Feature photo: Claire Leahy
Welcome to Advice in The Stacks, a bookish advice column from me, Traci Thomas, the host and creator of The Stacks podcast. My show is all about books and the people who read them, with new episodes out every Wednesday on your favorite podcast platform. Due to the nature of the show I am constantly asked for advice on all things books, so I’m making it formal and bringing my advice to all of you with my monthly column here at SheReads.com.
If you have questions about anything book related, CLICK HERE and submit your question, and then come back the last Thursday of the month to see my advice.
How do you stress the importance to readers (without sounding preachy or judgmental), whether your own kids or friends, of reading books that are not in your own cultural comfort zone?
I love this question because I think it is a common one. How can I get people around me to care about racism/homophobia/ableism/classism/transphobia in the same way I do? How can I get the people around me to care? Not only how can I get them to care—but more importantly, how can I get them to care by the same means I do?
The truth is, you can’t.
The more you try to push people to do things the way you want them to do it, the more resistance you’ll find. That goes double for the people you already know have ideological differences with you (I see you, uncle-in-law) and with your kids.
Look, we all saw this in the summer of 2020. A lot of people were told the way to show you care about Black people was to buy a bunch of anti-racist books from Black-owned bookstores. And yes, that is a nice way to support Black artists and small business owners. (Let’s be 100% transparent, my own podcast saw a huge spike in subscribers in June 2020). But then what happened? People were incredibly rude to the booksellers when the books weren’t on an Amazon timetable, people didn’t bother picking up their purchases, and a lot of people certainly didn’t bother reading the books. You can not make other people care about the same things as you in the same way.
So, here is what I do. I give very specific book recommendations of great books. That’s it. I’d never tell a friend I think you should read Minor Feelings because you seem to have some deep-seated anti-Asian racism brewing (I wish I was that bold and direct). Instead, when that friend asks me what book I’m reading, I rave about this book on racism told from the experience of a Korean author and poet named Kathy Park Hong. What I’m trying to say is take a page out of Christopher Nolan’s playbook and incept your loved ones.
But here is the thing: it is imperative that the books you suggest are fantastic books and tailored to the person you’re recommending them to. If you know your aunt hates memoir, no matter how much you love Heavy by Kiese Laymon, you cannot recommend that book to her. You’ve got to find the way in that works for your aunt. Think of it like matchmaking, and not as an opportunity to teach.
You can’t make people see things your way. The best you can do is hope you can show people what they’re missing by giving them stellar book recs and keeping the lines of communication open. I know that sounds a little like a bummer, but if you’ve ever been preached to by a friend or family member, that space to make choices for yourself is invaluable in maintaining trust and minimizing resentment. Plus you want them to actually read the book, right?
Can you give me recommendations for the #20booksby20blackwomen challenge?
Oh hell yes. If you’re not familiar, the #20BooksBy20BlackWomen challenge was created by Crystal Forte, the reader behind @melantedreader on Instagram and Twitter. It’s a challenge that asks folks to read at least 20 books by 20 Black women in the calendar year. It’s a simple request. What I especially love about this challenge is how it allows the reader to see the vastness of Black women. We are certainly not a monolith. If you do participate you can read across decades, continents, genres and so much more.
Here is a list of 20 fantastic books by Black women. I have included the genre with each book, as well as a link to the books we’ve covered on the podcast, in case you want to supplement your reading with listening. This list is in no particular order.
Sula by Toni Morrison (Literary Fiction | The Stacks Episode with Brit Bennett)
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (US History)
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo (Literary Fiction)
Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop by Danyel Smith (Cultural Studies | The Stacks Episode with Danyel Smith | The Stacks Episode with Novena Carmel)
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler (Speculative Fiction)
Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry (Memoir | The Stacks Episode with Kiese Laymon)
Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey (Memoir)
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin (Science Fiction)
Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans (Poetry)
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (Memoir | The Stacks Episode with Sarah Fong)
We Should All Be Millionaires by Rachel Rodgers (Business)
Becoming Abolitionists: Police, Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom by Derecka Purnell (Nonfiction | The Stacks Episode with Derecka Purnell)
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams (Romance | The Stacks Bonus Episode with Tia Williams)
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (Literary Fiction)
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Phillyaw (Short Stories | The Stacks Episode with Deesha Philyaw)
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillam Cottom (Essay Collection | The Stacks Episode with Tressie McMillam Cottom)
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janey Mock (Memoir)
Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat (Short Stories)
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby (Essay Collection | The Stacks Episode with Samanatha Irby)
New People by Danzy Senna (Literary Thriller)
Ok, I stopped at 20 which means I didn’t include any books from Alice Walker, Brit Bennett, Yaa Gyasi, Audre Lorde, Angela Y. Davis, Zadie Smith, Zora Neale Hurston, and on and on. This list is very much just a super duper starting point, please join the challenge. Read Black women.