So You Want to Stop “Distancing the Other”: Recommended Reading

I’ve written before about the importance of diversity in literature (I, II, III), but I never offered any recommendations from my own reads. With the news lately (including events last week in my current locale), I think it is important to resume those conversations. I’ve put together a list of book recommendations meant to encourage conversation about politics of identity, stereotyping, and what I’ve called “distancing the other” in the past.

Some of the suggestions will be familiar, but I’m hoping there may be some new titles. If you have recommendations of your own, please leave them in the comments!

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Obligatory: How to Support the Ferguson Library

When I first conceptualized this list, I had two definite novels in mind. The very obvious (IMHO) choice, To Kill a Mockingbird.

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“Atticus–” said Jem bleakly.
He turned in the doorway. “What, son?”
“How could they do it, how could they?”
“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it — seems that only children weep.”

The other book was The Dry Grass of August. I tend to see this on lists like “You read The Help, now what?”

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Spoilers: Set in the 1950s, a culminating event of the book involves the tragic death of the protagonist’s family’s black maid. There’s little hope of real justice. Later, a white boy dies from a faulty repair and the tragedy spurs the white community (and the protagonist’s family) into action.

Relevant.

I also thought of my favorite Grisham novel, A Time to Kill. If you’ve only seen the film, you’re doing yourself a disservice. This is Grisham at his best.

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When I was going through my Goodreads list, I stumbled upon a few books that I thought would be good additions.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of my favorite books. I listened to the audiobook, and at times it had me bawling in my car. It’s a beautiful story of young love, family, and identity set in Seattle in WWII.

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A wonderful supernatural genre pick about segregation, stereotypes, and extremism is Red Moon.

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You could also try out City of Stairs, which has a more mythical feel and explores themes of colonialism.

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And if you’re more into sci-fi, try Dark Eden.

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Obviously I can’t resist mentioning my favorite book of the year, The Girl in the Road. If you’ve felt like my suggestions above are too mainstream and you’re looking for an Atwood vide, give this a read. Perception plays a huge role in this book, so I feel like it fits well in the context of this list.

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Another one you may have missed is The Kitchen House, a tragic and touching period piece that explores the relationships of slave women and an indentured orphan. Class and social dynamics are significant.

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Running the Rift won the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Set in Rwanda on the cusp of civil war, it features gorgeous prose that captures the heartbreak of conflict.

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For YA fans, I’ll admit that I’m not quite on the up and up since I tend to pick rather mainstream options. However, I don’t think you can go wrong with Tamora Pierce’s series. I’m a personal fan of the Song of the Lioness Quartet, but the Circle of Magic series seems to be popular, too. I strongly suggest checking out the We Need Diverse Books website. They have some great resources for reading lists, and these holiday stocking stuffer graphics make book-buying super easy.

Since I’m just getting into comics and graphic novels, my only suggestion is – you guessed it – Brian K. Vaughan’s brilliant, imaginative Saga.

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Really, though: keep talking. Books are just one way to experience different perspectives other than your own. Have conversations, share experiences, and look beyond your limited perceptions.

Please, leave more suggestions and any feedback in the comments!

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