Tuesday, November 5, 2013

99 Black Books Challenge

I follow the wonderful @TheKooriWoman on Twitter (go ahead, check her out. I'll wait). On Sunday, I noticed her announcing that she was about to start reading a book called Bitin' Back, as part of her go at Anita Heiss's 99 Black Books Challenge.

Hell-o, sailor! trilled my book-challenge-loving heart.

I looked up the list on Anita Heiss's blog, and found it here. It's a stunning list, with several titles I've always intended to get around to, many that have been awarded, and many that look shattering, heartbreaking and amazing.

I have not read enough fiction by Australian indigenous authors. I really haven't. It's a bad deficiency, and I want to rectify it.

I'm not a complete indigenous writing illiterate. I've read quite a lot by Native American writers - my field of study was American history, after all - and Louise Erdich is one of my favourite novellists from any place or time. (If you are feeling strong and want a good read, you can't go past her incredible The Master-Butcher's Singing Club. But don't say you weren't warned when you sob out loud).

I've also read quite a lot of indigenous Australian poetry, especially by Ali Cobby Eckermann, who is my equal-favourite Australian poet alongside Judith Wright.

None of that makes up for the fact that I've read barely any - three? four? - novel-length books by indigenous Australian writers, and that I want to fix this. I learn about the world primarily through books, it seems to me - or, rather, books are a vital key to unlock a perceptual door, which allows me to view situations, people and challenges with a different set of eyes. And I've always believed that one of the best ways for me to engage with anything is by reading myself into the headspace where I can do it justice.

It's also timely for me, because I have a task coming up that will require that I be not just open to, but truly aware of and sensitive to, the grief, racism and pain with which many indigenous people  contend on a daily basis. Literature teaches me, and I need to learn how to position my self in this process, as a partner but never a leader or dominator; how to offer my expertise in the service of something that isn't mine and shouldn't be, in any way, mine. It's an important task - important to do it right and get it right - and I'll take every primer I can get to help.

So, here I go - committing to doing the 99 Black Books Challenge. This won't be quick, because, life, and because I will no doubt stop and start and read other things on the way. It could take 2 years, and that is OK. But I'm going to do it and I'm going to blog it, both here and at The Shake, and I hope to grow and learn and engage better along the way.

My first two are going to be Marie Mankara's Every Secret Thing and  Alexis Wright's Carpentaria, a book about which I have heard many great things. I have Bitin' Back on its way in a little joy parcel from the publisher, so that'll be third.

Anyone going to join in?

This is post 5 in NaBloPoMo. 5 down, 25 to go!

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