Lola by Junot Diaz: Reshaping the Children’s Book Industry

Written by Kiran Gokal

Junot Diaz, the Dominican-American author of renowned books This Is How You Lose Her and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, recently released a children’s book called Islandborn which focuses on six-year-old Lola, an Afro-Caribbean girl who came over to the United States so young that she has no memories of the island where she was born. At the Texas Library Association this past Thursday, Diaz spoke about his children’s book and not only his own connection to it, but the importance of it within the children’s book industry. The narrative of the novel follows Lola and her fellow classmates, all children who are from somewhere else, as they’re asked to draw a picture of their “first country.” Lola, not recalling any memories of her own, must reconstruct hers by drawing on those of her relatives to remind herself of and to illustrate her home country.

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Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Written by Kiran Gokal

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is a riveting and transparent novel that follows four characters in 1975 as they navigate the beaten paths of an India governed by the notorious prime minister of the time, Indira Gandhi.  The harrowing effects of the Emergency Act conducted by Gandhi and the political anxiety of the time serves as a backdrop against the compelling lives of four strangers, who are all refugees in their own ways, and are thrust in an uncertain journey together. We follow an uncle and a nephew fleeing persecution, a woman searching freedom from an environment that holds her back, and a young college student too naïve to face the reality of society on his own.

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Problematic Literary Fave: Sherman Alexie and the #MeToo Movement in Literature

Written by Kiran Gokal

If you googled Native American poet and author Sherman Alexie a month ago, you would have seen the abundance of praised novels, short stories and poems that draw on his experiences as a Spokane Native American growing up on a reservation.  If you looked today, you would encounter the flurry of articles dissecting numerous sexual misconduct allegations against Alexie by multiple women, including fellow Native American women authors.

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Korean Thriller Novels on the Rise: Overturning the Scandinavian Reign

Written by Kiran Gokal

With the phenomenon of Oldboy and the recent popularity of Train to Busan, Korean cinema has established its position high in the crime thriller genre, creating a new generation of widely praised films. When I think of Korean thriller films, I think of action-packed films balanced with drama, comedy, and beautifully crafted, complex characters, in a way that is quite rare in Hollywood films. Simply just acknowledging the popularity of Korean thriller films, it’s no surprise that Korean thriller novels are also on the rise and aiming high. In her article in The Guardian, Alison Flood discusses a particular Korean novelist by the name of Un-Su Kim whose recent novel The Plotters was subject to a grand auction in the US and landed a six-figure sum. Korean thriller novels, it seems, have been caught in a wave of interest in recent years. This fact was strengthened by the praise and popularity following Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian that sparked a flare of interest into the country’s literature.

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Sensitivity Reading Reinforces and Encourages a More Diverse and Aware Publishing Process

Written by Kiran Gokal

With the growing awareness of diversity in books, and more importantly, accurate representations, the need for sensitivity readers has grown substantially. A sensitivity reader is pretty much exactly what you hear: they are readers who read to minimize sensitivity. The practice is done on a manuscript to eradicate any internalized bias, stereotyping, and language that can be offensive to marginalized groups that are represented in the text. Fortunately, it is becoming a crucial part in the process of today’s publishing industry. Alongside the kick-off of We Need Diverse Books, a nonprofit organization aimed at supporting writers from marginalized groups and advocating for publishing of more diverse books, the publication numbers for books of this sort increased in 2014 to 28% after a decade of stagnation. Following incidents of backlash from readers of books with problematic portrayals, sensitivity readers became an increasingly normalized practice.

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18 Diverse Books to Look for in 2018

Written by Kiran Gokal

It’s a new year and that calls for changes: new tastes, authors to discover, and a new reading goal on Goodreads that, secretly, we’re all praying we reach. For every reader and book lover out there, there is a certain goal—whether it is new to you or not—that one should aspire to realize, and that goal is to read more diversely. Reading about people, cultures, and sexualities different from your own will not only broaden your knowledge but will also foster empathy, understanding, and respect, which is something the world always needs more of. In 2018, we must advocate for diversity and that includes consciously reading stories about characters different from us. Even as a Pakistani-American Muslim woman, I need reminding to be aware of what I’m reading and to read more diversely every now and then. It’s easy to get lost in the buzz of the new popular novel that hit the shelves and to only want to read books you know you’ll enjoy. But I hope you’ll take the risk with me because the feeling of reading a truly amazing novel about a character or an experience that you normally would never encounter or have the opportunity to experience otherwise is one of the most inspiring and profound moments I have had in my life as a reader.

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Vicious: A Story of Near-Death Experiences and Supervillains

Written by Kiran Gokal

Ever wondered what x-men would look like on a college campus? Well, the search is over. Vicious, a fantasy, sciencefiction, and paranormal thriller (honestly it’s a little bit of everything)  by V.E. Schwab, plays with the ethics surrounding life and death, and the fine line we walk between the two. The story follows Victor Vale and Eliot Cardale, two pre-med students who discover that the key to gaining superpowers is near-death experiences. So they set out to research and manufacture their own abilities by experimenting with their own suicides. Of course, it goes horribly wrong. Vicious is a journey that intrigued me right from the start and made me think rather critically about the definition and executions of the cliché heroversusvillain story.

V.E. Schwab, a best-selling author of multiple books and book series, wrote this particular novel in secret, in an attempt to respark her interest in writing for pleasure rather than for an income. The rawness of such a notion definitely shows in the work. It’s funny, it’s engaging, and it’s thought provoking. Adorning the captivating story of Victor and Eli are the various wonderful characters that either join forces with the pair or happen to make appearances in the story. Schwab’s strong suit is balancing her characters with her plots, neither one louder than the other. I don’t know about you, but those are my favorite stories to read.

More fascinatingly, Schwab wrote the novel hoping to “play with the idea of the superhero as social construct” and the notion of giving an ordinary person supernatural abilities—what would they do then? Save the world just as the comics would have us believe? Here, she strips the archetypes of their roles. The hero is no longer the hero and the villain could be both. It really is up to the reader to choose a side (or not). As Schwab would say, “we like our heroes flawed and our villains complicated.”

If any of this interests you, I highly recommend picking up Vicious by V.E. Schwab. The dark and mysterious atmosphere of the book is a perfect read for the fall and winter time—and who doesn’t love superheroes?