Book Lists for All Humans #1

This morning, the Independent ran a book list, ‘13 books everyone should read‘. It popped up on my Twitter feed when someone I follow (a white male) tweeted it with the words, ’13/13 men, 13/13 white. Seriously?’ Clicking the link led to the discovery that the list was voted for by reddit users. My only surprise on discovering this was that House of Leaves wasn’t one of the books on the list.

What isn’t a surprise though is that yet another book list is all-male and all-white. It happens a lot in the media. Last year I got into a debate on Twitter as to whether those writers who selected 10 books related to whichever subject their latest work is on for The Guardian should be given guidelines stating/advising/suggesting they consider a diverse list. Someone (a white male) argued that because they were personal choices they should be allowed to reflect that person’s taste. A point that would be perfectly valid if structural inequality didn’t exist and the majority of people writing these lists weren’t white. At that time, Sarah Jasmon, author of The Summer of Secrets, counteracted the largely male, all-white, list of Top Ten Summers in Fiction.

I’ve long been riled by this situation: when I used to include lists in In the Media, I spent a disproportionate amount of time checking whether the lists were gender balanced. Most were not. Include the balance of white to brown writers and there would’ve been barely any lists left. Every time one appears, I think I should counteract it with an all-female list of writers of a variety of skin tones and today I’m riled enough that I’m doing just that.


Welcome to the first in a series! Here’s my take on 13 Books Everyone Should Read. I’m aware there’s many more I could’ve chosen so please, leave your suggestions in the comments. I’m hoping this will become an series of excellent crowdsourced book recommendations. Then, maybe, the media might just have a word with itself and compile lists reflective of the actual world rather than its own narrow one.

Citizen – Claudia Rankine

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronté

Americanah – Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Human Acts – Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

Quicksand and Passing – Nella Larsen

Geek Love – Katherine Dunn

Push – Sapphire

I Love Dick – Chris Kraus

Trumpet – Jackie Kay

(Links are to my reviews.)

35 thoughts on “Book Lists for All Humans #1

  1. How long before you get the “It’s PC brigade gone too far!” (no it’s not!); “Men deserve their own lists” (yes you do – you already get them – read the f**king post); some comment about black disabled lesbians; how requesting equality makes you hate all men (personally I don’t, I just prefer men who treat me as an equal over men who don’t)…..?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I give it 20 minutes… my favourite when I pointed out the male whiteness of the 2014 Booker Prize list was to be told the 2010 Equality Act had sorted it all and we were all equal now. Still laughing (bitterly).

      Liked by 3 people

      • Well that was fun (!). Can’t believe how fast he descended through “real people have real lives that are too busy to deal with this s**t” to “oooh, personal insults” to “well who asked you, you worthless b!tch”. All in the space of 10 mins. Do you think he doesn’t like being confronted? And *really* doesn’t like women? 🙂


      • It seems he’s blocked me but I did see an amazing tweet about feminists having problems. Yeah mate, you. Quite concerned that his profile suggested he was a mental health care professional.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I see his original tweet got deleted for one reason or another. Sorry if you got caught in the cross hairs – I did my best to be positive when it came to replying to him, for the very reason that any bad behaviour was clearly on his part.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Love original post and this. In my experience teaching gender studies is that so many now claim we are all equal because “my dad is the one who unloads the dishwasher and does the laundry, not my mom.”

        Of course I can’t scream “it’s not about you,” but basically the “we’re all equal now” folks don’t realize that to make that statement they are in some form a privileged person–even those sitting in my class from a marginalized group, on financial aid, etc.–sitting in a classroom in a university discussing literature is a privileged position. Who does that: maybe 1 % of the population at most?

        That’s why reading Zadie Smith or Adichie, etc., help even a liberal, white, woman, from the working class, open-minded person like me understand how much more, NOT LESS I have to learn about the lives of marginalized people. For those who touch only on who does the laundry, how many books have been published NOW by women–ugh, don’t get me started.

        BTW, the Booker Prize has been pissing me off, too. And I’ve stopped reading the NYTimes book review.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. How does such a list get past editors, sub editors etc? So not one of them even questioned the total dominance of white men? It defies belief (and yet, depressingly, sort of doesn’t).

    Great list which includes many of my favourite novels – I will get on with reading the one’s I don’t know (I was just looking at Geek Love the other day, but I’m so broke I’m trying to be restrained this month – it won’t last 😉 )

    Such a good idea for crowdsourced book recommendations Naomi – I can see my TBR spiraling out of all control!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect it gets past the editors because they are either 1) all white and predominantly male and/or 2) colour blind to the point that white is the only colour 3) accept that this is the only paradigm out there 4) belive this is what their readership want they like white male authors so that’s the list they produce.

      Liked by 2 people

      • . . . and if you don’t teach Eliot, Joyce, or Hemingway, god forbid, students go nuts. Then those folks become high school teachers, editors, etc. and so on and so on. . .

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As for suggestions, how bout going out a bit further east? So, something by Xinran (e.g. Sky Burial); Lisa See (Peony in Love or Shanghai Girls); Amy Tan (the Bonesetter’s Daughter); Natsuo Kirino (Out, Grotesque); Liza Dalby (Geisha).

    I am currently reading a Sci-Fi book called “Forgotten Suns” by Judith Tarr, where all the Characters are PoC, and the majority of lead characters are women. Is this a genre that you think is well or poorly represented in terms of diversity?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent, thank you. I’m not the person to ask about Sci-Fi, I don’t read anywhere near enough to give an educated response to your question. Interestingly though, the Sci-Fi that sprung to mind was Becky Chambers’ A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet which has a very diverse cast and Octavia Butler in general. Maybe that show more about what I pay attention to though…


  4. The imbalance is ridiculous, if it weren’t so infuriating it’d be laughable! Thank goodness for your list, Naomi – I really want to read Human Acts very soon. As for other suggestions, I’d put Edwidge Danticat up there – especially Claire of the Sea Light.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Grrr, don’t even get me started… I’m getting more and more impatient with this sort of thing! But in a world where it’s becoming fashionable to moan about exaggerated PC, and minority quotas are seen as VERY EVIL THINGS INDEED… Anyway, I’ll stop here before I embark on a full-blown rant. Thank you so much for this list!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Great list Naomi. Add my voice to those recommending Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox; would also add The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi, Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa, The Wall by Marlen Haushofer, The Roundhouse by Louise Erdrich, The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna and yes Edwidge Danticat is also very good. I could probably easily make my own list 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent idea. Let’s spread the word(s). More suggestions: The Color Purple by Alice Walker, one of my favourite books ever by anyone; Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys; I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What I love about lists like this is discovering new books. I would consider myself pretty well read. Actually I am a total book worm and yet I have only read half the books on this list. Hoorah, much more reading in store…and then she groans looking at her to read pile. Top of my list would be ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ by Barbara Kingsolver.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love this Naomi, you are so right about these lists. It’s the same with Greatest albums of all time – always men. This is a great list of books (but of course!). I would add Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls, Joyce Carol Oates Black Water and something by Yoko Ogawa.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I agree. Have you read Half of a Yellow Sun? I liked Americanah but Half of Yellow Sun ruled my world. Han Kang wrote The Vegetarian, yes? I loved that one and so wanted a group to talk to about it. I’ll look for Human Acts. Han Kang may turn out to be my bid discover of 2016.

    I may take a look at the original list, since I’ve no idea what the original controversy is about. I tend to avoid list like this these days for many of the reasons you mention. I also think they are just click bait at this point; something we should not take seriously anymore.

    But interesting post. Thanks.


    • I have read Half of a Yellow Sun and enjoyed it a lot. I think because I read Americanah first, it probably had a bearing on my ranking.
      Han Kang did write The Vegetarian, yes. Both are excellent. Human Acts is very harrowing though.
      I agree that many of these lists are clickbait but what concerns me is that people (by which I’m mostly referring to the section of the general public who don’t buy mountains of books and so are more likely to use these lists as guides) will read them and be swayed by them. I’m aware it might seem trivial but where do you begin with structural inequality? My take is that you chip away at all sides until it collapses.


  11. Ooooh!

    Attica Locke (Black Water Rising, The Cutting Season, Pleasantville), Louise Erdrich (Love Medicine, The Round House), Ruth Ozeki (A Tale for the Time Being), Simone Schwarz-Bart (The Bridge of Beyond), Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), Maxine Beneba Clarke (Foreign Soil, The Hate Race [coming soon]), Sarah Howe (Loop of Jade), Sarah Perry (After Me Comes the Flood, The Essex Serpent), Andrea Levy (Small Island, The Long Song), Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy, Helen Simpson (Cockfosters, Yeah No Right Get A Life).

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Book Lists for All Humans #2 | The Writes of Woman

  13. Pingback: Nieuwsronde: de goed nieuws editie | De Zesde Clan

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