The Try Hards Book Club: The 2018 Roundup
It’s a Wednesday evening in December; I am in the basement (or, as it’s known, “The Crypt”) of a vampire/80s themed pizza restaurant, and I am surrounded by some of the most fabulous women I know. We have all been brought here by the same collective desire (and no, it’s not for vampire pizza. That was more my thing that I forced onto other people). That desire is to become better intersectional feminists, and in this case to do that by reading books by women/non-binary humans from the LGBTQ+ and BAME communities (disclaimer: I am working on the belief that BAME is an acceptable abbreviation for people who aren’t white. However I am a white woman, and if you find you’re unhappy hearing yourself referred to as BAME then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Whilst it isn’t the job of non-white women to educate, if you feel able to then I would appreciate being told that my language isn’t as inclusive as it should be. The same can definitely be said for my use of the abbreviation LGBTQ+).
Let me back up to the end of last year. I have always held the belief that I am not racist, homophobic, transphobic etc – I, like many people, like to think that I’m a decent human being. However, at the end of last year I realised that of the 34 books I had read in 2017, only FOUR OF THEM were written by authors from the BAME and/or LGBTQ+ community. That’s some pretty diabolical representation right there. I needed to do something to change this, and so the Try Hards book club was born. I’d always wanted to be a part of a book club, and I truly believed that reading more diverse material would help to make me a better, more understanding feminist. I didn’t have any desire to be part of the “white feminist” brigade. I needed to ally up.
I’ve just done a quick tally and so far in 2018 13 of the 40 books I’ve read have been by women/non-binary people from the BAME and/or LGBTQ+ communities. I’m not going to lie, I was expecting that number to be higher, and I feel pretty annoyed with myself that I’ve spent the year thinking I’m being more inclusive when in fact the vast majority of my reading material has still come from the minds of straight, cis, white people. I think we can all agree that this isn’t good enough, so right here and now I’m making a pact with you. One of my goals for 2019 is going to be to increase that figure to 20. AT LEAST TWENTY. Okay, sorry for the brief side tangent, I felt like I needed to give myself a “cookies for allies” shake down. Only 13?! Fucking ridiculous. Anyway…
I would like to encourage as many people as possible to diversify their bookshelves, so here is a rundown of everything the Try Hards read in 2018.
January: “Juliet Takes a Breath” by Gabby Rivera, or the one that brought my attention to the problem of “white feminism”. Juliet is a gay, teenage girl of Puerto Rican descent living in the Bronx. After coming out to her family (to mixed reactions) she moves to Portland to intern with her favourite author and feminist idol, Harlowe Brisbane. On the face of it Harlowe seems to understand Juliet, however over the course of the summer it becomes clear that she is a terrible ally to BAME women.
February: “The Gender Games” by Juno Dawson, or the one that changed my gender identity from female to agender. Juno takes us through her experience of transitioning from a gay, cis man, to a straight, trans woman. She also discusses how society views gender, using research to demonstrate how damaging the binary model of gender can be. Warning: Book comes with a gender change. Or that could just be me…
March: “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, or the one that emotionally destroyed me. Starr is a black teenager living in Garden Heights who one night witnesses her friend, Khalil, being shot and killed by a white police officer. The book takes us through the fallout of this experience, showing us how life threatening, debilitating, and prevalent systemic racism is. This book was unlike nothing that I’d read before, and it feels like an incredibly important in today’s society. I would also highly recommend seeing film – it felt like an incredibly faithful adaptation of the book.
April: “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge, or the one that you have to read! I don’t know where to begin with this book; it completely blew my tiny white mind. Everyone should read it, whatever colour your skin is or how you identify. READ IT. IMMEDIATELY. Historical and modern racism is something that is neither taught in schools nor talked about in British society. Reni uses an incredible wealth of research to show us how racism has affected, and still continues to infect, our society. I feel like Britain likes to think of itself as a multi-cultural country that isn’t as racist as America, however I think we just do a better job of hiding it. If you thought that England was a great place for BAME people then firstly, how on earth did you reach that conclusion, and secondly, you will not think that after reading Reni’s book.
May: “Is Monogamy Dead?” by Rosie Wilby, or the one to donate to charity, or whatever you do with your unwanted books. I was expecting this book to be an exploration of polyamory and open relationships, however it felt more like a self-indulgent tale of how Rosie could sleep around whilst remaining in what appeared to be an unhappy relationship. I did learn some interesting things about relationships and the book led to some fascinating group discussion, however it’s not something I would recommend reading.
June/July: “The Good Immigrant” edited by Nikesh Shukla, or the one that taught me how problematic the yoga community is. This is a collection of essays by the likes of Reni Eddo-Lodge, Riz Ahmed, among many, many others. The essays focus on the experiences of living in Britain as someone who isn’t white. Riz Ahmed’s essay about navigating airports as an Asian man is probably my favourite.
August: “Convenience Store Woman” by Sayaka Murata, or my favourite book from this year. Keiko is a Japanese woman in her 30s who is single, without children, and has been working in the same convenience store for over a decade. Keiko finds it difficult to be her true self and has spent her life mimicking the people around her, from the behaviours they exhibit to the clothes they wear. The book is incredibly quick and easy to read, plus the paperback cover is beautiful!
September: “Disoriental” by Négar Djavadi, or the one that divided us. Disoriental follows Kimiâ and her family as they flee Iran for Paris. I learnt an incredible amount about Iranian history and culture through reading this book (including how shitty the British government have been), however the constantly shifting timeline can make it difficult to get to grips with the story. A much easier read with similar benefits would be Shappi Khorsandi’s book “A Beginner’s Guide to Being English”.
October: “Slay in Your Lane” by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, or the one that I wish I’d read sooner. Whilst this book is aimed towards black women, a lot of the advice they give is universal. There’s so much in there about university, work and finance that I wish I’d known sooner! They also discuss at length racism (structural or otherwise) within healthcare, the beauty industry, and in dating, among other things. Plus the hardback cover is gorgeous, and y’know, that’s always fun.
November: “I’m Afraid of Men” by Vivek Shraya, or the one that made me question my relationship with women. Vivek Shraya is a trans woman who (in this much smaller than I was expecting it to be book) writes about how masculinity was forced upon her as a child, and how gender can be reimagined in the 21st century. She lists reasons for why she’s afraid of men, and also for why she’s afraid of women. This opened up a discussion at the club about how women, whilst generally not the aggressor, are often complicit in violence aimed at women.
I have learnt a fuck tonne this year about experiences far outside of my everyday life, and I like to think that this continual learning is making me a better, more understandable human. If any of you would like to join in with the club meetings you can contact me on Instagram at @tryhardsbookclub – the club is open to all genders, ages and reading levels. I have always maintained that the club is a no pressure zone – if you haven’t finished or even started the book than that’s totally fine! You’d still be welcome to join in.
The first book of next year will be “What a Time to be Alone: The Slumflower’s Guide to Why You are Already Enough” by Chidera Eggerue.
Enjoy December time my lovely humans!
Article by Jo Walshe