When I started this project, I was thinking mainly of the diversity of the authors I read in terms of their gender identity, ethnicity, or other demographics, including religion. I hadn’t really thought about the many different ways that both authors and the books they write might be diverse. I have been giving this a lot of thought, and in my next quarterly update, I plan to explore my own reading through some new lenses. For now, however, I want to explore some of the other kinds of diversity I have encountered.
This is another place where I want to state that I do not necessarily think that we all have to read diversely in all of these categories, or even at all. However, reading is often the way I come to understand the world, and I am exploring how consciously expanding the diversity of what I read changes that understanding.
Internationally Published Books
This was probably the first new idea for me. Publishing and marketing do not just favor certain demographics, but for many of us, the only books we ever encounter are those published in our own countries. This makes sense, but given today’s global reach, there is really no reason why this should be. With sites like Book Depository, which sells books from around the world and has free global shipping (their books are usually full price, but they do have sales), books from other countries are easy to access.
So far, British books have been the easiest for me to get my hands on, but so many authors around the world write and publish in English, and that doesn’t even include books that are translated!
I think this never occurred to me because I consider myself a total omnivore when it comes to books. I love fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries. The only genres that I have never really enjoyed are romances and horror or thriller books. However, I plan to do a breakdown of my reading in a few months, and I am interested to see if the books I am reading are truly as varied as I think they are.
I included this because I have been listening to a lot of people talk about books over the past few months, and I was reminded that many people do not read as much of a variety as I tend to do. I don’t think this is always a bad thing, and I have noticed that I tend to go on runs of fiction or non fiction depending on my mood, but it is something I have started to notice.
This is something I had thought of, but not in terms of the content of a book. Reading Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta made me start considering this more when I realized that I don’t remember the last time I read a book with a same-sex relationship at the center of it. I’m not sure why this is, but I think this is one of those categories where we tend to assume that the audience for a book with a same-sex romance is members of the LBGTQ community.
This assumption makes sense to me, but as someone whose stated goal in reading is to understand the world from perspectives other than my own, it also seems silly. I understood more about what conversion therapy actually entails and so much more from Under the Udala Trees, and I want to be more proactive about seeking books with these stories in them.
I find it incredibly tricky to balance this category in my head. I had some discussions with people about this when determining my rules, and ultimately could never come up with a way to define it, and so I left it out. Without getting into my personal feelings on the topic, what I do what to emphasize is that I recognize that there are many religions that have been discriminated against throughout the years, and there are definitely authors who have to deal with the fact that their names or appearances indicate that they are likely part of certain religions.
However, there are so many places in the world where these appearances and names mean different things, people’s religious associations are generally very personal, and some periods of religious discrimination have received so much more literary space than others that I just can’t find a way to parse this for myself. I am considering these stories and these authors on a case by case basis, and seeking the stories that have not always been heard, and for me, that is good enough.
On a lighter note, does anyone else remember learning about Kwanzaa as a kid? I always heard about it in relation to Hanukkah and Christmas, but only ever saw it in my books until last summer, when I finally met someone whose family celebrated it! Children’s books sometimes do a better job of educating us about these differences than anything else.
I’ve noticed recently that many of the books I hear about from podcasts, blogs or family are new releases, and so many of the books I have read recently are from the last few years. I think that part of this could easily be that given my constraints, there are just more books to pick from getting published recently. Female writers were actually more recommended than male writers according to a survey of librarians (most were still white however), and there is a lot of great fiction and non-fiction available.
However, if you go back 50 years or so, there are simply fewer authors I am able to read. I still think my reading is too heavily concentrated towards the last 2 to 3 years, and I am looking to expand this.
This is a category I only noticed because of a category from a reading challenge I am doing this year. The challenge lists 52 topics or categories for books, and the goal is to read 52 books that meet these criteria. One of them is to read a book that is not from one of the 5 major publishing houses in the United States ( Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster). Even books with other publishing names on them are often imprints, or junior publishing divisions of these 5 companies.
This is a hard category to diversify in. These major publishing houses are able to hire booksellers who hand-sell books to bookstores, and have the means to market their books to many other people. As a book blogger, I even qualify to request galleys from some of these, and who can turn down a free book? But I think its important. These 5 companies are also involved in other forms of media, and when we get 80% of our news and information from the same people, there is a risk that what we are reading or watching is only a small sliver of reality.
I’m not entirely sure where to seek out books from independent publishers. Local book stores will often carry books that have been published regionally, and the Book Riot website, as well as Liberty and Rebecca from Book Riot’s podcast All The Books will occasionally mention their favorite small press books, but it isn’t always easy.
I hope you enjoyed this exploration, and I would love to hear what other types of bookish diversity readers have noticed. I’ll be back Monday with a LOT of books (I finally got my reading legs back!). Have a great weekend!