Musings

How “The 2016 Challenge” Works

So now that I’m a few books into the year, I thought I’d try to more concretely explain what I’m doing for my special challenge.

I’ve said I want to read 60% or more books of my total that are about countries and cultures that don’t normally make up my book-reading. It sounds a little confusing when I try to say it out loud sometimes, so I’ve finally read enough to have the right examples.

I’ve read two books so far that fit into my challenge: Under the Udala Trees and The Wrath and the Dawn.

My most recent book, The Love that Splits the World, can almost fit but doesn’t, and perfectly encapsulates my decision making with the challenge.

Udala Trees literally does not happen outside of the context of the Nigerian Civil War and the country’s ensuing decades. This author’s experiences with are wholly shaped by the outcome of that war and the prevalence of Christianity in the country. Ijeoma’s homosexuality wouldn’t necessarily spur the same response – nor would her schooling experience be the same – if she were in a country in North America or Europe. As Nigeria is not a place I read about often outside of the news, this book was a way for me to see the deeper side of the country. While certain events could be similar in some places in the USA, Chinelo Okparanta deliberately wrote the book to give life to disenfranchised LGBT Nigerians.

Wrath/Dawn is another book that, while theoretically it could exist in another place, without the Arabian/Middle Eastern culture, it simply doesn’t work. The book, which is inspired by the ancient Arabian tales “One Thousand and One Nights,” often uses Arabic and specifically mentions Middle Eastern cuisine. So sure, you could adapt a story to a more “Euro-centric” book, but it wouldn’t be effective in the way Wrath is, at all. This story thrives on its setting.

The Love that Splits the World, on the other hand, really could be set in many places. Obviously, that Natalie is Native American makes that culture important. However, her heritage as Native American is mostly important because it highlights her status as an Other from her family. Her life as an adopted child is more relevant. While Grandmother often tells her stories from differing Native American tribes, it’s not impossible to say she could have done that had she not also been Native American – she also told Christian creation stories. In this book, Natalie being Native American is not the driving force of this book’s plot in the way that Ijeoma being a Nigerian lesbian is the plot of Udala Trees. This book, while wonderful, could really function in any place where a wise old woman could learn stories of other cultures. It’s certainly perfect where it is, but it’s movable in a way the other two simply aren’t.

And so, that is my challenge. To find books that push me out of my comfort zone to read about people, places, cultures, and things I’ve never read before.

If you were confused, I hope this post clears some things up. If you weren’t, I hope you grasped my thought process!

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