A lot has already been said on the topic of reading more diversely but I wanted to add to the conversation by recording my own thoughts and feelings on it. Also, since I am taking part in NaNoWriMo I have not finished a book in time for this week’s post. We need diverse books is an ongoing campaign that you should totally google and read about. To me, reading more diversely entails many things. At its most basic it asks us as readers to think critically about what we are reading. A lot of what is considered classic literature was written by white men. Most of us read a lot of these books in high school and college. These books are from the point of view of these men so it stands to reason that it’s told from a privileged world view. While there is nothing inherently wrong with reading and enjoying these works I think it’s important that we allow other voices into the conversation. Also, it is important to highlight that the status quo is always perpetuated by the literature of the time.
Most of what people around me are reading, and most of the current bestsellers are pretty much written by the same group of people. When I started to pay attention to what is out there I discovered that there are so many wonderful writers of color, with backgrounds that are as diverse as they are interesting. Of course I already knew this, my AP English teacher compiled a fairly diverse reading list. Also, because I lived in Puerto Rico and took Spanish I was required to read novels and plays by Latin American authors.
Long before I took the time to examine my own reading habits I remember reading pretty much anything that interested me. I read voraciously. At school I was usually the student who had read the most books during the year. I was often up past my bedtime with a flashlight under the blankets. It’s not a meme, it’s my life. My mom was always bringing me books to read and I loved going to the local bookshop somewhere in Gaborone. I wish I remembered the name of the mall but what I do remember was a shop filled with books, with the delicious dusty, papery smell. Between the books and the stationary it’s hard to decide what I spent most time coveting but books usually won out.
I remember the first time I came across a character with a Hispanic name. I can’t remember the name of the book but it was set in Chicago and the characters were a group of teenagers who got into all sorts of trouble on the streets. I had been fascinated by this. This was allowed? Spanish words in an English text were allowed? Subsequently I have read about a lot of hispanic characters but that feeling of inclusion, of being represented was strong. It stayed with me. It made a difference.
A lot of my identity as a Puerto Rican has been shaped and formed through reading. Reading also made me aware of my privilege by giving me glimpses into the lives of those who are different from me. There is so much that we take for granted, opinions and beliefs that we simply assimilate and leave unchecked. I see this everyday. I see people express things that I know cannot possibly come from an informed place. Reading can bridge this gap but in order to do so we need to give a voice to underrepresented populations.
Reading diversely is important to me because libraries and book stores will stock books that we, the consumers, express an interest in. Because publishing houses and agents will give more advertising money and opportunity to new voices if we demand it. For some, libraries are their only access to books and reading, which means that reading diversely isn’t only about reading more books by women, and people of color but also about putting books into the hands of these underrepresented populations. When a child is able to read a book where they get to see a character who looks like them, who thinks like them, and experiences life like them a connection is made.How wonderful when an author is able to capture a thought or feeling you thought was unique to you? It makes us feel less alone.
When we talk about reading diversely we are challenging us and others to read outside of their comfort zone. I’m not just talking about genres (although I think it’s good to mix it up) I’m talking about going somewhere new for book recs or picking up a book you normally wouldn’t pick up. It’s a call to not just read what everybody else is reading. Haruki Murakami wrote, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”