Expand your reading list with these recommendations
Exams are over and summer is here! With our new-found freedom it’s time for UVic students to soak up the sun with a good book. This year, let’s take the opportunity to diversify our reading lists with books written by BIPOC authors.
During my four years working at a bookstore, I have witnessed an increase in customer requests for books written by authors of color. Customers want their bookshelves to reflect the diversity they see in the world and are using their wallets to challenge an overwhelmingly white publishing industry.
Books have the power to foster empathy by immersing readers in someone else’s point of view. With the Black Lives Matter movement last summer and the rise in anti-Asian hate globally, it’s important that we read and elevate stories written from the perspectives of different races, cultures, and beliefs other than our own.
As a white person, I have challenged myself to read more books by diverse authors. Below is a list of my top seven favourite books written by authors of color.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah’s bestselling memoir is probably the most well-known book on this list. The host of The Daily Show grew up in South Africa during the end of Apartheid, where his very existence as a bi-racial child was a crime. Noah explores his childhood in vivid detail, mixing wit with tragic anecdotes about the Johannesburg townships he called home. If you can, listen to the audiobook as Noah’s use of dialects and comedic timing makes his memories come alive.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Is this book more than 700 pages? Yes. Is every page in this book worth the read? Also, yes! Set in 1970s India, the novel tells the story of four characters whose lives intersect during a period of political turmoil. Full of wisdom and tragedy, Mistry’s novel will pull you in and never let you go.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
One of BBC’s top 100 most influential novels of the 21st century, Zadie Smith’s debut novel follows the relationship of two unlikely friends in post-World War II London. A multicultural family saga spanning multiple generations, Smith’s novel is filled with characters who are equal parts flawed and charming.
All that Matters by Wayson Choy
Choy explores Vancouver’s Chinatown in 1930 through the perspective of Kiam Kim, who arrives with his family from China when he is just three years old. Throughout the novel, we are witness to Kiam’s struggle between the old traditions of his family and his new Canadian identity. Effortlessly mesmerizing, Choy delves into the struggle of the Asian experience in Canada.
Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee
After discovering a series of letters written by her deceased grandfather, environmental historian Lee returns to her ancestral home in Taiwan to reconnect to the land she has forgotten. As Lee hikes the forests of Taiwan, she reflects on the impact colonists have had on the landscape as well as the historical events that have shaped the island and her family. Shortlisted for the 2021 Canada Reads competition, this memoir is perfect for anyone who has contemplated the relationship between people and place.
Medicine River by Thomas King
Thomas King is one of Canada’s most influential Indigenous writers. His first novel takes place in a small Albertan town which borders a Blackfoot reserve. Told through a series of flashbacks, we are introduced to the people that call Medicine River home, including Will Sampson and the pestering yet endearing Harlen Bigbear. A powerful meditation on identity, community, friendship, and love, King’s writing sticks with you long after the story ends.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
Thi Bui’s illustrated memoir begins with the birth of her son in New York. Alternating between the past and the present, Bui recounts the childhoods of her mother and father growing up in Vietnam, as well as her family’s escape from the country in the 1970s. An intimate look at immigration and the impact of displacement on her family, Bui’s memoir is an unforgettable read.
If you’re looking for resources to help build your reading list, We Need Diverse Books has compiled a list of online sites that offer diverse reading recommendations. The website Teaching Books also allows you to search for diverse book titles by subject, culture, and genre.
Can’t afford to buy new books? Many Canadian libraries, including the Greater Victoria Public Library, have collections of free audiobooks and ebooks for download.