I am drawn to books that are imaginative, playful, and passionate.
I am drawn to books that are insightful and eye-opening.
I am drawn to books that remind me why I love words and writing, but also why I love reinventing and fighting.
I am drawn to books that don’t only stimulate the mind, but also the body and senses. Books that my body reaches into, that instill alertness while I read, and whose environments evoke worlds that I can almost touch, smell and taste.
I am, therefore, drawn to books that have a sharp intellect, but also a large heart and soul.
I find such books in all genres. The dominant europatriarchal knowledge systems encourage us to think in binary ways, not only in politics and education, but also when it comes to reading. We categorise books into fiction vs nonfiction, adult literature vs. children’s literature, women’s writing, black writing, history, memoir, prose, poetry.
These labels are valuable in many ways. They are especially useful when parts of our identity are vested in a particular type of writing. For example, reading black feminist literature always feels like a returning home of sorts to me. It also always informs my own writing, and so I cherish the canon that is black feminist literature.
But both as a writer and a reader, I am primarily drawn to hybridity and to stitching worlds together. Disrupting borders is part of my motivation to write. Having my borders disrupted is part of my motivation to read.
What I’m reading now is influenced by where I’m reading now. Namely at home, curled up on the couch, with a sense of time and presence. For a long time, I have been reading in fragments, in between doing other things. I have been reading especially while commuting, on trains, buses, planes. I have been reading in advance of talks and seminars, both mine and others’. I have been reading while eating, sometimes even when walking, and worst of all, I have been reading a few pages here and there in between other tasks. The pandemic crisis forced upon me an unwelcome pause from previous routines, but one of the things that has been consoling during such a globally challenging time is the unanticipated time to read with my whole body. I am grateful for that.
I’ve most recently read moving books like Matt de la Peña’s Milo Imagines the World, with its unforgettably adorable and warming storytelling; No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, by Greta Thunberg who in my view is one of the most inspiring writers and people active at the moment. I keep returning to Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Undrowned as it opened up new worlds for me. Victoria Chang’s OBIT both broke my heart and consoled me on the topic of loss. And I have been rereading Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died, and as always with Soyinka, encountering wells of wisdom in his profoundly humanist sensibility.
Milo Imagines the World, Matt de la Peña (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2021)
No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, Greta Thunberg (Penguin, 2019)
Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, Alexis Pauline Gumbs (AK Press, 2021)
OBIT, Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)
The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka (Vintage; New edition, 1994)
This article was originally published in the Cooper Gallery’s occasional periodical &labels.
Image is Woman Reading by Julius Rolshoven c 1900