Disclaimer: I thought I would put this here because I assume certain people are going to have a problem with this post – I am in no way telling you what you should and shouldn’t read. Honestly, read whatever the hell you want to. However, give diverse books a go.
A lot of the discourse surrounding diversity in books has been focused on authors and publishers, and for good reason too – when authors fail to include diversity in their books, and publishers promote and hype said books, teens are less likely to branch out and read diversely.
However, confining to this mentality makes it too easy to continuously blame the book industry and deny any fault that lies on ourselves as readers. Yes, advocate for diversity and yes, support the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement (because they are both massively important) but also remember, reading diversely starts with you. Whilst it may seem like you’re sometimes screaming into a vortex and can’t possibly change what other people read – you need to remember that you can always change what you read and this is what needs to ground you.
During the month of December, I have been reading exclusively diverse books and I must say – it’s been an eye-opener. I have been introduced to a whole new world of diverse and Own Voices books that I was previously unaware of and I am so excited to read them all. However, there are still a large number of people who continuously advocate against diversity in literature and it is these voices that are harmful to the book community. Because I want to do my part to encourage people to read diverse and reiterate the importance of diverse stories, today I’m going to be dissecting some of the arguments I’ve seen readers use to justify why they don’t read diversely and why I think they really should.
I think people are under the impression that the only reason people pick up diverse books is because, well, they’re diverse. I’ve often heard readers exclaim that they don’t read books because they are “diverse”, but instead because they have a good plot or story. Why is it that these two concepts are mutually exclusive? The majority of the diverse books I have read this year have been 4 stars or above and often have overall Goodreads rating that reflect the same. Diverse books aren’t rated highly merely because they are diverse – they are rated highly because they are genuinely amazing. Personally, diverse characters will often lead me to enjoy a book more – not for the inherent fact that the book is diverse but because these diverse characters often add a dimension and realness to the story that non-diverse books lack.
Still, diverse books are still considered inferior to non-diverse books, and a major contributor to this is that they just aren’t hyped enough (which automatically leads to the assumption that they are of poorer quality). This speaks to a deeper trend in the book community where people generally fall into reading patterns, choosing to pick up the book that is hyped up the most or talked about the most by bloggers/booktubers/bookstagrammers rather than the one that is relatively unknown. When these books all feature the same non-diverse characters or are written by non-marginalised authors, persuading readers to buy diverse is much harder (especially in countries where access to lesser-known books is rare). I know it is so tempting to go on Bookstagram, scroll through your feed and just buy the book that appears the most. I know that when a book gets over 10,000 5-star reviews, you’re going to pick it up whether it’s diverse or not. But actively reading diverse is not the same as exclusively reading diverse. A commitment to read diverse is not the same as a commitment to ignore non-diverse books – it is merely a commitment to make an effort to read books by and about marginalised people (and honestly, you’ll be surprised by how many 5-star books you read as a result) along with your current TBR.
I get it, reluctance to change is part of being human. But actively fighting against the change that makes the book community more inclusive to all its members? Nah, you aren’t getting any sympathy for that one. Some readers are against reading diverse because they believe that the “diversity movement” has changed the book community into something it they’d rather it wouldn’t be. This mindset that the book community is “just not the same anymore” is a pretty common one amongst the privileged. It is mindset that is okay with erasing all the hard work that the book community has done so far is getting marginalised voices to be heard.
You know what, fine – let’s go back a few years to when #WeNeedDiverseBooks wasn’t a movement, back to when diversity wasn’t a focus for change in the book community. Actually no, why stop there? Let’s go back 30 years when LGBTQ+ individuals were actively persecuted and were afraid to be their true selves in public. Let’s go back even further, back to the White Australia Policy, back to Segregation, back to when invasive and devastating procedures were used to “cure” those living with Mental Illness. Do you understand how harmful this notion and this fear of change is?
Yes, the book community could do better. It can always do better. But dismissing the validity and importance of diverse books and diverse authors because you don’t appreciate the way in which discourse is held or the way in which it is changing the community? Find a better reason. Oh wait, there isn’t one.
One of the most aggravating arguments I have heard as a justification for not reading diversely is that readers don’t see any point in focusing on a person’s skin tone. Instead, they value “diversity of thought” or “diversity of opinion” and they just generally “don’t see colour/sexuality/gender identity/disabilities”.
For the people who genuinely don’t know why this is offensive, let me try to explain – people of colour, people from the LGBTQ+ spectrum, disabled people, they’ve already had themselves erased from media, literature and other forms of representation over and over again, time after time, year after year. When you say that you don’t see the colour of a character’s skin when reading a book, or don’t particularly care whether or not a marginalised character is represented – that’s your privilege speaking through. It may not be intentional, and you may not want to be hurtful, but that’s just reality. This is privilege that has been built up upon centuries of White/cishet/able-bodied being the social norm. It’s privilege developed because you’ve never had to struggle to see yourself reflected in your favourite characters. It’s privilege that forms because when you were young and dressing up for the local Book Fair, you could have easily been anyone that you wanted to be.
Although your first choice may be to pick up the NYT bestseller (which may be diverse, but is more likely not because of how society works), make an active choice to pick up a diverse book instead. Make an active choice to read about marginalised experiences in order to take apart and understand your privilege. Make an active choice to use your reading experience for not only enjoyment, but to also become empathetic to other’s lives. Use your voice in the community to raise up the voices of others, voices that may be struggling to be heard.
There are so many wonderful Own Voices and diverse books that are looked over in favour of others and we, as readers, need to make a conscientious decision to read them. I hope some of you found this post inspiring and pick up a diverse book. If you’re looking for recommendations – I highly suggest checking out the official #WeNeedDiverseBooks site here, or Naz’s wonderful blog @ Read Diverse Books. If you’re looking for some books to add to your TBR for 2017, I have a list of my most anticipated diverse reads here.
Until next time,