It’s Lit: Reni Eddo-Lodge Shares Her Reading List

Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Welcome to It's Lit – a series of discussions about books. Join us every month to find out who's reading what.
Four years ago, the award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge penned a blog post entitled: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Exhausted by the uneducated, uninformed, unfeeling dialogues surrounding race and racism in Britain, she wrote: “I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates our experiences.”
The post promptly went viral and its author was approached by Bloomsbury with a book deal. “It wasn’t like I had an idea and I took it to a publisher – I had been thinking about these issues for years and years before the opportunity came around to write a book,” says Eddo-Lodge from her home study in east London.
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Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Also titled Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, the book was published in 2017 and became a Sunday Times bestseller. Voted the nonfiction book of the year by Foyles and Blackwells, it is a blistering, revealing and imperative investigation of Britain’s relationship with race today. As Eddo-Lodge says: “The facts are shocking, the stats are shocking, and the numbers are shocking.”
Ahead of the book’s release in paperback, we caught up with the author to find out how her reading habits have changed since it was published – "Now that my writing is for the public, I’m also reading for the public" – and why she struggles to recommend a follow-up to her book. “If you want to read something that’s similar to mine, just wait a few more years and I’ll come out with something new,” she laughs.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Americanah, simply because I’m interviewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tomorrow. I’m already familiar with her work and I read it a few years ago but I wanted to refresh my mind. I know it’s a lot of people’s favourite but my personal favourite of hers is Half of a Yellow Sun – that one is a lot less hyped. I think it’s more loved in literary circles, whereas Americanah is the one everyone knows.
When and where do you like to read?
Sometimes I like to read in bed, sometimes I like to read in cafés. I feel too alert at home because I work here so it’s difficult for me to get into the reading mood because there’s always something that needs to be done, right? Cafés are good – you can get in a solid two, three hours if you get there early. I don’t mind reading on the Tube but it’s got hot competition from the Hamilton soundtrack at the moment!
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Do you tend to read one book at a time or do you like to juggle several?
No, I like to stick to something. I can’t read multiple books at once but I do abandon things – if I can put a book down and not be interested in what might happen next, I will abandon it. That happens fairly often.
What did you read growing up?
As a child I read a lot but less so as a teenager. I loved all the children’s classics: Roald Dahl, the Harry Potter books, obviously – I was one of the children queueing up for it so it was very exciting for me to sign with Bloomsbury. I used to read all that quintessential English children’s literature like Enid Blyton too which, looking back now, was almost brainwashy. I read really old editions too because they used to get picked up at car boot sales and they’d be horrendously racist.
You didn’t read much as a teenager?
No, not so much. I did go through a YA stage – Malorie Blackman’s books of course, I loved those, especially Noughts & Crosses – but by the time I was a teenager I sort of gave up on the reading thing because it wasn’t cool.
Where do you buy your books?
I get sent a lot of books and most of them I want to read so I’m currently not in book-buying mode but when I was I would go to the Waterstones on my high street. I used to buy from Amazon but since becoming an author I want to support indie bookshops where I can. However, I do think there are some books that are too weird or niche for local bookshops to stock. Like I just bought Conflict Is Not Abuse by Sarah Schulman off of Amazon and Sara Ahmed’s Living A Feminist Life because I knew that they were going to be harder to find.
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Have you ever been a member of a book club?
I haven’t. I love discussing books that I really love but usually what I do is make someone near me read it so that we can discuss it. That’s my version of a book club. Book clubs read my book, though; sometimes they tag me. I have been asked to drop in while they’re discussing it but why would I want to do that? The whole point of a book club is to critique the book, right? I can’t think of anything worse than the author listening while they rip your book apart. No thanks [laughs].
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Is there a book you've read more than once?
Augustown by Kei Miller; I’ve booked a holiday, and this is my first read. I read it last summer and it’s all messed up because I took it into a jacuzzi. He’s a poet and it’s just beautifully written fiction. I actually thrust it into the hands of a film producer the other day and was like, please make this – it’s amazing. So this is top of my list to reread when I’m in relaxation mode. I feel like every now and then there’s a book by a black fiction author that’s hyped and people are excited about it, but this book has not got the attention it deserves. It’s been shortlisted for a prize – it should have won that prize! It’s just incredible, honestly.
How do you choose what to read next?
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I’m not really one for turning towards the latest hyped fiction but if there’s a book that’s sparking a lot of discussion I will read it. Which is why I picked up Conflict Is Not Abuse because people are talking about it and saying it’s pertinent, particularly in activist circles. If a lot of people in my circle are saying “Read this, this is good”, I’ll want to read it. It’s the same with anything – film, TV – I trust my friends’ tastes.
Do you read more fact or fiction?
I am a fiction reader. I think that fiction can speak to societal things really well. I don’t like to read nonfiction. I know I’m a nonfiction writer [laughs] but you know, I think with nonfiction, you still have to tell a story. There’s one thing I tried not to do with mine, which is when the text is interrupted by little intervals, usually with a little logo. Whenever I buy something like that it always distracts me and I usually put it down and never pick it up again. There’s some nonfiction that bucks the trend of that because it’s got real momentum to it and that’s what I aimed to achieve when I was writing mine. Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, which is basically his writing from when he was involved in the student movement, even though it’s very niche stuff to do with South African student union politics – his writing has such passion to it, I can’t dislike it. Audre Lorde and Melissa Gira Grant are another two who write with that same urgency. Hold Tight is a pretty good nonfiction read too – it’s all about grime. Nonfiction is hard; it’s dense and you have to pack a lot in and still make people want to read it but I’d recommend those.
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Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
How do you organise your books at home? Do you have a system?
No, as you can see there’s big, small, hardback, paperback, charity shop and fresh-from-the-publisher all mixed in there.
What do you use as a bookmark?
I fold the page – I’m not against it.
Which three books would you give to a stranger?
Definitely Kei Miller’s Augustown. I read a book that was quite fascinating recently, The Woman Who Fooled The World; it was about a health and wellness blogger in Australia who pretended she had cancer. I would definitely recommend that because I think the cult of wellness has touched everyone and it’s just about broad enough for a good debunking. If I met a stranger who wanted to go freelance, I’d say read this by Otegha: Little Black Book. A feminism primer that I would give to any stranger – this is good because it’s really small – is Extracts From: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. That’s the book that basically changed my mind on feminism when I wasn’t a feminist, that’s what I always credit.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
For those that have finished your book and would like to read more on the subject, what would you recommend?
That’s tricky, people always ask me: “What should I be reading that’s like yours?” I’m not sure I can confidently say this person’s work is like mine but I can tell you about the books that I’m interested in reading for whatever comes next, although I don’t know what that is yet... The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain by Ron Ramdin is one; there’s also The Silk Roads, which I’m interested in reading as an alternative history of Britain from a non-Eurocentric perspective. This is one that my boyfriend picked up at a charity shop that he thought might be interesting to me – it’s called White Supremacy: A Comparative Study of American and South African History – there’s lots of things I want to read for background research. I don’t know if they’re holiday reads though [laughs].
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Reni’s Reading List:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Conflict Is Not Abuse by Sarah Schulman
Living A Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed
Augustown by Kei Miller
I Write What I Like by Steve Biko
Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde
Playing the Whore by Melissa Gira Grant
Hold Tight by Jeffrey Boakye
The Woman Who Fooled The World by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano
Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women by Otegha Uwagba
Extracts From: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain by Ron Ramdin
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan
White Supremacy: A Comparative Study of American and South African History by George M. Fredrickson
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