Which Books or Authors Get You Out of A Reading Funk?

When the words from a book build a wall in front of you.

It happens to the best of us. You stare at your TBR pile on the shelf and not even one of them calls your name, no matter how excited you were when you were buying them. You start a book only to drop it after a few pages, and try another one, but nothing is doing it for you. It sucks!

There are a number of ways to get out of that funk. It can be any other activity that is not reading, like listening to a podcast, doing other hobbies, meditation…anything but reading. Sometimes spending time off your reading couch and in an actual word can pull you back into the reading world.

There’s also another way, which always works for me – reading, I know, it doesn’t make sense but it’s kind of a ‘fight-fire-with-fire’ thing and it works.

What I do is go back to the books I love the most, or the genre that got me into becoming an avid reader.

Here are the books and authors, in no particular order, that kick me out of my reading funk.

Dr Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou Books

There is just something soothing and wise about Auntie Maya that just pulls me back into the world of reading. I also listen to her interviews and poetry recitals so much that when I pick up one of her books, I read in her voice and it sounds like sitting on the porch with an auntie or grandma sitting behind me on a rocking chair telling me a story. My favourite of her works is A Song Flung Up To Heaven. (See review).

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

One of my favourite classic authors. His novels inspired me to write and whenever I hit a wall, I’ll pick up something I’ve read before like Devils or Notes from Underground and I don’t even have to finish it. A few chapters and that hunger for reading and just consuming book after book returns. My favourite of his books is Crime and Punishment.

Poetry

I have subscribed to Poetry Foundation so I receive daily poems and if I want more I just head to their website www.poetryfoundation.org. It is a wellspring of some of the best poetry in the world. Dr Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, Koleka Putuma, Rumi, Nayyira Waheed, Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Langston Hughes, Ben Okri and many others. I recently bought this collection below and I am in love with it.

English Classics

They also work and there’s a particular way to read them; I have to be alone, with a cup of tea or coffee and some baked goodies, preferably scones. Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens and many others.

Mystery and Thriller Books

Specifically David Baldacci and Jeffrey Archer. This is because these are the books I started off with when I was growing up. These are the kind of books that dominated our bookshelf so whenever I’m in a funk I’ll pick up one of these guys (my roommate has a lot) and I’m back in the game.

Bessie Head

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read Maru. It’s short and it’s everything I love and enjoy about African literature. I’ve been reading it since high school. I keep having to rebuy a copy because I either give it away or sell it when I do my shelf declutter.

The books I cannot read when I’m in a funk a non-fiction books. Never. It just doesn’t work because of their weight and seriousness. I’m struggling already so I need something softer or more exciting.

How do you get out of your reading funk?

My Book Wish List

Since my focus has been on reading more books by women, for women and about women, I’ve noticed how lacking my bookshelf is. It’s really not supporting my mission, so my collection is about to change. Some of the authors I’m adding to my wish list are popular and some I discovered through research.

Here are some of the books I want to add to my reading list.

Sojourner Truth

She was a women’s rights activist and abolitionist, who was born into slavery but managed to escape. The book I’m adding is The Book of Life.

“You may hiss as much as you please, but women will get their rights anyway”
― Sojourner Truth

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a civil rights activist, feminist, poet and essayist. Some of her titles that I wish to read are; Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, and The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde.

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
― Audre Lorde

Alice Walker

Alice Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet, essayist and activist. I want to read her famous book The Color Purple and some of her other works, Possessing the Secret of Joy and In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose.

“Resistance is the secret of joy!”
― Alice Walker

Octavia E. Butler

Octavia Butler was a science fiction author and from her list I’m adding, Kindred, Parable of the Sower and Bloodchild.

“I found that I couldn’t muster any belief in a literal heaven or hell, anyway. I thought the best we could all do was to look after one another and clean up the various hells we’ve made right here on earth.”
― Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents

Nawal al Saadawi

She is an Egyptian writer, feminist and psychiatrist. I want to read God Dies by the Nile, Woman at Point Zero and The Hidden Face of Eve.

“She is free to do what she wants, and free not to do it.”
— Nawal El Saadawi (Woman at Point Zero)

Roxane Gay

She’s a feminist, social commentator, editor, professor and writer. I am adding Bad Feminist, Difficult Women, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body and Ayiti.

“I believe women not just in the United States but throughout the world deserve equality and freedom but know I am in no position to tell women of other cultures what that equality and freedom should look like.”
— Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist: Essays)

Betty Friedan 

Betty Friedan was a women’s rights activist, feminist and writer. I have always wanted to read her book, The Feminine Mystique and I am definitely adding it to my wish list.

“Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves? Who knows what women’s intelligence will contribute when it can be nourished without denying love?”
— Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique)

Ama Ata Aidoo

She is a playwright, poet and author. I’m adding The Girl Who Can and Other Stories, Changes: A Love Story and An Angry Letter in January and Other Poems.

“Humans, not places, make memories.”
— Ama Ata Aidoo

bell hooks

bell hooks is a feminist, social activist, professor and author. I want to read Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, and Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood.

“No black woman writer in this culture can write “too much”. Indeed, no woman writer can write “too much”…No woman has ever written enough.”
— bell hooks (remembered rapture: the writer at work)

Virginia Woolf

Woolf was an English 20th-century author and I’m adding A Room of One’s Own to my list.

“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”
— Virginia Woolf 

Janet Mock

Janet Mock is a transgender rights activist, director, producer and writer. I want to read her book Redefining Realness.

“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act. It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. – Janet Mock

Zora Neale Hurston

She was a writer and anthropologist, and it’s definitely time for me to read her book Their Eyes Were Watching God.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
— Zora Neale Hurston

Margaret Atwood

She is a literary critic, essayist, novelist, poet and activist. I also want to hop onto that The Handmaid’s Tale train, and add The Testaments while I’m at it.

“I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.”
— Margaret Atwood

There are more authors I want to add, but as I keep reading and learning, I’ll keep adding more to my shelf. One can never read too many books. I’m excited and can’t wait.

What are you adding to your wish list?

I Am So into Women

Exploring Women in Literature

I recently visited one of my favourite bookstores (where they’re a quarter-to giving me a mattress and a blanket), looking for non-fiction books by women. Bookstores are usually therapeutic for me, but this time I left frustrated and disappointed. In 2020, a lot of books I find by women are mostly fiction books. I don’t know how the stats stand but I later went to a bigger store, that has way more titles and I had the same experience.

I was looking for female non-fiction because I wanted to hear the voice of someone whose experiences I can relate to. We know that historically women have been kept out of everything and have had to fight to break down walls and burn gates. We’ve been misled to believe that men are the ones who created and shaped the arts, and well, everything in this world. It’s not that women never had anything to contribute, they were just not allowed to do it, they were not allowed to even dream of doing anything but stand and watch.

I spent a little time in the Classics section and was surrounded by Plato, Aurelius, Homer, Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Twain, Salinger, Orwell, Achebe, Mphahlele and many others. Yes, there was Shelley, Woolf, the Brontës, Rand, Dickinson, and a few more, but the gap was still big. Male authors still dominate bookshelves. Even when I moved to business and self-help, the highly praised books are from names like Kiyosaki, Carnegie, Hill, Gladwell, and a million others. This is also frustrating because as great as these books are, when we women read them we often have to find ways to alter the message to make it apply to us, and sometimes, given the challenges we have, it is close to impossible.   

So all this frustration led me to think about what it is I want to read, what kind of messages I want to collect, what kind of solutions I’m looking for, and who I should get them from. I do not disregard men’s work, not at all. I have read many books by men that have helped me improve my life in tremendous ways.

However, I love the voice of women. I want to hear women and I want to hear about them. I want to read women. Give me women, please! I have read so many books by men with families whose success stories show that they were able to do things, have the time and energy to do them because their partners were taking care of everything else. I want to read about that woman, with kids and a home to run, and how she did or does it.

It’s not just in self-development books or classics. Across genres, the same problem exists. And so, on my quest to find these intelligent, brave, successful women, I’m going on a quest to read more women’s books.

“Women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I want to read their biographies, their poetry, their tragedies and achievements, their struggles, and their successes. But I will not limit myself to only those stories, I do believe that there are male writers who have supported the voice of women in literature and there are men who have portrayed powerful and positive images of women. I am for that.

I don’t want any of that damsel-in-distress bullshit. I want to see women characters who show real women who don’t need to be saved. I want to dissect this vexatious yet interesting area of literature. The world should be seen through the eyes of the very people who live in it. Women, as members of society, should be able to express their existence in the same way as men do. In this open and inclusive manner, we can fully understand the world and understand each other.

When I made this decision, I went through my own shelf and saw how male-dominated it is. I’m ashamed. Honestly.

So I don’t think I’ll be able to read or write about women in literature following historical timeline. It will be challenging to find relevant books if I do it that way and it will be boring. Instead, I’m starting where I am, and from the unread books I have, what better way to start with women from cultures, traditions, and religions that are known or said to be oppressive? We’ll figure it out through the readings. So my first part will be on Muslim Women in Literature.

I have, on my shelf:

  • It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila (I said I’ll include a few men who do justice to women’s voices
  • Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
I have no idea how that book ended up upside-down 🤦🏿‍♀️

I’m starting with Muslim women because, I already have these books so it was an obvious choice, and also, because it’s so easy for the rest of us to look at Muslim women and conclude that they’re oppressed and miserable. I’d rather find out first, preferably, from them.

So, here we go.

I’ll repost the review of Infidel. I had already started The Chibok Girls and stopped because it was depressing, but it’s short and I’m almost done. And I don’t think there’s time to be depressed, if you go into something that talks about injustice, oppression, prejudice, discrimination, abuse…it will be depressing. It’s inevitable.

So let’s do this.

To women!