I want to make it clear that this post is geared towards people who want to genuinely expand their reading horizons. If you think diversity is some sort of fad you want in on, this isn’t for you. To be honest, I had no idea I could read diversely because most of the books I used to read were written by and for white people. It wasn’t until 2017 that I was exposed to diversity and #OwnVoices books. If these concepts are unfamiliar to you, check out this playlist by Kav @ xreadingsolacex to understand them better. If you’re ready to embark on the journey to broaden your reading tastes, keep reading on.
#1: Follow diverse content creators
This is where I see most people falter and it frustrates me to no end. A lot of people want books that represent the wonderful diversity of the world around them but don’t know how to find them. It’s not a secret that the most popular books tend to be written by white, cis, abled people even today. Just take a look at the Goodreads Choice Awards for the past few years. As a consequence, people have to put effort into finding books by marginalised writers.
As I’ve become more involved in the book community, I’ve come to realise a lot of things. One of them is that marginalised content creators tend to take up the mantle to boost books that represent them. I know so many amazing Asian content creators who give their everything to promoting books having Asian rep. Since I follow them, I automatically get to know about new releases, which books have great rep and which books to avoid.
Every once in a while, the same discourse on Twitter does the rounds where people say, “There aren’t enough X books,” or, “Books with X rep aren’t hyped,” or some variation of that. This is such an ignorant take because most of the time, there are bookish influencers who pour their heart and soul into promoting these books but people don’t bother to consume their content. If you want to read diversely, my top tip is to follow a diverse set of content creators who are most probably talking about the kind of books you want to read.
#2: Read books by marginalised authors
Another stumbling block when you’re looking to read diversely is that #OwnVoices books get passed over often. YA books with M/M romance that are selling the most even now are written by straight, white women. This isn’t to say that the writer has to necessarily share the marginalisation they are writing about. However, especially in terms of cultural diversity, lived experience gains an upper hand in telling those stories. There’s more depth and complexity that are evident when it’s coming from an authentic place.
A few years ago, I read a fantasy book written by a white author in which the world was inspired by Indian culture. I remember being baffled by the usage of Sanskrit words in the book by the white author because they were used in a way that was completely different to what the words really mean. Contrasting that with the book I’m currently reading, The Archer at Dawn by Swati Teerdhala, the way they are used feels familiar and brings the world alive.
The above is just one example of why #OwnVoices stories are so important. These books are slowly making their way into the mainstream with movements like We Need Diverse Books. However, this is a bit of a grey area, more so with regard to queer books, because it requires the author to come out to their audience in order to be considered #OwnVoices. That aside, I would highly encourage you to read books by authors with different marginalisations – race, gender, sexuality, disability, neurodiversity – instead of sticking to a single type of diversity.
#3: Focus on intersectional identities
No human being can be summed up just by considering one of their identities. For example, I ‘m an Indian, Hindu woman from the upper middle class of India. My experiences will not be the same as my cousins, who come from the same background but live in the United States. This is where intersectionality comes into play. It’s a bit difficult for me to relate to contemporary Indian diaspora stories but a book inspired by Hindu mythology feels much closer to home.
In the quest to read diversely, this is another important factor. Every story’s narrative is shaped differently depending on the identities represented. When reading about identities that are different from ours, if we don’t read a variety of books, our minds tend to reduce that identity down to stereotypes. This defeats the whole purpose of wanting to experience stories through a different lens. Only when we pay attention to the intersectionality of identities can we really broaden our mindset.
The diversity of our globally connected world is mind-boggling. Identities that were historically repressed are becoming more accepted as the society changes. There is a shift in who is getting their voices heard in the publishing industry as well. While reading diversely, we should be acutely aware of which types of stories we gravitate towards. This is imperative in creating a demand for more diversity and get publishers to notice that.
#4: Take part in diverse reading initiatives
This is one of the simplest tips I have to share today that will impact your reading directly. In the book community, there’s always a readathon or reading challenge going on all the time. They usually have prompts for which you need to pick books and read. For example, I’m currently reading #OwnVoices Asian books as a part of the Asian Readathon. Throughout the year, I’m trying to reduce the number of unread books on my shelf, thanks to StartOnYourShelfathon.
When deciding on which of these events you want to join, actively look for those that encourage diversity. Go through the prompts and requirements for each and decide which is most suitable for what you are aiming to achieve. Last year, I took part in the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge for the first time and managed to read 30+ books by Asian authors. It aligned perfectly with my goal to read and boost Asian books while introducing me to some all-time favourites.
Some popular choices are the Popsugar Reading Challenge, Book Riot’s Read Harder and Reading Women Challenge. I am the co-host of South Asian Reading Challenge, in which you can count any book by a South Asian author towards the challenge. You could try some initiatives that are seasonal in nature – like Blackathon that took place in February. That said, I want to drive home the point that if you are actually committed to this, you must read diversely outside of these seasonal events as well. Another option is to join book clubs who aim to read diversely, such Stars and Sorcery, where we read SFF books by authors of colour.
#5: Research what you read
My final tip for those of you looking to read diversely is to deeply engage with what you’re reading. Not everything that’s talked about in books is done in a way that provides sufficient context to understand it. I remember not knowing what scones were when I read Enid Blyton as a child because I had no idea about British food. However, expecting the author to provide its recipe for me is unfair. Instead, with the help of some Google magic, I can find it out for myself.
This is a common complaint I see in negative reviews of books by marginalised authors. Instead of taking the opportunity to educate themselves, they feel entitled to an explanation as if it’s a textbook and not a work of fiction. It does take you out of the story but it’s no different than when you were younger and had to look up words in English you didn’t know the meaning for.
Similarly, when you encounter an unusual narrative style or theme or narrative element, it will enhance your experience if you do some research on your own. I was pretty much clueless about the history of magical realism until I looked it up recently. I went through a few articles about the Nanjing Massacre after reading The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. Both of these helped me gain a deeper understanding of what I read and also changed my worldview significantly. Ultimately, it’s what you take away and absorb by reading diversely that really matters.
Do you actively incorporate diversity into your reading? How has your unique identity shaped your reading tastes? What are some diverse reading challenges or readathons you love? Let me know in the comments section down below. Have a stellar weekend, readers from Earth!