Engaging in Uncomfortable Topics

Sometimes the idea of befriending the checker at the grocery store or volunteering with refugees seems too daunting. It may be outside my comfort zone to strike up a 32075671conversation in the park or I may not have enough extra hours to volunteer somewhere. Does this mean learning about people who believe differently, who look differently, or who are in a different economic bracket is out of our ability?

This is what I love about reading. I may not be able to have coffee with every refugee or march in every demonstration but I can get to know people outside the news headlines and stereotypes through a well-written memoir or well-researched novel.

Earlier this year, I compiled a list of books to help see the “other,” but I thought I’d add a few to it today.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
If you want to read more about immigration and refugees.
This powerful collection of short stories focuses on Vietnamese immigrants who have been displaced and affected by the Vietnam War. Honestly, this is a group of immigrants I don’t think about much. They aren’t in the news; the war ended before I was born, so it seems like history. However, it’s not ancient history. Our involvement in this war has shaped the way we view the military and our world responsibility today. These stories made me think about the lasting impact of our foreign policies and the displacement involved.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
If you want to read more about women’s rights, equality, and oppression.
This was a well… difficult book to read. Most of these fictional short stories included some sort of sexual abuse or violence. They were incredibly hard to read. The reason I always recommend Roxane Gay is because she does not tie up these stories with a neat, redemptive bow. She keeps them incredibly raw and real. After the recent #metoo stories that flooded social media, I think we could all do with a bit more discomfort and openness to hearing the stories of abuse survivors.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
If you want to read more about police engagement in predominantly black neighborhoods.
This book follows the story Starr, a high school girl after she witnesses her best friend shot in a “routine traffic stop.” It’s an incredibly timely book and, while it will make many people uncomfortable, I think that’s the point. Thomas does a good job of bringing the lasting reality of police bias and resulting misconduct to life. This is a young adult novel and, like most YA novels tie everything up with a tidy ending. I guess, at 15, I wanted that type of ending too, but I need to remind myself when I start to roll my eyes.

What are some novels that have helped you learn about uncomfortable topics?

BackyardThis post is Day 21 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

4 thoughts on “Engaging in Uncomfortable Topics

  1. I read Nguyen’s “Nothing Ever Dies” Having grown up in Orange County California, in the time that the Vietnamese were migrating in mass after the fall of Saigon, I was given ample exposure to them. Many of my friends in High School were immigrants. In fact the city of my youngest days, Garden Grove is largely Vietnamese now as is Fountain Valley and Westminster. I found this book to be a hard read. I felt it was a bit too detailed and lost its way. It had some great take-away though. It deals with memories of was and what they men based on your point of contact with it. I did get insight I did not have before and for that I was glad I read it. One quote from it I had written down was:

    “Man, individual or collective, is just as interested in forgetting what he has done as he is in remembering what was done to him. Man is ever and always implicated in power, and no one is innocent except the infant and the most abject victim.”

    1. I keep meaning to read more of Nguyen’s work, especially after “The Sympathizer” won the pulitzer…. I bet it was interesting to read his point of view, especially since you’ve experienced some of it first-hand.

      1. The interesting part was hearing the point of view of the North and how he drive home how each country delivers its own version of the war and how our memories are built of them. That made me think a great deal.

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