Back in January, I talked about how I wanted to read more widely and more diversely this year. I didn’t have any real goal in mind, but I tried to pick up books outside my comfort zone and paid more attention to recommendations from sites like We Need Diverse Books and Diversity in YA.
We’re just past the halfway point in the year now, so I think this is a good time to look at how I’ve done so far. And the truth is, not so great.
I’ve read 62 books so far this year. Of those 62:
- 1 has had a POC as the sole protagonist
- 1 has had two POCs as dual protagonists
- 7 have had a POC as one of the two protagonists, with 5 of those books coming from just 2 series
- 1 has had a disabled protagonist
- 3 have had LGBT+ protagonists
These books have been written by 35 different authors. Of these:
- 3 have been POC
- 1 of the 3 is a lesbian
- None are disabled
Note on authorship: While race is usually pretty easy to discern, orientation and disability I generally only know of if it’s confirmed by the author, so while it’s possible these numbers are higher I haven’t counted anyone I don’t know to come from a marginalised background of some sort.
So from a diversity perspective, I’m not doing too well. Less than a fifth of my protagonists come from a marginalised background (sidenote: I read a lot of SF/F, so while in something like Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses the white characters come from a marginalised background, when I talk about marginalised groups or diversity here I’m talking about people who are marginalised in the US/UK), and most of those are POC who share the limelight with a white protagonist. Only 14% of the authors I’ve read come from diverse backgrounds.
In terms of generally broadening my reading, however, the figures aren’t much better. This is a bit harder to gauge, because it’s hard to define where my comfort zone ends. For the purposes of this post, I’ll make it simple and say my comfort zone is fantasy and soft sci-fi. I’ve read 7 books so far this year that don’t fall into either category. That’s only 11%. There are some edge-case scenarios, like The Girl With All The Gifts, which, as adult literary science fiction, is quite different from what I’m used to, but it still counts as soft sci-fi so I’m including it in my comfort zone.
Clearly, a vague promise to read more widely and more diversely just isn’t going to cut it. I spent a bit of time on the weekend placing all the books in my TBR that fall into either category onto appropriate shelves, and each month I’ll pick at least one book from each shelf to read. I have 44 books on the diverse TBR and 63 on the wider reads one, so it’s not as though there aren’t books in these categories that I want to read.
There’s really two aspects to this goal of mine. Reading more widely is deeply personal; it challenges my mind to read books outside my comfort zone and improves my writing. Reading more diversely is more political; I want to support authors from marginalised backgrounds and support authors who write about characters from marginalised backgrounds, because I feel that both tend to be passed over in favour of their white, straight, able-bodied counterparts. This overlooking is painfully clear simply in the fact that I’ve not read many diverse books this year, because the books that get the most attention tend to be the white, straight narratives, and because everyone else is talking about these books they jump to the top of my TBR because I just ‘have’ to see what all the fuss is about. And the thing is, they’re generally good books. Books I don’t regret reading. But there are also more diverse books I’ve had to dig a bit further to find that were just as good, or even better. As I said, I have 44 diverse books on my TBR – but I have 151 that aren’t.
In terms of promoting diversity in literature, this makes me part of the problem, because, like most people, I’m unthinkingly going for the most visible books, which tend to be rather white and heterosexual. One book a month may not seem like much, but that’s kind of the point. I’ve never done well with things like monthly TBRs, because I like to be able to pick up books as the mood strikes me. Two books, from two categories, spread through the whole month still gives me ample opportunity to grab something that catches my eye at the library or read that pre-order the second it arrives. My hope is also that through consciously making an effort to read more diverse books, it will increase the likelihood that when I pick up a book I’m just so excited about I can’t wait to read it, it will be a diverse book. Already, after looking through my diverse reads TBR yesterday I’m really enthusiastic about An Ember in the Ashes, The Wrath and the Dawn, Of Metal and Wishes, The Young Elites, and Gates of Thread and Stone, and yesterday afternoon I read Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda.
Anyway, this wee update on my progress towards my goal of reading more widely and more diversely turned out a bit longer than I’d expected, but here’s hoping that by the end of the year I’ll have upped my percentage of diverse protagonists and authors a bit.