Reading Diversely?

Bookish Stuff / Monday, January 12th, 2015

The subject of reading diversely seems to be on the lips of many book bloggers but mostly, Booktubers on You Tube.  Diverse reading struck the Booktube community as if it was the first time anyone had ever heard of it.  For those who don’t know the meaning of the word diverse, it is best defined as “showing a great deal of variety; very different”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary Online.  The two words that jump out at me in the definition are variety and different.

Before all of this hoopla started, Booktubers wanted to read people of color and that was stated openly, but not by many.  Now everybody says they want to read diversely and that means authors of color and anybody else that isn’t white.  After a recent discussion on Twitter with Estella’s Revenge and some other bloggers, it was brought to my attention that white, male, straight authors were being used as some sort of benchmark to decide what is considered diverse reading.  People on Twitter admitted to Googling authors, as crazy as that sounds, to try to figure out if they were white or not, and to determine if they could be considered as part of their diverse list.  Some were even surprised that authors didn’t mention their race in their bios and seemed to be surprised that some authors were not easily identifiable from their pictures.

Well no, authors don’t have to mention their race in their bios, and for your information, you can be very fair-skinned and still be black. Surprise!  But let’s not get off track.  I think many writers dislike the thought of being pigeonholed.  It’s like being reduced to your race, your nationality, your sexual preference, or even to a handicap.  I have always read diversely my entire life so this has never been some issue that I felt I needed to regulate somehow or something I felt I needed to announce to everybody.  I say, if you want to read a variety of literature then stop talking about it and do it.  In the end, when you do it no one is going to give you a prize because you do.  Lumping authors all together because they aren’t white, straight, males doesn’t valorize at all the differences in authors.

Another thing that seems blatantly obvious to me is that, what is diverse to one person is not to another.  So if you’re a white, straight, male reading diversely might be reading women, black, LGBTQ writers, where if you are American, reading diversely might be reading more translated work, and so on.  Reading diversely for me means reading what is different from me.  As readers we should all be happy to discover what is different from us.  It is one way to learn more about the world.  Discovering those differences is enriching and should not be reduced to a psychological guilt trip backed up with percentages and spreadsheets.  In the end, it feels like #LetMeGetInMyRacialQuota.(a friend of mine’s clever hashtag)  Some will not be ready for this discovery through reading and that’s fine too.  That meaningful reading journey will come in time.   As for Black authors, they exist and are out there.  It’s up to the readers to want to find them, but most of all to read them.  The Black community have been and are supporting Black authors.

I wish everybody lots of pleasurable reading in 2015 and discovery of new places, people, and cultures.  Hope this doesn’t come off as to harsh, but this topic has haunted the internet for a while now and I felt the need to give my opinion.  So, what do you think about diverse reading?

51 Replies to “Reading Diversely?”

  1. I think reading diversity is important to be aware of but I’m not sure that we should all be so obsessed about it. It is something that I’m mindful of but I don’t think it makes me a more virtuous reader. It just lets me see the world from all different perspectives and that’s a good thing. Great post. Sometimes we need some tough love!

  2. ” I say, if you want to read a variety of literature then stop talking about it and do it. In the end, when you do it no one is going to give you a prize because you do. Lumping authors all together because they aren’t white, straight, males doesn’t valorize at all the differences in authors.”

    Love this. Despite the fact that I’ve done all the crazy things you mentioned, from Googling to making spreadsheets and announcing my “stats” on my blog. I’ve had that same feeling Estella described when I realized some bloggers are ALSO training LGTBQ authors and it’s like, how on earth am I supposed to know THAT? Like am I supposed to tweet at authors and ask them about their sexual preference?? That feels gross and way too far.

    The usual argument for reading diverse or whatever, is that the literary publications, reviews, media, awards, and marketing budgets are all stacked in favour of straight white men, and that will never change unless and until people start buying the books of not-straight-white-men in significant numbers. Like, we as readers have to prove the worth of “diverse” authors somehow… feels kind of backwards, right?

    As I mentioned, I did the whole stats thing. I don’t track throughout the year, I just try to count it up at the end. This year I noticed I didn’t review a couple books that I really loved, and that they were postcolonial stories… and maybe it’s because I’m scared to say the wrong thing. I’ve decided to get over that and review everything I love, regardless.

    But I agree with your point that instead of talking and hashtagging about it, JUST DO IT. I intend to 🙂

    1. I’m glad you get my point Laura. The more people actually start reading book from people that are different from them and talking about them that just seems more productive to me. Hope you’ll be reviewing a few of those postcolonial books that you said you liked. I look forward to it.

  3. You know I agree. Also, I think that this bandwagon has been a way for people to make up for the fact that they don’t have a lot of people in their life that fall into these “diverse” categories. There seems to be an expectation that a novel can “educate” you on the history and/or condition of an entire culture. If you have different or higher expectations of a writer that doesn’t look like you or identify as you do then there’s a problem.

    1. And to add one more thing. We (meaning people that fall into that wonderful “diverse” category) BUY books! We support ourselves and (very often) each other. Publishers know this. When someone says that “if we buy these books, publishers will listen,” you’re ignoring people like me and that isn’t okay. Your money shouldn’t matter more than mine.

  4. THANK YOU for saying what I have been feeling but have been afraid to put into words. I’ve also found myself feeling a little meh about all the declarations to read diversely and yet I tried to tell myself that it was a good thing, and it is. But in the end it does sort of come off sounding like quotas needing to be met. I read diversely because different settings, different people, different cultures/religions and different authors interest me, and I naturally gravitate toward them without thinking. I hope for readers to read diversely because that is what they want to do, not because it’s what they feel they ought to do. But maybe this first push is the beginning.

  5. I the past years I never looked into the race of an author (Can I just say here that I find the word race such a weird word to use when it comes to people.. Idk, maybe it’s just not used in this way here (the Netherlands) I guess it would translate to ‘ras’ in Dutch which is something used for animals like say a chihuahua is a different ‘ras’ than a pit bull, but both of them are dogs)

    Back on topic. At the end of 2014 I did decided to look into my reading stats for the first time and discovered that I pretty much only read white authors (except for 3 books written by the same chinese/american author. That said I did only look at goodreads profiles of authors, some might not have been white..) and I was actually pretty shocked by that statistic. I would have expected there to be more diversity. So yeah for me this is something that I want to change in 2015. I’m not aiming for a percentage or anything, I just want to experience different cultures more, look at (well read from I guess..) things from a different perspective.

    For me this isn’t really the ‘I want to read more diverse!’ thing though. Well in a way it is, but it’s also a going back to reading diverse. Before I discovered booktube I might not have read as much as I do now, but what I read was quite different and I kind of want to go back to that. Booktube introduced me to many new things (which I definitely want to continue to read) but it also got me excited for hyped up books. Mostly the ya variety and I guess that, especially by the end of last year, I was realizing that these books weren’t giving me what I wanted from books at all..

    (Kind of feel like I’m going to start writing In circles without even coming to the point of what I wanted to say.. Sorry having a hard time expressing these things in English because it’s not my first language..)

    1. Race just means a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language, etc or an ethnic group. This probably doesn’t mean that much to you or you have some difficulty understanding it because you’re Dutch and your relationship with people of color and your perception of them is probably very different. As for you reading diversely, I say if that’s what you’ve decided to do then good luck with it but that doesn’t mean that formal announcements are necessary. Happy reading!

      1. Not sure if the relationship/perception is different because of being Dutch, maybe it’s just the words used to express? Idk, it might be both or neither 😛
        If i were to use the word race here when it comes to people that would be considered very offensive racist, but at the same time i do believe that the Netherlands can be very racist (as a country and many individuals)
        I mean we recently had the whole sinterklaas/zwarte(black)piet discussion.. (not sure how much attention this got in other countries? ) and I seriously cannot believe how people cannot at least understand that yes, the whole zwarte(black)piet thing is racist..

        When it comes to all the formal announcements I definitely do agree with you!
        I do however feel like maybe it’s done like all the other new year’s resolutions (how many people announce to lose weight, quit smoking etc.) not at all saying that this is a good or a bad thing (in all honesty I haven’t formed an opinion on it and might be guilty of it myself (though not to the booktube extend))

        As far as the bandwagon thing I’m also really not sure about it. If it’s done with good intentions, is it really that bad of a bandwagon to jump on? (like maybe it you weren’t aware and hearing others talk about it made you more aware and wanting to change your own readinghabits? Though if it’s just to have your stats look good or because everyone else is doing it there is definitely a problem.)

        Also (sorry my comment is getting super long..) I read in one of your replies to another comment that finding books by black authors is quite easy, but I don’t think it really is? At least not where I live. We don’t have sections like black interests (or whatever culture etc. you’re looking for) in bookstores or our libraries, especially not when you read (mostly) in English. I’m lucky to find a shelf with English books at all.. But this might be different for someone living in an English speaking country or a big city with bigger bookstores.

        1. When I was talking about finding books by Black authors being easy, I meant in Anglophone countries of course. Bandwagon are not just there to jump on. One should first analyze why they are jumping on them. Reading diversely because everybody else is and the person hasn’t even tried to figure out what reading diversely is to them doesn’t make sense. People should read diversely if they choose and if they do so don’t be expected to be congratulated for it. Reading a book by a Black author isn’t supposed to be such a big deal. The using the word race is not racist. Race in English means a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language, etc. or an ethnic group.

  6. You have made a few interesting points, some of which I have been thinking about as well. I think reading diversly for the sake of reading diversly is not necessary the best approach. it is better to approach “diversity” with an active interest to learn from it and attempt to relate to the experiences. On the otherhand, it does serve as a help to people who have not considered to “read out of the box” and to broaden their horizons. What irked me a little in the “reading diversly tag” on youtube is that reading diversly is equated to reading books from a different country. Furthermore, many listed foreign authors writing about native experiences, which for me defeats the point of letting the voice of ethnic minorities be heard. And as you have pointed out, it really is more about reading what is different to us. To me personally, reading diversly includes a variety of literary genres as well, expanding my reading experience from modernism and magical realism to biographies and war literature. I also didn’t think of including LGBTQA literature as well, thank you for listing that as well!

    1. Thanks! You’ve understood me well. I just wanted people to stop trying to dictate to others what could be considered as diverse reading and constantly going on and on about it when we know that after a few months the majority of Bootube will forget all about it.

  7. And some of us are just trying to pursue a genuine interest with some focus because we’re list-makers. No quotas, no unrealistic expectations to learn about a whole culture, just a desire to read beyond ourselves but nerd out about it at the same time.

  8. I guess I’m going to be one of the few people who disagrees. That is to say, I understand what you mean, but I don’t think that people are trying to read diversely to hit a quota – I think they are trying to read diversely to do exactly what you are saying they should do.

    It’s great that you read diversely by default, but many people don’t. I would say that most people, when they are passive about their reading, probably read less than 10% of books by authors of color (however many issues there may be with the term “authors of color”). There’s really no way to up that stat without first recognizing it and then working to change it. I agree that people define diverse reading in many (often vague) ways, but at least they are recognizing that they want to read more widely than they have in the past and then make the goal to change the way they read going forward.

    White male authors are used as the benchmark not because they are the norm but because they get published more often than any other group and they DEFINITELY get reviewed by professional publications WAY more than any other group.

    No one ever cares when people say “I want to find more books by women” or “I want to read more books about global warming,” so I think we should cut people some slack and know that they mean well when they say something like, “I want to read more about life in Asia.” In the beginning, it may involve Googling authors to see where they are from and what they write about, but soon, it will become easier for people to find resources that showcase books outside of their own experiences and then they can just find those books the same way they find books now. But currently, most newspapers and magazines focus their reviews and most publishers focus their advertising dollars on the white male, so a lot of people DO have to resort to some “icky” measures to find diverse authors. I think we should blame those publishers and publications a lot more than we should blame the bloggers/BookTubers that are trying to diversify their reading.

    I guess what I’m trying (and taking a long time) to say is that I don’t think the goal is a #LetMeGetInMyRacialQuota. I think it really IS a goal to read about what’s different from their own experiences, as you suggest. But to do that, a lot of people need to define what’s different from their own experiences.

    I hope that makes sense. I have had a long email conversation with Andi from Estella’s Revenge on this topic and really have worked hard myself to diversify my reading and encourage other readers to do so, too, so I admit I have a very vested interest in this debate. It’s been so interesting to see all the different opinions, and I’m really glad people are opening up to talk about it – I think that’s a step in the right direction vs keeping quiet and continuing down the same road of good intentions/bad actions.

    1. We can agree to disagree.Well it seems that way too me, that people are trying to hit quotas. One doesn’t have to go far to find books by black authors or women authors, they just have to go to their local library or to the Black Interests section in Barnes & Noble. Why is it that reading diversely has become so important because White Booktubers say it is. There are plenty of book tubers that read diversely but it seems as if the Booktube community only seems to take notice of certain recommendations. I feel invested in this debate as well because I am Black and hopefully a future author one day who has no desire to be catalogued only by my race and my sex. Diversify your reading is a great thing if that’s what you really want to do but shaming others into it isn’t the way. No one is giving awards to readers who read diversely. People don’t have to shout off the roofs about it. I’m certainly not going to expect to be congratulated because I read On the Road by Kerouac.

  9. I can think of nothing better than finding a great storyteller from another culture, race, language, planet or whatever that’s been translated into English or written In English that lets me get into the mind, place, society, character of someone completely different to me. That’s my reading right there, it just means looking further than what the bookshop or bestsellers offer.

    It’s one of the reasons I love following your blog Deidre, because I know I get great recommendations from you whether we are reading well known writers or little known ones.

    I always look at where a writer comes from and whether they’ve had another cultural experience, like 2nd generation immigrants who’ve had a foot in 2 cultures, that to me is diverse as well, because of their unique insights.

    Great post girlfriend! Change nothing, you’re doing good. 🙂

  10. Whew! Way to get people thinking, commenting, laughing….scowling! Thanks for a great post! I remember [back in the “olden” days-lol] when I visited a library and choosing a book to read was like being on a treasure hunt where I was lead by instinct and curiosity: sometimes book cover designs, titles, fonts, and brief dust jacket descriptions inspired my choices. Book covers weren’t peppered with as many “blurbs” from well-known writers like they are now; and there didn’t seem to be as much hype leading the way. When urban public libraries started putting all of the “Afro-American”-authored literary works in one section, they were hoping to make it easy for patrons to find these works [because there were much fewer being published then than now]. Bookstores later followed suit. But then a strange thing happened: many black people came in and went straight for those shelves ONLY, while non-black people purposely avoided those shelves like the plague! It may be hard for some folks to believe, but all sorts of ethnic studies, women’s studies, LGBT studies, environmental studies, etc.—basically DIVERSITY in [American] education—is all less than 50 years old, so, the process of reading diversely is still in its infancy, I think. Something tells me I’m going to be thinking about this for a while.

    1. I totally agree. This has just been one of those topics that everybody keeps mentioning but it would just be better to get on with it and stop announcing it. Half the time it’s the people who read the fewest Black authors or “diversely” who talk the most.

  11. Argh, I just wrote out a long comment and lost it because I wasn’t logged in!

    A brilliant post Didi, and the discussion just shows what a stalwart of this community you are.

    I totally agree with you, and find discussion of ‘diversity’ to often mean ‘black’. What I find troubling about this on the booktube is that it can become a competition of who is the most “diverse” – and does become a #gettingdiversereadingin type thing. It’s almost like collecting things – I read 5 books by Muslim people and 3 by black lesbians, look how diverse I am! I’m more open minded because I’ve read xxxx. It’s like another form of consumerism, fuelled by a different aim. It’s actually possible to do something without it being a Project or announcement. I started drifting away from the booktube community a bit, and became kind of disillusioned by the conquest element. So many hauls, so many aims and lists and.. I started getting less joy from watching it all. It’s like the Oscar Wilde quote, “It’s what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it” – but .. it’s what you read when nobody’s watching, rather than ‘when you don’t have to’.

    Part of me wonders whether peoples’ intentions matter though, if the final result is that they are reading something they otherwise wouldn’t. I don’t know. Just some thoughts 🙂

    1. Allie so glad to hear from you. Well I’m glad you got my point. The over competition thing about reading diversely started to bug me and I felt I needed to finally express myself about it. I decided to use this platform because it’s the one where I have enough time to write and I can get everything in. Your Oscar Wilde quote is spot on! Reading is supposed to be a pleasure for us all and discussing the books we read is too. I just couldn’t bear another video about diversity that just doesn’t add anything to the conversation. On Booktube the competition is on to be diverse but a lot of Book tubers don’t even seem to know what that is and haven’t taken the time to think about before they all start jumping on another bandwagon for the bandwagon. Diversity is the word to drop in a video now. The intention matters I feel because then at least you’re really trying to understand something that you’re reading and not just reading it to say that you read it. Often I hear, “Oh I read xxxxx I really wanted to love it but I just couldn’t feel anything, blah, blah, blah… Oh well at least if anything, I hope that people will really read what they want to read and that they will really give things a try if they decide to step out of their comfort zones. We miss you over on Booktube Allie! 🙂

  12. I have seen the videos and watched and always felt like oh wow why the apologies like you finally found you a colored friend, well bless your little heart. Okay seriously i am older then most of those who i have watched “read diversely” and keep tabs to show and prove. And wondered if i did the same with all the white male and female writers i read, for one it’s a waste of good reading time and possibly offensive, like i had to prove how okay with you i am. Just smells like strange unnecessary fruit. Prove yourself to no-one just do it.

    1. Amen Denise! I couldn’t have said it better myself. It would serve a lot of Booktubers to think before they act. Diversity is the word to drop in a video these days and if you’re not dropping it you’re not down with the cause. lol! Thanks for commenting and supporting Denise! 🙂

  13. Oh yes, yes, yes. I feel the same way and you articulated so eloquently. Thank you so much for posting this.
    I only wish more people could see this particularly the youtubers, for if they open themselves up to your words the will understand the truth about diversity. What a refreshing post.

  14. I do have to disagree with most of this. A few points to be made. Before I start I want to apologize about my English since I am not a native speaker.
    First, I didn’t follow the booktube discussion on diversity from the start so I don’t know if there was an emphasis on reading people of color, but I do know that the “reading diversely tag” was based on discussing the books one read (is planning to read) written by writers from different continents. And if I remember it right, it was pretty relaxed, no shaming whatsoever, just thinking and talking about one’s reading habits.
    Second, regarding what you said: “I say, if you want to read a variety of literature then stop talking about it and do it.” Well, isn’t that just what you/we are doing right now? I mean, isn’t that what bloggers/booktubers do? They talk about what they’re reading, they discuss books, they make videos about different (many of them less important) topics. Why is talking about diversity considered as “shouting from the rooftop” whereas reviewing a book, filming a haul or discussing any other topic is not?
    And Third. I have been an avid reader all my life. And I have been reading good books. Still, when I looked at my statistics (thanks to this discussion), I discovered that I have only read one book by an African writer, one by an Asian writer. Of all the books I’ve read from Latin American writers, there was only one book written by a female author. Furthermore, when reading European writers, I mostly read the ones from the UK. I didn’t do this by choice, it was just easier for me that way. I knew I was reading good books, I never “googled” the author’s sex or race and I was mostly reading white male men. And I don’t think that was ok and if not thinking about it was what got me where I was, I’m sure gonna start thinking and google-ing. That said, I should read more French authors. Croatian (isn’t that just wrong, not reading authors from my home country :D). Japanese. Canadian. Nigerian. Authors from New Zeland. Because there are sooo many good books out there I might as well use this criteria to help me choose. And because I think reading diversely could help us understand each other better 🙂

    I do, however, see your point in this. Reading diversely just for the sake of talking about it on booktube is just wrong. But maybe you are just following the “wrong” booktubers, the videos I’ve been watching are nothing more/less than inspiring 🙂

    1. Good for you but I have to disagree with you. I don’t follow anybody on Booktube anymore that wastes my time. I figured that out quite some time ago. Patronizing is not my cup of tea. This isn’t the first time this discussion has popped up on Booktube and vanished just as quickly. If people want to read diversely then do it but there’s no reason to announce and then expect congratulations after. I’m not telling anybody in this blog post to read diversely nor am I bragging about reading diversely. I haven’t even mentioned reading diversely in my You Tube videos, except to do a Reading diversely Tag which a fellow Booktuber tagged me in. I’m just trying to get people to look at what exactly diversely is since there seems to be a misunderstanding of what that is. Obviously what is reading diversely for you isn’t for me, and that aspect hasn’t even been discussed. Everybody has just assumed that that means anybody who isn’t white and male. Well I beg to differ. So all points are correct here. You should read all of the comments because there have been some interesting points made. Thanks for commenting!

      1. it wasn’t my intention to accuse you of patronizing, I am very sorry if it sounded like that.
        And I think you misunderstood me. I was just saying that what makes a book blogger and booktuber (and you are one of them) is that they DISCUSS books and reading habits and plans. I just don’t understand why is it a problem when a booktuber says he’s planning to read more diversely and not a problem when he says he’s planning to read more children’s literature. And why do you think that they are “announcing” anything? I just think they are discussing. And while some may want to appear tolerant, I really don’t think anyone expects a congratulation.
        And yes, I do agree with you on the fact that reading diversely doesn’t mean the same for you and for me. I completely agree with you on that and just want to read books about experiences that are different from mine.
        And no, it really isn’t easy to find books written by an author of color in croatian libraries. It isn’t hard, but the ratio is maybe 85 to 15 in favor of white authors.
        And yes, I have read the comments, I don’t know why you would suppose I didn’t. Although I was referring to your post, not the comments.
        I just want to say that I think the diversity discussion is good. As any discussion 🙂

        1. Because I think a lot of people are tired of the word diversity being dropped as if it’s something special. In a lot of cases on book tube people discuss reading diversely and they don’t. I think people are getting tired of that too. So they can keep discussing it and dropping the you know what word but I won’t be watching because I’m tired of it.

  15. Huh, there was something I found bugging me re: Booktube lately and I think now I just read about what it was. I think I know what you mean here. The essence of this idea is all good and right, but how it comes out right now really isn’t (and it often comes out patronizing/offensive – I wonder if people even realise that). Sometimes I get the feeling that “authors of colour” (sigh…) are not even like normal people like the rest of us, that they belong into some separate and different box, and you need to make a lot of effort to understand them.

    I am a white person, I live in Scandinavia – which means in everyday Real Life my contact with other races is pretty much non existent. I have to admit that the whole conversation, back when it began, did make me think about diversity, and thus met its purpose – I discovered I actually read pretty diverseley and hooray. I get that people are all enthusiastic and lists and posts and announcing, but honestly, a reality check is needed here, before some of us develop serious allergy to the word “diversity”.

    Also I deleted so many of my Booktube subs party because of this repetitive topic. Ain’t no one got time for all that.

    Keep up the great good posts/videos 🙂

  16. When I have thought of reading diversely in the past, I have thought of reading different genres that I wouldn’t normally read. I have a preference and I thought that it was time for me to expand my reading habits into new areas that I hadn’t read before. I didn’t think of applying the meaning of diverse to the ethnicity, race, or gender of the author…I guess some people do though. I appreciate you be honest about the topic. I enjoyed reading it.

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