This month, I only read books by authors of color. I’ve already talked about my reasons for doing so, and I’ve shared two lists (part 1 and part 2) of titles by non-White authors for those looking for a starting point in diversifying their own reading.
Today what I want to do is talk about what I’ve learned and/or taken away from this project. So.
It’s not about the ratings
In all honesty, my average rating for this past month was an all-time low, even for me. If we were to break my reading down in this way and look at how many of these books were new “favorites”, I don’t think we could call this project successful. I’ve had a lot better months, in terms of high ratings alone. But, really, is that the point? I was genuinely interested in every book to begin with, and even if some were disappointing, I think I was still able to take something away from every book I read in August. Even the worst book, which was seriously sexist and misogynistic, informed me about genocide in Bosnia and exposed me to perspectives I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.
For myself, I’m willing to call this successful regardless.
The value in variety
Since #WeNeedDiverseBooks first rose to prominence, I think a lot of people have viewed the push for diversity in publishing as a new “fad” or “trend” or something that’s only for non-White, queer, and/or disabled readers. But that really does a disservice to the power of fiction and the importance of books that reflect the world we live in (even if your immediate community isn’t particularly diverse).
We talk a lot about how stories “take you places”, and I think that because of that, books can be extremely valuable in showing readers characters different from themselves. No, I’m never going to work in a sweatshop in Chinatown or deal with the effects of post-colonialisim in my Caribbean community, but by reading those stories, I gain an understanding that perhaps would have been denied to me, seeing that if I did travel to Chinatown or the Caribbean, I would still be an outsider.
Someone asked me if I wasn’t afraid of “missing out” on good books by only reading non-White authors. Instead, ask yourself this: are you missing out by not reading authors of color?
Bonus: cleanse your palate
Because, within the online reading community, we often go through books at such a fast pace and in such a high volume, there’s often a feeling of bookish deja vu, a feeling that there’s nothing new under the sun in terms of character or plot or prose. If you feel that way, I seriously suggest you pick up diverse fiction and purposefully make it part of your reading life. I guarantee there will be stories and characters there completely unlike the ones you’ve grown accustomed to and tired of. Authors from different backgrounds bring different sorts of narratives to the table; it’s as simple as that.
This month has been invaluable to me in a lot of ways. I’ve learned a lot and experienced new things and come to believe, even more strongly than before, in the power of fiction. I’m very happy that I did this project (and grateful that I had a good, well-stocked library to help along the way). Going forward, I think I’m going to be even more conscientious about supporting and seeking out diverse narratives, since now I know that I will be “missing out” if I don’t make the effort to be more active and purposeful in my reading life.