I wish I had read more when I was younger, when I’d come back to the library, my arms full of books and spend the entire day on my couch with a take-out pepperoni, mushroom and jalapeño pepper pizza and a 2 liter of ginger ale, just turning page after page knowing if one book didn’t keep my interest, there was another stack.
This is what I called a lazy day. I’d grown up in Atlanta, Black mecca to me (though some would call Howard University that) and it never occurred to me that I wasn’t in the stories I read. All of them were in wonderous places like New York City or, more likely, other galaxies like my favorite space operas from Lois McMaster Bujold who I once wrote a fan letter too and was surprised when she wrote me back – handwritten, on stationary.
But my favorite novels were of small towns. Small towns where everyone knew each other, where the friends you met because they lived next door were the same ones who stood up next to you as a witness on your wedding day.
Those stories were filled with grandparents and siblings, strangly, though, in my world – not too many cousins. There was someone else those stories that I loved weren’t filled with – people who looked like me.
I hadn’t noticed that yet, though. I had already made the connection that most of the stories I read as a kid were set in the inner city. If they were set in the South, it was a story about the past – Civil War, Civil Rights Era, in stories that on the surface centered Black people, but in essence really didn’t.
I just gobbled up my latest book, an old, but new-to-me book from one of my favorite authors from those days (this time without the pizza and without the ginger ale due to health concerns). The writing was as endearing as ever, the characters three-dimensionala and the fictional setting so detailed, I allmost pulled up my browser to google the setting to see if it was a real place.
As the screen popped up on the Kindle app on my iPhone asking me to rate the book, I noticed that I wasn’t in the book. I wasn’t in the book because I wasn’t in the story or the setting. I wasn’t in the story or the setting because the story was not written for me and that setting wouldn’t have someone who looked like me and anytime there is a place devoid of Black people in the Southern United States, there’s a reason for it and not good.
When I first read this author, this was something I missed. I still have that affection toward the author and their books, though. And because of their influence on my old work, I can make the adjustements and look past it to appreciate the craft. It’s something I’m finding harder and harder to do with new authors.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I wish I had read more when I was younger when I didn’t notice these things. Now I would have a hard time getting past the blub, let alone taking them home.