My 2016 in Books 

I love books. I hope when I grow up to be able to have lots of them.- Lucy Maud Montgomery, aged 15

So the final figures for this year are 125 books read, considerably less than last year. I read 18 poetry collections, 30 non-fiction, and the rest were fiction.

This year was my year of reading Toni Morrison and I  read a Morrison every month in chronological order. I managed to keep up with writing a review a month until the autumn, but with my new job I’ve had less time and energy for reading. Next year I’ll write a more detailed post of my findings and experiences through this journey.

2016 was a tumultuous one for several reasons. It was hard to focus sometimes but poetry always comes through in hard times, and I read a lot of it. Some of my favourites were Li-Young Lee’s The City in Which I Love You, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Langston Hughes’ Selected Poems, Gwendolyn Brooks’ Selected Poems, Czeslaw Milosz’s New and Collected Poems,  Marge Piercy’s The Crooked Inheritance, and  Mahmoud Darwish’s Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? And for those who missed it, earlier on in the year I compiled a list of diverse poetry. You can find it here

I found some great diverse graphic novels, for example Sita’s Ramayana by Samhita Arni and Moyna Chitrakar, the Aya series from Ivory Coast by Marguerite Abouet, and Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa: A History of Japan series.

I usually read a lot of biographies , and although this year I only read a few, I managed to find some good ones. My favourites were both 5 star reads. Mohammed Ali’s The Soul of a Butterfly was a good one to read after his death and be reacquainted with his legacy. And Grace Jones’ I’ll Never Write my Memoirs  is one of the most fascinating reads I’ve ever come across.

Reading women’s literature is so essential and I’m glad I’ve made a conscious effort to read more of it over the past few years. Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Dionne Brand, Maryse Condé and Ntozake Shange are women I read a lot of this year and they gave me so much strength.

I also read some good Black satire from Nigeria: Igoni Barret’s Blackass and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout; they are definitely worth reading.

I’m still finishing up a few reads that I’m really enjoying, for example, Mama Day by Gloria Naylor (RIP), So Long Been Dreaming (Eds. Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan), Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K.  Le Guin.

Some of the great non-fiction I’ve read this year has included Edward Said’s Representations of the Intellectual, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, Ways of Seeing by John Berger, Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks, The Media is the Message by Marshall McLuhan, and The Deep Zoo by Rikki Ducornet.

My ten favourite reads, in no particular order, are:

The Gathering of Waters– Bernice McFadden

The Sympathizer– Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Blue Castle– L. M. Montgomery

Dreams of Trespass– Fatima Mernissi

Beauty is a Wound– Eka Kurniawan

-The Big Sea- Langston Hughes

A Map to the Door of No Return– Dionne Brand

-A Small Place- Jamaica Kincaid

Sassafras, Cypress, & Indigo– Ntozake Shange

Woman at Point Zero– Nawal El Sadaawi

Next year I plan on continuing my theme of the last few years of reading more diversely and reading more women writers. I also plan on exploring  sci-fi more, and reading a lot of Lucy Maud Montgomery as I really enjoyed her this year. 

Thanks to everyone who reads my blog and engages with me on twitter and Goodreads, you are all very much appreciated<3 Wishing you all a great 2017. Happy reading!

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Lucy- Jamaica Kincaid

“That morning, the morning of my first day, the morning that followed my first night, was a sunny morning. It was not the sort of bright sun-yellow making everything curl at the edges, almost in fright, that I was used to, but a pale-yellow sun, as if the sun had grown weak from trying too hard to shine; but still it was sunny, and that was nice and made me miss my home less.” Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy

In many ways I feel as though the protagonist of Kincaid’s “Annie John” found her way into this book, except instead of leaving Antigua for England, she goes to America to work as an au pair for a rich American family.  This results in an interesting coming-of-age story, with themes of race and migration added to it, as well as colonialism, the remnants of which continue to reverberate.

This book definitely resonated with me and I could relate to Lucy’s experiences in some sense. Having myself left a former British colony for Canada at the same age as Lucy, I also remember having similar observations about my second stint in the West, especially as an adult. Although my observations were not quite as strong as Lucy’s due to travel and other factors, I could understand her feelings of wanting to leave her home, to start a new life away from meddling eyes, but missing her home when she did eventually leave, because those were my exact sentiments too. Growing into womanhood away from a familiar and protective environment, yes, I can relate.

But unlike Lucy, it took me years until I could put a finger on what annoyed me about people’s questions about home; the way they asked them, and what they asked:

“I wished once again that I came from a place where no one wanted to go, a place that was filled with slag and unexpectedly erupting volcanoes…Somehow it made me ashamed to come from a place where the only thing to be said about it was “I had fun when I was there.”

The idea of symbols and images meaning different things to different people was an especially interesting point. In particular, the daffodil, to the American woman, meant the beauty of Spring and the promises of new beginnings, while for Lucy who’d had to learn Wordsworth’s poem, it meant remembering colonialism and the absurdity of having to memorize poems about flowers that didn’t even grow in her part of the world.

“I felt sorry that I had cast her beloved daffodils in a scene she had never considered, a scene of conquered and conquests…”

But what an unlikable character the protagonist was. I found her thoughts and revelations quite interesting but she was so bitter!  I wonder what the reasons were, as she seemed too old to be experiencing teen angst. Still, I really enjoyed this book, primarily because of Kincaid’s absolutely beautiful writing style.

Black History Month: Annie John- Jamaica Kincaid

 

Annie John is the coming-of-age story of a 10 year old Antiguan girl. It’s a quick read; the thoughts of a very curious young girl obsessed with death and slowly taking in all the nuances that surround her, who becomes a highly intelligent adolescent who is uninterested in most things.

Annie is very much attached to her mother but finds, with the onset of puberty, that things will never be the same again, and she becomes resentful. Annie goes from idolizing her mother to almost hating her.

This book was set in colonial Antigua and it’s obvious that Kincaid didn’t much care for the British colonizers. This sentiment is shown the strongest in the classroom, where the teachers teach the Caribbean children from a British curriculum. As I was reading this, I remembered a verse in an African-Canadian poem that I had read recently:

“I read a thousand voices
None of them speak to me
Not one of them speak of me.” -Wayne Salmon, Curriculum

I found Annie to be an unlikeable character. She went from being a precocious, endearing child to one who thought she was superior to everyone. I guess that might be the result of her becoming jaded with age as she witnesses the double standards about her, and is confused by the contradictions of her Christian faith and the traditional obeah practices her mother follows from time to time.I may have been a little too hard on Annie.

I think this book will resonate with a lot of people, it definitely took me back to my childhood at some points.