One of my favorite things to talk about is diversity in books. Diversity in characters, locations, themes, complexions, and authors. What is more beautiful than walking into a sandbox with plenty of differences to go around?
Last year, I decided to read serendipitously. I picked books at random from the library, sometimes after hearing a blogger talk about it, and sometimes just because. I didn't have any method to my decision process. It was driven mostly by instinct and impulse. By the end of the year, I was very disappointed to see that only 9% of my books were set outside US and Britain or written by non-US and non-British authors. A tiny part of the problem here was that I did not try to read more international authors.
The bigger problem is really accessibility. I don't see many international books promoted in the States, unless they involve a sob story (pretty much any Lisa See book, Please Look After Mom, and countless others) or involve some controversy (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother). I don't want to read a sob story after I get home from a grueling day at work. I do read serious fiction, but if I were reading serendipitously, my picks would almost always be cheerful books.
This year, I am doing that project. Where I don't read serendipitously much - maybe a little here and there, since it's still my preferred manner of finding books to read. But mostly, I spend hours browsing through Goodreads groups and blog posts and bookish articles, looking for mostly fun or light, but occasionally serious books from around the world. Yes, it's challenging. But surprisingly, it's also been super fun and satisfying. I don't commit to any of the books I find. I'm mostly looking for fun books from different countries that anyone can read without feeling overly depressed. Aren't those the kind of books that will bring back fans?
Uganda, China, Tahiti, Australia, Zimbabwe, Nepal) but one of the books I want to highlight today is this fun, light, and quick book I read couple of years ago - The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu (See my full review here). Set in Zimbabwe, this book is set mostly in a salon, where Vimbai has convinced herself that she is the best hairdresser in town. But one day, a guy named Dumisani arrives looking for a job (and getting it too). His skills get Vimbai jealous, scheming, and not too happy. But Dumisani is incredibly polite to her and winning even the readers' hearts. While on the one side, it explores the tenuous relationship between these two characters, on the other hand, it also introduces gay characters, and some Zimbabweans' low tolerance of them.
Light, fun, quirky. Just the kind of books I want to see become more popular. There are countries out there forever linked with war. What is an Afghan book without the mention of a war? What is a Rwandan book without the mention of a war? As much as it is important to know how these countries and their peoples have suffered, I am sure they contribute more to literature than just books that necessitate a box of kleenex next to you. Where are the cheerful and funny books from these countries?
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This post is part of my Armchair Traveler project.