Diversity and Reading

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It’s that time of year where readers and reviewers are taking stock of what they’ve read, looking at their stats (if they track them) and make goals for the new year. You’ve probably noticed I’ve been doing the same. It was in this spirit that Andi of Estella’s Revenge posted her thoughts on the slippery slope of diversity tracking. She set herself a goal this year to make sure 40% of her reading was written by authors of diverse backgrounds. However, she quickly discovered this was going to be a very complex issue.

This led to the question on Twitter…
“If you’re tracking diversity in reading, how do you actually know if the person is of a racial or ethnic background you consider diverse?”
I got some answers like “I Google them!” or “I go by last name.” But if Google comes up dry, is evidence of a non-white skin color or an international-sounding last name enough to deem that author diverse? In itself, it seems that using qualifiers like skin color and last name as a deciding factor promotes the same stereotypes we’re trying to get around by reading diversely.

I’ve been mentioning the importance of reading diversely almost from my very first post here on Earl Grey Editing, so this is not some shiny new concept to me. Nevertheless, I have not tracked diversity in my reading. Partly, it is because of the issues Andi touches on but mostly it’s because I’m lazy. Why spend time researching authors when I could be reading?

We Need Diverse Books shares some very important reasons why I should spend the time:

What benefits are there to reading diverse books?

  1. They reflect the world and people of the world
  2. They teach respect for all cultural groups
  3. They serve as a window and a mirror and as an example of how to interact in the world
  4. They show that despite differences, all people share common feelings and aspirations (Source here)
  5. They can create a wider curiosity for the world
  6. They prepare children for the real world
  7. They enrich educational experiences (Source here)

(For more information on why diverse reading is important, try their list of key posts and links. Also, see this excellent article on reading diversely by BookRiot.)

This still leaves the quandary of determining what constitutes diverse. For some, this means anything not written by white, straight men. For others, it means work by authors of a different race, gender, sexuality or religion. Andi concludes that it is ultimately up to each of us to determine what diversity is for ourselves. This strikes me as being a reasonable approach. Diversity in the USA looks very different to diversity in Australia, for example. As Andi puts it:

I’ll research every author. Not just the ones with non-white skin or cool last names. There’s so much more than that to discover. Our definitions of diversity will ultimately prove as diverse as the authors we choose to read.

This year I’ll be tracking diversity in my reading. I won’t be setting a target percentage like Andi, but I’m curious to see how diverse my reading really is.

Do you need to know that I’m doing this? Not according to Didi from Brown Girl Reading. In her post Reading Diversely?, she says:

 I say, if you want to read a variety of literature then stop talking about it and do it.  In the end, when you do it no one is going to give you a prize because you do.  Lumping authors all together because they aren’t white, straight, males doesn’t valorize at all the differences in authors.

While she makes some excellent points (and the comments are well worth reading), I disagree that this is something we should stop talking about (as might be evident by the fact I’m posting on the topic). Back in September, Aarti from BookLust ran her annual A More Diverse Universe reading challenge. I participated by reading The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina, thus discovering a new favourite author.

Would I have discovered Kwaymullina anyway? It’s possible–the Australian spec-fic industry is a small one and we have friends in common. However, it is far from certain, especially since I already have plenty of books to read. So you could say that it was Aarti’s discussion of diverse reading that lead to me reading more diversely, just as Andi’s post has encouraged me to do the same. Perhaps speaking about the issue here will encourage someone else. Diversity in reading is a complex issue and requires complex and diverse approaches. I feel that discussion and the tracking of statistics is part of that for some of us.

In that spirit, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on the subject.

For now, I’ll let Andi have the last word:

It takes a little digging and it definitely takes some thought, and so far I’m grateful not only for the books read and authors found, but for the exercise of thinking through these issues because they’re that important.

 


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2 Responses to Diversity and Reading

  1. Didi January 23, 2015 at 9:29 am #

    The reason why I said stop talking about it and do it is because a lot of people spend time talking about what they are going to read and then in the end don’t read anything at all. Reading diversely is natural for me, for others it needs to be charted to happen, and others just aren’t interested. No sweat I get it. However, I don’t see why when white people read diversely it has to be such a big deal. When black people read diversely it’s not a big deal. Reading diversely shouldn’t be made into some sort of crusade. If you read diversely then praise the books you like an tell people what you liked about them just as you would do with any white author you would read.

    • Elizabeth January 23, 2015 at 4:23 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by, Didi. I appreciate what you are saying about not turning diverse reading into a crusade or some kind of racial quota (as you mentioned in your excellent blog post). Do you feel that the importance of reading diversely needs to be discussed at all?

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