I was having difficulty deciding whether to give myself the day off for MLK day, so I decided to take off from my usual work and write about some of my favourite books and authors instead.
Let me tell you how much I love Helen Oyeyemi, Octavia Butler, and Toni Morrison.
How is it that three of my very favourite authors in the entire universe are black women? I don’t know. It seems statistically unlikely, but there you have it, and it’s in theme with MLK day so here we go!
1. Helen Oyeyemi
Let’s start with “What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours” by Helen Oyeyemi. In 2015 I tweeted it as my book of the year, and within the limits of twitter described it as “weird literary intersectional feminist magical realist intertwined tales.”
Oyeyemi gives a mature voice to experiences and sensibilities that feel young, with a literary style that she has developed over 7 books and is just so soooo good. I love me some literary magical realism but this was a step above and felt effortless. It was like nothing I’d ever read, and I read a lot of strange books. Beautiful and different and so casually progressive. I felt a glimpse of literature ahead of its time.
Let me tell you how much I loved this book and how unique I found Oyeyemi’s voice. I immediately searched out another Oyeyemi book and read that, and then another, and another, until I had read every book she’s published within two weeks.
…and then I started searching out short stories in collections. And stories in online publications. And anything I could find. That is how good Oyeyemi is.
I will note that Oyeyemi isn’t necessarily easy or casual reading. If you want something a bit more straightforward, start with The Icarus Girl. If you dream of houses with too many rooms, try Opposite House. if you… well, just read her.
2. Octavia Butler
I love scifi and feel positively betrayed that I wasn’t introduced to Butler sooner. She’s awesome classic genre-defining scifi that holds up to the modern reader, indeed, seems more relevant that ever.
I mean, read Parable of the Sower and tell me you don’t get chills. It’s dark and prescient and gripping and I tore through it in an evening.
I love all the other classic scifi authors, I read piles of their books as a teen. But I never felt the need to read all of them from any one author. A lot of those books don’t hold up so well to the modern reader, and so much of classic scifi is embarrassingly clumsy with regards to women.
But let me tell you how much I love Octavia Butler because she is something else entirely. Her books hold up to the modern reader and to the adult reader. They have a depth of understanding, are not merely clever but also human. They’re great and you should read her. Parable, and Kindred, and Wild Seed, and etc.
And as with Oyeyemi, I have read everything Butler has ever published (except the one she disavowed later even though I WANT TO but I’m trying to respect her disavowal… I’ll break eventually but TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY).
3. Toni Morrison
Considered one of the literary greats, Toni Morrison in my opinion is one of the literary greatests. The book that made me want to read everything Toni Morrison has ever written: “Beloved.” I mean, Beloved started as a great book, and then it became surreal and weird and amazing in exactly the way I like and it became VERY GREAT.
There’s lots written on the internet about why Toni Morrison is so great and I am running out of writing time so I’ll leave it there. Oh except to mention that “Sula” is relatively short if you’re looking for a quick literary read this evening.
I HAVE NOT YET read everything Toni Morrison has ever written. Which is why she’s #3 on my list. Her books tend to be heavier than the above authors so gotta space them out because feelings. I might get there by the end of the year though.
Books are great and reading is great.
Also since there’s a vague MLK-day theme of black authors I could mention other classics I think are great, like The Color Purple, Invisible Man, Things Fall Apart, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. But those books are great like lots of great books are great. And then there’s lots of great recent work by amazing black authors but none so good as Oyeyemi IN MY OPINION. Aaaah there are so many great books in the world it makes me so happy!!!!