reading

D is for Diversity in Books

So, K. T. Bradford challenged readers not to read books by white, straight, cis male authors for one year. Sunili Govinnage talked about how she did for a year and discovered so many new writers.

It amazed me how much flak they both got. I mean, it’s only for a year. It’s only to understand what you might be missing, to find titles and authors you’re not going to come across in the normal course of events.

I don’t think it will be easy; it might be impossible to make it through an entire year without reading authors like that. I know I follow a few series that are written by authors like those, and, no, I am not willing to give them up for a year. It would only be a few books. Yes, I can read them next year. BUT they are series I love and I don’t know if I can to wait months more to find out what happens next for the sake of an ideal. I am just that attached to the characters.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t focus on other writers. I can. When I look for a new book, I can look for books that fit this challenge.

And that brings up one of the more often things I’ve seen say in response to this challenge.

  • The books they read are good and they see no need to stop reading them for the sake of an ideal, not even for a limited period of time.
  • They don’t care what gender, sexuality and race of the writer is, and it doesn’t factor into their book choice.

I understand that. I do. Probably I would have said the same thing once. (I did say the same thing once. LOL)

As a teenager, I, an avid science fiction and fantasy reader, never ventured over to the romance shelves and couldn’t understand why anyone would read romance. I decided to dedicate one summer vacation to reading only romance to find out. I figured I could do without aliens and magic and spaceships for two months. 😉

Most of it was okay, some sucked and some it was really good. There are a few writers I still read, and I am open to finding more. I think that experiment added a lot to my reading choices, a lot more joy and depth than I would have had otherwise.

I don’t think the end result of K. T. Bradford’s reading challenge would be that different. I really don’t.

As for the thing where people don’t know or care about the gender/race/sexuality of the writer? Most people don’t care. I don’t, either. And they aren’t always easy to find out, either.

Those things aren’t always obvious in the author’s name. Sometimes authors choose pen name so that gender is hidden or not obvious on purpose.

The author picture in the back can make race obvious, but I never look there unless I’ve already decided to read the book, and afterward, I am not going to change my mind based on a picture.

As for sexuality? It’s impossible to know unless the author makes that information available, in the author introduction below the author picture, on twitter, on a blog, in an interview.

So even if I wanted to, I don’t think it would be all that easy to select for all of those things on purpose.

But if those are the vast majority of authors to come your way, the ones you hear of, the ones that fall into your lap, well, those are what you will read.

I think people need to take another look at the writers they have read for the past year and see. It’s not as if there is a shortage of writers that are not white, straight, cis or male. Not in science fiction and fantasy, which are the genres I am most familiar, and people have made lists of such writers. (Straight romance might well lack male writers. I’ve heard male romance writers need to write with a female pen name. Really makes me wonder which of the romance writers I read are male.)

Anyway, even if people aren’t selecting writers for anything in particular, such selection can still happen. If it does, looking for a few other types of writers can add an extra something to your reading life. A little extra joy, a little extra zip.

I, by the way, will soon be engaging in just such an examination of last year’s reading list. I want to see what kind of diversity my reading life has, especially when I choose books that just sort of come my way.

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23 thoughts on “D is for Diversity in Books

  1. For the last few years, I’ve had a policy of randomly selecting a book from the library shelves when I go. Sometimes I even close my eyes and grab one. I’ve had a few horrible books, but most were anywhere from OK to extraordinary. I just started “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I am loving it!

  2. Not a fan of author photos on book covers. Mine is on my blog only because the experts say that an image makes me more approachable. The way I see it, fiction invites the reader (me) into an imaginary world. I will get to know the author through her writing.

    Most of us aren’t that good looking, and a glamour-shot photo doesn’t always come off well. 🙂

    Your article made me realize that the books I read (and reread) are almost exclusively written by women. Interesting.

  3. I viewed Bradford’s challenge as hyperbole in order to generate conversation. To expect me to ignore writers like Nicholas Sparks, Nelson DeMille or Dan Brown simply because they are white, straight men is simply ridiculous on its own.

    Using it as hyperbole, though, Bradford makes a good point about readers breaking out of their habits and looking for writers that may be different from what they normally read. Without all the controversy, I would probably have not taken a look to notice what trends exist in the authors I read.

    I enjoyed your assessment of the issue here.

  4. I think you’ve hit on some great points, here. I have never factored in an author’s identification into the purchase of a book, but I -have- factored in the characters’ race, creed, sexual orientation, etc. It’s not for some agenda, but because I am an bisexual woman, and one who loves reading F&SF, it’s hard not to want to see more representation of strong women and/or LGBT characters on the page. I will say, though, that some books that DO include that representation have turned me off of an otherwise great story, because it felt like the author was TOO focused on getting the message across…

    So basically, I want diverse books, but not books that choose diversity over the most important part of the book: the story.

    Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
    A-Z Blogging in April Participant

  5. I couldn’t do that challenge, only because my TBR list is much too long to restrict myself to certain demographics of writers for a year. In the end, I’ll read the books that look interesting, regardless of who they’re by. I don’t usually take who the author is (or what groups they may or may not belong to) into account.

    N J Magas, author

      1. It’s possible. I’ll have to go look. In any case, I don’t have any time for any reading currently. I’ve over-loaded my plate. 😛

  6. This is very thought-provoking. I’m going to go back and see what I’ve been reading, to see what new things I can bring into my reading experience!

  7. I think that this would be difficult to do, like you said, you’d have to rely on finding out that information before you started reading. I think that I should make more effort to read books by a more diverse range of authors, most authors whose books I read are white and from either the UK or US, I’ve got a fairly even split of male and females though.

    Cait @ Click’s Clan

  8. Visiting from A/Z; I do like the thought of a challenge to read out of one’s comfort zone and to discover perhaps another type of books that they enjoy reading down the road. Might be a challenge I take on after the A/Z challenge is complete. Enjoy the rest of the challenge!

    betty

  9. Interesting idea! I’ve never even considered before what the authors of the books I read are like, unless I’ve already heard of them. I have to say I’m sceptical that there really is a type of “straight white male” book, or any other combination of author social background factors, but it’s definitely an interesting prism to look at a book through.

  10. If I keep reading just one genre, I usually get bored. This is why I pick up different books. That way, I get to read a lot more and the variation keeps me interested in all of them 😀

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