On Diversity in Reading

Book Riot just posted something entitled: An Open Letter to People Who Don’t Think They Need to Read Diversely by Rebecca Renner, and my first thought was this: People read for a whole lot of different reasons.  Some for information, some for comfort, some for diversion, some for… well you name a motivation and someone reads for it, I’m guessing.  So I felt a bit put out at the idea that maybe she was going to take to task the people who have found their reading niche, and are happy to disappear into it.

In a sense, she does, but not in the sense I feared.  Renner isn’t playing Book Police here.  Rather her point — and it’s an important one — is this:

“But there are so many problems with the idea that what I wanted to read could only be written by dead white guys. That statement itself hides the toxic assumption that authors of color couldn’t possibly write something that is relatable to a white reader. “

This isn’t something I’d given any thought to, I admit.  I never assumed that authors who were non-white, non-English-speaking weren’t capable of writing the kind of books I like to read, but I never verbalized it.  But to put it into a context which I had verbalized, female authors are just as able to write great science fiction as male ones.  And this, I believe, is what Renner is getting at: Verbalize this truth, and once you do, prove it to yourself by seeking out the kind of books you like to read by authors who are not, as Lindy West puts it, straight, cis, able-bodied white men.

But this is not just about reading diversely for bragging rights.  Renner quotes Amanda Nelson’s Reading Diversely FAQ:

“As far as “just” filling a quota: that assumes that people of color don’t write books you would’ve been interested in naturally, and that reading books by authors who aren’t white is “just” to be done to satisfy some external goal. By diversifying your reading, you’re actively doing something to combat structural racism (especially if you’re in the U.S.), and you’re setting yourself up for a richer, more interesting reading life.”

Isn’t the bottom line of reading to open up your world?  Or maybe that’s just me.  Maybe other people read to assure themselves that their world is precisely the small, safe place they choose it to be.  And while I make it a point never to put down anyone else’s reading choices, because I think the whole point of reading is to, well, read, I would say this: At some point there has to be a recognition that the very fact that you are holding a book in your hand (or listening to it, or holding your e-reader) means that whether you want to or not, you must accept that there is a whole lot more world out there than any of us truly understand.  And once we accept that, why not embrace it?

At the end of Renner’s post is a list of links, Book Riot’s Diverse Recs.  I’m just sayin’.


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