Fun Summer Reads and More
It's summer! That means that we've had some time to read books and watch shows for fun.
In an effort to diversify the perspectives that we are exposed to, we have made a conscious effort to choose authors and stories that represent many perspectives and backgrounds. This has extended into our personal lives too in the books we read, social media follows, and into our tv and movie watching.
So, here are a few recommendations from each of us for some reading/watching/listening that represent diverse voices and #ownvoices but don't feel like work.
Every night my wife, daughter and I gather in the living room and my wife reads to us. It's been a regular part of our daughter's bedtime routine since she was wee. We are currently on the final chapters of Dumpling Days by Grace Lin. It's the last of a trilogy that follows Pacey as she navigates the loneliness and misunderstandings of being the only Taiwanese-American kid in her class. In this last book she visits Taiwan for the first time. We've also loved Lin's trilogy that begins with When The Mountain Meets the Moon that is based on Chinese folklore.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I sometimes read romance novels. But hey, it's summer, and when I'm sitting outside enjoying the warm weather, I want to read something light and fun. So my second recommendation (don't judge) is a series by Alyssa Cole called the Reluctant Royals. I like this series because it is a great example of Black joy. The stories focus on an African kingdom that is progressive and wealthy. The characters are entertaining, none of the storylines are about overcoming hardship because of being Black, and queer identities are treated as a non-issue.
I've been reading a lot of YA fiction lately, and a book I've loved is Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. It follows a Nigerian-American teenager as she discovers that she is a Leopard person and has magical abilities. It's about figuring out who you are and where you fit in and has some fun magic too. I've read some of Okorafor's other books and really enjoyed her Binti series too.
I'm going to squeeze in a fourth recommendation that I just finished reading last week. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi follows Lakshmi as she navigates her life in Jaipur.
I always welcome good fiction recommendations, and recently a friend’s high praise for Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi had me pop down to the library to check out a copy. I admire this book for so many reasons! Gyasi’s ability to root her narrative in the historical reality of the transatlantic slave trade in two countries and continents is a feat that makes this novel expansive and political at the same time that it is incredibly intimate. She weaves together two divergent lines of a family tree throughout the book, impressively developing each character in the space of an individual chapter before moving on to a new branch in the tree. She does this all the while making each character’s life and chapter feel complete in itself but also connected consciously and unconsciously to so many other life histories.
Do you have a shelf of books you’ve been given or have purchased over the years that you haven’t yet had the time to read? This summer I was happy to finally dive into another great book on my shelf: This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. I love a book like this that spans genres and brings them into conversation -- part short story, part poetry, part creative nonfiction, part song. I love a thin, meaty book that can make you laugh and wrench your gut in equal turns. And I love a book that doesn’t do the work for readers, meaning sometimes you are keenly aware of being an outsider in the narrative because you don’t have the cultural knowledge or experience to take in everything the writer is giving. For me, that kind of reading experience makes me reflect on the knowledge I lack, consider what it feels like to read from this position, and think critically about how to repair for myself the cultural gaps that exist and persist.
This summer I watched both seasons of Feel Good, co-written by Mae Martin and Joe Hampson. When I finished, I called my friend who had recommended it to have a long chat about my ambivalent feelings about this comedy/romance series. I’ll admit that the jury is still out for me on this show, but it made me think, and I appreciate television shows or movies that keep me thinking even when some of those thoughts are focused on things I wish had been done better. One of my minor criticisms of the show was that I felt the characters were often unnecessarily unkind to or neglectful of each other. A more serious issue for me was Feel Good, like so many other shows, continues to feature people of colour only as supporting characters for a cast of uniformly white protagonists in primary relationships with other white people. On the other side of my feelings about this show, I was pleasantly amazed to see such a frank and central engagement with queer sexualities and gender identities (minus the silly suggestion in season two that Canada is a utopia of queer and trans acceptance). The show also ventured into some admirably complex territory around topics like addiction, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse. Perhaps Feel Good might spark some reflection and conversation for you as well.
It has not been easy for me to get back into reading after a few months of not reading novels/books. Some dear friends encouraged me to try a few YA books, which have been instrumental in helping me feel excited and re-committed to reading. I am so grateful.
Jason Reynolds’ novel Long Way Down is one of those books -- a raw and powerful must read. The structure of the novel as prose adds so much tension to an already emotional, heart wrenching and intense story of how cycles of guns and violence can tear apart families and communities. As I read about how grief-stricken fifteen year-old Will sets out to seek revenge for the murder of his brother, his emotions of anger, rage, sorrow, and obligation became so real. The lessons that Will learns as he meets people who have been victims of gun violence and the symbolism along the way weave a deeply powerful story with an ending that had me reading, pausing and re-reading a few times. This most certainly is a timely and impactful book.
Another book that really spoke to me is This Place: 150 Years Retold. This stunning graphic anthology showcases 11 Indigneous writers, 8 illustrators and two colour artists. It presents Canadian history over the last 150 years from multiple viewpoints including Métis, Inuit, Dene, Cree, Anishinaabe, and Mi’kmaq. Each story is powerfully conveyed, reflecting a time and moment in the Indigenous history of Canada. I found Katherena Vermette’s story about Annie Bannatyne, a little-known Métis community builder in Winnipeg, one of the most empowering works in the collection. I was also particularly moved by Chelsea Vowel’s “kitaskînaw 2350” fictional story involving a Cree youth from the future who is sent back to 21st-century Western Canada and witnesses the ravages of climate change. This is a must read for all and is accessible for any age level. I could sense from the depth of the stories that it is just the start of so much history, knowledge and storytelling that each of us should be reading and learning from by the incredible Indigenous communities of Turtle Island.
I had read and heard about Chey and Pav’s podcast (The Staffroom Podcast with Chey & Pav) through various social media platforms but had not had an opportunity to listen in until this summer. I have been hooked since I started as they grab your attention by their energetic, playful, and warm look at education. I have found myself laughing, nodding, and feeling a true connection to two Middle School educators I have not had the privilege to meet but who, like me, have been reflecting, refining, and reimaging their role as educators. I highly recommend listening to their awesomeness, as well as to the amazing guests they have had on such as the incredible Pamala Agawa, who I continue to learn from, be inspired by, and hope to meet in person one day in the future.
I had been long wondering about the Netflix series - Never Have I Ever, especially after hearing so much about it from South Asian friends and reading about it on social media platforms. Mindy Kalling’s comedy follows a 15-year old first-generation Indian American teen (Devi Vishwakumar) growing up in California. It has been interesting to see how the show depicts and highlights the complexity of Devi navigating both her American and Indian identities. While Devi’s experiences and life story is different from my own, there have been many elements that are like a mirror for me. I find myself laughing as I reflect back on my own experiences and memories, crying as I feel Devi’s pain and grief, and genuinely wondering how Devi’s journey and story will continue to evolve and develop.