Speaking as part of Good Housekeeping’s Big Summer Book Day, author Rachel Edwards shared her must-read books for those looking to diversify their reading…
Diverse reading is not just a moment, it may be topical but I think it’s a way of approaching reading for life. It’s part of enjoying that jumbled up, intoxicating essence of the world books, and a way we can all recognise the humanity in the other. Within a few pages we can become other people and realise that ‘other’ is not quite so different after all. So I say, let’s all dive into diversity.
Reading is one of the best ways we have into the experience of someone else… You can get inside the skin of someone who’s a different age, gender or a different species even as well as a different race. There are all kinds of experiences we can live just by reading a book.
When we live in a world that’s sadly divided among many fault lines, and one of them being race, it’s fantastic to have an opportunity to live others’ experience.
These are not just fashionable books, as such, there are classics, contemporary works, some fiction and some non-fiction. They all happen to be by women of colour, which might not sound that diverse in itself, but when added to your no-doubt groaning book shelves and mixed up with the many white male authors and other authors that are there, I’m sure it is a diverse addition, potentially, to lots of people’s reading.
This isn’t just a fashionable, topical, Black Lives Matter reading list, it’s important to say that, this is actually some of the finest fiction and non-fiction I’ve ever come across. These are some of my favourite works by any authors and they happen to be women of colour.
Beloved Toni Morrison
The late, great, Toni Morrison is a Pulitzer prize-winning author, she is a real hero to lots of people and Beloved is the first book of hers I read when I was about 13 or 14. It’s set in the mid-1800s and slavery is coming to an end. The lead character Sethe is haunted by the violence of the time – it was a horrific thing to happen then, as we all know - and her dead daughter Beloved has come back to haunt her, to punish her and also to elicit love from her mother. It’s an intriguing, fascinating, mind-blowing mix of horror and beauty and trauma and love. It’s a unique book and it’s quite unforgettable.
Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
If you love Toni Morrison you should also read a far more contemporary book, Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton. It’s a really moving book with magical elements, a touch of magic realism. It’s set in 1910 in Philadelphia and Philadelphia is burning. Spring, the main character, has a son called Edward who’s said to have run a streetcar into a shop window. We don’t know if he did this or not. Did he or didn’t he is the talk of the town. Edward is now horribly damaged, he’s in hospital in what they called the ‘coloured section’. He’s laying dying and Spring is desperate to get through to him so she goes there and with the help of her dead sister’s ghost, some newspaper cuttings and some re-constructed memories, she tries to get through to Edward and to bring him home, as it were. It’s an incredibly moving read.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
This is one of my favourite books of all time... It’s a fantastic book, I love this book very much indeed. One of the reasons I love it is because it contains such rich diversity in its own right. It’s about 12 Black women, or women involved in Black women’s lives. These different characters are all hugely diverse in themselves, they range in age from 19 to 93, I think. They’re all searching for something, whether it’s love or career, whatever they’re searching for, it interweaves beautifully. The literary style is entirely beguiling, it really draws you in... It’s very clever and it keeps you guessing and it has wit and humour and passion and love and joy. It’s a triumph of a book, an absolute masterpiece and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Darling by Rachel Edwards
It can be called a psychological thriller, some people say it’s more literary, some people say it’s a mystery, a book of issues. It’s about a Black British nurse, a step-mother called Darling White and her white English step-daughter who’s 16, Lola. They meet at the time of the EU referendum, when Darling meets her future husband, Thomas. Two worlds collide together and I explore the family as a microcosm of what was happening to the country at that time, where people were pulling in different directions. That is Darling and Lola, they have two very opposing viewpoints, they take alternating chapters and you find out what happens to them. On the first page you know one of them is dead within six months, but you don’t know who or why, the book unfurls quite quickly to reveal what exactly happened. The main point of my book is to show that racism is a corrupting force, racism corrupts love, love always has to win.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This is an extraordinary book, I first read it when I was around 12 or 13 and it completely blew me away. I think this is the first book I’d ever read by a Black woman, so it not only spoke to me on a personal level but in terms of my aspiration to become an author I thought ‘Wow, Black women write.’ It hadn’t really occurred to me at that point, so it was fundamental to me as a person and as an author. It talks about Maya’s life from when she was very young, living in the 1930s in the American South in this obviously very segregated society. She recounts with humour and grace some of the real hardships, and frankly trauma and abuse, that she went through and came through to triumph as this real titan of culture. We know she succeeds because we have her book. The question is, how did she do this? For me, this book is a triumph of the human spirit. I’d recommend it to anyone, it’s a wonderful book.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This is an incredibly important book, it’s a firework of a book and what it does is ask how we can see, acknowledge and counter racism in all its forms, whether it’s individually or in institutions. It’s a fantastic book, it’s erudite, it’s bright, it’s no-nonsense, it shoots from the hip, it’s straight-talking. I think everyone should read it. I’ve read it, my family and friends have read it and I think it answers a lot of questions and throws up more questions that need to be answered. A powerful, powerful book.
Superior by Angela Saini
This book is incredibly dear to my heart, and my mind... When I heard about this, I wish it had been written when I was a young child, I felt there had been a great need for something like this for a long time. When I read it, I thought: ‘Of course, this is what’s been missing from the cultural conversation.’ We needed this book. Why? It’s a book that debunks the myth that underpins all of racism. We talk about beauty being skin-deep and racism being about disliking someone because of their skin. Underpinning that has been years and years of lies that, at the heart, Black people are genetically inferior to the superior white race. This lie has been perpetuated for so long, it’s infiltrated all of our culture and learning and all of the science, most famously done by the Nazis. The brilliant Angela Saini tears this down page by page by page... She does it in a really easy to follow way, it’s not all difficult scientific arguments, it’s very clear and very accessible. I’m grateful that this book exists, I can’t recommend it highly enough and it should be compulsory reading at all schools, I think.
Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri
It takes a look at a subject really close to my heart – the magic and mystery and controversy and history of Black women’s hair. Obviously, I’ve had Black women’s hair by whole life but I read this and there were things I didn’t know, or hadn’t thought about, and revelations and surprises. It’s really humorous and well as well-researched. I think it’s an entertaining, informative read… and it also explains why It’s called Don’t Touch My Hair for very important reasons. You’ll have to read it and find out.
Watch Rachel's recommendations in the video above and at this link.
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