Today’s Diverse Book Bloggers feature is a little bit different than some of the others, seamlessly fusing law and literature. She can explain it better than myself, so I’ll hop right on into this week’s feature, with Amal from The Misfortune of Knowing!
Tell us about yourself/your blog, The Misfortune of Knowing!
Hi, I’m Amal. I’m a half-Sri Lankan woman in the United States, a public interest attorney, and the mother of three. I’ve been blogging about books, writing, and the law at The Misfortune of Knowing since 2012. Most of my posts focus on legal or sociological issues raised in novels and on legal topics relevant to bloggers, writers, and readers, such as copyright law and free speech.
Your header mentions “Books, Writing, and The Law,” which brings up your legal background. Do you think your academic background has influenced your blogging/reviewing?
My professional background gives me a legal lens through which I see how novels reflect or diverge from our legal norms and systems. These observations often become fodder for blog posts. For example, I used Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music to discuss the history of criminal anti-crossdressing laws and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to consider the importance of transparency in the criminal justice system.
You’ve reviewed a healthy mix of nonfiction, fiction, classics, contemporary, and everything in between. Is there anything specific that you gravitate toward?
Books are an escape from what I see on a daily basis in my professional life, which centers around violence against women and other health, safety, and civil rights issues. As a result, I tend to avoid grim books in favor of lighter novels that still address serious issues, like J. Paul Devlin’s A Passing Phase,a coming-of-age story that takes place in the context of societal and interpersonal bias against sexual and gender minorities, and Ayisha Malik’s Sophia Khan is Not Obliged, a romantic comedy that touches on discrimination against Muslims.
Some avoid classics because they lack diversity or have problematic social commentary. Do you have any great recommendations for people who are interested in older books, but still like diverse authors and characters?
Readers looking for diverse characters portrayed in an honest and accepting way probably should avoid most classics, but it depends on what they consider old enough to qualify as a “classic.” The farther back in time they go, the more white and male it gets. My favorite classics tend to be written by women, such as Jane Austen, whose early 19th Century romantic novels provide interesting commentary on human nature, women, and societal structure but do not address race.
The 20th Century gives readers more options. To Kill a Mockingbird, a middle grade novel that encouraged me to go to law school but with which I now have a complicated relationship, focuses on a white family struggling to ensure that justice prevails at the trial of a black man in 1930s Alabama. I have, however, encouraged schools to consider replacing Mockingbird with a novel written by a person of color that is also about a person of color now that Harper Lee’s estate has made it more expensive for schools to purchase the mass paperback edition. If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!
For an audience slightly older than the group that typically reads Mockingbird,other 20th Century authors worth considering include Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright, whose novels I am ashamed to say I haven’t read since college. It’s time for me to re-visit them.
You have multiple daughters– what are they reading? What have you read to them?
My three daughters love books as much as I do. My youngest is five and not quite reading on her own, but her father and I read to her. Recently, we’ve read My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis and illustrated by Suzanne DeSimone, And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole, Tea Leaves by Frederick Lipp and illustrated by Lester Coloma, and Art and Max by David Wiesner.
My older two, who are eight-year-old twins, are such voracious readers that we actually have to remind them to put their books down when they’re walking. Right now, one of them is reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, while the other has paused after book #89 of the Baby-sitters Club series to read something very different, David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers.
These are books they are reading on their own, but I do read aloud to them frequently. This way, I not only get to model literacy for them, but I also get an opportunity to witness how they react to the material. With Louis Sachar’s Holes, for example, I learned more about their innate sense of justice when I saw how disgusted they were by the procedural inadequacies of the main character’s trial. It made me joke that they might be future public defenders someday (which would make me very proud, but no pressure!).
Let’s put books aside for a moment– what are you reading on the internet right now? Any interesting articles?
I read a range of material on the internet, from personal blogs to political news and commentary. Some of the articles I’ve read recently include:
- “Bulldogs Are Dangerously Unhealthy But There May Not Be Enough Diversity In Their Genes To Save Them” by Brian Handwerk (Smithsonian.com)
- “Race, Activism, and Hillary Clinton at Wellesley” by Charles Bethea (The New Yorker)
- “Should Colleges Serve Crappy Food on Purpose?” by Kiera Butler (Mother Jones)
What is your all-time favorite post on your blog? Why does that stick out to you?
My favorite post is Please Stop Parenting My Children, in which I talk about parents (and others) who have the audacity to challenge books at libraries and in schools so that other people’s children can’t read them. It’s among my favorite posts because it ties together my great loves: parenting (my kids!), reading (obviously), and the law (the First Amendment in this case).
Where can BB> readers find you online? Link us!
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Take a sentence or two here!
I want to thank BB> for featuring my blog and for putting a spotlight on diverse book bloggers. It’s one of the examples of how social media brings people together and contributes to the free exchange of ideas that is so important for breaking down barriers.
I love Amal’s blog because there’s a refreshing amount of scholarship in a community where academics are a bit of an anomaly. I love how informal the book blogging/reviewing community can be, because it ensures that blogs are accessible to all types of people. However, sometimes I like bit of academia thrown in there as well! Don’t forget to give The Misfortune of Knowing a follow, and to check her out on Twitter!