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#AJPlusReads: Our “Don’t call it an ’alternative’” alternative book list
We weren’t impressed with The New York Times summer reading list. Not only were all the authors white, but most of the books were long and pricey (shortest was 290 pages. Least expensive was $25.95). And did we say that all the authors were white?! Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Whether or not you borrow these books from the library, start a book club or buy these gems, we’ve started a summer reading list below. But we also want to hear from you: What would you recommend? Join our book club by tweeting at us: #AJPlusReads. Or comment below with your rec’s.
- The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae (Feb. 2015)
In the tradition of Mindy Kaling’sIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, this is a humorous collection of essays on awkwardness. It’s that feeling you get when watching Broad City. Issa Rae’s take on life has made her a YouTube star, and placed her on the Forbes’s “30 Under 30” list. She also won a Shorty Award for Best Web Show.
2. Written in Tears by Arupa Patangia Kalita (March 2015)
Assamese novelist and short story writer Arupa Patangia Kalita received a national Indian award for her work in 2014. Her latest is a collection of three novellas with “radical undertones.” The short pieces include “Arunima’s Motherland” the story of a new bride; “The Cursed Field of Golden Rice” in which a tribal woman loses her home-twice; Mainao (“The Girl with Long Hair); and “The Half-burnt Bus at Midnight,” in which a bus destroys everything in its path.
3. Barefoot Dogs by Antonia Ruiz Camacho (March 2015)
Barefoot Dogs chronicles the life of a Mexican family forced into exile after a kidnapping. This is the story of José Victoriano Arteaga, who disappears on his way home from work. For the AJ+ audience tuned in to our coverage ofAyotzinapa, the story of disappearance may bring back memories. The truth of what has happened is unclear, plagued by violence, kidnappings, and government corruption. The main characters’ young grandson struggles to make sense of his family’s grief in California and in Madrid. “A straight-on jab to the soul,” as author Ben Fountain described it.
4. The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander (April 2015)
“I was writing and trying to fix something… Trying to fix memories before they sifted away,” Alexander says in an interview with The Washington Post. Her memoir starts with: “The story seems to begin with catastrophe but in fact began earlier and is not a tragedy but rather a love story.” Perhaps best known for her composition and delivery of “Praise Song for the Day,” during the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Alexander is a poet and playwright.
5. Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya (May 2015)
Transplanted from Nigeria to Nebraska, Ifi and Job are a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage. But they have a big secret, they lied. Job isn’t a doctor, he’s actually a college dropout. Here are the trials and tribulations of green cards, marriage and cross-cultural adjustment. Julie Iromuanya’s writing has been shortlisted for several awards, including the Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. Iromuanya will be teaching at University of Arizona in the fall.
6. The Lights of Pointe-Noire by Alain Mabanckou (May 2015)
Novelist, poet, and nonfiction author, Alain Mabanckou is a French citizen born in the Republic of the Congo. He is a professor of French and francophone studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and a well-known African writer in France. When Mabanckou returns home to Pointe-Noire, on Congo’s coast, he finds a country changed in many ways. A story about how home never leaves us, even when we leave it. Fans of our Africa Reset theme might be into this one.
7. Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing by Annie Zaidi (May 2015)
Though the title may sound a bit dry, (who wants to read thousands of years of history?), women’s writing in India dates back to 300 BC. As Quartz notes, “The anthology seems reassuringly academic, but also comes with potential literary excellence provided by carefully curated pieces by writers known for poetry and prose.” Indian women have taken on an increasingly active and important role in public society, as we see in this AJ+ video.
8. In the Country by Mia Alvar (June 2015)
Born in the Philippines and raised in Bahrain and the U.S., Mia Alvar is a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia University. Her work has been recognized in The Best American Short Stories. Her book gives voice to the Filipino diaspora, including exiles and emigrants. As one Amazon reviewer writes, “In the Countryspeaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons.”
9. The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson (June 2015)
Two sisters are sent from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them. A story of family and identity, author Ayana Mathis says the novel is “full of heart and heartbreak.” Born and raised in Brooklyn, Naomi Jackson received an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town. “With care, the narrative addresses huge issues, such as mental illness, mortality, sexuality, and, at its very core, what it means to love another person as they are,” says author Tiphanie Yanique. If you missed our AJ+ post on What we learned from our conversation on mental health with people of color and communities around the world, now is good time to read up.
10. The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud (June 2015)
What happens when you reimagine Albert Camus’ The Stranger from the point of view of the Arab victim? Algerian writer and journalist Daoud provides an alternative angle, contemplating Arab identity and the effects of colonialism in Algeria. “In a bar in Oran, night after night, he ruminates on his solitude, on his broken heart, on his anger with men desperate for a god, and on his disarray when faced with a country that has so disappointed him.”
11. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (June 2015)
Troubled by too many dating apps? With Tinder, OkCupid and Minder (and all the those other ones), it’s rough out there for single folks. “What does that text mean?” and, “Should I list my most used emoji’s in my dating profile?” are just a few of the many questions of our time. Ansari teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg for a research project that included interviews and focus groups with people around the world. He is “funny as hell, and smart as sh*t,” said fellow author Jonathan Safran Foer. If you’ve ever grappled with the online dating scene, you’ll probably want to watch this in addition to reading this one.
12. Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto (July 14)
Okay, so this author is white, but he has quasi-African roots. We’re equal opportunity reviewers. Born in Mozambique, Mia Couto is the son of Portuguese migrants who moved to the former Portuguese colony in the 1950s. Told through interwoven diaries, it depicts an isolated village in Mozambique with traditions and beliefs that are threatened when ghost-like lionesses begin hunting its women. “Confession of the Lioness explores the confrontation between the modern world and ancient traditions to produce an atmospheric, gripping novel.”
13. Flood of Fire by Amitov Ghosh (August 4)
Though our focus is mostly modern-day issues, Amitov Ghosh’s recent book is the last in his trilogy and worth a note. Set in the late 1800s, the main character makes his way eastward on a transport ship, from Bengal to Hong Kong, docking in Hong Kong just as war breaks out and opium “pours into the market like monsoon flood.” It’s like a remix of the history of the “war on drugs” in the U.S. The book follows a variety of characters from India to China, through the outbreak of the first Opium War.
14. Loving Day by Mat Johnson (May 2015)
Loving Day was the historic 1967 Supreme Court decision that made interracial marriage legal. Mat Johnson’s latest is a personal examination of what it means to be of mixed race in the US. It is the story of a mixed-race comic book artist who returns from Wales to his native Philadelphia to discover a daughter he didn’t know he’d fathered, a mixed-race cult, and a pair of ghosts haunting his father’s home. In a refreshingly honest interview with Gawker, Johnson says, “I think escape and immersion are underrated when we talk about fiction writing. It’s a huge part of what the average reader comes to reading novels looking for: the chance to get out of their skin, their reality, their time.” It puts our video on New York’s proposed multiracial box into perspective.
15. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Sept. 8)
Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly, has developed a fanatical following as a public intellectual always questioning America’s ability to make room for black excellence. In his memoir,The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, he describes his upbringing and coming-of-age in West Baltimore, a city in the headlines today for its racial fault lines. Coates won the George Peabody Award for Commentary last year with “The Case for Reparations.” For more Coates + Baltimore before September, pair “Non-violence as compliance” with AJ+ videos from Baltimore.
*Special thanks to contributions from Karen Van Drie, global library consultant based in Istanbul, recommendations from Jamilah King and additional inspiration from The New Inquiry, Quartz and Gawker. Tell us what you’d recommend below!