Project 2022

My project for next year is to read twelve US/Canadian Black and First Nations fiction or memoir, with a review in the last week of each month. I’m starting planning now because a) it’s on my mind; and b) I need time to assemble a list of books which I can access and which I will need to be mostly audiobooks. This is your cue to start making suggestions.

Towards the end of this year I will publish the finalized list for anyone who might feel like joining in. In the meanwhile I might keep updating this post with your (and my) suggestions.

Off the top of my head, I think I would like to read another Toni Morrison (after Beloved), maybe another Zora Neale Thurston (after Jonah’s Gourd Vine) and if I can access it, the autobiography of Malcolm X, highly recommended by Melanie/GTL. Then there’s Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin which I failed to read during my matriculation year. I may even still have a copy. That would no doubt please Emma/Book Around the Corner who has written some terrific Baldwin reviews (here).

Canadians Naomi/Consumed by Ink and BIP/BIP have written and recommended too many Canadian First Nations writers to list (ie. I have failed to note them) but, for example, see Naomi’s two most recent posts (here and here).

I did follow up BIP’s review of Butter Honey Pig Bread by Nigerian Canadian Francesca Ekwuyasi – which inter alia contains some interesting stuff about Black history in Canada – and a review is in the works. May even be my next post if I can get away with not working this weekend. And then there’s her recent post on Black slavery in the Americas (here).

I look at my shelves. I think I may deal with Octavia Butler separately (see Parable of the Talents, Parable of the Sower). I have Kindred waiting which I will get to ‘soon’ like the many other, though mostly Australian, new books I have purchased and am yet to read. In the more formal shelves of my lounge room I see quite a few boys own type books of my own, my father’s and my grandfathers’ – ES Ellis’s Lost Among the Redskins for instance – for the reading of which this project may gave me some context. This is important to me, although to no one else probably, as the noble frontiersman of the US and Canada was the precursor of Australia’s ‘Lone Hand’ bushman (How many years is it now? and I still haven’t reviewed Russell Ward’s The Australian Legend).

It occurred to me at this point in this post that I had read many years ago the memoir of a Black New York science fiction writer, a guy, a gay, not Butler. It was someone well known to me (as an author) and whom I normally did not think of as Black. Searches… Turns out it was Samuel R Delaney of Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand fame, and the memoir was The Motion of Light in Water (1988) which name I do not remember at all, and which I must have read quite soon after publication, not realising because it deals with events a couple of decades earlier – including meeting a young Bob Dylan.

Ok, the next little bit is up to you

Reminder: Lisa/ANZLL’s Indigenous Lit. Week, 4-11 July 2021. Her Indigenous Lit. Reading List includes a section for Canada and the Americas (here).

Suggestions for Project 2022

AuthorWorkYearRec.
Sherman AlexieThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian2007USTPe
Andre AlexisFifteen Dogs (2 of 5)2015CanCBI
Maya AngelouI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings1969USLiz
James BaldwinGo Tell it on the Mountain 1953US
If Beale Street Could Talk1974USGTL
Joseph BoydenThe Orenda2013CanRM
Octavia ButlerKindred1979USBB
David ChariandySoucouyant2007CanCBI
Samuel R Delaney Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand 1984US
The Motion of Light in Water 1988US
Cherie DimalineRed Rooms2011USCBI
Esi EdugyanHalf-Blood Blues2011CanCBI
Louise ErdrichThe Bingo Palace (4 of 8)1994USWG
The Plague of Doves (1 of 3)2008US
La Rose (3 of 3)2016USBB
The Night Watchman2020USTPe
Mini Aodla FreemanLife Among the Qallunaat1978CanBIP
Lawrence HillThe Book of Negroes2007CanCBI
Nalo HopkinsonSF!CanCBI
Thomas KingThe Inconvenient Indian2012CanCBI
Nella LarsenPassing1929USBIP
Audre LordeZami: A New Spelling of my Name1982USWG
Terese Marie MailhotHeart Berries2018CanKW
N Scott MomadayHouse Made of Dawn1968USBB
Toni MorrisonSula1973USBB
Eden RobinsonSon of a Trickster (1of 3)2017CanRM
Tanya TalgaSeven Fallen Feathers2017CanBIP
Zora Neale Thurston Their Eyes Were Watching God1937USTPi
Richard WagameseIndian Horse2012CanCBI
Alice WalkerThe Color Purple1982USGTL
Elissa WashutaWhite Magic2021USBIP
Jacqueline WoodsonIf You come Softly1998USLL
Richard WrightNative Son1940USTPe
Malcolm X (and Alex Haley)Autobiography of Malcolm X1965USGTL

51 thoughts on “Project 2022

  1. Hi, Wad. I love reading your blog! I highly recommend Zara Neale Thurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. I read it for an American Literature group some years ago, and found it unforgettable.

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  2. The first that came to mind was a memoir I read by Terese Mailhot
    – Heartberries. I read it a few years ago but parts have really stayed with me, most significantly the similarities in the way that Indigenous American and Indigenous Australians are treated by social welfare agencies.

    Also, I haven’t read any Louise Erdrich but have some of her novels in my reading stack.

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    • I’ve been following up your tip here – https://wwwDOTjacquelinewoodson.com/all-about-me/my-biography/
      Woodson writes ” I was well on my way to understanding that a lie on the page was a whole different animal — one that won you prizes and got surly teachers to smile.” Which is almost exactly what Henry Handel Richardson writes in The Getting of Wisdom, when her heroine Laura is caught out lying to her schoolmates.
      I’m not sure that first love and being 15 is particularly significant to anyone except 15 year olds, but into the list it goes. I enjoy the occasional well-written YA.

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      • I don’t read a tonne of YA and it wasn’t the romance that appealed to me – it’s the exploration of the class and race issues at the students’ posh school, and how that affects them both in similar and different ways..

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  3. I can recommend The Orenda by Joseph Boyden… when I read it he can claimed to be of First Nations descent but I see now that is in dispute. Regardless it’s a terrific novel about the birth of Canada as a nation and shows the conflicts between several First Nation tribes and the French Jesuits trying to convert them.

    Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson is also very good – it’s a coming of age take about an indigenous boy growing up in modern day Canada. Not sure how readily available it is here.

    Both are reviewed on my blog.

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    • Thanks Kim, I’ll update my list later today (business paperwork first!). The first post of Naomi’s that I link to above is about the Trickster series, I’m obviously going to have to give it some consideration.

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  4. LaRose by Erdrich was one of my favourite books from 2016. I have a couple of her other books now waiting to be read. She also won this year’s Pulitzer with her latest book. Her sister Heid E write poetry.
    Another Pulitzer winner is House Made of Dawn by Momaday.
    I’d also like to read Kindred by Butler if you decide to add that to your list.
    I believe I have a Baldwin and a Morrison on my TBR pile as well.
    For non-fiction, I’ve been wanting to read The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present and Braiding Sweetgrass.

    Onto Canada – one of my colleagues enjoyed Empire of Wild. I believe there is quite a bit of poetry to pick from as well.

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    • I think Erdrich is going to be IN, though I’m a bit iffy about authors who write series. On the other hand your review of La Rose is pretty compelling.
      I really liked too the look of House Made of Dawn.
      I’ve put Kindred in the suggestions, we’ll see how things work out.
      No one’s helping me with Morrison. I’ll have to do some reading.

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      • I don’t think of LaRose as being a series at all. But then I haven’t read the other 2 to see how much they’re connected. I certainly didn’t feel like I missed out on anything by starting with LaRose.
        I’m yet to read any Morrison, but I do have Beloved on my shelf. Some of my colleagues also love Sula and Jazz, if that helps.

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      • Beloved is amazing, the writing is sublime. Thanks for coming back with some others. Melanie is arguing against Morrison, am I brave enough to resist her?

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      • Audible has Jazz and Sula, both narrated by the author. Jazz is too short and even Sula is less than 6 hours, but I’ll stick it on the list. Apart from Beloved, Audible has no other Morrison fiction.

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  5. A wonderful YA Native American book is The Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. You can almost read it in a single sitting. The Pulitzer Prize winner this year is a Native American story by Louise Erdrich. Supposed to be very good. I just bought it. A wonderful classic African American story is Native Sun by Richard Wright. I read it in the 80s and I still think about it. Happy reading. 🐧🌼

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    • You guys are setting me some homework, checking out all these books (what did I expect!). The Alexie one is fascinating, not least because it made other Native Americans unhappy. And how good is this – “Native Son has been a force in the social and intellectual history of the United States in the last half of the 20th century”. I’ll read Erdrich, but should I, as a beginner, start with her latest or one of the earlier ones?

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      • I’ve only become familiar with Erdrich recently so will need to read her vefore commenting. I am so out of touch with Native American writers. Spending more time with Indigenous issues here.

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      • Fair enough too, Pam. Australian Indigenous Lit is booming, though paradoxically that has the effect of making me wonder what’s going on in other First Nations’ literature.

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  6. What a fun project! I think the real problem you’re going to have is narrowing down all the great suggestions and ideas you already have!
    Eden Robinson is wonderful and you might even be able to find her stuff. A few others whose work you might be able to access… Lawrence Hill, Richard Wagamese, Thomas King (who is both American and Canadian!), Esi Edugyan, Nalo Hopkinson, Cherie Dimaline, David Chariandy, Andre Alexis…
    Thanks for linking to my reviews! 🙂

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  7. Some suggestions:

    1. read If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin instead (Mountain meanders)
    2. read The Color Purple by Alice Walker instead of Toni Morrison (Morrison meanders)
    3. Zora is perfect on audio. She was an anthropologist who recorded and transcribed oral tales from black folks in Florida, Louisiana, the Caribbean, etc. She’s meant to be heard, not read.

    Whichever book by Louise Erdrich you pick I’ll read with you. She’s Ojibwe, part of the large tribe that also resides where I grew up (though Erdrich’s tribe is in North Dakota, and the tribe where I grew up was the Saginaw Chippewas).

    Yes, Malcolm! His text is pivotal and shaped both U.S. history and all the young black writers and thinkers who came after him. You see traces of Malcolm everywhere in U.S. culture. I’ve read his book probably a dozen times and will be happy to talk about it, but I’ve read it enough! LOL.

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    • Thank you for those suggestions Melanie. Gee I’m not sure about The Color Purple, there was so much hype around the movie and, well, epistolary is not my favourite thing. But I’ll keep an open mind. It would have to be very, very good to be better than Beloved.
      Their Eyes .. is available on Audible. And an abridged version, I suppose for school kids. I hate the idea of abridging … anything really, but classics, why would you!
      The latest Erdrich is not on Audible yet. I was reading the story summaries of the others – The Plague of Doves sounds good and also I think it’s #1 of the trilogy of which La Rose is #3
      I’ll talk to you about Malcolm X during the next few months, I’m sure we’ll come up with something. His was an important name during my anti-Vietnam War years.

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      • I’ve never watched The Color Purple movie, on purpose, because there are just some classics I don’t want to see on film. If you do choose that book, I’ll read it with you. I read it before I had Grab the Lapels, so I’ve no review of it. It was very good.

        It feels like a crime to listen to an abridged version of Hurston. Have you checked the Libby app? It HAS to be on there, I would think!

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      • Well you’ve certainly moved The Color Purple a few rungs up the ladder.
        Audible also have an unabridged version of Hurston’s Their Eyes … And yes, abridging should be a crime.
        At the moment I’m getting used to BorrowBox. Timing might be an issue for this project if I rely on library copies, but I’ll see.

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      • i’m not a great fan of epistolary either but this is one where it is done very lightly and in fact you tend to forget the concept after a while. Terrific novel.

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  8. I’ve got nothing I can suggest apart from some Maya Angelou: her memoirs are proving amazing reading as I work my own way through them. I’m concentrating more on UK experiences at the moment myself so I’ll be interested to read about your reads.

    My 2022 plan at the moment is Larry McMurtry, as he passed away this year and I’d like to do some kind of act of remembrance. I’ve also read much of his stuff more than once already, so hopefully won’t be fumbling around in the dark like I have been with Anne Tyler this year …

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    • I’ve had to look up both Angelou and McMurtry. Angelou may well make it to the final 12 – well suggested!
      Obviously, I’m familiar with a lot of McMurtry’s book/film titles – not sure I’ve read any though. And in passing, I don’t think re-reading is fumbling around, more new insights into familiar territory.

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      • Ah, brilliant! I am working my way through the whole set of Angelous with two friends on a sort of chilled out, no-pressure book challenge and loving them so far. McMurtry is a brilliant writer and I can’t wait to revisit him. I think my comment about Tyler is me fumbling the fact that I’m not enjoying her books as much as I thought I would – oh no! – but I still think it’s a useful thing to do and I’m glad I’m doing it.

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  9. What a great project Bill.

    I will add my recommendation for Their eyes were watching God, which I read nearly 30 years ago when I lived in the US, and just loved it. It’s one you don’t forget. I would also recommend Louise Erdrich’s Bingo palace, which I’ve reviewed on my blog. I have read a few of Toni Morrison’s books, but not Sula.

    I have wanted to read Native son for a long time.

    I could add another on my TBR, Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. I am so keen to read it!!

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    • Zami looks great. Their Eyes.. is definite. It’s going to be a problem fitting in some contemporary US. Of course a lot will depend on Audible as 12 ‘hard’ books might take up all my physical reading time.

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  10. What an exciting and ambitious project (the best kind of project)! Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

    Naomi has mentioned some key Canadians with books from PenguinRandomHouse and HarperCollins so those are good bets for international access. And Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs has won so many prizes that it, despite being from a small press, is likely readily available too (best to think of this one as philosophy first, as story is secondary, also #sad). You’ve got so many great ideas here already that I think I’ll add thoughts rather than new suggestions? (Alexie, King, Walker, Morrison, Erdrich are all on my MustReadEverything lists.)

    If you can find the Thomas King in your list in the Illustrated edition, that would probably be even more fun but read aloud by the author would also be a treat. (His book The Truth about Storytelling is a CBC radio recording and v interesting on native storytellers, but I’m not sure if you can listen to those audiofiles outside of Canada, on “Ideas” CBC, part of “The Massey Lecture” series.)

    Audre Lorde is amazing (Sister Outsider is her classic but Zami is good too), I reread The Color Purple a few years ago and loved it more than the first time, ZNH’s Eyes is beautiful, I’ve got Dhalgren by Delaney on my TBR (and keep chickening out, it’s huge). Sula is a great pick for character (in Morrison) and an unorthodox pick for her is Love but I enjoyed the relationship between the women and the hotel setting a lot.

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    • The ambitious part will be the reviewing. I get through 180 plus audiobooks each year so it makes sense to direct my listening to stuff I actually want/need to read rather than my usual random selections of genre fiction from all my local libraries. I listen to more C19th fiction and more SF than I let on (unless you peruse the lists after my journals) and keep my reviews to the idea of my blog that I have in my head.

      I’m worried that I’ll read the 12 books I/we select and then will have forgotten them by the time I get home. Happens pretty often! Eg. I recently listened to The Snow Queen which I’ve been promising Melanie I’d read since 2016. And I saved it for the way home. But no, I might manage 200 words but that would be it. (I enjoyed it Melanie).

      Thanks for your ‘thoughts’. I have Dhalgren in my Audible library, 34 hours!, but I don’t think Delaney will be in the 12. Interesting that Erdrich is #MustReadEverything, I don’t go for series. Sister Outsider – essays and speeches – maybe not, not this time anyway.

      I might put up a provisional 12 in November say, and we’ll see then who’s out who should be in and if any of you guys want to join in, to read/comment or read/review.

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      • Maybe it would be helpful to think of the posts about your project as more of a chronicle of your exploring the ideas and stories rather than the kind of dedicated (i.e. more focussed and linear) reviews that you usually write? More about the experience of reading them, rather than about the books themselves? But I get trying to maintain consistency about which books you discuss (I noticed all the SF-I used to read a lot more of it myself) and how you discuss them.

        Erdrich’s books are mostly about the same two communities but you can read them as standalones. My reviews are linked on my Must Read Everything page. My hunch is that you would most enjoy The Last Miracles at Little No Horse, and then maybe a tie between Tales of Burning Love, The Beet Queen, The Master Butchers Singing Club (depending which summary/first page struck you) and I would avoid her stories (which you probably would avoid anyway LOL) and the skinnier novels (more poetic and cerebral). Not saying anything against the ones you’ve got rec’s for already though.

        I share your hesitation on essays and speeches. Later this summer I’ve got a reread of Sister Outsider, so my posts might help you decide whether Lorde’s would be an exception. I’ve also got some posts planned for Lisa’s week that I’ve been working on in advance, so there might be a couple of new Indigenous writers there to pique your interest.

        My favourite Nalo Hopkinson is Midnight Robber but her more readily available is likely her first (which I loved at the time but haven’t reread) Brown Girl in the Ring (all Warner Books). Other Black futurists and mythic writers, like N.K. Jemisin (but I’ve only read her trilogies, not her standalone, and I know you don’t like series), Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death, for instance), Marlon James (Black Leopard, Red Wolf-also in my TBR) are all from major publishers and might interest you too?

        For Dimaline, I think you’d have an easier time locating The Marrow Thieves (I think it’s spent more than a year on bestseller lists). And for Chariandry, Brother (but slim and polished, might not be as powerful on audio). The Book of Negroes has an amazing love story (Someone Knows My Name, UK title) and Lawrence Hill has a new speculative novel in the works; I listened and read BoN, the audio is great. Wagamese is also on my MRE list, and Indian Horse is a residential school story (and great film, too); also very good is Medicine Walk (from one of the Big 5).

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      • BIP thank you for all that. Let me just say (it’s 4.50am and I have to go to work) I have read, reviewed and greatly enjoyed Nnedi Okorafor. You’re right about reporting rather than reviewing, but I’ll review as many as I can. (And I’m partial to poetic and cerebral)

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  11. Great list and lots I’ve never heard of.

    I loved the Sherman Alexie (and his short stories Ten Little Indians)

    You know how much I admire James Baldwin, even if Go Tell It on the Mountain was difficult to read.

    I’ve only read The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich but I’d like to read more by her.

    As I said elsewhere, I’d recommend The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

    I’d like to read Native Son, The Color Purple and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing. I’ll see what I can manage.

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  12. Thanks Emma, I can see I’m going to be press-ganged into reading The Color Purple. There’s a couple of other definites – Malcolm X (if I can find a copy) and Their Eyes Were Watching God – but how I’ll choose the other 9 I have no Idea (through some sort of balance of old/new, US/Canada, Black/Indigenous and Men/Women I guess)

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