How to Read Diversely: 5 Tips to Expand Your Reading

5 Tips on How to Read Diversely - Reading Tips by Novels and Nebulas

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!

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5 Tips on How to Read Diversely - Reading Tips by Novels and Nebulas

29 thoughts on “How to Read Diversely: 5 Tips to Expand Your Reading”

  1. Absolutely incredible post! I discovered #ownvoices shortly after becoming a book blogger and it has broadened my horizons as a reader, and as a person! I didn’t realize I held so many narrow minded views and didn’t know about so many other cultures. I have learned so much about other people and their cultures by becoming a diverse reader. I feel like it has really made me grow as a person and I hope that it will continue to do so!

    I really liked what you said about reading intersectional identities because I feel like to not form stereotypes and to also truly understand a culture you need multiple angles and identities.

    Have you read Star Daughter or is it on your TBR? It’s inspired by Hindu mythology and I was reading it and it is REALLY cool! I absolutely love it so far. I am running into some things that I don’t really understand at all though, so I’ve been reading a lot about the Hindu religion and it’s myths. I do wish there was a glossary though.

    I would say the best #ownvoices book that I have read that truly helped me understand a culture was The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad and I highly recommend that book to everyone. The Candle and the Flame did have a glossary and I did spend a lot of time learning what things meant and how to pronounce some stuff in my head, but in the end it was the most immersive and cultural experience I had ever had reading. Personally I would like to see better mental illness representation. Sure, sometimes it’s there, but a lot of times it’s shown so negatively.

    1. Thank you so much for this wonderfully detailed comment! 😊 I’m so glad that books have helped you gain new perspectives and changed you as a person. It’s done the same for me.

      I haven’t read Star Daughter yet but I hope I can get to it after it’s out. I’m also really looking forward to reading The Candle and the Flame but it’s very hard to get hold of that book here in India. I need to buy the physical book, which will hopefully be soon after the pandemic precautions end. Thank you so much for both the recommendations! β™₯️

      I have a recommendation in turn but this is a panel discussion instead on YouTube. It’s by the Asian Author Alliance and there’s a panel in which Nafiza and Shveta talk about the world-building in their books. I hope you enjoy! 😊

      1. Books have really helped me grow as a person! Whenever I tell a non reader that they look at me like I’m ridiculous but it’s so true!

        It’s been impossible for me to get books lately too with the pandemic. So insane. I hope you do read The Candle and the Flame someday though because that book was great. (And Nafiza is just a great person) And Star Daughter has really got me interested in Hindu culture!

        I will totally check out that video, thank you so much! I hope that you’re safe and healthy during this crazy time.

        1. I totally get that feeling. It’s the reason I read, I blog and put so much effort into promoting the books that have changed my life. 😊

          It’s been really rough lately. I hope the books that came out during this time can get their due once things start back up. I’m as safe and healthy as can be. Thank you for your concern. 😊 I also hope you’re doing as well as you can. β™₯️ Happy watching!

          1. I mean I just read because I love it. But added benefits are that it’s helped me grow. Funny, even psychological thrillers help me understand people better. I do love blogging and promoting and sharing books with others.

            It’s been real rough lately. I work at a bookstore and idk if I ever get to go back to work. My mom works at a hospital and we were quarantined for a while and now shes going back to the covid floor again so… ugh.

            I know a lot of authors have delayed their releases due to all of this but I’m trying to support new releases even during this time

          2. I hope everything works out in your favour once the pandemic curve flattens where you are. It’s so brave of your mom and family to do that! Please stay safe and healthy. β™₯️

  2. Ughh… how detailed this post is Dini.. I can’t believe how much thought and effort you put into it.
    Every single point you say is so true. It’s been an interesting journey and blogging/reading has taught me so much more about the real world than I normally would have known. And understanding the importance of the #ownvoices movement as well as intersectionality has been eye opening. Thank you for being an integral part of this journey of mine and contributing so much to the community through your insightful words 😊😊

    1. I actually wrote it in the few hours before it was supposed to go up. πŸ™ˆ I feel like since I’m passionate about this and I know what I want to convey, the points came easily when I started to write. Thank you so much, Sahi! β™₯️
      It’s been eye-opening for me as well and I don’t think I could have done it without the book blogging community. So many wonderful people are committed to promoting diverse books and demand for representation. It’s been a surreal journey and I’m so thankful for everything the people and the books have taught me.
      Of course, our group and our discussions the have been an important part of it. I truly wouldn’t be in a position to write this post if it weren’t for all the conversations we’ve had. I’m so glad to hear it’s been the same for you. ☺️

      1. I completely agree. It’s this community full of wonderful people who take the time to promote diversity and educate us, and authors who do the work of writing such books – they all make us want to be better people and I’ll be forever thankful to them all 😊😊
        And wow.. just a few hours huh.. that’s really cool πŸ‘πŸ‘
        And I agree.. I never thought our group would grow into what it is now.. somewhere we can find the support we need but also a place to share perspectives and talk to each other about things we are passionate about. It’s really become such an integral part of my life now 😍😍

  3. Great advice, I especially agree on the first point. Following bloggers and publishers who specialize on countries I rarely read from has been a great help in expanding my reading. It is hard to expand your reading if you don’t know what is out there.

    For me it has also been helpful to remind myself that it is enough to challenge myself in one way at the time. I try to challenge myself to read books from a variety of different countries, but if I haven’t read anything from a particular country before I try not to start with a 900 page experimental novel, I choose something short, preferably in a genre I already know I enjoy. If a book is less than 200 pages I’m willing to try almost anything, and I have discovered some great literature way outside of my reading comfort zone that way.

  4. Wonderful post! I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to write a guide for readers who may be new to reading diversely. #5 is great point that’s easy to forget about. Sometimes it’s not great to have a phone around while reading, but sometimes being able to learn from quickly looking something up helps me develop a better understanding and appreciation of what I’m reading. If I don’t understand the context of something in a book, it’s usually because of my own ignorance rather than poor writing!

    1. Thanks a lot, Jenna! β™₯️ That’s definitely true. I’ve gone down some Wikipedia rabbit holes and such myself while researching instead of reading but it helps me get a better understanding. There’s really no excuse not to learn when information is so easily available. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 😊

  5. Again, an amazing posts! In the last period, we had a lot of the situation you talked about in the first part. Sometimes I understand, like book twitter is a big place and there are members who surely don’t cross path with the zone me and you waddle around.

    At the same time, I’ve the feel like… it’s strange? True, I found other people, who shaped my reading and sent me throught a certain path, thanks to the fact that we were all blogger. But, they were the first people they found and it was pretty easy since one lead to the other.

    1. Thank you so much, Camilla! β™₯️ I understand your point. I was also lucky that I had a good place to start and I’m very grateful for it. But even for those who didn’t start out with the same community, people still use hashtags in their tweets or bios, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find them if they really look. So, it just comes down to how much effort people are willing to put to seek out diverse creators even though they may not be the ones obviously visible. There’s definitely some work involved there and I just wanted this to be a guide for people who do want to do the hardwork. 😊

      1. Definitely! I noticed that, some of these people, are more into a side of book twitter that is more interested into the same five books/fandom and never move out of it? Or constantly putting new books in confrontation with very populars one?
        Maybe I’m not right, but it’s how it seems from afar

  6. Ahhh Nandini this is such a great post! I was legitimately planning to write a similar post but you did such a great job and I’m going to cite your post forever. ALSO YES TO THE FIRST STEP! It’s so stupid when white people take diverse books recommendations from other white people. Like… what do you expect?

    1. Thank you so much, Charvi! πŸ’– I can’t wait to see what you have to say. I’m sure yours will be much better. 😊 I know, right?! Please follow the right people and put in some effort before making blanket statements uff. πŸ™„

  7. What an incredible post, Nandini, well-written and thoughtful and just all around wonderful. Thank you for taking the time to write this and guide everyone wanting to read more diversely. <3 I've been following diverse content creators and authors for a little while now and I've found out so many incredible reads, creators and bloggers I admire so, so much, just as well, you being one of them <3 <3
    Thank you for this lovely post! <3

    1. Thank you so much, Marie! πŸ’– I love your kind and heartfelt comments and the fact that you admire me means much more than I can put into words. ☺️ Thanks for all the work you do as well to promote diverse books and welcome smaller creators (we all know marginalized creators tend to have lesser numbers) into the community. β™₯️

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  9. Thank you for writing such a wonderful post Nandini. I could have never expressed this in such amazing words. I really value your opinions Dini and appreciate all the hard work you are doing in spreading love for diversity. Today only I was really thinking about the content I consume and was planning to make some changes. Well let’s see (as I am feeling quite unmotivated these days).

    1. Thank you, Sim! β™₯️ It’s because of support from you and other friends that I’m able to do any of this, so I’m eternally grateful for that. 😊 That’s awesome and I can’t wait to see what changes you implement. Good luck! πŸ’•

  10. Such fantastic thoughts here—I especially love your final point. I agree that many times cultural outsiders who read a book want it to be spoon fed to them. If a book brings up questions in the reader’s mind, that’s a wonderful excuse to explore those questions!

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