Hi all! I’m participating in the Dive Into DiversityChallenge hosted by Rather be Reading and Reading Wishes this year, and I’m enjoying it so far, but I’ve run into a roadblock or two. The biggest one, and the one I’d love some input on, is: what does it mean to read diversely?
One of the suggested titles to read for this challenge was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I really enjoyed it, and I’d recommend it to anyone who liked Ender’s Game and/or enjoys some good 80s nostalgia. However, I’m not really sure where “diversity” comes in. The main character, Wade, is a white male, as is the author—not very diverse. On the other hand, Wade is poor, as is much of the country in this vision of the future. Does that make it diverse? (Economically diverse?)
People in the OASIS can be whatever color, age, gender, etc. that they want; you can also be a witch or a wizard or any manner of fantastical creature. Some of the people Wade meets along the way have taken advantage of this, using avatars that don’t match their real-life gender, age, or race. We don’t find this out until toward the end, though, so I don’t know if it qualifies as “diverse.”
My next Dive Into Diversity read is probably going to be Little Peach by Peggy Kern. Peggy is white, but women are still disadvantaged in the publishing world, so does that alone make it diverse? Is it the topic—underage prostitution—that makes it diverse? I don’t yet know what race or sexual orientation the protagonist is; if she’s a PoC, does that make it diverse, even if it’s written by a white straight woman? I’ve also read Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones for the challenge—I would definitely consider that one diverse, as it’s written by a woman of color about women of color.
When you try to read diversely, what “boxes” do you check before you consider a book diverse? Does the book have to be written by an author of color? A woman? An LGBTQ author? Or does the book just have to have diverse characters (LGBTQ, people of color, economic diversity, differently-abled, etc.)? But what if the diverse characters are written by someone who isn’t “diverse”? Does that make it less authentic/less diverse? I want to say yes, but is that fair?
Sorry if I rambled a bit—there are a lot of questions here. I’d love to hear your opinions on any and all of them!
When it comes to diversity, I guess I would mainly pick characters different from me,. I wouldn't necessary consider poor to be a characteristic of diversity, but I can understand why others do. If a book has characters that are a different race or sexuality, then yes I consider that diverse. When it comes to YA =, I actually consider it a bit diverse if the protagonist is male. Most YA books have female protagonists. Great discussion!ReplyDelete
Thanks for your input! What do you think about authors writing diverse characters when they aren't diverse themselves (i.e. a white person writing about PoC, a straight person writing about LGBTQ characters, etc.)?Delete
I suppose for me reading diversely would mean reading different genres and maybe subject matters that are different from my every day things. But you're right, diversity means something different to each of us.ReplyDelete
I've definitely begun reading some different genres, which has been fun! It's always nice to see what else is out there. This particular challenge, though, is more about seeking out diverse authors as well as diverse characters (PoC, LGBTQ, etc. etc.)—and I've been struggling with trying to figure out *how* diverse something has to be to qualify.Delete
I don't try to read diverse-I just read whatever catches my eye regardless of MC gender, race, colour, sexual orientation, etc. I just want to read good books with kickass female or male MCs, amusing sidekicks and humour/action throughout. While I think there could be more diversity in the characters in books, I just read what appeals by genre and plot so I can get the right books for my taste. If the characters in the chosen books are diverse, that is a bonus but it doesn't define my reading!ReplyDelete
Most of the time, I do the same thing—I usually read books that appeal to me, period. But I thought this challenge would be a good way to expand my horizons, and also support diverse authors. :)Delete
Personally, I think diversity in reading means trying genres and authors you wouldn't normally select.ReplyDelete
I saw this challenge back in January and thought about participating, but upon reading the description I didn't, because I didn't think I could easily find diverse authors or themes that met what I read as the meaning of criteria: LGBTQ, race, religion, geography of either characters or author. Ask yourself if you're expanding your own horizons in any way? If you're putting this much thought into it, you're doing it right.
I'm definitely expanding my horizons! But I think it's also important to expand them in specific ways, which is why I'm taking part in this particular challenge. Thinking about my favorite authors, I'm pretty sure they're almost all white, and almost all male. That can't be a coincidence, right? There must be other people out there—PoC, women, LGBTQ people—who write the kinds of books I'd like, no? So I'm trying to seek them out, because if I don't (and if we as readers don't), they could very well get relegated to the sidelines when they don't actually belong there.Delete
I think of reading diversely as reading a variety of books that give you a perspective at different view points. I don't think one book on its own has to be diverse. Reading all LGBTQ books, or all books by African American authors, is not necessarily reading diversely. Although it might be a book that ticks the check boxes of being by or about a minority group, I weigh the variety of books more highly.ReplyDelete
Yes, different viewpoints are a must! I agree that reading *all* of anything, even if it's about or by a disadvantaged group, isn't necessarily diverse. I'm trying to get a variety of viewpoints, and I think the list I have down has a pretty good mix, so maybe I'm doing alright :)Delete
I second Elizabeth that the diversity attached to Ready Player One is that of genre diversity. In looking over the list of books suggested, many seem to be "accessible" examples of whichever type of diversity they represent - books that someone reading outside their typical reading comfort zone won't find too challenging. For those who don't normally read sci fi or geek culture, this is a book that's not too hard to find your way into. It's a fun read, it has characters that are easy to relate too, and it takes place in a world of the future that isn't too far removed from our own. I don't normally read sci fi, but I found this book really easy to get into. I think for many of us who tend to read within our own genre niche, finding inroads to other genres can be as important a way of experiencing the literary world diversely as reading books by diverse authors or about diverse characters.ReplyDelete
Very good point! I guess I didn't really see it that way because I like and read a good amount of sci-fi. Thanks for making that point!Delete
I try to read authors of color as they are systemically discriminated against in publishing in a way much more severe even than women are.ReplyDelete
I read lots of genres as is, so I don't really "think" about that one. Any given month I will ALWAYS be reading some literary fiction, some nonfiction, some poetry, some genre fiction.
I naturally read about 50-50 men and women so I don't pay attention to that one either. I don't need to.
I usually have a pretty good representation of GLBTQ authors so I check in on that occasionally to make sure I'm still doing it, but I don't think about that much, either. It just happens.
BUT if I am not actively trying I will end up reading 90% or more white authors, so I am very deliberate about making sure that doesn't happen. Therefore, for my own purposes, the only "diversity" I'm looking at is whether or not the author is white. Because I'm already reading diversely in just about every other way.
Therefore I personally wouldn't count most of the books you listed as "diverse," but that's because they don't offer the kind of diversity I need in my reading life.
What I think is more important (and a little concerning!) is that YOU don't really see them as diverse!
define "diverse" however you want, but define it in a way that pushes you to read authors from marginalized communities that you wouldn't have before. Otherwise, if the demographics of your reading don't change, what's the point?
Well, my issue is that I'm struggling with what it means (both to me and to the wider community) to read "diversely." If I read a whole bunch of romance novels, that's outside my usual genre preference, so...is that diverse? I would argue that no, it isn't really, because (to me, I guess) the point of reading diversely here is, like you said, to expand the demographics of my reading. So unless I'm specifically seeking out romance novels written by or about LGBTQ people or by people of color, I would say it doesn't count.Delete
But that's why I'm wondering if certain titles are diverse *enough.* Is it diverse enough if there are diverse characters, but the author is white/straight/what have you? Is it diverse enough if the author is a person of color or LGBTQ but the characters don't necessarily fall into those categories? Where's the line?
I suppose this is something that I have to decide for myself, like you also said. But getting some discussion around the topic is what's going to help me do that.
I devoted 2014 to reading more diversely. I categorized every book by the author's gender, race, and nationality, and the same with the protagonist(s) for fiction. This left out a lot of categories (like LGBTQ, [dis]ability, minority religions) because I couldn't reliably determine these for everyone in my data set, but it gave me a place to start, and a way to measure whether I succeeded. The main lesson I took away is not to dismiss book recommendations just because I think it wouldn't be of interest to me, as this tends to rule out more "diverse" authors and books. You can read all my thoughts on the year here.ReplyDelete
Wow, interesting! That's one way to go about it. I'm sort of flying by the seat of my pants here =P Thanks for linking!Delete
I noticed that I ended up reading a diverse amount of books lately due to MC color, gender , sexual orientation or even disabilities. I even make a point to try and find those books with autistic children or teens because I have children with it. I didn't make it goal but I became more aware of it since the kerfuffle with BEA last year.ReplyDelete
That's great that you've managed to find and read diverse books basically by accident! I wish that happened for me but I'm very much a comfort reader and tend to stick to genres and authors I'm familiar with. Doing this challenge has helped push me out of that comfort zone a little bit :)Delete
Silver Sparrow is one of my favorites! I enjoyed that book immensely.ReplyDelete
Coming from the perspective of an author of color, the issue with reading diversely is not to TRY. If it's going to be a project, with a list and some boxes to check off, it's hardly beneficial. Diverse authors-- of color especially-- want you to be interested in and invested in their stories. You don't know how many times we hear 'I just can't relate to that'. Over multiple genres, diverse authors have been sharing and putting their work out there and it's all there for the taking, specifically indie authors. We're not being snapped up by publishing and we're certainly not being catered to in the market. And yet we're not hiding.
To me, a diverse read is anything out of the ordinary. A romance with two black leads. A story about an aboriginal child. A deaf midwife. I mean... really if it isnt about a dead white man (or even an alive one? ) we can call it diverse. I think the depth and breadth of diverse reading can be personally defined. To some it might be 'books by women'. To some, it's books by Chinese women. To some it's books by Chinese women born in China.
I applaud an effort to expand tastes and horizons, even if you stick to a genre you find yourself drawn to. There's plenty out there for all of us. We just ask that those horizons stay expanded and that you talk about the reads you find compelling. It doesn't get better until these reads become more mainstream and that doesn't happen without word of mouth.
I love what you said about the point is not to TRY, because I think that's it exactly! It bothers me when people ask "how many" diverse characters they need to read or write in order for a book to be truly "diverse." To me, that misses the entire point.Delete
Thank you so much for your reply. I'm trying mostly to diversify the source of my books, if not necessarily the topic/genre (I'm still mostly drawn to sci-fi/horror/thrillers/literary fiction). There are so many authors out there who deserve more attention than they get, and I'm hoping to bring a little more attention to them with this challenge.Delete
In Ready Player One, Aech, whose avitar is a white male is revealed to be...an african-american lesbian girl. I guess that's where the diversity comes in, although I didn't remember that and wouldn't have thought of this book as being on a list of books that represented diversity.ReplyDelete
I haven't read through all of the comments so I apologize if I repeat what other people have already said. :)ReplyDelete
I guess, there's two kinds of reading diversely... The kind where you just branch out of your comfort zone and read books you wouldn't normally read, which is great but the thing about that is, it's just about you. The other kind is the type of diversity that people have been talking about so much in the past year or so -- reading books by/about people that are oppressed in society/publishing, because then it shows publishers that there is a demand for those books which in turn will lead to better representation of those groups in publishing and in literature.
I don't think reading a book by a white female author ticks the second box, because while women may still be oppressed, white women aren't particularly discriminated against in publishing in general. There are specific genres where female authors are given a hard time (e.g. science fiction or crime), so reading female authors within those genres would count.
A book with a poor character doesn't tick the second box either really, because there is plenty of representations of that out there (Harry Potter, for example, has the Weasley family and it's one of the most famous book series out there).
If you're aiming for the type of diverse reading that can help marginalized groups get better representation in publishing, this is the sort of thing you should look for:
-Books with characters, especially main characters, who aren't white (especially ones who don't have white washed covers). If they're written by white authors, maybe check some reviews first to make sure it's not an offensive misrepresentation, but I wouldn't discount them entirely because it still shows a demand for more non-white characters.
-Books with characters who are not straight (there has been more of these in the past few years, but they're still mostly stuck in that "Coming Out" phase and don't have many books that just have characters who are out and happy with their sexuality and their romances are treated the same way straight romance is).
-Books with characters who are not cisgendered.
-Books by authors who aren't white.
-Books with Muslim main characters, or other religions that are discriminated against.
-Books set in countries with a really different culture or non-white majority race/religion (e.g. African countries, predominantly Muslim countries, etc.).
-Books with main characters who aren't thin or have weight issues (especially ones that have a cover that reflects the content instead of one with a pretty, stick-thin model on the cover).
-Books with main characters with a disability.
...There's probably way more, but that's all I can think of right now. But yeah, reading more diversely in general is always a good thing. :)
Thanks for a great reply! You've given me a lot to think about. In general, books that have people on the cover are books I don't want to read (I don't know why this is, really—but they tend to be romance/YA/other things I'm not into) so I'm not overly worried about whitewashed covers =P but beyond that, you make a lot of great points and gave me a lot of ideas for what to look for.Delete
I think everyone hit lots of nails on heads in the prior comments, I just wanted to say thank you for posing these questions. I hadn't really stopped to ponder what it means to read diversely, just sort of went about my way trying to pick different things with no "system." I appreciate you making me think about it a bit more and trying to push the boundaries even further with a little foresight and planning.ReplyDelete
I'm doing a Diverse Books Project on my Youtube channel this year (https://www.youtube.com/user/melbourneonmymind if you're interested), and I'm limiting it to books where the narrator is a person of colour, LGBTQIA+, or has a disability.ReplyDelete
So far, I've read 7 books with POC narrators, 2 with LGBTQIA+ narrators, and 1 where the narrator's blind. I've got some on my TBR list which head into Venn diagram territory (a bisexual African American narrator, for example), which is pretty damned exciting.
I haven't gone so far as to say "I only want to read from diverse authors", because sometimes it's hard to know if an author is diverse (short of saying to them "Hey, I know you're married, but do you identify as queer in any way?"), and I think if the author does sufficient amounts of research and talks with the community that they're trying to represent in their story, it can still work well. (That said, 6 of the 10 books I've read so far have been from diverse authors)
I have been doing this challenge as well and have come up with similar questions. I actually just read Laura Ruby's Bone Gap and have been wondering whether to put it on the list. One of the MCs has a condition called face blindness, which is certainly unusual, and another grew up in Poland and is still very much connected to the culture. However, the Polish MC is white, which makes me think I ought to focus on the character with face-blindness, though he is white as well.ReplyDelete
For the most part, the books on my list for this challenge are either written by people of color and/or LGBTQ authors or about people of color, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, etc. However, I think it is possible to count books like Little Peach that feature characters who are disenfranchised by society because of various aspects of their identity or situation.
Basically, I think the idea of diversity can encompass many different parts of identity, and I think that's what this challenge is really trying to teach and promote :)
I've thought about this a lot, too. I really struggle classifying books where the MC is a white, rich, etc. character but the supporting cast isn't. Is that enough to make it diverse? I think they get SOME kudos for not having a completely white-bread book, but...ReplyDelete
I think where I've landed is that the MC and/or the love interest have to be diverse in some way. That can be race, economic status, mental status, whatever. Being a girl isn't enough to be diverse, for sure. And I don't knock off points for a white author, though a diverse author definitely gets bonus points. If that makes sense.
Glad you're enjoying the challenge so far! What classifies as diverse can get a little complicated when you try to define what is and what isn't. Economically diverse counts, too. It's not something I straight away think of when I think of diversity though. Everyone has a slight difference between what classifies a diverse book, but as long as it feels diverse for you, I think that's all that counts! And I don't think a diverse book written by a non-diverse authors counts any less. After all, I think we're all pretty diverse people in our ways, no? And I don't consider a book by a female as diverse.ReplyDelete
As for what "classifies", WNDB says: We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process. So I wouldn't get too caught up with what counts and what doesn't. As long as you're spreading your wings and reading diverse books? That's the main thing!
Also, Little Peach is on my diverse TBR, but I'm not sure how? From what I can gather, it's because the MC is from a low socioeconomic area?
Highly recomend both N K Jemisen and Melissa Scott --Jemisen is a female POC and is on my "buy everything she writes" list and so is Melissa Scott, who writes non-cisgendered fantasy. "A Bollywood Affair" is another book I read recently that I liked. For me diversity also encompasses books about non-U.S.cultures, many of which are neither romances nor YA, but lots of good reading anyway. My preference is to find women authors from those countries, but sometimes that is not easy.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the recommendations! I'm personally not a fan of romance or YA, so those books sound perfect for me!Delete
We seem to have begun using "diverse" as a code word for POC, or LGBT, or person with a disability, when in fact it really means "showing variety." It strikes me a bit odd when someone refers to one character as being "diverse." To me, reading diversely just means reading about a variety of different characters. I read a lot of books with LGBT main characters so for me that's not really diverse, but if I want to read more diversely I might read more books with characters who are African-American or Latino or who live in countries outside of the US/UK. As other commenters have said, it depends on your perspective and what you normally read.ReplyDelete
Yeah, "diverse" has really shifted in meaning over the past few years. I definitely read a lot of white authors who write about white protagonists so almost anything at this point could potentially count, but I'm trying to not just "check boxes" (as much as my post might have made it seem like that). I honestly can't think of a single book I've read with an LGBT main character, so if you have any to recommend, I would love to add some to my list!Delete
I read a ton of YA and there are many with LGBT characters recently. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, and I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson are a few that spring to mind. It's a little tougher with adult books though, as evidenced by the Queer Book Group at the library where I work and the difficulty they've had coming up with titles. I don't know why it's so different for adult books. But I highly recommend Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith by Sarah Waters if you haven't read them.Delete
I haven't read any Sarah Waters but I'd heard a lot of good things about The Paying Guests. I'll have to check out the other two as well. Also, I'm personally more into adult than YA, but it's great that so many YA titles have LGBT characters these days!Delete
I wasn't crazy about The Paying Guests actually, though it was beautifully written.Delete