Caribbean Reading Challenge

All right, I admit it – I’m stealing, and shamelessly, from Dave Eggers.  Hope he forgives me.  But a good idea’s a good idea, and so here goes.

Edit:  This post will become a page in a month or so, in preparation for the challenge, which kicks off in 2009.  If you want to read more, check below the fold.

The Caribbean is sometimes called “the world in a basin” (don’t ask, I didn’t call it that).  Our history is complex and wide-ranging, and from some perspectives (mine included) pivotal to the history of the world. Look hard enough at major times of change in Europe and North America, for instance, and you’ll see the Caribbean lurking there at the bottom of things — the industrial revolution was fuelled, for instance, with capital raised on sugar plantations, the American revolution was influenced by Barbadian planters in Virginia and the Carolinas, the French Revolution was fed and mirrored by the Haitian, and so on.  In the late twentieth century, when the empire (in Ashcroft’s words) starting writing back, the centrality of the region to so-called western civilization began to be discussed in mainstream circles, and the twenty-first century has seen the adoption and accommodation of Caribbean culture in cities around the world as counterculture (reggae/rastafari) and carnival. I could go on, but I stop.  Let me just add that we’ve spawned three Nobel Laureates, two of them in literature. But how many of our voices are read or heard, other than Walcott’s and Naipaul’s?  I think that’s enough to make my point.

So here’s the challenge, well in advance of 2009, but planned for then (or anytime before).  As with Dave’s challenge, participants commit to read by the end of 2009 six books written by Caribbean writers or that deal significantly with Caribbean people and/or issues.

As with the Africa Reading Challenge, here’s how to proceed:

  1. Create a blog post with your list of books to read for the challenge.  Reply on this page with the name you would like to use and the link to your list (not to the blog in general). I may create a list of names and links on a list on this page, or I may simply let the comments speak for themselves — we’ll see.  A word to the wise:  if you have a comment with more than two links in it, it may be swallowed by Akismet, so govern yourselves accordingly.
  2. When you read a book, write a review of it and post it on your blog. Then reply on this page with your blog-name and the book you are reviewing with a link to the review.
  3. Happy reading!

I’ve narrowed the challenge down somewhat, partly because the Caribbean’s probably one of the most misrepresented regions in literature, and I deliberately excluded books that take merely place in the Caribbean.  Read them if you like, but try do so in the light of books written by/about Caribbean people. Often our islands (these generic, featureless “islands”) are no more than backdrops for the activities of “real” people.  If you asked me, Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery, while a fun read, wouldn’t count for the challenge; nor would the hundreds of Harlequin romances of various flavours that are set on the Spanish Main (a.k.a. the Caribbean Sea) or on endless stretches of beach with funny-talking natives.  Read them by all means; just don’t count ’em.

Closer to 2009 I’ll start a page over here, on Scavella’s, for my version of Dave’s challenge.  Feel free to join in. As in Africa, the languages of our region are several: you can read books in Spanish, French, English and Dutch. Keep an eye out for it — and welcome to the challenge!

Some preliminary resources:

Geoffrey Philp’s Top Ten

Top Ten Caribbean Novels (Philp’s 2007 Survey)

Geoffrey Philp’s (Long!) List of Caribbean Authors

Caribbean Review of Books

Caribbean Beat – West Indian Canon

Signifyin’ Guyana (more Guyanese literature than anything else, but as that’s a good fat chunk of Caribbean lit, worthwhile checking out)

11 thoughts on “Caribbean Reading Challenge

  1. Which countries count as Caribbean?

    Anything from Bermuda to Guyana, IMO – including Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Belize, Martinique, Guadeloupe, the ABC (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao).

  2. I actually think of Guyana as Caribbean — mainly I think because they play cricket — but what about Venezuela? For that matter I’ve just ordered a book from Guatemala, which I think has a short Caribbean coast…

    I suppose there aren’t really many ambiguous cases, now I look at the map more carefully. There are only a handful of Central/South American countries that we might not normally think of as Caribbean that have a claim. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and all that.

  3. Harry, I fell in love with this theme as soon as I saw it — it was a no-brainer, specially since it’s got my signature deep red colour in it as well.

    Yes, Venezuela for sure, Guatemala, Colombia, can all count as Caribbean.

    I would also count New Orleans myself, but that would probably be cheating.

  4. This sounds awesome. Sorry it took so long to get your reviews up on the Africa Reading Challenge. Note: just fyi, I’m not Dave Eggers. I wish I wrote like that…

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