The bleached ruin of light lasts and lasts, no night/to repair our miinds, no white clip moon to give us rest. / Only pitiless noon where our sleep-starved consciousness/patters faintly behind our squinted eyelids. ~ Ballad of Tombstone Omaha
Have you ever read something and not been exactly sure if it was way over your head or just absolute chaos? Because that’s how I felt reading this poetry triptych by Korean-American poet Cathy Park Hong, the vaunted author of Asian-American race relations treatise Minor Feelings. ⠀
There are some very evocative images and turns of phrase in these poems, which take us through three interconnected yet very different settings. Through the poet’s words we visit the lawless squalor of the American Wild West, the busy loneliness of modern day Shenzen, and a pale, remote far future, all boomtowns of their time. (The first section, about the gold rush West, was my favorite–for the imagery and cohesiveness as well as the sheer ugly shock of how it ends.) These places are sketched out with surprising amounts of detail and the poet has a flair for clever forms and theming that kept my eye interested in the pages while my brain was busy trying to keep up. I like poetry that tells stories, and the verses in this book definitely do that, wrapping them around very timely, pessimistic themes. It’s a vague, wild story that skitters all over the room before hopping in your literary lap and howling angrily, but it’s there. ⠀
Still, on the last page I couldn’t shake the feeling of WTF did I just read? I’m very picky about poetry and I’m admittedly on the denser side of poetry readers. Still, this collection feels like a chaos theory thesis in verse. If you flap the pages of the book too hard in Central Park on a Tuesday it might cause typhoons–it’s that chaotic. 😂 I feel like I get where the poet was trying to go with all of this–I’m just not sure if she got there without blowing out a tire and hitting a couple of potholes.⠀ ⠀ Okay, enough of my bad metaphors. I didn’t dislike this collection–there’s something mind-expanding about its harsh weirdness and evocative language. But I didn’t love it either. A true 3-star rating and a “girl are you okay now after letting all that out?” to Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire.
(Hey beautiful people. Happy March. This is where I tell you that this blog has affiliate relationships with lovely sites like Bookshop, and if you click and purchase anything from a link here, a commission may be earned. It’s also where I tell you that if you read this poetry collection and need a hug afterwards, I’ll be happy to give you one.)
The titles of these get more and more fun to write every week.
First, some good news: a 10 year old boy named Joziah Jason in Ypsilanti, Michigan has started a podcast bookclub for his fellow elementary school students. I listened to one episode and it’s equal parts inspiring and adorable. Check it out for yourself. [via MLive]
Perhaps Joziah might find this interesting; African-Futurist writer Nnedi Okorafor has written a female Nigerian version of Marvel’s Venom into the latest run of Black Panther. [via Bleeding Cool]
Across the pond, Black British writers are confronting stereotypes and embracing culture in the anthology Loud Black Girls. The opening quote? “Black women will always be too loud for a world that never intended on listening to them.” Preach. [via Black Girl Nerds]
Another exciting book release is Viet Thanh Nguyen’s long-awaited follow-up to The Sympathizer, The Committed. Junot Diaz’sreview(he’s back!) says it “draws its true enchantment — and its immense power — from the propulsive, wide-ranging intelligence of our narrator as he Virgils us through his latest descent into hell. That he happens to be as funny as he is smart is the best plus of all.” Can’t wait! [via The New York Times]
From here, let’s talk about a few upcoming film and tv adaptations, shall we?
Walter Mosley’s series about hard-boiled Black detective Easy Rawlinsis getting a retry as a television series via Amblin Television. While Denzel Washington was a fantasticEasy on the big screen in 1995, there are a whole host of young actors coming up with the chops to do him justice again. Looking forward to this one. [via Variety]
On the other hand, I really didn’t care for Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad, award-winning or not. However, the upcoming series adaptation is getting a lot of positive buzz and the trailer is interesting. I’ll give it a look to see if the overarching concept translates well to film. Plus, Barry Jenkins is directing and he can do very little wrong so…[via Rolling Stone]
There’s a few older articles making the social media rounds lately that I think are worth re-highlighting this week as well.
One is about Celeste Ng, literary fiction writer responsible for the very popular Little Fires Everywhere and her apparent distaste for Asian men. While I personally can’t pinpoint why this has become a hot topic again and I have no stake or deep knowledge of the issues the article raises, I find it an interesting example of how literature, and those who create it shed light on deeper cultural issues in ways that they don’t often expect. I’m sure there’s some deep literary theory that expresses the sentiment, but for us laypeople, all this says is that while I’ve never read a book by Ng, the fact that she wrote those books has given her a big enough impact on culture that I never really need to. [via Plan A Magazine]
The other is about classic children’s author Dr. Seuss. School districts have been sensibly phasing out his work in light of revelations about his racist past and caricature work and the response has been rather shrill. This article on NPR is from 2019, but still gives the best overview of the problem and potential approaches and solutions in our developing anti-racist world. [viaNPR]
That’s that for diverse bookish news this week, beautiful people. March is coming–read something good!
(As always, thanks for reading, beautiful people. You know the drill: here is where I tell you that this blog has affiliate relationships with lovely sites such as Bookshop and if you click and make a purchase at any link you find on these pages, a commission might be earned. It helps us keep the virtual lights on, so thanks in advance. Peace!)
“Earth is ghetto / I want to leave/ Can you beam me up / I’m out on the street by the corner store / You know the one on 15th…“
I’m sure many of you have heard the viral song by Aliah Sheffield by now–it’s the toast of TikTok. If not, take a moment and listen below.
Much has been made of what the song says about the current state of humanity, the planet we live on, ghettos, corner stores and aliens. In light of the global garbage fire that was 2020 (and everything leading up to it), the joke’s not new, but there’s something particularly poignant about Sheffield’s delivery that I think we can all appreciate.
However, when I first heard it, I thought of alien invasion stories, and why you almost never see aliens land in the ghetto. Aliens almost never land on reservations, near prisons, next to slums, or basically anywhere other than heavily gentrified big cities where white ex-Marines or plucky white single parents or mysteriously disgraced (and usually white) scientists live.
I’ve mentioned before that I go through odd reading phases, and one I often come back to is global alien invasions. I’m particularly interested in tales of aliens landing on islands with tourist economies, in favelas, in remote rural spaces, in Asian superpowers, and so on. There’s something that hits different about alien invasion told through the lens of a culture that has experienced real invasion, colonization, genocide and oppression–something deeper and grittier, that realizes you can’t shoot your way out of everything but you can get a bit of your own back in other ways. The following books all show some of that grit, and in one case, the intergalactic consequences of being the instrument of oppression.
As usual: Not an expert. Just a reader. Be nice. Read well. Find the whole list with extras HERE.
Some books take a while to really grow on me, and this story of aliens making first contact in the US Virgin Islands is one of them. The best alien invasion stories contain parallels to real human migration and uncertainties about diversity. Turnbull excels at using the backdrop of a Caribbean island with a colonial past to illustrate the continuing pain of historical oppression, embodied by the alien Ynaa. It’s a remarkably culturally literate book with a lot of layers and a genuinely frightening climax. Find it HERE.
This first contact story is set in rural Nigeria, written by a British-born Nigerian who used to be a psychiatrist. It’s a tense, spare book that really keeps you guessing–at times it’s more of a thriller than sci-fi. I honestly don’t know enough about Nigeria to say that something belongs authentically to it, and that sort of statement is reductive anyway. I will say that I enormously enjoyed the idea of aliens interacting more or less peacefully with an African economy and government instead of immediately initiating shootouts and abductions. The conflict naturally comes from the Earthlings. This is the first in a trilogy, and the only one I’ve read so far. Find it HERE.
I debated including this because the author is developing a reputation for political asshattery. However, I just could not stop talking about this book when I first read it, and it has an important twist that I think deserves to be included here. It’s one of the most intellectually fascinating sci-fi novels I’ve ever read. Basically, a genius imprisoned during the Chinese Cultural Revolution accidentally makes first contact with a murderous alien society light years away, learns about their history and culture, and hides it from everyone. Years later, others discover the threats the aliens have sent and all of Earth scrambles to prepare for an invasion hundreds of years in the future. The book is centered in China, of course, with a few token Westerners hanging around, and even though you never really meet the aliens in question, their history is boggling and their messages terrifying. There’s an interesting undercurrent in the book regarding what happens when a superpower gets outclassed due to its own authoritarian shenanigans. This is another trilogy I’ve only read the first installment of–find itHERE.
Only two of the stories in this tonally diverse First Nations sci-fi collection are about alien invasions, but all of them are brilliant regardless of subject. The ones about aliens are wildly different from each other–one is terrifying, the other hilarious–but they both are about indigenous communities facing invasion in pretty culturally apt ways–after all, what could be worse than Europeans? Whether aliens come to rescue or destroy, Indigenous people are arguably the only demographic who already have experience in the matter. The stories in this book all have a Golden Age charm to them and it’s well worth checking them all out. Find it HERE.
This is admittedly an odd choice, made odder still by the fact that I haven’t read this one yet. Apparently in this book aliens have already invaded and subjugated Ireland and the story revolves around an unintentioinal freedom fighter who’s been caught and sent to a notorious prison for Earthlings, where he discovers something terrible. I have no idea what he discovers or what happens in the book but something about an alien invasion in Belfast with potential analogs to Partition intrigues me. I haven’t read it yet but I hope to soon. Find it HERE.
While I’m of the opinion that if aliens do exist they avoid humans, I still enjoy imaginings of how they would fare if they landed in different parts of Earth, especially when those parts are culturally rich and have a history of other types of invasion. There’s more books on the theme of course, and you can find them all HERE on the full list. Peace!
(As always, I need to remind you that this blog has affiliate relationships with Bookshop and any clicks/purchases made may result in a commission being earned.)
Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm meet during their freshman year of university, and luckily the friendship lasts a lifetime–through failures, successes, relationships, jobs, deaths and heartbreak. They’re a motley crew–all different races, classes and sexualities–but the main character is Jude, the shyest and most secretive of the crew, tortured by an unspeakable past but determined to succeed despite it. The book is mostly about how the hideous demons of Jude’s past keep him from fully recognizing the angels of his present. (There were times when he’d do something and I’d sigh out loud and say “Oh, Jude, why?”–and then a character in the book would echo me somewhere on the next page.) He’s a tortured, fragile character who makes terrible decisions most of the time, and were he not surrounded by such believably loving friends and family he’d be very difficult to like but much easier to pity. As it is, you understand why he’s so tormented but can’t stop hoping he’ll give it all up and accept his many possibilities for happiness. He never really does, sadly.
This book is a lot, and it deserves every content warning and tear-filled review it’s received. I haven’t been so nauseated by descriptions of child abuse since I read Tampa and that says a lot. I also haven’t been so touched by portrayals of male friendship since–well, ever, really. Jude is a mess and his life is relentlessly horrifying–first outwardly, then inwardly–but his friends and the way they change and shift to accommodate every iteration of each other is lovingly rendered. Their larger social circles are just as well-realized, and one of the most startling things about this book is how it seamlessly immerses the reader into nearly 40 years of community life in New York City without ever referencing typical “New York” things or even defining the time period. You really feel like you’re living along with these people, walking day by day through their little lives in a big city.
This book deserved all of the prize nominations and accolades it received and then some. While it’s not quite the Great Gay American Novel it often gets described as, it does contain a few remarkably sensitive story elements involving the fluidity of sexuality over a lifetime, and it decenters romantic relationships as the be-all and end-all of everyone’s life–these men have an enduring group friendship that coexists with their romantic relationships healthily, which is hard to do in life and harder to depict on the page without Mary-Sue-ing the characters irrevocably. Their levels of closeness shift, they sometimes don’t talk and sometimes the relationships change in surprising ways–but their friendship forms the foundation of their lives in a way that their successful careers and romances don’t. The diversity of the characters is also admirable, in a way that seems natural for New York and America in general. Of the main foursome, only Willem is white, and he’s the child of first generation immigrants, which goes a long way towards explaining how he fits in so well with the other four. Race and sexuality are both handled so effortlessly and without any weird performative overtones in this book and I personally appreciated that almost as much as its loving take on the importance of lifelong adult friendships.
That said, I recognized that in the hands of a lesser writer, the main events of this book are so graphic that it would be trash-lit at best. Fortunately Yanagihara is an excellent writer and that elevates the often sordid events described–but they can still be a bit much. (When I reached the scene that the title of the book comes from, I actually had to put it down for a few days and go read a romance novel.) It’s beautiful, it’s immersive, but it’s also deeply troubled and you should be ready for that if you choose to read it.⠀⠀
4 stars and a deep, sad sigh to A Little Life.
(Beautiful people, if you feel moved to buy this book, considered heading to my Bookshop storefront and purchasing it there. If you do, a commission will be earned because we have an affiliate relationship with them and other sites. Peace!)
I turned 40 last weekend, hence the delay on this post. Also, it’s Valentine’s Day! Go read some romance and love somebody up today, whether romantically, amicably or nobly.
Before we get into it, the lovely image of myself above was shot by Grace Kim and edited by Uchenna. The shirt I’m wearing, which is something I truly believe and say often, is available at Blerd.com.
This week’s list of bookish news items is short but sweet, like V-day chocolate.
This is hands-down the best list of diverse historical romances I’ve ever seen. Where else would you find Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and every diaspora, gender and sexuality possible in historical romance? Well done, Aussie book reviewers. [via ABC News Australia]
Librarians in Bristol have lost their collective minds and are busy harassing a woman who put a Little Free Library up in her neighborhood, denouncing it as “such a middle class thing to do”. Wait until they find out about private schools. [via Metro UK]
The last episode of the recent television adaptation of Stephen King’s epic work The Stand aired. I liked the series at first, but found it ultimately disappointing (they really biffed the landing when it came to portraying the bad guys). This article does a good job explaining why even King’s own attempt at writing a new ending was so lame. [via Gizmodo]
But speaking of King, the charitable foundation he fronts with his wife Tabitha King is funding a horror anthology penned by elementary students. Pretty cool way to leave a legacy. [via LitHub]
Traveling from Nigeria to South Korea by way of…Poland(?), we have a novel about the lady divers of Jeju Island. While I imagine it’s akin to Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women, it’s a bit unique in that the writer is writing and publishing the book in her native Polish, with hopes for an English translation later this year. [The Korea Times]
Back in the US, Old Town Road rapper and generally cheerful iconic lil cousin Lil Nas X is now the best-selling author of the children’s book C Is For Country. [ The Grio]
For regular book news updates, follow us on Facebook. For quickie book reviews and pretty, pretty pictures, check out our Instagram. Finally, to get your shop on, check out our Bookshop storefront here. (This site has affiliate relationships with other sites, and any clicks and purchases you make may result in a commission being paid.) Peace!
The following post is an edited version of a rant on the Equal Opportunity Facebook. Follow it for lots of bookish news updates and rants.
These words, penned in 1980 by La Grande Dame Octavia Butler hit me in a really personal place for a lot of reasons. When I first began to write and submit speculative fiction back in 1995 or so…well, first of all, it wasn’t that good. No delusions of grandeur here, and ya girl is still struggling on the quality front. But it was also based on the world as I knew it and saw it, and I lived in a multicultural neighborhood, went to even more multicultural schools, and lived in an area where I heard AAVE, Spanish, Amharic, Korean, Russian and the occasional bit of Tigrinya every morning on the way to the bus stop. So, I wrote stories about diverse people from rich cultures coexisting in space, fighting dragons, and generally living their fantastic otherworldly lives outside of mainstream struggle narratives and. the feedback I got was always things like–“this would be better if you wrote about normal people”, “Why have you described character X as ‘pretty’ on page 4, but also ‘Black’ on page 7?” and my personal favorite, “Race doesn’t matter in the future. Why do you have to make your characters different races? We will all be one race, so there’s no need to use ethnic names or strange cultural terms.”
If I recall correctly, the strange cultural term was “pepper sauce”.
My first novel, which has never been published and will probably never see the light of day because it’s aged very poorly, was about a punk-loving Black woman in her twenties and her alcoholic Japanese-American boyfriend committing petty crimes and con jobs in East Denver and accidentally getting in too deep. When I began to shop it around to agents and publishers, the consistent feedback that I got was “This is an interesting social commentary, but these characters and relationships aren’t very realistic and therefore, we won’t be able to sell it.” It was suggested that perhaps the boyfriend be rewritten as a Crip or Blood. It was suggested that all the characters be rewritten as white, with perhaps the lone white character changed to “mixed-race” as a concession. It was also suggested that the idea of a weird alternative Black girl protagonist who lived in the ‘hood in what was not an “urban” novel would not be relatable for any audience. At the time, I was a weird Black woman with an Afro and black lipstick in my 20’s who lived in East Denver and had a Asian-Latino boyfriend. (For legal reasons, we did not commit any crimes and alcoholic is…a harsh word.) At the time, alternative and unbelievable struggle love between skinny pockmarked unlikable white people set to rock music was a hot, artsy trend in media–but make the lovers “ethnic” and add a beat to the music and suddenly it’s unrealistic.
I still get the same nonsense now, in slightly woker yet less self-aware permutations. Disappointingly, a lot of it comes from people of color who have internalized certain colonial constructions of the world. Someone read a chapter of one of my current projects and immediately came back to me with the criticism ,”Why is the villain Black? Be careful about making only the villain Black.” When I pointed out that in this fantasy world, no-one is “white” (it’s a savannah world of dark-skinned people and the heroine references her own dark brown skin on the first page) I was told that I should now be careful about writing stories that have too many Black characters because they don’t sell well if you’re a new writer. When I asked did she think people are really “Black” in the American sense in a fantasy world in which there is no Europe, no Africa, no Americas and a whole lotta sunshine and cocoa butter I was told I was missing the point.
I’ve always written the kind of people that I know, love, and feel most familiar with into the unrealistic situations that my messy imagination creates. That doesn’t mean I omit, dislike, or exclude white people. It simply means that white people are not the only ones who exist in the world of What Could Be, and I refuse to pretend so. Writers like Octavia Butler and N.K. Jemisin have broken through that barrier for all of us, but even they had to begin their careers with slavery narratives and stabby white feudalism. It’s frustrating. While it’s improving every day, it’s still a struggle out here. (My latest criticism–“This sounds like…Africa? Or like, fantasy Africa? But you’re not African, you’re just Black. You can’t write anything about Africa. Have you thought about setting this in like, the civil war? Maybe they’re all slaves? But wait, you can’t have someone be Black and disabled and a slave in a novel, it’s just too sad.”)
It’s not lost on me that down here in the hack seats where I hang out and write on the weekends, the only pieces of work I’ve managed to publish are about being a Black woman in direct struggle, even though that is not what most of my unpublished writing is about. I guess all of this is a large part of why I run this blog. Diversity is a normal part of the human condition. Human interaction, cultural interaction, linguistic interaction, are all a vital, fascinating, enriching part of human history and life. I’m not interested in glorifying racist platforms or people by constantly calling them out and giving them attention because I have better things to do than fight with unimportant people. I do want to recognize the artists who are writing and creating within the diversity of what is, to me, the regular world. I also want a place where those of us who are “diverse” can express our love for traditional literary canons (there’s no shame in good books, wherever they originate), find ourselves in what we already love, and find newer books to expand and reinforce our ideas of What Is and What Could Be. There is so much more to the literary world than we are taught in school or exposed to in mainstream pop culture.
Anyway, thank you for coming to my TED Talk. Go read Dame Butler’s original words at the link below. They’re 40 years old, but were still true yesterday.
Some books show you the lives of other people. Some books show you yourself. Some books do both. Song of Solomon has always been the last for me, although it’s always been hard to put my finger on exactly why. ⠀
This is a deceptively dense novel, packed with story and detail, and this review is going to remain pretty light on them. There’s so much going on between these pages that I really can’t do a play-by-play or summary review justice. Instead, I’m just going to skim across why this book has so much importance for me, personally. ⠀ It’s been over twenty years and a half-dozen rereads since I first met the inhabitants of Not Doctor and Darling streets and then followed the very unfortunately named Milkman Dead on a self-absorbed quest through his secretive family tree and his own personhood. There are sections of the book that continuously live in my head rent-free- Milkman’s first encounter with his lover (and cousin, ick) Hagar is one. But there are other bits that I rediscover every time–the ending, which I won’t spoil even a drop of, always surprises me. I never remember what’s coming until it happens, and even then I’m always surprised, sad, and thrilled by it, in that order. ⠀ ⠀ In a lot of ways this is very familiar territory for Morrison–a look into the inner lives of Black Americans in the middle part of the twentieth century, warts and all, rendered in beautifully figurative prose. But in other ways it’s really different. The main character is a man, masculinity is a major theme, and the book deals with the supernatural more than any other Morrison work except perhaps Beloved. While Milkman, his coldly resentful father Macon, and his best friend Guitar (who looks like LaKeith Stanfield in my mind) take up most of the narrative space, for me the book has always revolved around the two trinities of women related to Milkman. His mother and sisters form one; his aunt and cousins the other. For me, the former represent the pain of a life lived solely in the servile orbit of male approval and sponsorship; the latter, the loneliness of a life where men are liked well enough but not socially or economically centered. When the polarities reverse, the results are unpredictably tragic, and it made me much sadder on this read than I remember from previous ones. Since my first reading of this at 16, it’s the women in Milkman’s world that I’ve always learned from and identified with, in a variety of ways. ⠀⠀ This is top-tier Morrison for me. Characters that live and breathe, a riveting, emotional plot, stunning symbolism, shocking honesty, and beautiful prose.⠀ ⠀ 5 stars and a pair of wings to Song of Solomon
(Beautiful people! Thank you, as always, for reading. This book has had such a profound effect on me over the years I hope you’ll consider picking it up at your local library or purchasing it from HERE. If you want to see a list of Toni Morrison’s work, click HERE. Reminder: this blog does have affiliate relationships with sites like Bookshop and if you purchase anything from a link you click on this site, a commission may be paid. Peace!)
One of the things I like about writing this blog is that I often get requests via Facebook and Instagram to prove that books about certain people exist and have an audience. To be honest, I enjoy the challenge. Fantasy novels about young Black boys? Have some Okorafor, Reynolds and Mbalia. Summer beach reads about plus-size women in love? Well lookie here! Romance novels where the main couple consist of an East Asian man and a Black woman?
HA! I bet you thought I was going to write a diatribe about how hard it is to find Asian men and Black women in love on the page, but the truth is–it’s not that hard. (It took me longer to find an appropriate stock photo for this blog than it did to think of titles for this list.) Quiet as it’s kept, it’s also not all that much of a novelty in reality anymore, either. I’m not going to pretend we are overrun with Asian man/Black woman love stories in the wild, I’m just saying that art imitates life, and there are plenty of real life examples being worked into fictional narratives. I think we’re all so trained to think in a Black/white binary that we ignore the fact that reality contains plenty of interracial couples in which neither person is white. (The very first date I ever went on was with a Japanese-American guy. He bought me ice cream and we saw, of all things, the movie Rush Hour. It was awkward, but everything is when you’re seventeen, as Janis Ian famously sang. Our film choice didn’t help.)
My point is, while Asian men and Black women historically don’t get a lot of love in Western media and there are way too many articles about how those are the two groups of people in the US most likely to draw stereotyping and ire when it comes to desirability–we’re still out here being loved and desired. Sometimes, we’re out here loving each other, believe it or not. As with all other facets of the human experience, somebody wrote books about it, and here they are. Four out of the five are romances, and one is an honorary mention for reasons I’ll explain later.
I want to take a moment and make it clear that even though as a Black lady living in Asia I hear and see a lot of creepy race-baiting and fetishizing nonsense in the real world, that’s not what this is. Someone dared me to find books on a theme that they though was absurd and uncommon, and I took them up on it . I’ve intentionally avoided books with marketing tags like AMBW and bland stereotypes in their descriptions. In short–the books in this list are good. This blog is not an invitation to make comments on racialized physical attributes, stereotype, use slurs, send me BTS fan art(unless it’s really, really good) or otherwise be a pain in the ass. Don’t do it. I’ll cry, and then I’ll block you. If you’re thinking about it, try Jesus and then go read one of these books instead.
So, on to the list. As always, I’m not an expert in literature, love, East Asian men, or even Black women. I’m just a lady who likes books, splashing my very general opinions out there along with a couple billion other folks. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I do personally recommend all of these books. Let’s start with…
This story about a Black American woman and a Korean American man(who is implied to actually be mixed Eurasian but it’s never really made clear) is probably the steamiest entry on the list so of course it comes first.(rimshot) Our hero and heroine have great careers, great families, great bodies and fantastic chemistry. It’s textbook wish fulfillment fantasy, which is what I love about romance novels. What I didn’t love was the handling of race in the story–while it was quite realistic, the story leans very heavily on misogynoiristic and/or anti-Asian characters and misunderstandings in the third act and becomes a bit depressing given its fluffy beginnings. That said, it gets points for having the conflicts between the couple be much more about their individual personalities and communication styles than the external pressures of racism. The book has a very happy ending, but be aware it goes to some unusually dark places for a romance novel. If you want to see a 3 chapter preview made available on the author’s site, click HERE.
“Maybe part of falling in love with someone else is also falling in love with yourself.”
Full disclosure: I haven’t actually finished reading this. I picked it up as a light YA romance/palate cleanser in between heavier reads and wasn’t expecting it to be quite so…evocative. It’s the story of a Jamaican girl and a Korean boy in New York City who have a star-crossed meet-cute and whirlwind romance. But it’s also so much more. There’s a lot here about fate and love and the tricky business of being human. The third or fourth time this book whopped me upside the head with something unexpectedly deep I put it down to save for later when my heart could take it. That said–this is another book that gets kudos for rightfully treating race as an external, socially constructed factor that never negates the inner lives of its characters or their love story, even while the plot demonstrates at times how warped and unjust other’s perceptions can be. It’s much more thoughtful than the marketing gives it credit for and I’ll definitely get back to it when I have a spare hour to cry over imaginary people. Find it HERE.
I’ve mentioned several times how much I appreciate it when interracial romance novels focus on couples whose main relationship conflict is not about race. Unfortunately, that is not the case for Trinity and Li Wei in this book–in a way, their conflicts are all about race. But it’s not because he’s Chinese–it’s because he’s a Chinese robot. (Or biosynthetic human, actually, but po-tay-to, po-tah-to.) This is a weird one–a feather light story with equally light characters but really heavy, well-organized sci-fi worldbuilding that I honestly wanted to see more of than the couple. It’s a fluffy beach read but a very fun and unique one. Find it HERE.
This YA romance featuring a Black American college student and her Japanese-American beau has a few distinguishing features. First of all, the main character is asexual. I did not know asexual romance novels were a thing but Alice, the pretty lady pictured on the cover, is a biromantic asexual and trying to figure out life and relationships with new beau Takumi. The second unique thing is that this is the only novel in this list where race doesn’t come up at all, really. (Culture does, but culture isn’t race, of course.) Alice and Takumi live in a very multicultural neighborhood in California and have a very diverse circle of friends and family so while race is a reality–they never really talk about it. They talk about their respective cultures loads though, as well as what it means to be ace in a relationship with an allosexual, or even in a relationship, period. I like the normalcy of this approach a lot. I’ve been in my share of interracial relationships and let me tell you, race gets talked about but not nearly as much as oh my days did you just do something annoying AGAIN? WHY? What even is this relationship right now???? This book gives you plenty of that and very little OMG you’re a different race can you eat normal food and impress my mom? Find it HERE.
This is emphatically not a romance novel, and it has the odd distinction of being the only novel by Octavia Butler (whom I love much more than James Baldwin and only slightly less than Maya Angelou) that I don’t really like. I consider myself a connoisseur of the far out but this one manages to be too freaky for even me. Lilith Oyapo spends most of the book assimilating into the world of aliens who have literally abducted her for breeding purposes. However, she does have a brief, plot-critical romance with another abductee, a Hong Kong born Canadian named Joseph. I include this book here because there is a lot going on in Dawn and the two following books. The world has ended and Lilith and Joseph are a sort of de facto Adam and Eve. Other writers published in the late 80s would probably have tried to make their relationship another oddity among oddities, but Butler makes the couple a point of familiarity. Their relationship is easily the most normal thing in the first book and forms an important touchstone for readers to base their understanding of the world Butler created for the Xenogenesis trilogy. Their race is an issue, but the fact that it is only throws the ridiculousness of racism and xenophobia into harsh lighting, exposing the regressivity and anti-humanity of prejudiced, supremacist thinking in a way that only Octavia Butler could manage. Find it HERE.
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(I can’t imagine why you’d want to, but find this HERE)
(This is a slightly-edited form of a review originally posted in 2014 on Goodreads. Were I to write this now, it would be better organized, but even more scathing.)
It’s taken me a long time to write a review of this, because I’m trying to be classy these days and I wanted to come up with something to say about this book and author that doesn’t begin with “So this dumb muthaf—- right here….”
I limped along for months trying to finish this book, scanning the last hundred pages in those odd moments when I got tired of watching paint dry or y’know, reading actual good books.
I finally powered through it, though. For science. And because apparently I don’t like myself as much as I thought.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let me explain why. The author, Lawrence E Harrison, describes himself as a Jewish chauvinist and a proud product of assimilation into America the Great and…being white. To that point, the last chapter seems to consist primarily of the author recounting experiences of being invited to join or consult with major cultural organizations based on his reputation as a “scholar of cultural relativism” and USAID worker, and then being fired as soon as the people in charge of these organizations discovered what his actual opinions were. This, of course, is the fault of those organizations for not being visionary enough, not looking at the facts, and believing that their own cultural values may contribute to their success.
In actuality, the author, who passed away in 2015, was just a garden variety intellectual racist and not a particularly clever one at that. He reels off statistics (with a special fondness for OECD scores, oddly broken down into racial as well as national categories, which creates an odd implication of causality between race and culture) and elevates Jewish, white European/American Protestant and East Asian “Confucian” cultures to paragon status. According to him these are the pinnacle of human societies with very few internal problems or challenges. (2021 note: I live in Korea now, where if you sneeze on a Tuesday thirty-four people will pop up and inform you that “Korea is a Confucian society.” To say that Confucianism lends an extra measure of advancement to a society is…rather laughable, from my current vantage point.) He exhibits very little understanding of interactions between cultures outside of financial transactions and mimicry and therefore gives no reasons, aside from a mysterious innate cultural inferiority and false sense of victimization and racial correlation, for why Nigerian Protestants are not as “successful” in his view as white ones.(2021 spoiler alert: Nigerian Protestants in America are actually more successful than white ones!) He doesn’t explain why a mostly Hindu and Muslim India is as (financially) successful as a Confucian China. There’s no reasonable explanation for how this book, a steaming pile of pseudo-intellectual racist tripe, manages to be used as a textbook in cultural studies classes in universities that still largely pretend that history begins and ends with the Boston Tea Party and somebody’s Irish great grandmother.
He cherry-picks rather curious examples to back up his assertions. The only successes that matter to him are those that are unchallenging to a 1950s Protestant American white/white-appearing/white-aspirational stereotype, ignoring the successes of Irish Catholics, Latinx groups, Black Americans(who he derides in an entire chapter dedicated to our “sense of victimology” because clearly a history of systematic racism is imaginary–honestly, f*ck this dude)–basically, if you aren’t Jewish, East Asian, or white, your culture’s successes count for nothing. If they do, it’s because at some point Jews, Confucians or European Protestants ran the culture at some point. All of this is done with no discussion of any negative cultural issues that may exist in “high value” cultures or positive factors within “low value” cultures. There’s no realistic viewpoint of culture as the self-expression of a people here. The sole value of a culture, in Harrison’s eyes, is only as a tool to make money and get higher test scores. What is this, Mad Men? How did this backwards worldview get published?
This book is disgusting, sneakily hateful, outdated and peculiarly misanthropic at times, but because it’s prettied up with carefully selected facts and statistics and is not overtly anti-minority–just overtly anti-non-assimilating minority–it’s taken seriously as a text on serious cultural solutions in the modern age. In doing so, it perpetuates some pretty foul stereotypes–Latinos and Blacks are lazy and stupid, Asians are a global “model minority” (even though last I checked, there are more Asians in the world than anyone else so how does that even work?) and white people, no matter where they’re from, are inherently hard-working with superior values. Long, anecdotal lists of successful people are trotted out for each “high value culture”, ignoring the fact that such a list can be made for ANY culture, poking a neat hole in one of his most common arguments.
What’s missing from this book is any appreciation of humanity. Culture is a human thing, a means of connection and creativity, not a tool for soulless financial success or a problem to be fixed. Adopting one culture does not always mean rejecting another and history and systems of oppression and economic equality matter a LOT in the way that cultures have developed and continue to develop. Also, there are more ways to be successful than passing tests and working in fields rampant with nepotism and cronyism, then pretending that you got there by pure ability.
I could type another ten pages about this, but I won’t. I’ll simply say, DON’T READ THIS BOOK. The ideas within aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
(Don’t buy this book, beautiful people. Buy something else, and read it with great enjoyment and appreciate for culture outside of a petty obsession with money and power. If you happen to buy a book from a link you click on this site, there are affiliate relationships and a commission might be earned. Thanks for visiting, beautiful people!)