Goodreads Challenge 2019!

It’s nearing the end of 2019 so you know what that means – it’s time to sum up my reading (yay!). 2019 was a good year. Overall, I surpassed my Goodreads challenge of reading 52 books this year by clocking 67 books!

Here’s the list divided into novels, short story collections, nonfiction, memoir, poetry, and graphic novels/comics. The ones I’ve starred are the ones that had a considerable impact on me.

Novels

  1. Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo
  2. Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
  3. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan *
  4. The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
  5. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
  6. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok *
  7. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
  8. Augustown by Kei Miller *
  9. Golden Child by Claire Adam
  10. Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn *
  11. My New American Life by Francine Prose
  12. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  13. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith *
  14. A House For Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul *
  15. Crick, Crack Monkey by Merle Hodge
  16. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid *
  17. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  18. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery *
  19. My Enemy’s Cherry Tree by Wang Ting-Kuo
  20. A View of the Empire at Sunset by Caryl Philips *
  21. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  22. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  23. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
  24. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  25. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat *
  26. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Short story collections

  1. Trinidad Noir: The Classics edited by Earl Lovelace and Robert Antoni
  2. What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
  3. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs *
  4. A Kitchen in the Corner of the House by Ambai
  5. The Transformation and Other Stories by Franz Kafka
  6. Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf
  7. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link *

Nonfiction

  1. Three Tigers, One Mountain by Michael Booth *
  2. Thin Places by Jordan Kisner *
  3. VS Naipaul’s Journeys by Sanjay Krishnan
  4. Stories that Stick by Kindra Hall
  5. Online Marketing for Busy Authors by Fauzia Burke
  6. Writing is Essential by Judine Slaughter
  7. Elements of Fiction by Walter Mosley
  8. Footnotes by Peter Fiennes
  9. We Need New Stories by Nesrine Malik
  10. Focal Point by Brian Tracy
  11. Beyond Guilt Trips by Anu Taranath
  12. An Uncommon Atlas by Alastair Bonnett
  13. The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman
  14. Cuba Then, Cuba Now by Joshua-Jelly Shapiro
  15. Imaginary Homelands by Salman Rushdie
  16. Diasporic (Dis)locations by Brinda J Mehta *
  17. The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla
  18. How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom
  19. The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker
  20. Unconventional Medicine by Chris Kresser
  21. How to Polish Your Manuscript in 10 Days by Anne Victory

Memoir

  1. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
  2. At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
  3. The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin
  4. Autumn Light by Pico Iyer
  5. Educated by Tara Westover *
  6. Apple, Tree by Lisa Funderburg
  7. Malaya by Cinelle Barnes *
  8. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid *
  9. A Map to the Door of No Return by Dionne Brand
  10. Magic Realism for Non-Believers by Anika Fajardo *
  11. Belonging by bell hooks *

Graphic Novel/Comics

  1. The Wonderful World of Sazae San by Machiko Hasegawa

Poetry

  1. Modern Sudanese Poetry by Adil Babikir

How many books did you read this year? What were your favorites?



What I read in autumn 2019

With winter fast approaching, I think it’s a good time to review what I read over the autumn months. As the weather cooled down, I started to burrow into books again, particularly nonfiction/memoir.  Here are the highlights.

Educated by Tara Westover

This memoir blew me away. I was astounded at the author’s spare upbringing with a fundamentalist Mormon father with idiosyncratic beliefs about education, government, modern medicine, and work. The book largely wrestles with the conflict between family obligation and self-actualization. Westover ends up reaching the apex in education with a PhD from Cambridge University but also suffers familial estrangement. I guess you win some, you lose some.

Autumn Light by Pico Iyer

This memoir reflects on the losses the author’s family has suffered in recent years. First, his father-in-law passes away and his mother-in-law has to be put in home because she suffers from dementia. Second, he wrestles with the fact that his mother lives alone in California. Third, Iyer deals with an estranged brother-in-law whom he has never met. He also shares his experiences with his local ping pong club in Nara. 

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

This series of interlocking stories follow four Chinese immigrant women from war-torn China to contemporary San Francisco. There, these women navigate cross-cultural waters, marriages, and often conflicted relationships with their American-born daughters. Although I hate to say it, Tan’s writing often comes across as “magical” and “exotic.” However, her storytelling and evocative imagery certainly captivate the reader.

The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin

This autobiographical memoir was shocking and often heartbreaking. Young Staceyann did not have an easy life and it is amazing she was able to make it so far in spite of her life challenges.

Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn

After reading Here Comes The Sun, I was eager to devour this Jamaican author’s sophomore novel. It follows the adventures of Patsy who leaves her daughter behind in Jamaica to start a new life and follow an old lover in Brooklyn.

What it Means When a Man Falls from The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

I first read one of her stories on Granta and was happy to read the rest of them in this delightful collection. However, my favorite story remains “Who Will Greet You at Home.” So haunting!

Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo 

This novel was not at all what I expected. The plot moves along swiftly and deals with corruption in political life and civil unrest in Nigeria. Recommended if you like plot-driven novels.

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

This memoir follows a family of five who literally travel around the world. When I first started reading it, I was genuinely shocked that the family also visited many places I landed during my own 3 month-long RTW trip with uni friends. The book made traveling with a young family enticing because of the hands-on education the kids received on the road.

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

I wanted to hear the author’s thoughts on writing in a non-native tongue, namely Italian. While reading, I was able to draw a lot of parallels between her struggles learning the language in the native country and my struggles trying to get my head around learning Japanese in Japan.

Trinidad Noir: The Classics ed. by Earl Lovelace and Robert Antoni

Because I enjoyed the first Trinidad Noir from Akashic Books, I decided to read this “classics” version. It includes a lot of reprints from canonical Caribbean authors like VS Naipaul, CLR James, Eric Roach, Derek Walcott, and Sam Selvon. However, because of this, many of the reprints fail to fall under the noir writing genre. The stories that did captivate the noir literary style included work by Sharon Millar, Elizabeth Hackshaw-Walcott, Elizabeth Nunez, Wayne Brown, and Shani Mootoo.

What are you reading right now for fall?

Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival: the lineup

If you’ve been following my blog and Instagram feed, then you know that this September is a very special month for Caribbean literature. Come 6-8 September 2019, Brooklyn will host its first ever Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival.

Festival highlights will include:

  • “An Evening with Jamaica Kincaid” hosted jointly with the Brooklyn Historical Society. At this event, fans can get up, close, and personal with the accomplished Antigua-born author whose works include A Small Place, Lucy, and Annie John.
  • A lunchtime conversation with acclaimed Trinidadian author Barbara Jenkins whose works include De Rightest Place and Sic Transit Wagon.
  • “Laureates of the Caribbean,” an evening of poetry and spoken word performances.
  • The announcement of the winning entry of the first ever Elizabeth Nunez Caribbean-American Writer’s Award.
  • A Children’s Programme featuring storytelling, wirebending, craft-making, and dancing!
  • “The Gayelle,” an all-day, open-air market with lots of literary events and stalls.

My Summer Reading List

On the heels of this June’s #ReadCaribbean challenge, I decided to keep up with my Caribbean literature. Reading about so many Caribbean writers in June made me thirst for them and by July, I was deeply immersed in several books. I realized how much I missed the cadences of my home country and region and the only tangible way I could transport myself back was through reading Caribbean literature. With that said, here are some of my favorite reads for summer 2019.

1. Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis Benn

This was on my radar a while ago when travel writer Bani Amor mentioned it in her book club series but it took me over two years to actually get my hands on it and finish it. Dennis Benn’s work captivated me from the beginning with memorable though amoral characters and its unmistakable Jamaican setting. The author delves beneath the surface impression so many tourists have of the island as a pleasure-seeking place of weed-smoking locals, lovely beaches, and guilt-free hook-ups. She pulls back the shiny veneer of the tourism industry and shows what some people really have to do to get by in Jamaica.

2. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Kincaid starts hitting them hard from the get-go in this one. Even though A Small Place was published in 1988, I think the author’s sentiments about how Caribbean islands are perceived by tourists as playgrounds for their personal pleasure rather than real places still stands today. This is a must-read for anyone eager to travel to the Caribbean and is a great companion read to Nicole Dennis Benn’s Here Comes The Sun.

3. Golden Child by Claire Adam

This debut novel by Trinidadian but British-based writer Claire Adam was a slow burn for me. It starts off in the bush, as we Trinis like to say, but peels back the layers to reveal the tragic story behind a working-class Indo-Trinidadian family. This family is blessed with twins, bright boy Peter and maladjusted Paul, but as the saying goes, “Peter pay for Paul, Paul pay for all.” Adam’s story definitely shows how this happens in crime-afflicted societies like Trinidad’s.

4. Augustown by Kei Miller

Miller’s work soared from the beginning for me. I loved his documentary-writing style, especially how he pinpoints the exact location of Augustown and talks about its social and economic circumstances. The reader gets into the heads of several of Augustown’s inhabitants as well as peripheral characters who get mixed up in the melee when they intrude in how things are done in this largely Rasta community.

5. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

This was my second time reading Lucy and I was able to pick up on Kincaid’s signature style having devoured Annie John and A Small Place earlier. Lucy is a character I am ambivalent about, particularly in her relationship with her mother and how she handles relationships with those close to her. As always, there are echoes of anti-colonial sentiment in this work, a theme that runs rampant through Kincaid’s body of work.

6. How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs

What a sweet collection of stories! I loved how the author focused on characters at home in Jamaica and in the diaspora, particularly in the US. Even though it’s written as a love letter to Jamaicans everywhere, as a Caribbean reader, I was able to connect with many of the stories. My favorite story was “Shirley from A Small Place” which seems to be based loosely on Rihanna’s rise to stardom.

Which ones have you read? Share in the comments below!

On the Radar: Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival

If you’re a Caribbean lit lover and in Brooklyn this September, you’re in for a real treat.

This year, the New York City borough will host the first-ever Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival (BCLF).

Why Brooklyn? Brooklyn has always been a major stomping ground for Caribbean people, with one of the largest Caribbean diasporas in the world. It’s also the home of the famous West Indian Day Parade that takes place every Labor Day.

From September 6 – 8, 2019, Caribbean writers, poets, and artists from the city and the diaspora will come together to explore the theme, “Caribbean beyond Carnival.” There will be readings, workshops, and talks introducing Caribbean literature and exploring what it really means to be a Caribbean person.

BCLF is spearheaded by The Idea Room Corp., in partnership with Community Revitalization Partnership and MAP Media International. I’m also happy to announce that this year, I will be partnering with this awesome literary festival. Best of all, the event is free to the public.

For more deets, follow the BCLF on Facebook and  Instagram.

It’s a wrap – #ReadCaribbean challenge

I must say that June was definitely one of the more rewarding months I have experienced this year. Thanks to Book of Cinz, I hopped on board a project to promote Caribbean literature to the masses on the ‘gram.

And what a success it was! So many people reached out and shared their recommendations. So with that, here’s a wrap up of the Caribbean books I featured for Caribbean Heritage Month 2019.

View this post on Instagram

"Gita can't believe she's in Kolkata. All she knew of the city was that her great-great grandmother got on the ship here for Chinidad, the land of sugar. She had no records, no photographs, only the bare bones of stories her father told her." Homecoming by Suzanne Bhagan For Day 23 of this June's #ReadCaribbean challenge, I am featuring We Mark Your Memory, a collection published by both the University of London (2018) and Peekash Press (2019). In collaboration with Commonwealth Writers, this collection of new writing from across the Commonwealth explores Indian indentured heritage in the 21st century. When slavery was abolished in the 19th century in the Caribbean, the first Indian indentured laborers came to the then British colonies to plug the gap. These workers from the subcontinent entered into/were often coerced into signing contracts to work on the sugar plantations there. We Mark Your Memory features a host of authors of Caribbean heritage – 🌟David Dabydeen 🌟Kevin Jared Hosein 🌟 Gabrielle Jamela Hosein 🌟Anita Sethi 🌟Stella Chong Sing, 🌟Jennifer Rahim 🌟 Patti-Anne Ali 🌟 Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming 🌟 Gaiutra Bahadur 🌟 Fawzia Muradali Kane 🌟Arnold Thomas 🌟myself My debut short story "Homecoming" explores the experiences of a young Indo-Trinidadian couple who visit India for the first time and face instant culture shock in their attempts to make a connection with their "long-lost homeland." What debut Caribbean author are you reading today?

A post shared by Suzanne Bhagan (@suzannebhagan) on

#ReadCaribbean Challenge

Together with a group of handpicked Caribbean bookstagrammers, this June, I am getting involved with a #ReadCaribbean challenge on Instagram to encourage more readers to discover Caribbean literature.

June 2019 is recognized as Caribbean Heritage Month so to celebrate, we’re encouraging you to:

  1. read books by Caribbean nationals
  2. read books about the Caribbean
  3. read books set in the Caribbean

Here are some prompts to get you inspired! Are you on board?