October 30, 2015

Feminist Friday: Diversifying Your Reading

I love book lists. I mean, it may be unhealthy how much I love lists of books. I have a GoodReads account, and here are my shelves:

1221. Seriously, that’s ridiculous.

Needless to say, the end of one year, start of the next is an amazing time to accrue new books to read—it seems every news or entertainment or social justice or feminist or atheist site that I follow generates several different lists of books that made a splash during the year. And me…I want to read them all. I’m like a Pokemon trainer for books.

As we get ready to see this year out (yes, it’s that time again, friends), we’ll no doubt see more posts that compile lists of books, and so I’d like to talk about an issue that I, for one, had never really considered before: diversity.

It’s not that I had never thought about it before; I’ve made a  point of searching out diverse books. It just never occurred to me to think, “hey, what’s up with that—why am I having to do all of the legwork to find these books?” until I started perusing book lists.

It was a Buzzfeed list that really crystallized it for me: 47 Books Every College Grad Should Read.

As I cruised through the list, I saw that it was helpfully arranged with the title, followed by a photo of the front cover and a photo of the author, and then a very short snippet of a synopsis. And as I went a little further, I saw something else…there were a lot of women, which was great…but not a lot of racial diversity.

Out of 47 books, 16 were written by males. 31 were (naturally) written by females. Only four of the ones by males were written by men of color, and women of color were only represented six times. Out of 47 books, about 10 appeared to be written by people of color.

Now, I’ll be honest: I’m not an expert. I tried to source this information by looking at the bios of the authors, as well as the photographs, so I could be off…but I don’t think that I am by much, if I am.

That’s kind of ridiculous to me, and it made me curious—how did some of my other lists stack up?

“21 Books From The Last 5 years Every Woman Should Read” on HuffPo gave me 21 books by female authors…but only 7 of them appeared to be women of color. At least that’s a third, a bit better than the around 20% of the ones in the  Buzzfeed post.

Buzzfeed’s “19 Books To Read if You Loved Harry Potter” was pretty awful. None of the authors appeared to be people of color. The gender disparity wasn’t too bad though: 10 male, 9 female.

Perhaps the worst list of all was “10 Books For Skeptics” from Skeptic North: No women, no people of color.

In all fairness, this was a pretty cursory look, more for my own benefit than for anyone else. I wasn't even thinking of writing it up as I did it--I was purely curious. And this didn't account for all of the lists that I read along with this year--I'm sure that I could find more diverse lists too. But it did serve to illustrate that I, personally, should be careful to make sure that I'm diversifying my own reading.

In February, XOJane ran a piece where K.T. Bradford challenged readers not to read books by straight, white males for a year. The comment section blew up with people who were absolutely offended by the suggestion—they read what stories appeal to them, you know.

As I looked through these lists with a (again, cursory and untrained eye), I was struck by how few diverse characters were represented. I didn’t delve into sexual orientation, although I might in the future, let alone the presentation of transgender characters or authors. It reminded me of Bradford’s posts and the people that argued that they didn’t seek out diverse writers, but just read what they liked. How do you know if you like diverse writers, though, if you don’t put in the effort to find them?

It’s become abundantly clear to me that it’s not enough to just rely on lists compiled by my favorite sites to discover new writers and works that I’ll enjoy. I’m going to have to stretch my legs a bit.

I also find myself driven to commit to bringing more diverse writers to the attention of those of you that bear with me and read this blog.

So as I’m reading them, I’ll pass them along, and perhaps together, we can help turn this around so that our reading lists begin to better reflect the world that reads them.

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