Yellowface, by R. F. Kuang

Yellowface is a book about book publishing that should probably be put under the category of “what NOT to read” when you’re about to take your own tiny words written on a leaf and toss it into the hurricane that is AMAZON.  Not only is Kuang such a powerhouse of a writer that she intimidates all scribblers around her, but her story about the book publishing industry is such to make a would-be author despair.  Not that I couldn’t blindfold myself and pin the corruption on any donkey’s ass of an industry in this country (and world) and stumble onto greed, exploitation, and general sleaze.  So, no, this part’s not a surprise.

What IS a surprise, however, is that Yellowface is basically a Twitter fight written as a book, which does NOT sound like something I’d be interested in.  (I tried Twitter once; why is everyone so mean and bored?).  I get the feeling Kuang is not writing for my generation, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have important things to say to us.  What is also a surprise is that I “read” this book as my first audiobook, and actually enjoyed it!  Now, without getting into the argument on whether an audiobook counts as “read” (I’m on the fence, but leaning toward, no), I highly recommend this book in particular for an audio read, especially if you’ve been thinking of trying it yourself.  Helen Laser is an amazing actress and matches the voices in my head perfectly.  (The character voices, not the other voices, we don’t talk about them, lol.)

All of this is not to ignore the main thrust of the novel which takes on racism in the book publishing industry (and America in general) head-on.  As a white writer, I know I’ve failed in my own writings to accurately and compassionately portray characters of races different from my own.  I was looking through some of my early writings recently and to my utter dismay found that I had unwittingly wrote a “magical negro” into one of my stories in my early twenties.  But I try to adhere to the maxim, know better, do better.  And I try to do better by knowing more—doing my research, reading outside my race, finding a diversity of friends and readers who are kind enough to let me know when I’ve fallen flat on my face, and being humble enough to admit to what I don’t know.  This book is part of that research and I’m so grateful to have had the chance to not only enjoy the story, but to learn from it as well.

Read Yellowface if you’ve ever engaged in a Twitter fight yourself.  They look terrible and soul-crushing, but apparently can also be sort of hilarious.   Read it if you’re in the mood to hate on a protagonist, which is sometimes REALLY fun.  And read this book to possibly have your eyes opened even more to facets of racism floating all around us, but which we often don’t see.

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