my summer reading list and thoughts on the importance of fiction

Early on in June, Bernardine Evaristo (Author of the Booker prize winning novel Girl, Woman, Other which I’ve just finished reading and was utterly captivated by) wrote a piece for British Vogue on the importance of inclusive publishing, which covered why it’s up to the perpetrators within to fix the lack of diversity rather than those on the outside, why we must read fiction that goes far further than just stories of Black pain, and also highlighted the ways in which fiction is important and can often be a key part in our learning and understanding alongside the specific anti-racist non-fiction work. Evaristo puts it perfectly when she says

“We know that people who read fiction are more empathetic because they are well-practised in stepping into the shoes of fictional characters who are different from themselves. This is not to say that novelists write to educate people, but we do accept that this might be byproduct of our creative endeavours. As novelists, we envision the intimate realities of our characters, try to capture the essence of who they are, test their inner strength through which they grow and transform during the course of the story. The best writers create characters from a place of compassion and insight, because we are all multi-faceted beings with strengths and weaknesses and everything in between.”

This I felt was a much needed reminder, especially while I was coming up with my summer reading list. I’ve always felt that my openness to change and ability to see things from a different perspective- especially when seeing through the social constructs and binary way of looking at the world which we’re so often taught is just the natural way of things and a universal truth- comes from my love of fiction, from early childhood I’ve been jumping into the minds of characters who’s lives on the surface share no similarities to my own and yet, somewhere along the line finding our shared humanity. Admittedly, in the early days a lot of these characters would’ve been written by white men, but I’ve never been one for only reading about people who look like me so I thankfully branched out into different authors, at one point making a conscious decision to read more works by women and now I just naturally gravitate towards these books. This isn’t to say that my book shelves are as accurate a representation of the world as they could be. I might have dealt with the sexism problem and have far less White writers than I used to but as an intersectional feminist I know there’s so much more to be done, especially when it comes to branching out from heteronormative, cisgendered, and non-disabled characters. And like Evaristo said, fiction isn’t written for our education, reading non-white authors isn’t simply for ticking a box or “diversifying”, it’s for the pleasure of having even more amazing writing and stories. Reading great stirring fiction filled with inspiring and complicated characters while growing up has allowed me to learn about different time periods, classes, cultures and races and although I can never fully understand the experiences out with my own, I know that when looking at those around me I can see that some people find it far more difficult than others when trying to wrap their heads around the idea of privilege or having less of an “us” and “them” mentality. This often shows that simply never having to think about something, due to privilege, can lead to a real lack of empathy and a tendency to deem those that don’t look or sound exactly like you as other, a belief which can be hard to change or reverse. Because of this I’m so grateful for what reading has given me and many others around the world, as empathy is going to be an absolute necessity when standing in solidarity with marginalised communities as well as in moving forward to create a better world. I hope then, that as well as doing the work and reading the fantastic non-fiction on offer, that Bernardine Evaristo’s words will remind us all of the importance of fiction and its ability to show that even in the stories furthest from what we know, there are far more similarities than differences to be found.

Now if you’ve managed to make it through my rambling thoughts, here’s what I’m planning to read this summer, including some books I’ve been meaning to read for a while and plenty of preorders that I can’t wait to receive.

Florence Given’s Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is possibly the book I’ve been most excited for this year. I’m half way through it already and all I can say is buy it now, it’s the book all women need whether we know it or not. Also the illustrations are perfect and it’s the most pleasing feeling book (I’ll explain more when I do a full post on it).

Hazel Hayes’ Out of Love sounds like it’s going to rip my heart out and leave me a wreck with a love story in reverse but I’m ready for it, as was Aisling Bea according to the quote on the cover. I know it’s gonna be whip smart and full of truth and emotion.

Candice Brathwaite’s I am Not Your Baby Mother is currently a bestseller and all I seem to see are people raving about it. Far more than a motherhood memoir, the book covers everything from the way motherhood is shown in the media to micro-aggressions and knife crime. I find Brathwaite to be hilarious and witty in every interview I’ve listened to, speaking eloquently on such important subjects and also, her joy is infectious. I’d recommend following her on Instagram too.

Holly Jackson’s Good Girl, Bad blood, the sequel to A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is gonna be fricking amazing if it’s anything like the fun mystery of the first novel, set around another missing person case as the characters are busy getting on with making a true crime podcast, hopefully a perfect entertaining summer read.

Lemn Sissay’s My Name Is Why is coming out in paperback form on the 2nd of July and sounds utterly breathtaking and heartbreaking in equal measure. I love Sissay’s writing already and the story of his adoption and mistreatment at the hands of the care system sounds like an anger inducing but nonetheless hopeful, and as always, beautiful read.

Meryl Wilsner’s Something to Talk About sounds like a super fun romance, it’s set in Hollywood and centred around the rumours which start to spread about two women who work together and their relationship towards each other, and follows them as they realise the rumour might not be such a crazy idea.

Nikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism has been on my list a while and now it’s sold out in a lot of the usual places so I’m glad I managed to get it just in time, it’s gonna be an important one for White women who consider themselves feminists like myself, and a reminder of the need for understanding and being aware of the intersections between sexism, race, and class.

Emma Gannon’s Olive is out on the 23rd of July and from what I’ve seen already has amazing reviews from lots of other authors I love. I’ve loved Gannon’s writing in the past and I’m excited to see what she does with her first novel and the topic of being a modern woman.

Samantha Irby’s Wow, No Thank You is a book that I seem to keep hearing about it, and after listening to many an interview with Samantha Irby, I can safely say I desperately want to be her friend and I just know she’s gonna leave me in fits of laughter with this book. I truly admire her openness and honesty even when it comes to the more embarrassing parts of life.

Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give has been very popular for a while now, especially since the movie of the same name, but as I’ve only recently started getting back into reading YA novels it passed me by until now. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this book tackles a multitude of issues head on with nothing held back. It’s probably one of the fiction reads I’m most excited for arriving.

Pandora Sykes’ How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? & Other Essays on Modern Life is out on the 16th of July and looks to be full of interesting and thoughtful observations and many interrogations into how we’re living life in this ever changing world. I imagine it’ll spark lots of thoughts and discussions and (I hope) provide some much needed reassurance as well.

Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing has been on so many book lists for what feels like a very long time, and I’m finally getting round to it. Almost every review I’ve seen includes the words “beautiful” or “astonishing” and it appears to be a coming of age style mystery centred around nature, you can’t possibly go wrong with that.

Isabel Ibañez’s Woven in Moonlight has the most beautiful cover which drew me to it in the first place but the YA Latin America set story sounds truly gorgeous and filled with vivid magical adventure. The story itself is a stand alone but the world its set in is going to be part of a series so I can only imagine how evocative the setting is going to be.

Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy seems to be an absolute must read, said to be not just a book you read but a book that you do. An eye opening read that every one of us needs for understanding our privilege and the racism within and around all of us. I’m ready to get stuck in.

Kate Weinberg’s The Truants is the 3rd mystery coming of age style book on this list and sounds like a great thriller to get lost in. The protagonist is starting her first year of uni and trying new things for the first time which seems to take a wickedly dark turn as secrets start to come out within her new circle of friends.

Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library comes out the 20th of August, a lovely little birthday treat for me as I adore Haig’s fiction and this sounds magical from the title alone, with a winding story line involving the different lives the protagonist could’ve lived, all to be found in the library between life and death. What’s more to love than a book involving books?

As you can see I’ve got a lot of great reading to look forward to over the next couple of months, I hope that you too are finding books that you can’t wait to get stuck into! I really love preordering and having books arriving months down the line, I’d say it’s a lovely surprise but that would be lying as I’m afraid I just can’t help checking when they’re on their way. Which books are you looking forward to this summer? Let me know, as there’s far too many amazing books coming out this year and I know I’ll have missed many that I’d love.

In relation to Bernardine Evaristo’s article, the recent hashtag, “publishing paid me” has shown the stark disparities in the advances given to Black authors in comparison to White authors. It was a glaring reminder of how much is still to be done in even the seemingly more “progressive” areas of work. Here’s a link to a crowdfunder for inclusive publishers, which if you can would be a great place to donate! And if not, as readers there’s already so much we can do, we have the power to show publishers where the demand is and in turn show, at the very least, the profit to be gained by investing in stories by Black authors.

—T

2 thoughts on “my summer reading list and thoughts on the importance of fiction

  1. Another excellent post. I liked your take on current issues and you’ve presented a good argument without being too tokeny which I feel a lot of people have done. I’m looking forward to the midnight library as I went to see Haig during his book tour for notes on a nervous planet and I thought he was excellent so I’m sure this book will be the same. Keep up the amazing writing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! My posts have been pretty long lately, I’ve been getting a bit carried away with my thoughts but thank you for still reading. It’s a shame we’re going to miss out on so many book tours this year, hopefully Matt Haig does some online stuff. I look forward to discussing The Midnight Library with you in August!

      Liked by 1 person

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