This past week, I participated, by invitation of Oonya Kempadoo (author of Buxton Spice, Tide Running, and All Decent Animals), in a facebook book cover challenge. You know the one; name a book you love, no explanation, tag someone else, do this for seven days.
I thought to share those books here doing what I couldn’t do there: explain.
First, options (once I’d narrowed it to books of fiction by women), included books I’ve mentioned before as childhood/teenhood favourites (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Are You There God, It’s me Margaret by Judy Blume, The Last of Eden by Stephanie S. Tolan), all time favourites (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Disappearing Acts by Terry McMillan, Their Eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston), books I think of fondly (Chocolat by Joanne Harris, Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, Coffee will Make You Black by April Sinclair, The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard, Pearl by Tabitha King, Orenda by Kate Cameron) or found genre shifting/genre shaping or otherwise interesting in some way (Buxton Spice by Oonya Kempadoo, Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan). But just picking on instinct each day (something I looked forward to throughout the week #booknerd), I went with:
Day 1. Chosen because I never mention it but it really tugged at my heart strings (angst alert!) when I read it years ago, so much so that it’s become one of those books that I’ve held on to (because apparently I love angst), and while I almost never re-read even sections of a book I’ve already read, I did (more than once) with this one (you know, when I need a pick me up #sarcasm). If you’ve read or seen Ordinary People (which has suicide as one of its themes), you have a hint of what to expect from this book (which has divorce, loneliness, and abuse among its themes).
Day 2. I wanted a book from my childhood/teenhood but not the obvious ones plus this book is so rare that finding a cover was quite the feat. Young love, disapproving grandma; that’s what I remember. Maybe it unconsciously provided some inspiration for my own Musical Youth? …maybe not; cool story though.
Day 3. At this point, I realized I had not listed a Caribbean book so I had to correct that and while anyone who knows me knows how much I love this book, how much the discovery of it emboldened my own dreams as a writer also from Antigua…so, you know, a too obvious choice…I wasn’t going to let it’s obviousness stop me. Yes, it’s already popular (the fact that it got the most response in my contribution to the 7 covers challenge underscoring that) but this coming of age in Antigua (and commentary on colonialism in the Caribbean) is popular with good reason. Cue the love.
Day 4. So if you know me you also know that I love all things Edwidge but did you know that of all her books this is my favourite? Yeah, you probably know that too (it’s been said). How about that it’s one of my top 5 favourite books of all time. OF ALL TIME. Yeah. I left some of my other all time faves off the list so this has to hold the spot for all of them. If you ever wanted to understand, what’s the deal with Dominican Republic and Haiti, two very different countries sharing the same island and a contentious relationship, this haunting tale of a brutal chapter in their relationship history is about as compelling as it gets.
Day 5. Knowing the attitudes to ‘genre’ fic and popular fic (and the pressure to be a proper and serious author recommending proper and serious books), I maybe hesitated a little but only a little because Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles beginning with this one right here is my favourite series, bar none. Lestat may be the rock star of vampire lore but Louis’ angsty journey from human to not-quite-human but still a little too tethered to his humanity to ever be fully at ease is what initially hooked me when I discovered this series in my university days (when I also discovered Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, another favourite) making this my favourite book in the whole Vampire chronicles and Louis my favourite character in the series. Sure it’s vampire fic but it’s also a well written modern classic that I unapologetically stan. Also I credit Rice with stoking my love for my favourite American city New Orleans and it started right here; how could I not include it.
Day 6. It was time for another African-American author and Bebe Moore Campbell wasn’t the most obvious choice (given some of my other faves, some mentioned above) nor was Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine my most obvious Bebe Moore Campbell choice (I actually prefer Brothers and Sisters) but this book was one of those books that looked at the transformation/non-transformation of America through a friendship between two women across the racial divide and across several decades pre-civil rights to 1980s (I think). What was interesting about it to me was how it reinforced that the laws don’t necessarily change people’s attitudes just their behavior (something the era of Drumpf seems to be spotlighting as racists come out of their dark corners) but also makes the point (as I remember) that people can. It’s underrated in my view for what it does and that’s why I picked it.
Day 7. I cheated. I was so sure this spot was going to be held by To Kill a Mockingbird which I read in secondary school and fell in love with, or Their Eyes Were Watching God because I lovelovelove Zora who I discovered in university, but the opportunity to end with a one-two bang was too hard to resist. So I went with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte which I couldn’t post without also posting Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, a Caribbean classic that is a response to a British classic – so much to be unpacked their in terms of interrogating the canon, de-centering a particular narrative for a narrative often relegated to the margins, and then beyond the act of writing, in the text itself, issues of race and class and gender that have not lost their potency more than half a century after publication. I reviewed Wide Sargasso Sea in the past year, so you can read my thoughts on that. Or you could read both books for yourself, back to back as Drake would say. Hey, why not do both.