Much as World Book Night has bravely decided to diversify the types of books offered for its lists by including fiction, non-fiction, genre and translated works, it seems to have left off any Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) writers in 2016. Which is, in my eyes, a sadly wasted opportunity to be truly diverse.
I like World Book Night - it’s a wonderfully charitable way of spreading your love of reading with friends and strangers alike. A chance to be a book dealer, offering up the first hit for free, hopefully resulting in a lifelong addiction to reading.
In the same year as Spread The Word’s damning report, 'Writing the Future: Black and Asian Authors and Publishers in the UK Market Place', which found that "an old mono-culture prevails in publishing", it’s a shame that a list that describes itself as diverse is probably not diverse enough.
Lists can do what prizes necessarily can’t - be inclusive. Prizes are effectively competitions. There’s an arbitrary standard of literary merit to be upheld. Publishers will submit subjectively to suit judges’ tastes. Lists, on the other hand, are a set of items, in this case books. World Book Night’s panels are looking for books that are "good, enjoyable, highly readable books with strong compelling narratives". It seems problematic, thus, to not include any authors from BAME communities.
If World Book Night is about getting that 36% of the country reading, what about the brown pound? It’s potentially a huge market, but one that will feel disenfranchised by not being visible in a high profile list such as this. For one, having BAME writers will encourage more BAME readers to become givers or to take a book, but also it’ll show that, on lists, we belong just as much as everyone else. Because we certainly belong in the prizes - look at this year’s incredibly diverse Man Booker shortlist. It was so inspiring.
So, below I’ve provided a list of BAME writers’ books to be included in future World Book Night lists. Like most of their lists, I’ve gone for books that are good, enjoyable, highly readable with strong compelling narratives. I’ve looked to old and new and tried to think about what would be that first exciting book you read that got you hooked.
1. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (Corsair)
This incredibly accessible collection of essays about everything from race to feminism to Channing Tatum and Scrabble is funny, informative and so compulsively readable.
2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Penguin Classics)
This coming-of-age tale is an intelligent and timeless story of the struggle between traditional values and colonialism.
3. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan (Mulholland Books)
This noirish thriller is charming and mysterious and navigates Mumbai with twists and turns.
4. The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson (Corgi Children's)
Based on a true story, this historical thriller is for a YA audience and looks at mistaken identity.
5. The Buddha Of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi (Faber & Faber)
This book changed my life. It’s why I do what I do. It’s an important statement of growing up as ‘other’ in the UK.
6. Ours are the Streets by Sunjeev Sahota (Picador)
Topical and challenging, this is an intelligent look at radicalisation in the UK.
7. This Divided Island: Stories From The Sri Lankan War by Samanth Subramaniam (Atlantic Books)
A challenging set of oral histories about the Sri Lankan war, tracing backwards from the death of the leader of the Tamil Tigers.
8. Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed (HarperCollins)
A semi-biographical look at the author's father’s life in Yemen in the 1930s and 1940s.
9. Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah (Hot Key Books)
A thrilling and human look at a Romany kid’s emersion into the hacktivism scene.
Nikesh Shukla is an author, and editor of Rife magazine.