One of the most important things a writer can do to keep her prose fresh and her ideas flowing is to read. Reading refills our creative wells, gets us thinking outside of our own narrow viewpoints, and opens us up to worlds and experiences we may not be familiar with.
As authors, it’s especially important for us to read books with diverse characters, written by authors of diverse backgrounds. In the publishing world, this is known as #ownvoices. (For more info on the #ownvoices hashtag and movement, please see this excellent interview with its creator, Corinne Duyvis.)
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me gush over a few of the following #ownvoices women’s fiction books over the past couple of months. But I thought it might be nice to list them all out here in one place, and expand on exactly what it is I love about them – and why you might love them, too.
RE JANE by Patricia Park
A retelling of Jane Eyre through the eyes of a mixed-race Korean-American woman named Jane Re, this book is as hilarious as it is poignant. Personally, I related to the setting: for most of the story, Jane splits her time between Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn and Flushing, Queens – two neighborhoods I spent a great deal of time in during my childhood and early 20s. But she also has an extended stay in Seoul, South Korea, a place I’ve never visited, but could easily envision from Park’s evocative descriptions. Also exciting: Daniel Dae Kim recently announced that he’s developing this book into a TV sitcom!
SUBSTITUTE ME by Lori Tharps
Tharps tells the story of Zora Anderson, a 30-something African American woman who’s searching for personal meaning amid the high pressures and expectations placed on her by her family – and herself. Another story that takes place in gentrifying brownstone Brooklyn, I loved being transported back to Fort Greene and Park Slope, and getting to know Zora and her employers, the Carter family. This was a serious page-turner; by the time I got to the final third, I couldn’t put it down.
SARONG PARTY GIRLS by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
I’ve been singing this book’s praises ever since I finished it a month ago. As previously stated, I’m a sucker for a captivating setting, and since this book took place in Singapore, I was hooked from the first sentence. In this story, Jazzy Lim is on a quest to find herself a rich, white husband, but somewhere along the way, she starts questioning whether that’s really what she needs to be happy. While it was wonderful from start to finish, what really set this book apart was the voice. It’s told in a Singaporean dialect called Singlish, which is a sort of hybrid of English, Malay, Cantonese, and various other languages. For a few days after I finished the book, I couldn’t stop thinking in Singlish. Damn shiok lah!
A PINCH OF OOH LA LA by Renee Swindle
There are two recurring themes in this book – delicious cake and classic jazz – which makes it a feast for the senses. Filled with vivid descriptions of Oakland, this story introduces us to Abbey Ross, a baker who thinks she’s finally met the man of her dreams… except for the fact that he’s driving her crazy. My favorite character is Aunt Nag, a feisty elderly woman with a sharp tongue; her irreverent commentary always made me laugh out loud. Ultimately, this story navigates the tricky subject of what you want vs. what you’re willing to settle for, and has an extremely satisfying ending.
Hopefully this post inspired you to pick up a book or four, and to explore the rich diversity that our bookstores and libraries have to offer. And if you want some more inspiration, stop by the brand new Many Voices of Women’s Fiction Book Club, hosted by the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Our first virtual meeting is next Thursday, December 15th. Stop by our Facebook page for a chance to discuss some #ownvoices books in detail – including A PINCH OF OOH LA LA! – and discover some new-to-you authors.
And if you’ve read some other #ownvoices women’s fiction, leave it in the comments!