The Hour of Daydreams – Bookish: Author Interview

Renee M RutledgeMs. Rutledge, thank you so very much for taking the time for this interview. When I finished The Hour of Daydreams, I had questions about the context around the book which I did not quite know how to seek out an answer to, so I was delighted when you agreed to talk with me. I have since searched through your website and discovered a few other Q&As in which you talk about the folk tale this book is a retelling of, but for my readers that have not seen those interviews,

1) do you mind sharing again the name and details for that folk tale? What was it about this folk tale that inspired you to write a novel based on it?

See below.

2) In your interview on What the Log had to Say, you state that you gave the character, Tala, agency in her story. Why did you make that choice? Is it important to you for female characters to have agency?

In the folktale, a man falls in love with a star maiden. His father plots a way to entrap her. The man steals her wings and hides them. She moves into their home and becomes his bride. Through this, her side of the story is left unspoken. It’s taken for granted that she’s passive, a prize, an object. I couldn’t trust such a story as complete. My novel turns those assumptions on their head. Tala is in more control over the turn of events than the man who stole from her. To me, the maiden in the story is a main character, a powerful but vulnerable being, but not someone whose destiny is solely in the hands of the men around her. At the same time, the men in the folktale felt one-dimensional too. Manolo is much more conflicted. One could even say his love is genuine.

3) I am still fascinated by this idea that a folk tale could be based on real people. I saw the creation of the folk tale as a way for the characters to cope with a painful truth, about Tala’s background as well as her departure. In The Hour of Daydreams, the truth and the folk tale are so seamlessly interwoven, I felt the book spoke to a larger philosophical topic on the concept of reality – this question of where is the line between truth and tale. Was the book intended to speak to the concept of reality as shifting? What are your thoughts on reality and that line between truth and tale?

Truth is always changing and revealing itself. One person’s truth may be different from another’s. And even our own truths, about others, about ourselves, can fluctuate and deepen over time. The folktale reveals a snapshot of one truth. It is limited and designed to close the story, as if the one truth is all there is to tell.

I recreated the river scene in the folktale to show simultaneous truths from each character experiencing that moment in their own way. From the river scene, the novel branches off from the folktale to explore my unanswered questions about this marriage on new ground. Because of the nature of truth, learning about the characters’ past requires detective work. History is dependent on the historian. This is why both Manolo, and then Malaya, must seek out the answers about Tala for themselves.

4) What role do folk tales play in Filipino culture? Is there any truth to the idea that those folk tales could be based on real people?

5) Why did you choose the setting of the Philippines and use one of its folk tales? Is it important for you to share Filipino culture with an American English speaking audience? Is there anything you hope the readers gain from reading The Hour of Daydreams?

I chose to base the novel in the Philippines because that is where the folktale, The Star Maidens, comes from. However, there are many different versions of a similar folktale from other cultures. I’ve read one from Africa, where sky women come down from the sky via a rope that a man cuts in order to keep one of them grounded. And an Incan version where a sun goddess loses her golden dress so she cannot fly, and marries the man who hid it from her. These many shared tales suggest a link between cultures; there are universal themes that we are all invested in. More often than not, however, someone else’s version of a story is told. It means a lot to me that more people are seeking to learn about The Star Maidens and Filipino books/culture as a result of reading The Hour of Daydreams.

6) For me, this story was lyrical, poetic, magical, mystical, and vague. Even the setting felt a bit surreal. The truth was not laid out in a clear way and I am not certain I fully understand the truth of Tala. Was this intentional and if so, to what purpose? Why leave the truth a bit unresolved and hard to grasp?

The novel tells two parallel stories. Because of this, some people interpret the novel as saying that two things are always happening at once, both in the story, and in life; that the real world has a magical parallel. However, it was not possible for me to write two stories and make them both true. Early on, I had to decide which story I believed in order to continue the book. In other words, one of the plots is false. This was a great challenge, so to me, one of the greatest testaments to the novel’s success is the fact many readers have made far different conclusions from my own.

7) Would you say this book falls within modern Filipino literature, Filipino-American literature, or does it defy such categories? For readers of the The Hour of Daydreams who want to read more Filipino literature, Filipino-American literature, and/ or #ownvoices stories, do you have recommendations of fiction and/or nonfiction authors?

I’m proud to be an author, period. It’s a tough industry. I don’t know what category the book falls under, I myself am a Filipino American. I recently did the keynote speech for an awards ceremony honoring outstanding Filipino students in my community, and it was a privilege to learn how proud the students and their parents were to have me as a role model. While there are few nationally published authors in my city, there are even fewer of Filipino descent. I think the same can be said of most places. I’m happy I was able to write a book based on my own vision; not that of an editor or publisher who has their idea of what a book by a Filipino author should look like. I’d like to hope industry standards are changing; that publishers are responding to readers who seek authenticity in diverse stories.

Thank you so much for the questions, for reading and for connecting. I highly recommend Deceit and Other Possibilities, by Vanessa Hua;Monstress, by Lysley Tenorio; Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi; Queen of Spades, by Michael Shum; A Cup of Water Under My Bed, by Daisy Hernandez; and Marriage of a Thousand Lies, by SJ Sindu. I’m currently reading Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, and have Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizers and Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness waiting on my nightstand.

8) Do you plan to write more folk tale retellings? Retellings is a particular favorite genre of mine.

More and more, I feel another folktale retelling will happen. I’m getting excited for that time to come, when I’ve wrapped up my current projects. This is a matter of years from now; if you have the same email address then I’ll be sure to get in touch!

For more author interviews, press releases, and book reviews, check out: https://www.reneerutledge.com/

The Underground Railroad – Reflection: Privilege

3769037680_44652f2a55_zPhoto credit: Privilege | Stephen Dann | CC 2.0

This is another hard reflection for me to write. In order to be honest about how The Underground Railroad impacted me, I have to confront my privilege. As a white person, I have the privilege to ignore the horrors of slavery and their lasting impact. I have had the ability to have a general sense of its horrors, but never fully understand them. My privilege has allowed me to live in relative comfort thinking it wasn’t much different from how I was taught in school it was. After reading The Underground Railroad, I had a choice on whether to continue to live in the comfort of that privilege or acknowledge that I had hid behind my privilege all these years.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but to a certain extent, I like to bury my head in the sand. While this is in some ways a metaphor, it was also how I handled scary situations as a child. When there was an unnerving scene on TV, I would stick my head between the back of the couch and the couch pillows. My parents used to joke I was an ostrich. But even then, I wanted to hide instead of comforting what makes me uncomfortable. To this day, I still want to hide when I feel uncomfortable, though I don’t stick my head behind pillows anymore. But I do disengage. Disengagement and feigned ignorance has been my shameful secret to how I cope with America’s painful past.

Even as a young child, I paid attention to politics and as I learned about America’s shameful past, from slavery to Native American genocide to colonialism and the like, I distanced myself from America and disengaged from American politics. I loved politics and political behavior, but focused on comparative politics over American politics because I could not love a country which had such an awful past. But over the years, I learned that these awful pasts exist in most countries and the best way to love a country is to try to repair the damage.

I switched to American politics in my PhD work and became more actively engaged in politics. Before I had to stop working due to disability, I was working in politics. I had made progress on learning to love a country that had such an awful past. What I hadn’t worked on was confronting the full reality of that past nor the underlying institutions that exist to perpetuate it still today.

The Underground Railroad does not only show the horrors of slavery, and horrors is not a strong enough word to describe at least one of the scenes in the book, but it also shows the horrors of the institutions created outside of slavery perpetuating second class citizenship and indefinite servitude. It is not the history of slavery per se that has led to the institutionalized racism of the day, but rather the institutions which were created around slavery specifically to ensure that former slaves and freeborn blacks did not obtain too much power after slavery fell. While some people did not believe slavery would fall, others saw that it was not sustainable and put into place measures to ensure white privilege and black struggle for intuity.

Nothing made that more obvious to me than the fictionalized depictions of North and South Carolina. Even if I wrote spoilers here, it would not be possible to to truly feel the impact of those chapters without reading the book. These fictionalized accounts of reality highlight the real effects these policies had, even when they came from “good” intentions. In many ways, the depictions of what happened in these two states will haunt me more than the horrors of slavery in Georgia. Nearly anyone can see how immoral slavery is when faced with accounts like those of what happened in Georgia; but it is a lot harder for any of us to see the horrors of institutions designed with the best intentions until someone like Whitehead takes them to their limits and shows us the true outcome.

It is not as though I was entirely unaware of some of what was depicted in the Carolinas. I knew of Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose cervical cells were taken without her consent and used for medical research. As a PhD student in a science, one learns about the research that was once done on people of traditionally marginalized groups and performed on them without their consent. But knowing generally and living it through the eyes of a character are two different things. Though Cora does not specifically witness nor experience medical research without consent, she is privy to other immoral medical situations, and it is through her and other characters’ reactions that I understood the legacy of such actions. Black people have a reason to not trust medical personnel, the government, and whites in general, but it was not until I The Underground Railroad did I understand that connection.

It is incredibly hard for me to admit this, not only because it bruises my pride which believes that I am clever, but also because it highlights my white privilege and my choices to hide my head in the sand. I’ve been told time and again by readers I trust that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a powerful, well-written read, but I have yet to read it. I did not dive into the history of research abuses the way I have other bits of information I come across. I haven’t read personal accounts of slavery or watched the famous movies around them. I am uncomfortable with seeing humans treated in inhumane ways on a level that is painful to me. But reading The Underground Railroad has shown me that choosing to not see historical reality means I not only do not understand the institutions in place currently but also my role in maintaining those institutions.

Part of why I did not want to know more is because I do not know what to do with this knowledge. It is a heavy burden, but one I do not know how to resolve. I am a person who struggles to see the value in short-term goals and small wins, though I am trying to move toward a path where I can see the value in them. What I want to do is save the world, but as I will discuss in my reflection on The Hate U Give, there are serious problems with that framework. Which means I have work to do and I have to end this post feeling as though I am leaving the topic unresolved. But I am stepping into the vulnerability and sitting here with the discomfort. I am trying to do as Brene Brown suggests and not puff up or run from the discomfort. This is where I am right now. I’m not proud of it and I do not want to be here, but it is where I am. I know I will gain more insight by staying here and reflecting than I will by I taking action or hiding behind my privilege. This is me, raw and without all the answers. I feel naked, but I am trusting the process.

How do you face the discomfort of privilege, whatever that means to you?

The Underground Railroad – Review

the underground railroad coverThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – 4/ 5 stars

The Underground Railroad is a powerful and haunting tale of slavery and trying to escape it. Whitehead’s writing is vivid and transports one into another time period and another person. This is a book that will stay with me for years; not only the message, but also the feelings the book evoked as I lived Cora’s journey.

The story primarily focuses on Cora, a slave on a Georgia Plantation where she was born and raised. Cora is an outcast on the plantation and lives a somewhat lonely life. During a day of celebration, a new slave, Caesar, approaches Cora and asks if she will run away with him. He considers her a good luck charm since her mother successfully ran away. While Cora initially refuses, she eventually changes her mind and the two set out to find freedom through the underground railroad, which is an actual railroad underground. Their journey to freedom runs into many complications as they are pursued by a slave catcher. Yet, this is about more than a slave’s journey to freedom; it is a story about the entire system, including the various actors.

In The Underground Railroad, we get glimpses into other characters’ lives. There are several brief chapters throughout the book which tell the backstory of a character or reveal something else about a character. These chapters are incredibly well-written and I was incredibly impressed with how well each character was written. To my dismay, I found myself relating to and understanding white characters who were apart of slavery in some aspect. It blows my mind that Whitehead was able to accurately capture this characters and give them so much depth. But now that I am familiar with his writing, it does not surprise me. He is an amazing writer.

The Underground Railroad covers more than the story of Cora; it also shows the reader all sorts of other forms of oppression of black people: slave, freeborn, or freed. Through use of symbolism and reference to actual historical events, Whitehead makes it clear what obstacles black people had to overcome, not just during slavery, but in the years to follow emancipation. These pieces are what made this book so powerful and haunting for me. It gave me the sense of how desperate and horrendous the plight of the black person was. It deeply conveyed why many black people to not trust government institutions, politicians, or some white people in general. The atrocities white people have committed against black people, both during and long after slavery have left deep, deep wounds which often will not heal because in a certain way, not much has changed.

But Whitehead did more than capture the oppression of black people; he also captured the fear of the average white person. Violence begets violence and thus, white people brought much of the violence upon themselves, the average soul was ignorant to that. They failed to understand that stealing a people from a land would cause them to violently try to change the situation. Many of the white people were not actively apart of slavery and many of them had not witnessed the slave trade, which had been banned by the time this story takes place. Instead, for every black uprising, white fear grew, and they responded with more violence, which only led to more violent response. The stories white people told themselves about black people being violent criminals came true because of the actions of white people themselves or at least the system at large. Whitehead captures this and has the reader glimpse for a moment what it would feel like to be a white person during this time period. But this glimpse is short because in the end, while the fear may have been real, it was irrational and the people that deserve sympathy and understanding are ones horrible damaged and broken by this irrational fear.

There are some incredibly disturbing scenes in this book, often worse than what I had understood of the horrors of slavery. Many of these depictions will stay with me for a long time. There is much truth in them, which is why it is not possible to easily shake them. But surprisingly, this book was less challenging than I expected. For example, while there were references to rape, the details were not given. Even the most gruesome scenes were told with only as much detail as necessary. Also, the narrator was a bit detached from it all, making it easier to digest. But this detachment is also what costs this book a half star because due to that attachment, this book will not stay with me in the same way it could have otherwise.

In terms of plot, I did not find the inclusion of an actual underground railroad to add anything to the story, though I did not feel like it took away from the story either. The plot was good, but not as strong as I expected. While the writing is fantastic, it still does not seem to provide enough to give the plot a full life. I will certainly remember many scenes from this book and some will stay with me in vivid detail, the main plot will likely be lost on me in due time. That is disappointing for me and cost the point another half point. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what is missing, except to say that it likely goes back to the detachment. Yes, I wanted the best outcome for Cora and the other characters, but I was not moved to cry when they ran into serious obstacles nor did I feel compelled to keep reading their stories. I greatly enjoyed the book, the overall plot just was not that interesting. I am not sure I will read more of Colson Whitehead’s works. His writing is fantastic and his symbolism and short “stories” within the book are superb, but if his other books suffer from the same uninteresting plot, I am not sure I want to read them. Only time will tell. However, I do recommend people read this book as it truly does add another layer of understanding to what it was like to live as a black person in America during slavery.

Add to Goodreads! The Underground Railroad

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Ready to buy? Purchase on Amazon or Book Depository. Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and Book Depository Affiliates Program, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com and BookDepository.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

The Little Queen – Reflection: What We Do

3575482180_3d8d8b0980_oPhoto credit: and who are you?Mitsuko Tonouchi | CC 2.0

I loved this children’s story and there were so many beautiful lines, but by far my favorite was this one:

“Asking what one did was like asking who they were, and that was too simple a question for a very complex answer.”

It is a very concise way of explaining why I have disliked the “what do you do” question for a long time. People are more than a job or a career and they do much, much more than simply work. We are all complex beings with complex lives. There are complex reasons for why someone is a cashier or a lawyer. There are complex careers in which a title is an insufficient answer. Yet, American culture tends to boil everything down to one simple question: what do you do.

One gains a keen understanding of just how often that question is asked in everyday life when her response is: I don’t work anymore as I’m now on disability retirement. Yes, that person is me and yes, I have to say that more often than you might think. At visit to the doctor’s office: medical assistant or nurse getting my vitals – so are you heading back to work after this appointment or do you have the day off; doctor – so what do you do. On a dating app: potential match: so what do you do; me: oh I crochet, read, garden, play video games, hang out with my nephew, and spend time with friends; potential match (clearly a bit frustrated): no, what do you do for work; me: I’m currently unable to work but receive money from disability retirement; potential match: …; me: are you still there; potential match: …

Yes, it happens quite often that a potential love interest stops talking to me pretty much the second they find out I do not have a job, even when I point out I have an income. Most are kind enough to wait until the conversation comes to a natural end, but still, they never respond to future attempts to contact them. Why? Because American society places so much value on what someone does as a career that not having one somehow automatically makes someone less valuable. Before you disagree, take an honest step back and consider whether you have done this. I did before I was disabled. I did not think twice about it back then. That is how ingrained it is in our society.

While it is ingrained in all of us Americans to ask that what do you do question at some point in a conversation with a new person, after reading the quoted line above, I find myself asking why we ask it. What information about a person do we gain by asking that question, besides literally what they do for a job? Does it tell us about their hopes and dreams? Does it tell us whether they are a good person? Does it tell us whether we will like them? Does it tell us what they fear or who they love? Maybe, but most likely not. We may assume a lot of things about the person based on their job: oh, he’s a cashier, he must not have a lot of ambition or she’s a lawyer, she must be a skilled liar and make a lot of money. But those assumptions do not truly answer the very complex question of who is this person. In fact, the question of what do you do and the assumptions that follow may in fact prevent us from learning who the person truly is. For example, I met a gentleman who answered the what he did question by telling me he was an overnight stocker at a retail store, even though they had encouraged him to become a supervisor. He said he didn’t want to deal with the stress of management. He also mentioned that what he really wanted to do was to work in law enforcement and was hoping to do security for this retailer. I dismissed him thinking he was not very ambitious or hardworking, but it turned out that he suffered from severe epileptic seizures and was being responsible by minimizing the stress which triggered his seizures.

So, why do we start by asking people what they do? I do not know exactly, but I know I now better understand the folly of asking that question after reading this book. People are much too complex to be boiled down to a job. I encourage everyone to make a greater commitment to asking creative questions that will answer the question we really want to know the answer to – who are you as a person. I will certainly not be the one asking the what do you do question first going forward.

What do you think about asking people what they do? Is it too simple a question for a very complex answer?

Little Queen – Review: ARC

the little queen coverThe Little Queen by Meia Geddes – 4/ 5 stars

The Little Queen is a beautiful children’s story about a girl who becomes a little queen upon the death of her parents. She does not want to be a little queen and sets out on an adventure to try to find someone who would like to be a little queen. Along the way, she meets many characters whose names define what they do, but it is rude in the kingdom to ask someone what they do. The explanation is one of my favorite lines:

“Asking what one did was like asking who they were, and that was too simple a question for a very complex answer.”

There are many other beautiful lines that convey much depth and insight. For example:

“‘You must pay attention to your obsessions, where life and love intersect…’”

“…in the early morning there came a sliver of time in which everything was a beginning, a rebirth of dreams.”

“Walking and writing and running are very purposeful activities, but living we just happen to do regardless, … But most of us cannot not live and live, at least that I know of, so maybe the next best thing is to ponder not living and then to live.”

The Little Queen is part adventure, part philosophy, and part a reminder of embracing who we are. This makes it a wonderful children’s book, while also being an engaging and thought-provoking book for adults. It reminded me a bit of the Fairlyland series which starts with The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making. I would love to see more of the little queen.

There is a bit of lesbian instalove, but it is sweet and enduring in a way which makes it not feel like instalove. But this book is not really about romance or this love – the love story is another small piece of a book which provides so much more to its readers.

It is a bit hard to describe this book without giving away much of the story and likely ruining the joy of discovering its beauty for oneself. It is a book everyone should read, young and old, as a fun, whimsical, thoughtful change of pace. It is a very quick read, with beautiful illustrations and language. You will not be disappointed if you read it. I cannot wait to see what else Meia Geddes writes.

I received this ebook free from Netgalley and publisher Poetose Press in exchange for an honest review.

Add to Goodreads! The Little Queen

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Ready to buy? Purchase on Amazon or Book Depository. Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and Book Depository Affiliates Program, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com and BookDepository.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

Rapid Fire Book Tag – Bookish

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Photo credit: I Love to Read | Carlos Porto | CC 2.0

Dani from Mousai Books posted this book tag a couple days ago and I really enjoyed reading her answers. I thought that my readers might enjoy learning a bit about my bookish style as well! Definitely go check out Mousai books as it’s one of my favorite book review blogs and Dani is the best! This tag was originally created by Girl Reading and she answered the questions without much thought. I answered in the same vein.

  1. E-book or Physical book? Physical Book
  2. Paperback or Hardcover? Paperback – I find hardcover annoying and heavy
  3. Online or In-store book shopping? In-Store!!! I love the smell of books! But to be fair, I buy nearly all my books online – I just start by shopping in the store and then try to find them used or a deal online.
  4. Trilogies or Series? Trilogies as I have no interest in reading a series that never ends
  5. Heroes or Villains? Is grey characters an option? No? Then heroes
  6. A book you want everyone to read? The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. It is one of my favorite books and she is my favorite author and I want everyone to experience the beauty of her writing
  7. Recommend an underrated book. The Hour of Daydreams – seriously, it is super rare that an unknown book is amazing, but this one is and I want everyone to read it!
  8. Last book you finished? The Shadow of the Wind – I have mixed feelings on this book, but a review is forthcoming.
  9. The last book(s) you bought? I went on a mini book buying spree the other day, so there’s a few: Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, Delicious Foods, Brown Girl in the Ring, and The Fisherman (I love Kindle deals combined with Amazon no rush shipping digital credits!)
  10. Weirdest thing you’ve used as a bookmark? I typically use bookmarks – well actually my favorite is bookjig which isn’t exactly a standard bookmark. Anyway, back to the question, the weirdest thing is probably a receipt or a blanket – whatever is nearby that I can quickly use to mark a page. With crochet books when I end up marking a few pages until I decide on a pattern, I have used other books as bookmarks, but it kind of worries me. I care a lot about the appearance of my books.
  11. Used books: yes or no? Yes…if they are in like new condition
  12. Top Three Favorite Genres: Literary Fiction, General Fiction, and Fantasy – really, I just love really amazing writing in nearly any genre.
  13. Borrow or Buy? Both equally. I used to dream of having a massive library one day, but now I dream of a more minimalist life, so I try to only buy print books I really love or expect to love. I also currently am only buying new books by diverse authors as part of a broader social movement. I greatly enjoy both the act of buying and the act of borrowing from a library. I don’t really feel complete without both.
  14. Characters or Plot? Characters. I care much more about the depth of the characters and how they emotionally impact me than I do about specific plot points. I can enjoy a book that seems to have no point as long as I love learning about the characters. Great, in-depth characters are why I read.
  15. Long or Short books? Is average book length an option? No, then long. I’m not a big fan of short stories and novellas tend to fall too close to that category
  16. Long or Short chapters? I don’t think I have a preference here, but if I lean one way, it’s probably toward long chapters. I don’t like choppy books with super short chapters.
  17. Name the first three books you think of: The Fifth Season, The Shadowed Sun, and The Shadow of the Wind
  18. Books that make you laugh or books that make you cry? Books that make me cry
  19. Our world or Fictional world? I don’t have a strong preference here, though I tend to read more books in the real world than in the fictional world. But I’m not a big fan of them overlapping, with the exception of dystopian/ future setting books.
  20. Audiobooks: yes or no? I really enjoy nonfiction audiobooks and it’s about the only way I will read nonfiction books these days, but otherwise, I strongly prefer printed books. With reading books, the worlds transports me more than listening to them and I live for that.
  21. Do you ever judge a book by its cover? I do and it does cause me to out of hand dismiss some books or to decide to pick up a book I’m unfamiliar with, but it is only a small part of my decision to read a book or not.
  22. Book to movie or Book to TV adaptations? Book to TV adaptations as I generally prefer TV to movies, in part because TV can do more with character development.
  23. A movie or TV show you preferred to its book? I rarely consume both medium, but I loved the movie Lincoln and couldn’t get through the first 50 pages of the book it was based off of. I’d probably say on the whole that I prefer the movie version of nonfiction books, especially for genres like memoirs or biographies.
  24. Series or Standalone? Standalone. There are popular books I haven’t read and probably won’t because I don’t want to deal with reading a whole series. I only consider reading complete series.

I tag FNM over at NZFNM blog, Delphine at Delphine the Babbler, and Harini at Books and Readers. I’d love to hear some of your answers in the comments, or better yet, as a post on your blog! So if I did not tag you and you wish to do this, please consider yourself tagged and definitely let me know if you do the tag. Otherwise, please answer one or two questions below! I’d love to get to know my readers a bit better!

A Man Called Ove – Reflection: Representation and Diversity

8750275571_5fda61700d_zPhoto credit: The Diversity MaskGeorge A. Spiva Center for the Arts | CC by 2.0

Trigger Warning: Suicide mention

A few years ago, I suddenly and unexpectedly developed a chronic pain condition as a result of a very minor injury. That chronic pain condition had an autoimmune component, which triggered a long list of health-related issues. Within six months of the initial injury, I was no longer able to work. My life was ripped out from underneath me and all of a sudden, everything was different, harder, longer, worse, and I did not know if I could go on. Thoughts of suicide began to creep into my head. At the same time, something else phenomenal happened; I gained an entire community of people willing to give as much of themselves as they could in order to be there for me. After watching the movie, Collateral Beauty, I have been calling it my collateral beauty. I lost a lot, but gained even more.

That’s not to say that it is not hard sometimes to adjust to this new life, which constantly is shifting under my feet. I’ve wanted to see my story, my loss, my pain, my grappling with how to go on in someone else’s story. I have read a few books with the hope of hearing my life echoed in them, but none have resonated. Enter, A Man Called Ove, and my heart sang. Here was my story, for the most part – a person whose early life was filled with tragedy and loss; an introvert who believes in doing right and working hard, finds the one thing that brings sense, structure, calm, and meaning into the world is ripped away from her/ him. But among that loss is so much beauty, it is almost too bright to look at. I needed this story. I needed this story more than I knew and more than I can explain here. Because my soul has been dying and I needed to see that another person’s soul also was dying, but that the light they gained was enough. I needed to feel this in those dark moments when it is just still a tad bit too hard and the pain threatens to swallow me whole.

This is why representation matters. We need to see stories of ourselves and feel just a little less alone. We need to carry in our hearts the knowledge that we are not the only ones. Even in our hyper-connected world, it can be easy to feel alone. Other people on the internet can feel one-dimensional and even people in real life can hold a lot of themselves back. It is the magic of books where we get to see that internal struggle, those darks thoughts, the things we don’t talk about, and feel more whole for having seen we are not alone. Representation in books matters so much exactly because it can show all the sides of what it is to be a flawed, beautiful human.

But this leads to the question of who can write that representation? Does it matter that this story, the one I finally connected with, was written by a straight white Swedish guy? Does that make it less representative? Wouldn’t it have been better if an American disabled lesbian had written the story – someone more like me? I do not have a great answer for those questions. They are questions I have been grappling with for nearly two decades now. What I can say is that, on the whole, it is hard for authors to write outside of their own perspectives. This is not a critique, but a fact of life. We all are stuck in our realities and ways of viewing the world. At best, we can try to overcome them and sometimes succeed. But it is also important to remember that there are some aspects to life that are universal, loss being one of them. Because of that, I could have potentially seen my loss in nearly any story about loss, but this one resonated with me because it captured a few other aspects of myself as well. Which brings me back to the statement that representation matters. The problem with continuing to allow marginalized voices to be marginalized is that all sorts of important representation is not out there for people to connect with, but also, there are all sorts of universal aspects of representation that are not out there either. This means that there are stories we will not read with the potential to connect us and show us that even among our greatest differences, there are commonalities, namely, we are all human. If A Man Called Ove teaches us anything, it is that even the most different people can be connected through a bit of vulnerability and humanity and that connection is what makes life worth living. So yes, this blog will continue to focus on traditionally marginalized voices, and though one could make a case that a Swedish voice is uncommon in American literature and could thus fall under the concept of “traditionally marginalized voices,” it is a bit of a stretch. But from time to time, when extremely compelling, other books which do not strictly fall within traditionally marginalized voices may be reviewed here. After all, ways of diversifying perspectives comes in many forms and I’d rather error on the side of inclusivity over exclusivity. A Man Called Ove impacted my perspective, so for now, it is on this blog. Plus, it serves as a great launching point of discussion for what makes a book diverse.

What do you think? How do you feel about representation that comes from a person of a traditional majority group? What does representation mean to you? Is a perspective outside your country of origin diverse enough, or does it need to be outside a larger culture (for example, non-American versus non-Western)? Share your thoughts below!