Spending summer “abroad” through books and advocacy work
How can we use our reading to combat the ongoing impact of colonization, imperialism, and westernization across the globe?
Through the late nineties to mid-2000s, the media—whether books, movies, or TV shows—seemed saturated with the concept of incredibly wealthy, young students. From The Clique to Clueless to Gossip Girl, white, thin, cis, abled, and straight blonde and brunette girls would toss their hair over their shoulders as they walked up the stairs to their classroom on the first day back, stating something to the likes of “I spent my summer abroad.”
To many, this is not the most relatable plot line, one filled with privilege and potentially harmful consequences (especially if this were to happen today amidst the COVID-19 pandemic). Thankfully, there is a way for us to spend our summers “abroad,” and probably in a more impactful way—all we need are books to transport us there. August is Women in Translation month, a month that calls attention to the lack of literature and poetry by women (an intersectional, trans-inclusive definition) translated into English. From Mieko Kawakami to Isabel Allende, these authors shed insight into different parts of the world and non-western identities and stories. And while these books tend to not center the impact of colonization, imperialism, and westernization, nor cater to the western gaze, the long-lasting influence of such oppressive intrusion is often made clear in these women’s stories—and is made just as clear in the fact that more of their stories aren’t being translated in the first place.
In August, the impact of westernization was on full display as the United States removed military members from Afghanistan and allowed the country to fall to the Taliban. Out of the desire to restrict the USSR, the U.S. began funding mujahideen (guerilla fighters) in the 1970s/80s, some of whom would eventually go on to form the Taliban—meaning we not only helped to create the current crisis, but also have failed to take responsibility for our actions yet again. This, and especially our continued justifications for inserting our military presence in the country after 9/11, have demonstrated the U.S.’s need to be “dominant,” particularly through white saviorism (including white feminism). As always, reading titles by Afghan authors is an important way for us to educate ourselves.
In this volume, we’ll be looking at books and advocacy work that can help dismantle the often horrific, lasting effect whiteness and its desire for power has had. We’re also excited to announce a new section to the newsletter in which we will feature writing from a community member to the theme of the issue.
In Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies, Omani women are brought to the forefront. Through the intergenerational stories of its women protagonists, Celestial Bodies spotlights marriage and motherhood, and the ways in which they limit and heighten both womanhood and independence. The first novel by an Omani woman to be translated into English and the winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, the story centers life in Oman, including the long-lasting impact of the British’s de facto colonization, which began in the 18th century and lasted until 1951.
We’re curious: How has reading stories from around the globe shaped and/or developed your understanding of history, particularly with regards to events too often told through a western lens?
While educating ourselves on the crisis in Afghanistan is incredibly important, there is an urgency for us to take action. We’ve rounded up a list of Afghan individuals to amplify and follow on social media, resources for contacting your government (whether located in the U.S., UK, or Canada), and organizations to support.
A member of the book community that we are actively following is @Beautiful.Bibliophile—Yeldah is sharing critical resources around the clock, including updates, activism opportunities, and more. She’s pulled together two guides so far spotlighting such resources. We also recommend watching this discussion between activist Blair Imani and her research, writing, and content strategy intern Zahra, a refugee from Afghanistan. One organization that we’ve been donating to is Mothers of Afghanistan, which works to distribute critical resources to families and widows in Afghanistan. And, as always, amplifying these issues and their true, root causes, resources to learn from, and actions to take is important. How can we make those around us more aware? One way includes taking advantage of your local Little Free Libraries.
White feminism has played a big role in the west’s military intervention in Afghanistan. The U.S. in particular has justified its interference by claiming to care for women’s rights. Yet, as made clear by White Tears/Brown Scars author Ruby Hamad and Against White Feminism’s Rafia Zakaria, such activities rarely included consultation with the women directly impacted by violence in Afghanistan.
Given the widespread reach and usage of social media, amplifying activists and critical news (as long as we’ve done our research and can verify the source’s accuracy) are both important ways to advocate for change and visibility. We’ve created a number of Instagram Story templates, ranging from advocacy-focused to TBR-focused, to help you call others into such critical conversations. Just head to our Free Downloads page to add them to your camera roll.
And, as newsletter subscribers, you get access to two exclusive additional templates. Just visit this page and use the password BookLover to download.
Make sure to tag us when you share them on Instagram—we’d love to see!
Ahhh, book mail. Is there anything better than receiving it? Actually, yes: knowing that the books you’ve purchased are funding a great cause. Our friend @BookSnailMail routinely hosts “Book Drops” to raise money for a variety of organizations. Give Swati a follow and check out our recent comic inspired by her great idea.
Words We Love
Speaking of @BookSnailMail, we are excited to feature Swati as our first guest writer:
Bear the Weight of the Beach Read
Because who finishes a life soaked in sadness or tender little waves - but a reader. Why bother brushing little mustard seeds of doubt off the page when we can set a match to the whole rusting library? We could surreptitiously dip back to 1953.
How else to hold this: we slink into micro-dunes on a denigrated beach, plastic rasping across our knuckles and study paper-thin stretch marks on our broadening skin. Leave off the sunscreen, only to find that when wearing sunglasses, we can’t see the words on the page. We’ll eventually find where we left off, pick it out by the unmarredness of it. We’ll delineate today and tomorrow by how clean the pages are. Later, we salt the paper with sand grains strayed into charted territory, will them deep into the cracks of pages yet to be explored. We call that knowledge. Morality. It’s an exercise in forgetting.
Listen, we’re still bleeding ocean water through entire chapters.
August felt simultaneously long and short. With the Delta variant surging; crises around the globe, including in Afghanistan, Cuba, Palestine, and Haiti; the various wildfires; and much more, we felt pretty helpless at times. But, as always, there are a lot of actions we can take:
Continue to mask up indoors and in crowded spaces, even if vaccinated (here’s a great resource on why it’s safe and important)
Stay local this summer, and travel through your reading
If you’re in California, do your research and vote in the governor recall election! Many of the candidates do not believe in scientific research, particularly with regards to COVID-19 and the climate emergency. Many also don’t believe in structural inequalities. All registered voters will be mailed a ballot. Not registered or need to check your registration status? August 30th was the last day to register online, but you can still register/vote in person at a voting location. Visit this site
While we need corporations and countries on board to make large changes to combat the climate emergency, some steps we can do at home might include:
Consume less animal products
Buy beauty and household products from sustainable companies, or make your own (vinegar and water go a long way!)
Use reusable products like shopping bags, metal straws, and cloth napkins/towels
Air dry laundry
Take public transportation or carpool
And much much more
Help those hit by Hurricane Ida with this list of actions
And don’t forget to take the actions listed in this round-up post on ways to help the people of Afghanistan
Together, the book community can make real change.
As always, thanks so much for joining us. If you liked what you read, consider sharing with a friend. And do send any feedback our way.
Olivia and Fiona