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September 6th marks National Read a Book Day and, if you’re anything like us, it’s the perfect excuse to work through that ever-growing pile sitting on your bedside table. This year, Tiger has made a commitment to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, so we’re focusing on five incredible fiction and non-fiction books from authors of underrepresented groups for you to sink your teeth into.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
One of the better-known books on this list, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race has been heralded as “the black British bible”, “one of the most important books of 2017” and “the book that’s changing how we talk about race”, to name a few. First published in 2017, the lessons remain poignant and essential for those who don’t experience racism, prejudice and disadvantage daily.
Eddo-Lodge, a black British woman, opens the novel by taking the reader through the UK’s involvement in slavery to contemporary incidents of racial violence from police and others. While the recounting is brutal and confronting at times, it’s essential learning if you’re not already aware of the details. She uses her personal experiences to talk to issues of white fragility, systemic racism, the intersection of race, classism and feminism and the fear of black people in Britain. Throughout, readers will be shocked and horrified, but will also begin to critically analyse the systems they have passively lived with (and, most likely, benefitted from) their entire lives.
Our copy had been updated in 2018 with a new chapter – ‘Aftermath’, explaining where the book fitted into the political climate at the time of publication. Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and a leaning towards the far right (and an increased hostility towards underrepresented groups) in many countries around the world all had their effects on how the novel was received. She also updates readers on the real-world examples used throughout the book and the novel’s initial reception. Since publishing her initial blog post, which became the book, she hasn’t been able to stop talking to white people about race. However, she acknowledges her (and our) place in the life-long movement for ending racism.
This novel was the first that we discussed in our book club, and it was a fantastic (if extremely difficult) introduction to the systems, barriers and prejudices that people of colour experience daily.
Little Fish – Casey Plett
Winner of several awards, including the Amazon Canada First Novel Award 2019, Little Fish is the breakthrough debut from Casey Plett. A work of fiction that follows Wendy, a trans woman living in Winnipeg, who finds out her grandfather may have also been trans. While initially dismissive of the news, through her and her friends’ own struggles with sex work, alcohol abuse and suicide, she turns to her grandfather’s story to try to make sense of her past and future.
Heralded by many as speaking to an authentic experience of being a trans woman, Plett herself has been very vocal about her own transition in the past. She brings her own experiences to the characters in the novel, from Wendy’s family’s acceptance of her, to the constant sexual and verbal harassment she experiences.
Entertaining and clever, the novel carries with it an important message: it’s important to recognise and remember how oppressive heteronormativity can be to those who don’t fit into that idea. The author has also been praised for her realistic and natural dialogue of Wendy and her circle of friends (all of whom are trans women). For readers who are cisgender (where someone’s sex at birth corresponds with their personal gender identity), this will be an eye-opening insight into how trans people experience the world.
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Between the World and Me is a book by black author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who grew up in West Baltimore in the 1980’s. The novel is written in the form of a letter to his 15-year-old son which opens the window into their personal relationship.
He starts the letter by recounting, “last Sunday, the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body”. During a news segment where he was being interviewed, he attempted to explain that American law and government was built on the abuse of black people (their bodies, land and wealth). He also pointed out that these institutions have only ever considered white men. When the news anchor goes on to talk about a hopeful future (using a photograph of a black child hugging a white police officer as proof of some harmonious utopia), he knows he has failed in getting his point across.
Throughout the letter, he references lessons his son has learnt from police brutality and murders against black people, alongside Coates’ personal experiences, to bring into focus the wider systemic disadvantage that young black people face in the US. He details his experiences with his parents growing up (when his father would discipline him harshly to try to deter him from getting involved in activities where the police would be involved), the fear he felt from the black boys growing in his neighbourhood, and how he first saw a gun flashed at him aged 11.
The book talks about the distance between the world he grew up in and the one he saw white children and families experience. While reconciling these two worlds is hard, it’s something that he attempts throughout the novel. He also details his formative years at Howard University in Washington D.C. and his experience of fatherhood.
A New York Times bestseller, and hailed as “required reading”, this novel is an extremely powerful account of race in America for everyone, not just those living in the US.
A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
A work of fiction published in 1964, A Single Man follows a day in the life of a middle-aged gay professor in LA after his partner passes away suddenly. He is driven to suicidal thoughts, but ultimately changes his mind when he connects with old and new friends. This short novel (186 pages) was also adapted into a film in 2009 starring Colin Firth.
The novel could almost be autobiographical in parts, as the protagonist, George, is a British man who is teaching at a university in California. Isherwood was also a gay man, born near Manchester, who relocated to the US and taught at California State University, Los Angeles. The story is relatable to anyone who has felt a mundane loneliness. Alongside this struggle, George faces prejudice due to his sexuality in a culture that doesn’t accept him or the love he shared with his partner.
This novel is definitely a worthwhile read. Despite it being written and published in the 1960’s, it’s an important reminder to never forget how hostile and dangerous the world was and continues to be for LGBTQ+ people.
We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We Should All Be Feminists, first a TEDx Talk watched by over 6.2 million people, is now an essay on modern feminism and gender equality by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In less than 50 pages, she clearly outlines the benefits to both women and men becoming feminists by touching on issues like sexism in the workplace, gender expectations (how they hurt men and women) and rape culture.
Adichie uses personal anecdotes from growing up in Nigeria and her first, negative exposure to the word ‘feminist’. She also recalls a journalist advising her that she should never identify herself as a feminist, as they are only women who are unhappy because they can’t find husbands. She highlights the baggage the word ‘feminist’ must endure, including the common trope of a man-hating, bra-burning woman who shuns all traditions. This is just one of the many false ideas of a feminist she dispels in the novel.
Accessible and easy-to-read, the book is a fantastic first step for anyone who wants to learn more about feminism. She aims to not only convert those who criticise feminism, but also to strengthen the arguments of feminists who want to enlighten those around them. Since its release, the novel has been widely distributed as essential reading, with every 16-year-old Swedish student given the novel in 2015 and a local bookstore in Portland giving away copies for free during a protest against Trump’s inauguration.
For more book recommendations, check out our article on 7 books to get the job done.