In a recent #grateful post, I wrote how virtual book events have been a true joy in a year full of crap. One of those events featured author Yaa Gyasi. I previously didn’t know much about her new novel, Transcendent Kingdom, but I had read her debut, Homegoing. If her previous work indicated anything, her latest would surely impress me. Somehow her spoken word at that event transcended just as powerfully as her written word, and I was captivated for the full hour. Also, I’d love for her voice to narrate my life. (Sorry, Morgan Freeman.) I couldn’t wait for Transcendent Kingdom to show up at my apartment.
Gyasi definitely didn’t let me down and even stepped up her already-impressive literary game with her sophomore publication. It’s hard to put down this novel, and Gyasi will get the best of your emotions. (Fair warning: It’s emotionally tough to read.) She deserves every ounce of praise she’s earned for her second book. In a year full of garbage fires, this is the type of flame we actually need and should be grateful for.
Let me start by saying diversity and literature go hand in hand.
- Diversity is the foundation to learn new perspectives from literature.
- Literature proves the value and necessity of diversity.
We are coming full circle here, people.
Diversity wasn’t really part of my upbringing, though. I grew up in a mostly white community and knew very few people who looked or lived differently than I did. I don’t even remember talking to a person of color until high school. Even then, my school was mostly white kids. On top of that, I barely knew any non-Christians or non-straight people. I definitely didn’t know anyone from the trans community.
That changed a bit when I went to college. I was definitely one of those people, though, who had one or two black friends and thought that made me an ally and not racist. I would even say that out loud. “Oh she’s my black friend.” And I shamefully remember commenting once that one of these women didn’t “act black.” I’m embarrassed now to write that and of my 20-year-old self, and I feel immense guilt.
Thank God for growth, for New York, and for literature.
Nobody can argue that many aspects of 2017 were piles of flaming garbage. That doesn’t mean literature failed us though. I read 24 books* this year. While there’s never enough time for all the wonderful writing in the world and while I wish I had read more, I am more than satisfied with the books I chose this year. Therefore, to the Big Little Literature library: You got ranked.
*This number does not count Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Aravind Adiga’s Selection Day, which I just could not finish.
- What: Homegoing
- Who: Yaa Gyasi (debut novel)
- Pages: 300
- Genre: Historical fiction
- Subgenre: African American studies
- Published: 2016
- The lit: of 5 flames
Remember those early English classes where the teacher would write “protagonist” and “antagonist” on the board and stress their significance to every story? There was always a conflict between the two, but then sometimes the story really threw you for a loop and gave you a bad protagonist. I’m pretty sure certain stories were chosen in elementary curriculum to illustrate this mere fact: Your main character doesn’t have to be a good person (as if a story’s cast is that obtuse and lacks complexity). And wait a minute. Could an object, and not a human or dog, be the antagonist or protagonist? I swan.
Well, Yaa Gyasi must have taken issue with that literature lesson because her debut novel Homegoing employs neither protagonist nor antagonist. Although the story plays host to many actors, not one takes center stage. I didn’t have a chance to choose sides, despise someone, wish they would act differently, love a little harder. Homegoing didn’t rely on a central character or plot to lead me; it rests instead on a historical arc, one that lasts about two centuries.
I can’t exactly describe when it happened, but at some point in the past 12 months, books sort of became my life blood. I’ve loved reading as long as I can remember. There was the first story, Dick and Jane, that I read in preschool, and I firmly remember my mom telling my kindergarten teacher that I’d already finished multiple books halfway through the school year. My teacher was ecstatic upon hearing this news, and even though I was proud of the triumph they exuded, I didn’t think it was all that exciting. Reading was a part of my life. It was that simple.
Dick and Jane–my first book!
Next came Little Golden Books, which I devoured, and then I had my “Ah ha!” moment with Harry Potter. (I don’t think I need to explain this. I mean, I was the kid who played Harry Potter at recess and fought with her brother about who got to read the newest book first and what the reading increments were.)
From there I discovered the 50 state books that my elementary school library owned. Around this same time I also read nearly every Bailey School Kids book (any and all fans HAVE to check out this list), and all of this resulted in me completing more book reports than any other child in Mrs. Wrigley’s third grade class. Children’s fiction shortly gave way to my Nicholas Sparks phase. This preceded an intense fascination with chick lit, which still exists by the way, and Emily Giffin, my favorite author. And during my college days, I discovered my love for historical fiction, still my favorite genre.