Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On Reading Outside My Experience

I've been tracking data on what I read this year, beyond the usual Goodreads running total.  One thing that stands out to me is that I read mostly white authors.  Like, 85% of what I read.  I've had this in mind for years, intending to do better, and yet that's all the better I do.

And if I find it a little bit wearing to read books about how racist our society is, if I get a bit displeased with only finding myself represented in the bad guys, if I just can't relate to family and cultural history that doesn't match mine...

then I might want to think a little bit about what that implies.  If I met a person of color who read 85% books by people of their own ethnicity and only 15% of everything else, including (but not limited to) white authors--wouldn't I wonder about their agenda?  About their worldview?  And wouldn't I worry about what they were missing out if they read such a narrow slice of all the things I read?

The way it stands, I see myself in everything I read, and if I don't see myself front and center, then there I am living right next door, or teaching the protagonist's class, or possibly stealing the protagonist's land and dignity.  If I move away from American and British lit, I might be less pervasive, but how would I know?  I read a few books by African authors in college, but the only one I really liked was Nadine Gordimer--who's white.  Isabelle Allende writes in English these days, and maybe this isn't the right time to admit this but I cannot read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's looping prose to save my soul.

I know others have challenged themselves to read from a wide variety of cultures, or to only read POC authors for a month, or other such projects to break out of their rut.  And it finally occurred to me (deep breath)--I don't want to.  I don't want to venture that far from my comfort zone.  I mean, yes, I could read Sherman Alexie and Matt de la Peña and Walter Mosley all day long, but I read for fun, and when I think of reading Authors of Color, I think of Serious Literature.

Which, frankly, is stupid of me.

Because for one thing, there are mystery writers and fantasy writers and lighter contemporary novel writers of color.  Duh.  I just need to consciously seek them out.

March was Slice of Life month for me and my blog.  April will be A-Z blogging month.

And in May, I'm going to read over 50% authors of color.  I can't promise 100%, because life happens, and Harry Potter happens, and an author visit from April Henry happens, and my TBR happens. But I'm going to be so much more deliberate, and skew my reading hard in a new direction.

Here's where you come in--please suggest authors and titles.  I like mysteries, somewhere between cozies and hard-boiled.  I like YA fantasy.  I like novels about women living their lives.  I've read a lot of the authors that jump to (my) mind when I think about this goal--Amy Tan, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Arundhati Roy, James Baldwin.   I have a long mental list of serious works I "should" get to-- Rushdie Adichie , more Allende, Ralph Ellison.

What I most need are the fun reads, because that's my bread and butter.  Suggestions for authors, titles, and series are all welcome.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read March, Book 1.


  1. I can't recommend it because I haven't read it yet, but "The Book of Unknown Americans" by Cristina Henríquez is sitting on my nightstand.

    I too have been working hard to diversify my reading list. Recent works by authors of color I have enjoyed include: "We the Animals" by Justin Torres, "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, "How It Went Down" by Kekla Magoon, "More Happy Than Not" by Adam Silvera, and "Re Jane" by Patricia Park.

    Other recommendations: Mindy Kaling's books, anything by Jhumpa Lahiri (especially her first book of short stories, "Interpreter of Maladies"), "The Girl who Fell From the Sky" by Heidi Durrow, "Caucasia" by Danzy Senna, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz (or his short stories).

    If you haven't read any Zora Neale Hurston, pick up "Their Eyes Were Watching God" ASAP! And Octavia Butler's sci-fi is great.

    Happy reading!

    1. Oooh, thank you for all these! I LOVED Aristotle and Dante, and really liked How It Went Down and The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, but haven't read any of the rest.

  2. Your reader confessions and reflections were compelling to read. I loved your realization that reading diverse authors does not mean that you have to read serious tomes. I must admit to being too tired to think of titles right now, although I am a fan of One-Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in a Time of Cholera, and I rarely read mysteries. Maybe I should be on a mission to try a different genre or two! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on expanding your reading diet.

  3. I also track a lot of my reading stats, and I’m trying really hard to read fewer US-born authors this year. I want to read books by people who have a different perspective than me. For recommendations, check out Jhumpa Lahiri, especially her short stories. She writes about women (usually women from India) living their lives.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. I've been surprised at how many Canadian authors pop up on my reading list. Not a ton, but at least as many as British authors. Still, it's not that wildly different of a perspective! I keep meaning to read Lahiri; thanks for the suggestion!

  4. I think it's great you want to diversify your reads, I really should do that too. I like your honesty, as I can relate- sometimes I just want to read what I like and not have some serious read about serious stuff. So yeah. :) Good luck with your goals, and nice post.

  5. I need to be way more intentional about this too. It's really easy to SAY we want to read more diversely - but actually doing it is harder!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


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