My 2015 challenge: the wrap up
The motivation I gave for doing this challenge was ‘to better understand the experiences and cultures of the traditional custodians of the land we live on’. Of course books are not the only way to do this. When I was a student in the 1980s I read a lot about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, politics and culture, but since then I’ve continued learning from Indigenous radio and TV programs, and from working with Aboriginal colleagues.
But I do love books — the long read — and I decided it was unacceptable that books by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so rarely made it onto my bookshelf. Setting the Indigenous Reading Challenge was a way of making sure that they got back onto my to-be-read (TBR) list.
For my 2015 challenge I read 6 works altogether (one of them doubles up with my African Reading Challenge), ranging from biography to fantasy to politics.
I kicked off with Am I Black Enough for You? by Anita Heiss, which provided a perfect start to the challenge as it brought me up to date with some contemporary Aboriginal thinking on identity and racism, as well as meshing nicely with my own experiences as a part of a mixed race (though not Indigenous) family. My response here.
My second read was a biography by Isaac Bacirongo, an African Australian man who is BaTembo (indigenous to the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo). It had the slightly shocking title of Still a Pygmy, and provided important insights into the stigma and discrimination that the people of the forest have had to deal with. My review (and soundtrack) here.
Next I tackled The Swan Book, by Alexis Wright. I say ‘tackled’, because I feel this book stretched my brain in ways it hasn’t been exercised for quite a while, and I’m still thinking about it months later. Definitely my challenge highlight. My review here.
Around this time I ran out of steam for writing reviews. I was reading up a storm though — in July and August I read13 books for a Winter Readathon, including 2 more for the Indigenous Challenge: Wild Cat Falling by Mudrooroo and Heat and Light, by Ellen van Neerven.
Wild Cat Falling is one of the first novels to be published by an Aboriginal author (in 1965). I think it should be on all Australians’ reading lists. Mudrooroo’s story of how institutionalised racism limits, even dictates a young man’s life choices still resonates 50 years on, because the tragedy of arbitrary incarceration of young Aboriginal men is still being played out across this country.
Van Neerven’s key themes in Heat and Light are to do with obligation, connection and disruption, sexuality and female power. She creates memorable female characters and vivid evocations of country. I can’t say more because I had to return it to the library six months ago, which really inhibits writing an adequate review, but you can read another blogger’s excellent response here. What she said.
After Heat and Light, I took a long break from the challenge. I was having health problems which meant I retreated to comfort reading rather than challenge reading for a few months (lots of Terry Pratchett). But as the end of year loomed closer, even though I had technically completed the challenge by reading 5 books by Indigenous authors, I felt that I hadn’t really met my challenge goal because only 4 of them were Australian — so I downloaded Marcia Langton’s Boyer lecture series: The Quiet Revolution: Indigenous People and the Resources Boom.
These lectures were on my TBR list from the beginning of the challenge, and just as Am I Black Enough for You? was a perfect book to start with, the lectures were an excellent way to end. As with Heiss, although for different reasons, controversy surrounds this work, and it highlights important issues for 21st century Australia. I don’t always agree with Langton’s argument but the lectures have given me plenty to think about, and I am working on a response which I will post as soon as I can think it all through.
Should I continue the challenge?
I’ve read a few articles recently about white bloggers and reading diversity. I didn’t save all the links, but one of them is here. The gist of them is: It’s great that white people are reading more books by people of colour, but when we carry on about it online, for example by declaring we will only read PoC authors authors for a year, it just serves to make ourselves look good (politically correct, deserving of praise) and doesn’t necessarily achieve anything in terms of addressing the issues of racism and sexism. The article I linked to above suggests we just continue broaden our reading and discuss each book on its merits, not in a context of how good we are for reading it.
It’s an interesting discussion that got me thinking, is my very small Indigenous Reading Challenge in that category? I guess to some extent it is. I am reading for self improvement and to become a ‘better’ person, and I do hope it hasn’t come across as being all about me. But the challenge has got me reading books I otherwise might not have, and I hope that sharing my thoughts on some of them will motivate my followers to do the same, because these books are all worth reading.
For me, reading more broadly doesn’t just mean including tokenistically including writers who are Indigenous or people of colour; I know I’d also benefit from (and enjoy) reading more non-fiction, more ‘classics’, more Australian authors of all hues and, totally against the trend, more male authors (other than my favoured few, which fit on the fingers of one hand).
Setting myself the Indigenous challenge, participating in Kinna’s African Reading Challenge, being in a book club and encouraging other people to nominate books for me to read in my winter readathon are all ways of ensuring I read widely and deeply and don’t get lost in comfort reading. I love cake, but I feel sick if I eat too much.
So yes, at risk of appearing self-aggrandising, I will continue my Indigenous Reading Challenge in 2016, and I will keep blogging about it. Really, it’s just another step along the way on my lifelong reading adventures. Ideally I will be reading several books by Indigenous authors every year for the rest of my life. Will you join me?
What the challenge involves
There are only 2 rules:
- Read at least 5 books, or listen to 5 substantial podcasts, by Indigenous authors before the end of 2016 (extensions to 26 January 2017 are allowed).
- At least 3 should relate to the Indigenous people of your own country (if you are living in a colonised country).
Please use the comments below to share book suggestions, commit to taking the challenge, share your reviews and opinions or just to provide an update on what you’ve read. If you post a review on your own blog, please link back and tag your post ‘Indigenous Reading Challenge’.
What I’m planning on reading
I haven’t made a definite list but frontrunners at the moment are:
- That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
- Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
- The Intervention edited by Rosie Scott and Anita Heiss
- The Tears of Strangers by Stan Grant
Any suggestions for book #5 and beyond?
I pay respect to the elders (past and present) of the Cadigal people of the Eora Nation on whose land I live.