his background and the people who raised him.

Alternate Histories

  • The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter
    An exploration of an early Reconstruction-era United States where Lincoln was impeached rather than assasinated through the perpective of a middle-class young woman of color who came from several generations of free black people. I found it to be engaging overall despite a few cringeworthy “this was a female protagonist obviously written by a man” moments.
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
    The premise sounds a bit ridiculous: What if the Underground Railroad were a literal railroad? The book is more about the real-life brutality of slavery and the underhandedness of the racism even in slavery-free areas than the trains, though.
  • Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo
    The book, which imagines an Africa in which Europeans were enslaved, was more amusing than scathing to me. The inversions of racist tropes tickled, but I didn’t think the satire was anything earth-shattering.
  • The Feminist Utopia Project
    Like The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, this is a true anthology. Some of the stories are less alt-history than fantasizing about a better world, but I enjoyed it, especially the pieces written by authors whose other, very different works I’ve read.

Modern Fiction

  • The Perv by Rabih Alameddine
    A collection of short stories that are good but not great. The other book of his that I read this year, The Hakawati, was much better.
  • The Cry of the Dove by Fadia Faqir
    A very sad work that feels like it’s going somewhere but doesn’t quite make it. I was disappointed.
  • The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
    Low-key magic-realism slice-of-Southern-life black Americana. I enjoyed it.
  • Fortunate Son by Walter Mosley
    Heartbreaking tale of classism and racism in America. The characters are more a parable or symbolic rather than realistic.
  • White Nights, Black Paradise by Sikivu Hutchinson
    I love Dr. Hutchinson’s work dearly, and was afraid that her style and tone wouldn’t translate well to fiction from non-fiction. I was wrong. The book was engrossing and taught me a lot about the Jim Jones cult.

Fiction That Could’ve Fooled Me

These books could’ve been written by white authors, albeit ones with an eye for diversity and representation. So much for non-white authors only writing things relevant to race.

  • Blindness by Jose Saramago
    It was really long. Unnecessarily so, in places. But it kept me interested enough to finish it.
  • The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
    This novel has a richly-imagined and well-developed setting and interesting characters. I enjoyed figuring out the mystery around the protagonist as well as enjoying her and others’ good old-fashioned drama.
  • The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzalez
    So, maybe I didn’t like this as much as I had expected because it was overhyped to me. It was fun but not great, and I found the plot and characters relatively forgettable.
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead
    Like certain stories within World War Z, this deals with the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse rather than the outbreak itself. It’s gritty and real.

For Younger Readers

  • Grandma in Blue with Red Hat by Scott Menchin
    I read this randomly at the Museum of Modern Art in Boston. Both the author and the illustrator are white but the story is about a black boy and his grandmother, and is absolutely charming and adorable.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    I consumed this in audiobook form, which is narrated by the author. His humor, wit, and warmth come through in his voice as well as the words themselves. I honestly don’t know why I hadn’t read this before.
  • What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
    Yet another sci-fi YA book with a good premise but that failed to really keep me. Sigh.
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
    Just the fact that this wasn’t sci-fi (or sneaky sci-fi) immediately engaged me. It was full of heart and humor, and was deeply touching and real. I loved it.
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • The Lost Girl by Sagu Mandanna
    An interesting bit of sci-fi that explores themes around cloning and identity.

Graphic Novels & Comics

  • Ms. Marvel
    Continues to rock my world and stay cute, relatable, and fun as well as incredibly classically comic-bookish.
  • Bitch Planet
    Also a carryover from the prior year that continues to deliver and delve into more and more issues while staying wonderfully true to the comic book format.
  • Rat Queens
    The creator of color that makes this comic qualify turned out to be an abuser and the issue was not handled well at all. The comic is fun and amazing, but as it stands, I will not support them with my dollars. I got my copies from the library (which does support them on some level, but I had to pick my battles).

Out of Category

  • The Wicked + The Divine
    While none of the creators of this comic are non-white, the characters are diverse. I wasn’t expecting much from the much-(over?)done “gods as modern people with a twist” gimmick other than to have my guilty pleasure gratification, but the comic is much more than that. The overall representation level is good and feels real.
  • Y: The Last Man
    This is another comic with all-white creators that depicts a diverse world regardless. I honestly see why this series was so lauded, but it was not really my thing. I couldn’t get over how little I cared for any of the characters. Seriously. They’re all awful people and at points, I’d wished the apolcalypse that culled all with Y chromosomes had instead killed everyone regardless of karyotype.
  • Shrill by Lindy West
    I love Lindy, and I read everything she writes pretty much as soon as she writes it, so I had to read her book as soon as I got it. She covers intersectional issues enough to where I didn’t feel that completing this funny and thoughtful book was too much of a cheat.

What’s Next

I’m going to be focusing on works created by and/or featuring people who aren’t 100% straight and/or cis. I will not be limiting myself to works that fit in that category, however. I will instead be continuing in my journey as a reader to overall diversify what I consume while also catching up on the straight, cis, white male authors I’ve been putting off.

  • As complex as defining “non-white” is, that’s the most accurate yet succinct phrasing for what I did. Others in comments on my prior posts about reading challenges have asked me why I didn’t do it some other way or using some other criteria, but failed to suggest a viable alternative to me.
{advertisement}
2016’s Non-White Authors Reading Challenge

3 thoughts on “2016’s Non-White Authors Reading Challenge

  1. 1

    Hey thank you for inspiring me to do the same last year! I see we ended up reading a few of the same things.
    One I don’t see was”So long been dreaming”. It was sometimes uneven, but had some great short stories (one in particular about a deaf alien culture).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *