Whose Story are you missing?
“This is the problem with history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others…We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story…Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forward? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”
– Yaw Agyekum, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Last night’s book club was pretty great. We discussed Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I picked this book because it has great reviews and it is a “most highly recommended” book, yet it is one of the many books that have a hard time leaving our shelves. How can that be? How can a book with great reviews and recommendations not be checked out?
Homegoing was added to our collection in July of 2016, it was not checked out until January of 2017 (and then by a staff member) and as of today has only been checked out 5 times total. Why? I am pretty sure I know why it hasn’t gone out. It is not a good thing. The cover is “ethnic” and with a name like Yaa Gyasi we just take that “ethnic” level up another notch. This issue is very common at our library. It makes me sad and I am not sure what we can do about it. Last winter we had a reading challenge that pushed people to read outside of themselves. To complete the challenge, you had to read 5 books; 2 were at the heart of the challenge. One book needed to be set in another country and another book had to have a character different than you by race, gender, age, culture, etc. My mom read Homegoing in December of 2019 as part of the challenge, and became the third person to check it out. She loved it.
Why do names and faces that don’t look like ours make us steer away? I understand the mirror idea in reading a book, wanting to see ourselves, a reflection of our culture and identity, but the window idea is also important. A window to view someone else’s experience, culture, identity. When we discussed Homegoing, racism was brought up. How do we change, how do we end it? I mentioned reading about others, even at the youngest of ages; mirrors and windows. We also discussed learning the story of others, not just the one written by the one with the power, trying to get a clearer picture as Yaw mentioned.
So here I am again asking you to read, and yes, again specifically outside of your normal, your comfortable, your mirror. Go to our card catalog and type “most highly recommended” into the search field. Currently there are 1500 titles listed for all age ranges; fiction and non-fiction. Next start looking for names that you have no idea how to pronounce. Check it out. It is that simple.
Help a librarian feel better about the strength of her collection. Help a librarian see sense in what goes out the door. I am not asking you to stop reading your favorites, but consider the conflict I feel when an author that has written over 100 books, only 3 that are considered “most highly recommended,” releases a book in October that is checked out before it can even get shelved, and has 11 people waiting for it. Help me understand why Gysai has released two books, both most high recommended, both that have been in the collection for 54 months total and both that only have a combined total of 7 checkouts.
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