Previously, I blogged about what I’m reading that fit in certain categories, inspired by this post by Jodi Meadows. Jodi offers four categories: Popular, Award Winning, Out-of-Comfort Zone, and Books you love. Coincidentally, I’ve currently got one in each of these categories between my nightstand and kindle. But I’d also add one more category to her four: non-fiction.
I mentioned the books I’m reading in the Popular, or Pop Lit, category and the Award-Winning category my last post. I’ll continue with Out-of-Comfort Zone in this entry.
Out of Comfort Zone
I’ve been trying to read some classical literature, as I never took literature courses in college—my major was International Relations with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies and Conflict Resolution. I took a basic writing college course (“Writing Studio”), and that’s it. Since then I’ve taken creative writing and a myriad of legal writing courses, but still not literature courses.
Self study it is.
One thing I did to try to catch up is go online and stalk university syllabuses for various literature courses including world lit, American lit, etc. I came across The Negro by W.E.B. Dubois’ through this method, but I’ve forgotten exactly how at this point.
The Negro (free copy of the book here) was, according to many accounts, before its time. I chose to read it after reading about how it is, “One of the most important books on Africa ever written, it remains fresh, dynamic, and insightful to this day,” in many places. It’s also something that I would never pick up, but I’m so glad I did.
What’s been most shocking about The Negro is its readability. It’s both easy to understand and a fast read. I found myself flying through the text—and enjoying it. But equally shocking is the information and facts included that I didn’t consider or think about. I’ll describe one instance where this exact thing happened, but the rest of the book is wonderful, too. Everybody should read it.
As a fantasy author, I often find inspiration in this world for made up ones. Some of the first parts of The Negro discuss the continent of Africa, and why it stalled in development vis-à-vis the European continent, for example. Simple things like geography were mentioned, and Dubois claims that the lack of access to the ocean and bodies of water stalled and stunted Africa’s ancient development. This isn’t a unique claim, but I’d never specifically thought about this question: why did civilization flourish in Europe [or in parts of the Americas or other places] and not in Africa?
But then I got to thinking. The places known for their ancient civilizations in Africa, think Egypt and ancient Ethiopia (Kush), and Timbuktu (Mali Empire), for example, were all located near major rivers and/or bodies of water. Egyptian civilization was situated both on the Nile River, and the Red and Mediterranean Seas. Kush had of course the Indian Ocean and Red Sea to its West, and the Nile as well. The Mali Empire benefited from the Niger river along with access to other trading routes.
One fun fact I learned is that Europe has twice the coastline of Africa (66,000 km v. 30,500 km), despite Africa’s massive surface area. Africa also doesn’t have many indentations where ships can find harbor. The coastline is choked full of coral reefs, sand bars, swamps, and lagoons that don’t allow for passage into the interior rivers, while Europe’s coastline allowed for trade, travel, exploration, and the colonization of much of the rest of the world.
Thinking about this gives me ideas about how to make the maps of my worlds more realistic and gives me ideas about city placement within continents. Reading this book has enriched my writing and my life.
Next entry, I’ll discuss the last two categories of books I’m reading, Books I love and Nonfic. Have you read any books like The Negro that inspired you lately?