Five books from across the Pacific Islands – Part one: Melanesia and Micronesia

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So for this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read books from anywhere in the world.


The Pacific Islands is a huge umbrella term for all the island nations that exist within the Pacific Ocean. Technically, this also includes the larger nations with islands in the pacific like New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan.

For the sake of this post, I’m focusing more on the smaller island nations. These nations (and modern day colonies) are typically separated into three groups; Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia (you can see the areas outlined below).

Map of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia

Despite these groupings, the individual nations, and even the individual islands within nations, are very distinct. Most have their own culture, identity and often times their own language/dialect too.

These areas are rich in culture and most have a strong history of oral storytelling. However, there seems to be a limited amount of published work from these areas. Usually, the works are published independently or locally, rather than getting access to the international markets.

However, there are some books that have been published internationally and that are available in English for the rest of the world to enjoy.

For this post, I will be focusing more on authors from Melanesia and Micronesia. Come back next week for another set of book recommendations with authors from Polynesia!

Micronesia has a special place in my heart because I was lucky enough to spend a semester abroad in Fiji. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life, and opened my eyes to a whole new part of the world.

Being from the East coast of Canada, I hadn’t met many Pacific Islanders. But being able to live in Fiji, on a university campus that serves 12 member countries, I felt that I got learn about the region and not just Fiji. I’m so thankful for that experience.

While you may never get a chance to visit all the islands across the Pacific Ocean, you can try reading across the region. Here are a few books recommendations to get you started.

Photo by Alex Bunday on Unsplash

Five books from Melanesia and Micronesia (Pacific Islands)

Here’s a list of five books with authors from Melanesia and Micronesia (Pacific Islands).

  1. Tales of the Tikongs – Tonga* & Fiji (1988)
  2. Kava in the Blood – Fiji (1999)
  3. My Urohs – Pohnpei (2008)
  4. Black Ice Matter – Fiji (2016)
  5. Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter – Marshall Islands (2017)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them simply in order of when they were published.

*Note, Tonga is actually apart of Polynesia, but I thought it would be best to keep all the books from Fiji together in one list.

Tales of the Tikongs – Tonga & Fiji (1988)

by Epeli Hau’ofa

  • Year Published: 1988
  • Author’s Country:
    Tongan heritage and Fijian citizenship
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, short stories, adventurous, funny, slow-paced

Tiko, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, faces a tidal wave of D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T, which threatens to demolish ancestral ways and the human spirit. From Sione, who prefers to play cards with his secretary during work hours, to Ole Pasifikiwei, who masters the twists and turns of international funding games, all of the characters in these pages are seasoned surfers, capable of riding the biggest wave to shore. These are not stories of fatal impact so much as upbeat tales of indigenous responses to cultural and economic imperialism. Epeli Hauofa uses devices derived from oral storytelling to create a South Pacific voice that is lucid, hilarious, and compassionate in a work that has long been regarded as a milestone in Pacific literature.

Links:

Kava in the Blood – Fiji (1999)

by Peter Thomson (a fifth generation Fijian)

  • Year Published: 1999
  • Author’s Country:
    Fiji
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, memoir, travel, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Winner of the EH McCormick Prize
  • About the 1987 coup in Fiji

“The literary device of juxtaposing the story of the Fiji coup against autobiographical reminiscences of a Fiji background works very well. This is an excellent story, beautifully written and skilfully mixing the personal with the political .. The EH McCormick Award for the Best First Book of Non Fiction, sponsored by the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN Inc) and Creative New Zealand, goes to Kava in the Blood by Peter Thomson.”
– Judges Report, Montana New Zealand Book Awards, 2000.

Entwined through the author’s reportage of the 1987 coups is an evocative picture of life in the islands. Thus, Kava in the Blood is also an intriguing story of hurricanes, haunted houses and copious kava consumption, set within the dramatic landscapes and vibrant cultures of the Fiji Islands.

Links:

My Urohs – Pohnpei (2008)

by Emelihter Kihleng

  • Year Published: 2008
  • Author’s Country:
    Pohnpei (Part of Micronesia)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    poetry, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
  • First published collection of poetry by a Pohnpeian poet

The first collection of poetry by a Pohnpeian poet, Emelihter Kihleng’s My Urohs is described by distinguished Samoan writer and artist Albert Wendt as “refreshingly innovative and compelling, a new way of seeing ourselves in our islands, an important and influential addition to our [Pacific] literature.”

Samoan writer Sia Figiel described her poetry as “disturbing and haunting, illuminating and tender”, “woven from the violent threads of postcolonialism, laced with patches of Island humour”, “a powerful addition to Pacific Literature”.

Links:

Black Ice Matter – Fiji (2016)

by Gina Cole

  • Year Published: 2016
  • Author’s Country:
    Fiji
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, short stories, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Won the 2017 award for best first book of fiction from Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

This collection of short stories explores connections between extremes of heat and cold. Sometimes this is spatial or geographical; sometimes it is metaphorical. Sometimes it involves juxtapositions of time; sometimes heat appears where only ice is expected.

In the stories, a woman is caught between traditional Fijian ways and the brutality of the military dictatorship; a glaciology researcher falls into a crevasse and confronts the unexpected; two women lose children in freak shooting accidents; a young child in a Barbie Doll sweatshop dreams of a different life; secondary school girls struggle with secrets about an addicted janitor; and two women take a deathly trip through a glacier melt stream. These are some of the unpredictable stories in this collection that follow themes of ice and glaciers in the heat of the South Pacific and take us into unusual lives and explorations.

Links:

Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter – Marshall Islands (2017)

by Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner

  • Year Published: 2017
  • Author’s Country:
    Marshall Islands heritage and raised in Hawaii
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, poetry, challenging, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • First poetry book published by a Marshallese author

As the seas rise, the fight intensifies to save the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands from being devoured by the waters around them. At the same time, activists are raising their poetic voices against decades of colonialism, environmental destruction, and social injustice.

Marshallese poet and activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s writing highlights the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, the legacy of American nuclear testing, and the impending threats of climate change. Bearing witness at the front lines of various activist movements inspires her work and has propelled her poetry onto international stages, where she has performed in front of audiences ranging from elementary school students to more than a hundred world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit.

The poet connects us to Marshallese daily life and tradition, likening her poetry to a basket and its essential materials. Her cultural roots and her family provides the thick fiber, the structure of the basket. Her diasporic upbringing is the material which wraps around the fiber, an essential layer to the structure of her experiences. And her passion for justice and change, the passion which brings her to the front lines of activist movements—is the stitching that binds these two experiences together.

Iep Jaltok will make history as the first published book of poetry written by a Marshallese author, and it ushers in an important new voice for justice.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five books about the American War in Vietnam

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So for this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read books from anywhere in the world.


One world altering event, I’ve been enjoying learning more about is the American War in Vietnam (as called by those in Vietnam).

The more that I read from different perspectives the more nuance I gain in understanding complex events. I think most world altering events deserve as much nuance as possible. There are always good and bad decisions, but the individuals involved in carrying out those decisions are rarely purely good or bad.

Personally, I’ve been interested in learning about the Vietnamese perspective of the war. I grew up in the Western world and so the little I understood about the war was shaped by the societies’ perspective of the war. I know most North Americans are used to hearing about the “Vietnam War”, but even just what we call it shows different perspectives.

Importance of different perspectives

Books written by Vietnamese authors are a great way to gain some insight into the diverse opinions and experiences of the Vietnamese. Just like any event, no two perspectives or experiences are going to be the same.

I think it’s important to read from multiple perspectives, such as from survivors of the war, refugees of the war (and their descendants), and the generations that grew up in the aftermath of the war. The more perspectives you read about, the more pieces of the puzzle you gain, and slowly a larger picture or understanding will form.

For context, it’s important to understand that the Vietnamese government still has influence over the publishing industry in Vietnam, meaning all media has to be reviewed/approved by the government. This influence has been exerted over all media in Vietnam since the war ended (1975), with many writers either being arrested or having to leave the country.

Due to the government censorship, some books (like The Mountains Sing) are actually written in English to avoid being altered or affected by the government. Interestingly English might allow them a bit more freedom of expression, because it helps them get published outside of Vietnam (aka outside of the government’s influence).

I’ve included a range of books to help showcase a range of perspectives.

Photo by Thijs Degenkamp on Unsplash

Five books about the American War in Vietnam

Here’s a list of five books that explore the American War in Vietnam.

  1. The Sorrow of War / Thân Phận Của Tình Yêu (The Fate of Love) (1987)
  2. Novel Without a Name (1991)
  3. The Sympathizer (2015)
  4. The Mountains Sing (2020)
  5. Wandering Souls (2023)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

The Sorrow of War / Thân Phận Của Tình Yêu (The Fate of Love) (1987)

by Bảo Ninh, translated from the Vietnamese by Phan Thanh Hảo and edited by Frank Palmos

  • Year Published: 1987
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, literary, dark, reflective, sad, slow-paced
  • Won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Bao Ninh, a former North Vietnamese soldier, provides a strikingly honest look at how the Vietnam War forever changed his life, his country, and the people who live there. Originally published against government wishes in Vietnam because of its non-heroic, non-ideological tone, The Sorrow of War has won worldwide acclaim and become an international bestseller.

Links:

Novel Without a Name (1991)

by Dương Thu Hương, translated from the Vietnamese by Phan Huy Duong & Nina McPherson

  • Year Published: 1991
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, dark, slow-paced
  • Hương was labeled a “dissident writer” by the Vietnamese Communist party for her criticism of the party and its members.

Twenty-eight-year-old Quan has been fighting for the Communist cause in North Vietnam for a decade. Filled with idealism and hope when he first left his village, he now spends his days and nights dodging stray bullets and bombs, foraging scraps of food to feed himself and his men. Quan seeks comfort in childhood memories as he tries to sort out his conflicting feelings of patriotism and disillusionment. Then, given the chance to return to his home, Quan undertakes a physical and mental journey that brings him face to face with figures from his past—his angry father, his childhood sweetheart, his boyhood friends now maimed or dead—and ultimately to the shattering reality that his innocence has been irretrievably lost in the wake of the war. In a voice both lyrical and stark, Duong Thu Huong, one of Vietnam’s most beloved writers, powerfully conveys the conflict that spiritually destroyed her generation.

Links:

The Sympathizer (2015)

by Viet Thanh Nguyen / Nguyễn Thanh Việt

  • Year Published: 2015
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, literary, thriller, challenging, dark, tense, slow-paced
  • Won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong.

The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.

Links:

The Mountains Sing (2020)

by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (written in English)

  • Year Published: 2015
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, literary, thriller, challenging, dark, tense, slow-paced
  • Won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Nội, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore apart not just her beloved country, but also her family.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope.

Links:

Wandering Souls (2023)

by Cecile Pin

  • Year Published: 2023
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, literary, emotional, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Finalist for the 2023 Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize

A luminous, boldly imagined debut novel about three Vietnamese siblings who seek refuge in the UK, expanding into a sweeping meditation on love, ancestry, and the power of storytelling.

There are the goodbyes and then the fishing out of the bodies—everything in between is speculation.

After the last American troops leave Vietnam, siblings Anh, Thanh, and Minh begin a perilous journey to Hong Kong with the promise that their parents and younger siblings will soon follow. But when tragedy strikes, the three children are left orphaned, and sixteen-year-old Anh becomes the caretaker for her two younger brothers overnight.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five classic books from Thailand (เมืองไทย)

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read from anywhere in the world.


I currently live in Thailand and I’m always learning new things about the country and the people.

I’ve been trying to learn the Thai language and it’s incredibly difficult. But the more I learn, the more I understand that there’s so much culture embedded in the language and it’s a reflection of the nation’s history.

For instance, a lot of the Thai language has been influenced by Indian languages, both Sanskrit and Pali. Sanskrit is more associated with Hinduism and social hierarchies, whereas Pali is associated with Buddhism and the language used by commoners.

So, Thai words used in connection with the monarchy tend to come from Sanskrit, whereas words used for going to the Buddhist temple are more likely to come from Pali. These two languages tend to have distinct spelling patterns or use certain Thai letters, so the difference is still visible to this day.

Photo by Mos on Unsplash

I know the Thai language often poses a barrier to translating works to English, as it can be difficult to translate all the nuances embedded in the language.

But I think a the greater barrier is that most publishing houses don’t see Thailand as a priority, actually I think most of Southeast Asia is not seen as a priority.

One of the best ways to improve that is to show an interest in Southeast Asian/Thai literature. The more people buy and seek out books from this area, the more the corporations will see it as an opportunity for monetary growth.

So in order to promote Thai literature, and also to share a bit more about Thailand, I’ve put together a list of some classic Thai literature.

This list is obviously not extensive, but serves as an introduction to a few areas of Thai literature that have been translated into English.

Five classic books from Thailand

Here’s a list of five classic books with authors from Thailand.

  1. Ramakien / รามเกียรติ์ (13th century)
  2. Phra Aphai Mani / พระอภัยมณี (1822-1844)
  3. Four Reigns / สี่แผ่นดิน (1953)
  4. A Child of the Northeast / ลูกอีสาน (1976)
  5. The Happiness of Kati / ความสุขของกะทิ (2006)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Ramakien / รามเกียรติ์ (13th century)

(Thai: รามเกียรติ์ meaning ‘Glory of Rama’; sometimes also spelled Ramakian)

  • Year Published: 13th century
  • Language: Thai
  • One of Thailand’s epic poems and
  • It is considered Thailand’s version of the Ramayana as it shares most of same the tales, but has been adjusted to the culture of Ayutthaya

Ramakien tells the story of the battle between Tosakanth (king of the demons) and a human, King Rama. Tosakanth kidnaps Queen Sida, wife of King Rama, with the hope that she will fall in love with him. The battle over Queen Sida has Tosakanth and his relatives and friends on one side, against King Rama, his loyal brother Phra Lak and an army of monkey warriors, including Hanuman the demi-god white monkey.

Links:

Phra Aphai Mani / พระอภัยมณี (1822-1844)

by Sunthorn Phu / สุนทรภู่ (who is known as “the Bard of Rattanakosin” / ”กวีเอกแห่งกรุงรัตนโกสินทร์”)

  • Year Published: 1822-1844
  • Storygraph Categories: poetry, adventurous, challenging, reflective, medium-paced
  • As a 48,700-line epic poem, it is considered to be one of Thailand’s national epics, and the world’s second longest epic poem written by a single poet

At the very beginning, Phra Abhai Mani and his younger brother Sri Suvarna set out to acquire knowledge. The kind of knowledge that was thought fit for princes in Thai stories then was the silpasat, which is equivalent to general knowledge or liberal education. The two Princes took up special studies instead. Phra Abhai Mani mastered the art of music, especially flute-playing, while Sri Suvarna was trained in the art of self-defence, in particular cudgel-fighting. Such specialisations were not known or appreciated then and, as a result, the two Princes were turned out of the kingdom by their own father.

Afterwards, the two Princes met three Brahmins who also professed special sciences. One of them could shoot seven arrows at the same time and make them all hit the mark. They exhibited their special excellences of which Phra Abhai Mani’s outshone the rest. At this point, Phra Abhai Mani and Sri Suvarna were separated from each other and had different adventures. But they kept themselves from harm by virtue of their special knowledge. Their lives were also shaped by what they had learnt.

Links:

Four Reigns / สี่แผ่นดิน (1953)

by Kukrit Pramoj / คึกฤทธิ์ ปราโมช, translated from the Thai by Tulachandra

  • Year Published: 1953
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, historical, challenging, informative, slow-paced
  • One of the most influential Thai novels, widely regarded as a classic and the Encyclopaedia Britannica described it as “probably the best-selling Thai novel of all time”

This English version of the Thai novel Si Phaendin tells the rich and entertaining story of one woman’s life both inside and outside the royal palace in Bangkok. Spanning a period of four reigns, from King Chulalongkorn to the reign of his grandson King Ananda, this popular modern classic gives insight into the social and political issues facing Thailand from the 1890s through the turbulent years of World War II.

Links:

A Child of the Northeast / ลูกอีสาน (1976)

by Kampoon Boonthavee / คำพูน บุญทวี, translated from the Thai by Susan Fulop Kepner

  • Year Published: 1976
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Won the SEA Write Award

A novel about a year in the life of a village in Northeast Thailand during the 1930’s. It is also a tale about a world scarcely known in the West: the world of “Isan”, which is what the natives call their corner of Thailand.

Kampoon Boontawee based this award-winning novel on memories of his own childhood in Isan during the depths of the Depression. The loving, courageous family at the center of the novel include a boy named Koon, who is about eight years old; his sisters Yee-soon, five, and Boonlai, two; and their parents, whose names we never learn. They are simply “Koon’s mother” and “Koon’s father”, even by their friends and family.

Kampoon also introduces his readers to a wider, equally unforgettable family: the relatives and neighbors who live in Koon’s village. It is their bravery, their goodness of heart, and above all, their indestructible, earthy sense of humor, that shape the boy Koon’s perception of the world, and his purpose in it.

Links:

The Happiness of Kati / ความสุขของกะทิ (2006)

by Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva / งามพรรณ เวชชาชีวะ, translated from the Thai by Prudence Borthwick

  • Year Published: 2006
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, contemporary, middle grade, emotional, medium-paced
  • Won the SEA Write Award

When the mother she hasn’t seen in five years is stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease, nine-year-old Kati travels to the house by the sea to spend the last weeks of her mother’s life with her, in this touching story of love, hope, and renewal set in Thailand.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five epic poems from around the world

April is Poetry Month! So I will be sharing lots of poetry suggestions to help you find more poetry that you enjoy.

Like most forms of art, poetry is subjective and very personal. It can take time to find what you like. I want to remind you that you don’t have to like the poetry that people say you should, but I would encourage you to keep exploring poetry until you find what you enjoy.


For this week, I wanted to focus on epic poems. Epic poems are very long narrative poems, so basically a story told in verse. They often follow the typical hero or journey arc, but can be on any theme.

I think one of the most well-known epic poems in the western world would be The Odyssey or The Iliad by Homer. But there are so many more than that, and from many different parts of the world.

My last post talked about some of the most influential epic poems and for this post I want to focus on some lesser known, but fascinating, epic poems. I’ve included examples from around the world to show how diverse the options are, and also because it seems like most areas of the world have a history of epic poems.

Personally, I wonder if epic poems were common in the past because they were an easier way to share and remember the stories orally due to the rhythm, structure, and rhyming. I imagine it could be similar to how we memorize song lyrics.

I know for most of human history storytelling was primarily oral and any kind of written content was limited to “elites”, those either with lots of money, power or part of a religious order.

It’s amazing to think of how much more accessible the written word is today. Anyone can put their thoughts down on paper (or a digital document) and share it with anyone else. I think that’s beautiful.

I know nowadays epic poems are rarely the form of choice, but epic poems can be found in the literature of most cultures throughout history. And today I want to share with you a few that you might not know or realize were a poem.

Photo by areej fateyma on Unsplash

Five epic poems from around the world

Here’s a list of five epic poems from around the world.

  1. Beowulf by Anonymous / Unknown (975-1025 CE)
  2. Shahnameh by Ferdowsi (977-1010 CE)
  3. The Five Great Epics by Tamil Jains and Tamil Buddhists (no specific individuals) (5th-10th century CE)
  4. Ramakien (13th century)
  5. The Song of Kiều by Du Nguyên (1820)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in the general order of when they were “published”.

Beowulf (975-1025 CE)

by Anonymous / Unknown

  • Year Published:975-1025 AD
  • Language: Old English
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, fantasy, poetry, adventurous, medium-paced
  • One of the most often translated and important works of Old English

Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf is the elegiac narrative of the adventures of Beowulf, a Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel’s mother. He then returns to his own country and dies in old age in a vivid fight against a dragon. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath.

Links:

Shahnameh (977-1010 CE)

(Persian: شاهنامه, ‘The Book of Kings’, also transliterated Shahnama)
by Ferdowsi

  • Year Published: 977-1010 CE
  • Language: Persian
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, classics, history, poetry, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • One of the longest epic poems in the world, and the longest written by a single individual
  • Considered a literary masterpiece and important to Persian literature

Among the great works of world literature, perhaps one of the least familiar to English readers is the “Shahnameh: ThePersian Book of Kings,” the national epic of Persia. This prodigious narrative, composed by the poet Ferdowsi between the years 980 and 1010, tells the story of pre- Islamic Iran, beginning in the mythic time of Creation and continuing forward to the Arab invasion in the seventh century. As a window on the world, “Shahnameh” belongs in the company of such literary masterpieces as Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” the plays of Shakespeare, the epics of Homer- classics whose reach and range bring whole cultures into view. In its pages are unforgettable moments of national triumph and failure, human courage and cruelty, blissful love and bitter grief.

Links:

The Five Great Epics (5th-10th century CE)

(Tamil: ஐம்பெரும்காப்பியங்கள் Aimperumkāppiyaṅkaḷ)
by Tamil Jains and Tamil Buddhists (no specific individuals)

  • written over the 5th-10th century CE
  • Language: Tamil
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, literary, poetry, adventurous, slow-paced
  • Are a source of historical information on the Tamil people, including their society, religion, culture and academic life

Names of all five epics:
1. Cilappatikāram 
2. Manimekalai
3. Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi
4. Valayapathi 
5. Kundalakesi

Cilappatikāram Summary

One of the world’s masterpieces, The Cilappatikaram (5th century ce) by Ilanko Atikal is India’s finest epic in a language other than Sanskrit. It spells out in unforgettable verse the problems that humanity has been wrestling with for a long time: love, war, evil, fate and death.

The Tale of an Anklet is the love story of Kovalan and Kannaki. Originating in Tamil mythology, the compelling tale of Kannaki—her love, her feats and triumphs, and her ultimate transformation to goddess—follows the conventions of Tamil poetry and is told in three phases: the erotic, the heroic and the mythic. This epic ranks with the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as one of the great classics of Indian literature and is presented for the first time in a landmark English verse translation by the eminent poet R. Parthasarathy, making it accessible to a wider audience.

Links:

Ramakien (13th century)

(Thai: รามเกียรติ์, ’Glory of Rama’; sometimes also spelled Ramakian)

  • Year Published: 13th century
  • Language: Thai
  • One of Thailand’s epic poems and
  • It is considered Thailand’s version of the Ramayana as it shares most of same the tales, but has been adjusted to the culture of Ayutthaya

Ramakien tells the story of the battle between Tosakanth (king of the demons) and a human, King Rama. Tosakanth kidnaps Queen Sida, wife of King Rama, with the hope that she will fall in love with him. The battle over Queen Sida has Tosakanth and his relatives and friends on one side, against King Rama, his loyal brother Phra Lak and an army of monkey warriors, including Hanuman the demi-god white monkey.

Links:

The Song of Kiều (1820)

The original title in Vietnamese is Đoạn Trường Tân Thanh (斷腸新聲, “A New Cry From a Broken Heart”), but it is more commonly known as Truyện Kiều (傳翹, “Tale of Kiều”)
by Du Nguyên

  • Year Published: 1820
  • Language: Vietnamese (written in Chữ Nôm – Chinese characters)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, poetry, emotional, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Most famous Vietnamese poem and a Vietnamese literature classic

A stunning new translation of the legendary Vietnamese epic poem, now for the first time in Penguin Classics

Considered the greatest literary achievement in Vietnamese, The Song of Kieu tells the story of the beautiful Vuong Thuy Kieu, who agrees to a financially profitable marriage in order to save her family from ruinous debts, but is tricked into working in a brothel. Her tragic life involves jealous wives, slavery, war, poverty, and time as a nun. Adapted from a seventeenth-century Chinese novel, Jin Yun Qiao, written by an unknown writer under the pseudonym Qingxin Cairen, author Nguyen Du upended the plot’s traditional love story by conveying the social and political upheavals at the end of the 18th century in Vietnam.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of epic poems.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of what to read. I’d love to know which poems you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these epic poems, or a part of one? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five influential epic poems

April is Poetry Month! So I will be sharing lots of poetry suggestions to help you find more poetry that you enjoy.

Like most forms of art, poetry is subjective and very personal. It can take time to find what you like. I want to remind you that you don’t have to like the poetry that people say you should, but I would encourage you to keep exploring poetry until you find what you enjoy.


For this week, I wanted to focus on epic poems. Epic poems are very long narrative poems, so basically a story told in verse. They often follow the typical hero or journey arc, but can be on any theme.

I think one of the most well-known epic poems in the western world would be The Odyssey or The Iliad by Homer. But there are so many more than that, and from every corner of the world.

This week I want to focus on some of the most influential epic poems from around the world.

Many historical epic poems tend to reflect religious symbolism from their region or may even be considered a religious text. I find it fascinating to see how interwoven creative expression (like poetry) is with religion throughout history. It makes sense, as religion was a huge part of people’s lives, but I do find our modern society forgets how much art was both a part of religion while also challenging religious views.

The five epic poems shared below are historic and have influenced religions, cultures, people, and literature around the world.

I believe it’s important to understand the context of our world, and part of that is how literature shaped our societies and understanding of the world. You’ll never know everything, but I think it’s important to continue learning about the world, especially areas that are new to you.

So without further ado, here are some very influential epic poems.

Photo by Vaibhav Raina on Unsplash

Five influential epic poems

Here’s a list of five epic poems from around the word.

  1. Gilgamesh by Anonymous / Unknown (18th century BCE)
  2. Ramayana by Vālmīki (~8th century BCE)
  3. The Odyssey by Homer (8th or 7th century BC)
  4. Mahabharata by Vyāsa (3rd century BCE–4th century CE)
  5. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1321)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve put them in order of when they were “published”. Many of the dates are vague as it’s hard to know exactly when these were written.

Gilgamesh (18th century BCE)

by Anonymous / Unknown

  • Year Published: 18th century BC
  • Language: Akkadian (from Mesopotamia)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, poetry, adventurous, fast-paced
  • Considered the oldest heroic epic in the world, and a foundational text for heroic sagas and religious texts.

Miraculously preserved on clay tablets dating back as much as four thousand years, the poem of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, is the world’s oldest epic, predating Homer by many centuries. The story tells of Gilgamesh’s adventures with the wild man Enkidu, and of his arduous journey to the ends of the earth in quest of the Babylonian Noah and the secret of immortality. Alongside its themes of family, friendship and the duties of kings, the Epic of Gilgamesh is, above all, about mankind’s eternal struggle with the fear of death.

The Babylonian version has been known for over a century, but linguists are still deciphering new fragments in Akkadian and Sumerian.

Links:

Ramayana (~8th century BCE)

by Vālmīki

  • Year Published: 8th century BCE–3rd century CE
  • Language: Sanskrit
  • Religion: Hinduism
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, poetry, religion, adventurous, challenging, slow-paced
  • One of the largest ancient epics (nearly 24,000 verses)
  • Influenced both Sanskrit poetry and Hindu and Buddhist cultures

The Ramayana is, quite simply, the greatest of Indian epics – and one of the world’s supreme masterpieces of storytelling ‘Almost every individual living in India,’ writes R. K. Narayan in the Introduction to this new interpretation, ‘is aware of the story of The Ramayana. Everyone of whatever age, outlook, education or station in life knows the essential part of the epic and adores the main figures in it – Rama and Sita. Every child is told the story at bedtime . . . The Ramayana pervades our cultural life.’ Although the Sanskrit original was composed by Valmiki, probably around the fourth century BC, poets have produced countless variant versions in different languages. Here, drawing his inspiration from the work of an eleventh-century Tamil poet called Kamban, Narayan has used the talents of a master novelist to recreate the excitement and joy he has found in the original. It can be enjoyed and appreciated, he suggests, for its psychological insight, its spiritual depth and its practical wisdom – or just as a thrilling tale of abduction, battle and courtship played out in a universe thronged with heroes, deities and demons.

Links:

The Odyssey (8th or 7th century BC)

by Homer

  • Year Published: 8th or 7th century BC
  • Language: Homeric Greek
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, poetry, adventurous, slow-paced
  • Considered one of the most significant works of the Western canon, with re-imaginings continuing to be produced till today.

The epic tale of Odysseus and his ten-year journey home after the Trojan War forms one of the earliest and greatest works of Western literature. Confronted by natural and supernatural threats – ship-wrecks, battles, monsters and the implacable enmity of the sea-god Poseidon – Odysseus must test his bravery and native cunning to reach his homeland and overcome the obstacles that, even there, await him.ody

Links:

Mahabharata (3rd century BCE–4th century CE)

by Vyāsa

  • Year Published: 3rd century BCE–4th century CE
  • Language: Sanskrit
  • Religion: Hinduism
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, fantasy, historical, emotional, informative, reflective, medium-paced
  • The longest epic poem known at over 200,000 individual verse lines ( approximately 10x the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined)
  • One of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India revered in Hinduism (the other is Ramayana)

Dispute over land and kingdom may lie at the heart of this story of war between cousins the Pandavas and the Kouravas but the Mahabharata is about conflicts of dharma. These conflicts are immense and various, singular and commonplace. Throughout the epic, characters face them with no clear indications of what is right and what is wrong; there are no absolute answers. Thus every possible human emotion features in the Mahabharata, the reason the epic continues to hold sway over our imagination. In this superb and widely acclaimed translation of the complete Mahabharata, Bibek Debroy takes on a great journey with incredible ease.

Links:

The Divine Comedy (1321)

by Dante Alighieri

  • Year Published: 1321
  • Language: Italian
  • Religion: Christian / Catholic
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, poetry, challenging, dark, reflective, slow-paced
  • Represents the soul’s journey towards God using Catholic theology and philosophy
  • Considered a key work in Italian literature and one of the greatest works of Western literature.

Belonging in the immortal company of the great works of literature, Dante Alighieri’s poetic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, is a moving human drama, an unforgettable visionary journey through the infinite torment of Hell, up the arduous slopes of Purgatory, and on to the glorious realm of Paradise; the sphere of universal harmony and eternal salvation.

Now, for the first time, John Ciardi’s brilliant and authoritative translations of Dante’s three soaring canticles The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso have been gathered together in a single volume. Crystallizing the power and beauty inherent in the great poet’s immortal conception of the aspiring soul, The Divine Comedy is a dazzling work of sublime truth and mystical intensity.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of epic poems.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of what to read. I’d love to know which epic poems you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these poems (or even part of them)? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five philosophical poets to make you think

April is Poetry Month! So I will be sharing lots of poetry suggestions to help you find more poetry that you enjoy.

Like most forms of art, poetry is subjective and very personal. It can take time to find what you like. I want to remind you that you don’t have to like the poetry that people say you should, but I would encourage you to keep exploring poetry until you find what you enjoy.


For this week, I wanted to explore the intersection of philosophy and poetry. In my mind, these two often go hand-in-hand, as both explore our experience of the world and our place within society.

Many great thinkers have dabbled in art, and many artists have been great thinkers. Not to mention most religions often have both philosophical thinking and poetic musings/lessons within their religious texts.

Personally, I think some of our biggest concepts are most eloquently expressed in an artistic way. I believe it leaves more room for emotion, expression, and interpretation.

I’ve put together this list of philosophical poets. They are individuals who are known to have discussed large philosophical ideas and spiritual concepts through their poetry.

Most of these poets are from the middle ages (500-1500), as I think it’s important to discuss discuss the diversity of philosophy. A majority of discussions around medieval philosophy focus on the Greek and Roman influences, but there were so many important philosophers around the world with different perspectives and valuable insights.

So this list of philosophical poets is just an introduction to some big thinkers who chose to express their ideas through poetry.

Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash

Five philosophical poets

Here’s a list of five philosophical poets to help you think. Each of these authors are known for being thought-provoking and insightful.

  1. Omar Khayyam (1048-1131)
  2. Rumi (1207-1273)
  3. Hafez (1325-1390)
  4. Kabir (1398-1518)
  5. Kahlil GIbran (1883-1931)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed each in order of when they lived.

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131)

  • 1048-1131
  • Genre(s): poetry, philosophy and math
  • Languages: Persian/Farsi and Arabic
  • Key books: Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
  • Key themes: pleasures of life, rationalist philosopher, pessimist

Omar Khayyam was born Ghiyath al-Din Abu’l-Fath Umar ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi al-Khayyámi. Khayyam was a poet, philosopher and mathmatician in 11th-century Persia. Most of his ideas within math and astonomy were not proven until long after his death.

Most of the poetry attributed to Khayyam is in the form of quatrains, which are four lines that form either a stanza or full poem. It’s difficult to confirm the authenticity of the poems attributed to Khayyam, especially as other Persian scholars were known to write in quatrains.

Khayyam rose to fame as a poet in the modern world in 1859 when Edward FitzGerald published his translation of Khayyam’s poetry. However FitzGerald’s translation of the poetry took significant liberties and is not considered an accurate translation.

Links:

Rumi (1207-1273)

  • 1207-1273
  • Genre(s): poet, scholar, theologian, faqih, and mystic
  • Languages: mostly Persian, but also Turkish, Arabic and Greek
  • Masnavi is considered one of the greatest poems in the Persian language
  • Key themes: knowledge of oneness of God through love and external religions observances especially through music, dance and poetry

Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (Persian: جلال‌الدین محمّد رومی), or often just Rumi, was from 13th century Persia (Greater Iran). He was a poet, an Islamic scholar, a Maturidi theoloian, Hanafi faqih (jurist), and Sufi mystic.

Rumi has been influential across the world, especially in the Middle East, Europe, Central Asia, and South Asia, both in spiritual practices and literature.

His works are still read widely in the Persian-speaking world, and the translations of his work are popular all over the world. He’s often described as the “most popular poet” and even the “best selling poet” in the USA.

Rumi’s poetry focuses on the love that infuses the world. He was especially interested in seeking knowledge of tawhid (oneness of God) through love and believed passionately in using music, poetry, and dance as an outward expression of reaching for God. Rumi believed that music could help an individual focus their whole being on the divine, and these ideas are what led to the practice of whirling Dervishes becoming a ritualize form of worship and meditation.

Links:

Hafez – sometimes spelled Hafiz (1325-1390)

  • 1325-1390
  • Genre(s): Lyric poetry, mystic poetry
  • Language: Persian
  • Key books:  The Divān of Hafez (a collection of his remaining poems)
  • Key themes: the beloved, faith, exposing hypocrisy, expressing the ecstasy of divine inspiration

Hafez (sometimes spelled Hafiz) was born Khājeh Shams-od-Dīn Moḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī (Persian: خواجه شمس‌‌الدین محمد حافظ شیرازی).

He was a Persian lyric poet who has influenced post-14th century Persian writing more than any other Persian author. Many Iranians consider Hafez the pinnacle of Persian literature and his works are still part of everyday life.

Hafez was a Sufi Muslim and wrote in the literary genre of lyric poetry or ghazals. Ghazals are a specific form of Arabic poetry that deals with romantic and spiritual love, and are considered ideal for expressing the ecstasy of divine inspiration.

Hafez is the most popular poet in Iran and most households own a copy of The Divān of Hafez (many use it for fortune telling). His work was first translated into English in 1771 and after that he also influenced many western authors like Thoreau, Goethe, W.B. Yeats, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Links:

Kabir (1398-1518 CE)

  • Estimated to have lived around 1398-1518 CE
  • Genre(s): Mystic poet and saint
  • Language: Sadhukkadi (a mix of Hindi, Bhojpuri, and Punjabi) & Bhojpuri
  • Key themes: critical of organized religions, loving devotion of God

Kabir is a well-known mystic poet from India and is considered an important figure for multiple religions, including Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam and Sufism.

He was critical of religions, especially organized religion. He often questioned the meaningless and unethical practices of all religions. His criticisms focused heavily on the major religions of his country, Hindu and Muslim, while maintaining his own independence from both of those religions.

Throughout his life, he was threatened by both Hindus and Muslims, but when he died both religions claimed him as theirs.

Kabir’s poems were composed with simple words and most were written in Sadhukkadi (a mix of Hindi, Bhojpuri and Punjabi). There are 82 works attributed to Kabir, but the authenticity of these works is still being discussed. It’s possible that changes have happened over time and also that some works attributed to Kabir were actually written by others.

Links:

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

  • 1883-1931
  • Languages: Arabic and English
  • Genre(s): poetry, parables, fables, essays, short stories, novels
  • Key books: The Prophet (philosophical essays)
  • Key themes: religion, free will, the soul, happiness, justice, body/death

Gibran Khalil Gibran (Arabic: جُبْرَان خَلِيل جُبْرَان) is commonly referred to in English as Kahlil Gibran. He was a Lebanese-American poet, writer, philosopher and visual artist.

Gibran is considered one of the most important influences in the Romantic movement within Arabic poetry and literature during the first half of the twentieth century and is still widely celebrated as a literary hero in Lebanon.

Gibran’s writing spanned different forms and themes. His work has been seen to be innovative and breaking away from the forms of the past literary styles. The Arabic vocabulary used in his works were considered more colloquial or ordinary language, rather than the traditional or classic Arabic used in literature.

He is best known for his book The Prophet, a collection of philosophical essays, which has become one of the best-selling books of all time. The Prophet became popular in the 1960’s and was widely influential on musicians and artists of that era (including The Beatles, Elvis Presley, David Bowie, and Johnny Cash).

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of philosophical poets.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of authors and books to read. I’d love to know which philosophical poets you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

5 Black American Women Authors to read for Black History Month – Part 1

After a long delay, here is part two! I know it’s no longer Black History Month, but I wanted to make sure I shared part two of this.

It’s February which means it’s Black History Month, so I’ll be sharing content about Black authors. Most of what I’ll be sharing this month will come from Black American authors, as those are what I’m currently most familiar with. But it’s important to read from all over the world. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments below!


As I mentioned last week in Part 1, I think it’s vital to diversify your reading and read from authors of many different perspectives.

There are great authors in every area of life and every part of the world. Each of them bring their own unique perspective and thoughts, as everyone has a unique experience of the world.

I believe the more you diversify your reading, the more you’ll understand the world and the more empathy you’ll have for everyone around you.

Everyone has their own unique experience of the world, but you can learn so much about others’ experience through the content they create, including books. The more you listen to others, the more you can discover your personal blind spots and unconscious biases. Just because you haven’t experienced it, doesn’t mean that no one else has.

So, for Black History Month, I highly recommend finding books to read by Black authors. You don’t have to read them this month. With so many people talking about Black History Month and focusing on Black voices, it’s easy to find books to buy or add to your TBR list.

For this month, I’ll be sharing some Black American women that I admire and would recommend reading their works.

All of these women have had a huge impact on society and the literary world, and they’re all incredibly well known. Think of this as more of an introduction to the classics and a starting point, not a deep-dive into the lesser known. But please share any other suggestions you have in a comment below.

I shared five women last week (see Part 1 here), and I’m back with another five this week. I’ve listed them in order of the year they were born.

Five Black American Women Authors to Read

Here’s a list of five Black American women authors to read for Black History Month.

  1. Audre Lorde – poet & essayist
  2. Dr. Angela Davis – nonfiction, civil rights icon
  3. Alice Walker – novelist
  4. Octavia Butler – science fiction novelist
  5. bell hooks – feminist theorist

Keep reading to find out more about each one!

And don’t forget to come back next week to learn about the next five!

1. Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

  • 1934-1992
  • Died at the age of 58
  • Genre(s):
  • Key books: Sister Outsider, The Black Unicorn
  • Key Essay: The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House

Audre Lorde identified herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”.

A lot of her efforts were related to social activism, working to confront and address various areas of injustice, including racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia, both through political activist work and as a thought leader. Her written work centered around feminism, lesbianism, illness and civil rights, all of it as an exploration of the black female identity.

Lorde’s work was heavily focused on the area of intersectionality, as she intertwined her personal experience (with all aspects of her identity) with broader social movements. She mostly focused on race, class, and sexuality, and actively confronted issues of racism within feminist spheres.

Links:

2. Dr. Angela Davis (1944-)

  • Born: 1944
  • Genre(s): Nonfiction
  • Both an activist and a scholar
  • Key books: Women, Race & Class, Are Prisons Obsolete?

Dr. Angela Davis is an American political activist, philosopher, academic, and author. She studied first at the University of California and completed her doctorate at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

After she completed her doctorate, she moved back to the United States and became heavily involved in activism. She joined the Communist Party and worked with the Black Panther party, along with heavily campaigning against the Vietnam war. She’s an influential though leader from the second-wave feminist movement and is now a key figure in the prison abolitionist movement.

Throughout her life, she has stayed consistent in advocating against imperialism, racism, sexism, and the prison–industrial complex (part of the prison abolition movement), and showing her support for gay rights and other social justice movements. She has been a long time advocate for the freedom of Palestine and understanding the need for international collective liberation.

Links:

3. Alice Walker (1944-)

  • Born 1944
  • Genre(s): Literary Fiction, Poetry & Essays
  • Key books: The Color Purple

Important Note: Nowadays, Alice Walker is considered controversial for her anti-semitic comments and support of David Icke (rebuttal here on Al Jazeera Opinions and she’s been posting a lot about Free Palestine on her website), along with her TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) comments as she puts her support behind J.K. Rowling (link to a post about it by Out and her post on her website). I include her here because of her impact through her novel The Color Purple.

Alice Walker rose to fame with her novel The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1982. She was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

She’s been a prolific writer, with 17 novels and short story collections, 12 non-fiction works and collections of essays and poetry, and continues writing on her website (www.alicewalkersgarden.com).

Walker’s work focused on the intersection of being both black and a woman. She has very specific feminist views, mostly advocating for women of colour. She even coined the term “womanist” to mean “a black feminist or feminist of color.”

Links:

4. Octavia Butler (1947-2006)

  • 1947-2006
  • Died at the age of 58
  • Genre(s): Science Fiction
  • Key books: Kindred, Parable of the Sower

Octavia Butler is a prominent American science fiction writer, who won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. She’s most known for blending science fiction with African American spiritualism and is associated with Afrofuturism (“speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th-century technoculture”).

She read science fiction from a young age but was disappointed with its portrayals of race and class. As a writer, she intentionally wrote herself into the genre by using her perspective as an African American woman.

Butler has been influential in the science fiction literary world, especially for people of colour. Her works often highlight themes related to race, gender, class, and power.

Links:

5. bell hooks (1952-2021)

  • 1952-2021
  • Died at the age of 69
  • Genre(s): Feminist Theory
  • Key books: Ain’t I A Woman?, Feminist Theory, All About Love

bell hooks was born as Gloria Jean Watkins, and her pen name was borrowed from Bell Blair Hooks, her maternal great-grandmother. hooks is an American author and social activist, with most of her writings centred around race, feminism, and class.

hooks authored around 40 books during her lifetime. Most of her work was around the intersectionality of race, capitalism and gender, specifically looking at the systems of oppression and class domination.

She always wrote her name in lowercase letters as an ode to her great-grandmother and to symbolize that the focus should always be on the ideas conveyed not the person sharing them.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of authors. If you missed it, you can read part 1 here.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books written by these women that you love or would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read anything by these authors?

What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

5 Black American Women Authors to read for Black History Month – Part 1

It’s February which means it’s Black History Month, so I’ll be sharing content about Black authors. Most of what I’ll be sharing this month will come from Black American authors, as those are what I’m currently most familiar with. But it’s important to read from all over the world. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments below!


I think it’s important both to pay attention to who you’re reading and make sure that you diversify your reading by reading from many perspectives. There are incredible authors of every gender, ethnicity, nationality, and in every era; and each bring their own perspective to their work.

Black History Month

Black History Month is a great opportunity to focus on reading books by Black authors. Or learning more about books by Black authors so that you can add them to your TBR.

Personally, I think it’s great that people are highlighting Black voices this month, because it’s a great chance to educate yourself on what’s out there. There are endless resources available to you, you just need to

If you’re not regularly exposed to Black authors, maybe it’s time to add some new book-influencers into your media experience. But also, the number of people who are talking about Black authors greatly increases during this month, so it’s easy for you to find endless suggestions in every genre. And that’s a wonderful thing.

I don’t think it matters what you read during February, but I would highly encourage you to take this time to discover new authors. It’s also a great chance to take notice of who you’ve been reading, and if you’ve read anything by a Black author recently.

This month

For this month, I’ll be sharing some Black American women that I admire and would recommend reading their works.

All of these women have had a huge impact on society and the literary world, and they’re all incredibly well known. Think of this as more of an introduction to the classics and a starting point, not a deep-dive into the lesser known. But please share any other suggestions you have in a comment below.

I’ll be sharing five women this week, and another five next week. I’ve listed them in order of the year they were born.

Five Black American Women Authors to Read

Here’s a list of five Black American women authors to read for Black History Month.

  1. Phillis Wheatley
  2. Zora Neale Hurston
  3. Maya Angelou
  4. Lorraine Hansberry
  5. Toni Morrison – novelist

Keep reading to find out more about each one!

And don’t forget to come back next week to learn about the next five!

1. Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

  • 1753-1784
  • Died at age 31
  • Genre(s): Poetry
  • Key book: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, but was then kidnapped and sold to the Wheatley family of Boston when she was seven or eight. In addition to her domestic obligations, the Wheatley family did provide her with an extensive education and encouraged her to pursue writing. However, she was not emancipated/manumitted (set free) from the family until after she published her book of poetry.

Phillis Wheatley was the first Black American woman to publish poetry, and considered the first to make a living from her writing. Despite having to be interviewed by 18 prominent men in Boston to prove that she wrote her own poetry, no one in the Americas was willing to publish her poetry. She was finally able to publish this collection of poetry in London in 1773.

Despite international recognition, she was unable to find anyone to publish any further volumes of poetry. She was able to publish some poetry in pamphlets and newspapers, but only in limited amounts.

Unfortunately, she ended up dying in abject poverty, with many of her poems lost due to lack of support.

Links:

2. Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

  • 1891-1960
  • Died at age 69
  • Genre(s): Literature, Short Stories
  • Key Play: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston was a central part of the Harlem Renaissance, and wrote about black life in the American South.

She wrote four novels, along with more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays. Their Eyes Were Watching God was her most popular novel.

Barracoon wasn’t publish until 2018, which was her nonfiction book about the life of Cudjoe Lewis (Kossola). Cudjoe was one of the last slaves to be brought to the US on the ship Clotilda (the last slave ship).

She was fairly unknown and barely recognized by the literary world for decades. In 1975, Alice Walker’s article in Ms. magazine, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, sparked interest in her work fifteen years after her death.

Links:

3. Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

  • 1928-2014
  • Died at the age of 86
  • Genre(s): Memoirs and poetry
  • Key books: I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings

Maya Angelou had a far reaching career, both as an entertainer (singer, dancer, actress, composer, and Hollywood’s first Black director), storyteller (writer, editor, essayist, playwright, and poet), civil rights activist (worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X), and educator (as a lifetime professorship at Wake Forest University).

She wrote 36 books and is best known for her memoirs and poetry. Her first memoir (of seven), I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, was nominated for a National Book Award and overall was very successful.

She won numerous awards and honours, including a Pulitzer Prize nomination, a Tony Award, three Grammys, served on two presidential committees, and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama (the highest civilian honor in the USA).

Videos

Maya Angelou was not only an incredible author, but also an amazing performer. Here are some videos so you can see her work performed by the author herself.

Links:

4. Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)

  • 1930-1965
  • Died at the age of 35
  • Genre(s): Plays/Drama
  • Key play: A Raisin in the Sun

Lorraine Hansberry is most known for her play A Raisin in the Sun, but she also wrote for the Freedom (Pan-Africanist = working towards solidarity of all people of African ancestry) newspaper and was an activist.

She was the first African-American women author to have a play, A Raisin in the Sun, performed on Broadway. She was also the first African-American dramatist and youngest playwright (at age 29) to win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.

Her activism focused not only on American civil rights, but also on international efforts, especially African struggles for liberation. She primarily focused on the impact on women within these larger societal struggles.

Some people consider her an activist for gay rights, but her work in this area was limited. She lived most of her life as a closeted lesbian, but wrote a few letters to the magazine The Ladder (a magazine run by the Daughters of Bilitis, a San Francisco-based lesbian rights organization). Then, near the end of her life, it seemed as though she was becoming more comfortable with her attraction to women. But all her work and personal writings related to being a lesbian was withheld from the public by her ex-husband, until finally released by his daughter in 2013.

Links:

5. Toni Morrison (1931-2019)

  • Born: 1931
  • Died: 2019
  • Genre(s): Literature, Fiction, Race
  • Key books: Beloved, The Bluest Eye, & Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison is recognized as one of the best authors of her generation and she’s well-known for focusing on the Black experience. She specifically worked to ensure that the “white gaze” was not central in any of her works, and preferred to focus on the black community rather than interactions with white people.

She worked first as a university professor and then as an editor in the publishing industry. Her debut book, The Bluest Eye, came out in 1970 while she was still working as a book editor. She didn’t leave the publishing industry until 1983, after 20 years in the industry and four novels published.

Toni Morrison has won numerous awards and honours, including the National Book Critics Circle Award (for her third book – Song of Solomon), the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved, the Nobel Prize in 1993, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of authors.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books written by these women that you love or would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read anything by these authors? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five cozy books to read this holiday season

It’s the end of 2023! Can you believe it?

December in my mind means holidays and thinking about the new year. I find this time to be a great opportunity to reflect on what’s coming in the new year and all that’s happened over the past year.

It’s been a long year and so much has happened, don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate all you’ve done this year.

It’s also a great time to feel cozy. There’s nothing better than curling up with a nice cozy book.

So in the spirit of the holidays (whichever one(s) you choose to celebrate – since there are so many this time of year!), I’ve made a list of some cozy books to keep you company.

Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

Five cozy books for the holidays

Here’s a list of five cozy books to read during this holiday season.

  1. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908)
  2. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (1970)
  3. Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (2015)
  4. Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree (2022)
  5. The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna (2022)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Anne of Green Gables (1908)

by Lucy Maud Montgomery

  • Year Published:
    1908
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, middle grade, funny, hopeful, lighthearted, medium-paced
  • Considered a children’s classic novel, has been a huge source of tourism for the small province of Prince Edward Island in Canada

This heartwarming story has beckoned generations of readers into the special world of Green Gables, an old-fashioned farm outside a town called Avonlea. Anne Shirley, an eleven-year-old orphan, has arrived in this verdant corner of Prince Edward Island only to discover that the Cuthberts—elderly Matthew and his stern sister, Marilla—want to adopt a boy, not a feisty redheaded girl. But before they can send her back, Anne—who simply must have more scope for her imagination and a real home—wins them over completely. A much-loved classic that explores all the vulnerability, expectations, and dreams of a child growing up, Anne of Green Gables is also a wonderful portrait of a time, a place, a family… and, most of all, love.

Links:

84, Charing Cross Road (1970)

by Helene Hanff

  • Year Published:
    1970
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, memoir, funny, lighthearted, fast-paced

This charming classic, first published in 1970, brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books. Their relationship, captured so acutely in these letters, is one that will grab your heart and not let go.

Links:

Before the Coffee Gets Cold (2015)

by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

  • Year Published:
    2015 (English version in 2019)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, literary, magical realism, emotional, hopeful, reflective, medium-paced

What would you change if you could go back in time?

In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.

In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.

But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold . . .

Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time?

Links:

Legends & Lattes (2022)

by Travis Baldree

  • Year Published:
    2022
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, fantasy, hopeful, lighthearted, relaxing, medium-paced

High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth.

Links:

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches (2022)

by Sangu Mandanna

  • Year Published: 2022
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, fantasy, romance, funny, hopeful, lighthearted, medium-paced

A warm and uplifting novel about an isolated witch whose opportunity to embrace a quirky new family—and a new love—changes the course of her life.

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos “pretending” to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for….

Links:


Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five unsettling short stories to read for spooky season

We are not entering spooky season, as we get close to Halloween and immerse ourselves in the fall spirit. In honour of spooky season, I’ll be sharing a variety of books and stories that could be considered “spooky” either by having supernatural elements or having thriller/horror elements. Enjoy!


For this week, I wanted to share some unsettling short stories or collections of short stories that will get you in the mood for spooky season.

I personally love short stories. They’re a great way to get a taste of a specific author or tiptoe into a new genre that you’re not super familiar with.

These short stories and collections can be a way to get in the mood for spooky season, especially if you’re not a big fan of horror or thriller books. They will give you a taste of something unsettling without putting you too far out of your comfort zone.

These stories are not what you would typically think of for Halloween, but they all have some kind of unsettling element.

I’ve also included a variety, from being published across many different decades and from authors around the world.

Let me know what you think in a comment below!

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Five unsettling short stories

Here’s a list of five short stories or short story collections to get you in the mood for spooky season.

  1. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
  2. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915)
  3. Someone Like You by Roald Dahl (1953)
  4. Apple & Knife by Intan Paramaditha (2018)
  5. The Test by Sylvain Neuvel (2019)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

The Yellow Wallpaper (1892)

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  • Year Published: 1892
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, horror, short stories, dark, mysterious, fast-paced
  • Considered an important early feminist work based on it’s portrayal of women’s mental health

First published in 1892, The Yellow Wall-Paper is written as the secret journal of a woman who, failing to relish the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sentenced to a country rest cure. Though she longs to write, her husband and doctor forbid it, prescribing instead complete passivity. Narrated with superb psychological and dramatic precision, this short but powerful masterpiece has the heroine create a reality of her own within the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wall-paper of her bedroom–a pattern that comes to symbolize her own imprisonment.

This key women’s studies text by a pivotal first-wave feminist writer, lecturer, and activist (1860-1935) is reprinted as it first appeared in New England Magazine in 1892, and contains the essential essay on the author’s life and work by pioneering Gilman scholar Elaine R. Hedges.

Links:

Metamorphosis (1915)

by Franz Kafka, translated by Stanley Corngold

  • Year Published: 1915
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, magical realism, philosophy, dark, reflective, medium-paced
  • One of Kafka’s best-known work

Waking after a night of troubled dreams, Gregor is surprised to find himself trapped in the body of a hideous man-sized bug. As he lies on his shell and gazes into space, his mother and father begin calling to him from outside his bedroom door. He must get out of bed, they tell him. He has to go to work. They need his money to live.

Gregor replies to them nervously, his voice sounding strange to his ears.

He’ll be out very soon, he says. He’s just getting ready…

But he can’t keep saying that forever.

Links:

Someone Like You (1953)

by Roald Dahl

  • Year Published: 1953
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, horror, short stories, dark, fast-paced
  • Note, Roald Dahl is considered a problematic author, you can read more here. If you choose not to read his work, I completely understand.

In Someone Like You are fifteen classic tales told by the grand master of the short story, Roald Dahl.

Here, in Roald Dahl’s first collection of his world famous dark and sinister adult stories, a wife serves a dish that baffles the police; a harmless bet suddenly becomes anything but; a curious machine reveals a horrifying truth about plants; and a man lies awake waiting to be bitten by the venomous snake asleep on his stomach.

Through vendettas and desperate quests, bitter memories and sordid fantasies, Roald Dahl’s stories portray the strange and unexpected, sending a shiver down the spine.

Links:

Apple & Knife (2018)

by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen J. Epstein

  • Year Published: 2018
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, horror, short stories, dark, medium-paced
  • Language: Bahasa Indonesia
  • You may want to check content warnings before reading

Inspired by horror fiction, myths and fairy tales, Apple and Knife is an unsettling ride that swerves into the supernatural to explore the dangers and power of occupying a female body in today’s world.

These short fictions set in the Indonesian everyday—in corporate boardrooms, in shanty towns, on dangdut stages—reveal a soupy otherworld stewing just beneath the surface. Sometimes wacky and always engrossing, this is subversive feminist horror at its best, where men and women alike are arbiters of fear, and where revenge is sometimes sweetest when delivered from the grave.

Mara finds herself brainstorming an ad campaign for Free Maxi Pads, with a little help from the menstruation-eating hag of her childhood. Jamal falls in love with the rich and powerful Bambang, but it is the era of the smiling general and, if he’s not careful, he may find himself recruited to Bambang’s brutal cause. Solihin would give anything to make dangdut singer Salimah his wife – anything at all.

In the globally connected and fast-developing Indonesia of Apple and Knife, taboos, inversions, sex and death all come together in a heady, intoxicating mix full of pointed critiques and bloody mutilations. Women carve a place for themselves in this world, finding ways to subvert norms or enacting brutalities on themselves and each other.

Links:

The Test (2019)

by Sylvain Neuvel

  • Year Published: 2019
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, dystopian, challenging, dark, emotional, fast-paced

Award-winning author Sylvain Neuvel explores an immigration dystopia in The Test

Britain, the not-too-distant future.

Idir is sitting the British Citizenship Test.

He wants his family to belong.

Twenty-five questions to determine their fate. Twenty-five chances to impress.

When the test takes an unexpected and tragic turn, Idir is handed the power of life and death.

How do you value a life when all you have is multiple choice?

Links:


Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of short stories.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books and stories to read. I’d love to know which stories you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these stories? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.