You are sitting by the pond, discussing the intersections of written-magic and sewing-magic with Varian the Toadshifter, when you hear, what seems to be, Xiaolong’s approaching footfalls and her yelps of delight.
“Friend! Everybody!” says Xiaolong, emerging from the brush with a massive smile on her face. “Amina’s coming! She’s almost here!”
Oh that’s right, Amina the Hedgehog Bard! Xiaolong had mentioned her when you first met all your pond friends, but you haven’t had the chance to meet her yet. Seeing how excited all your pond friends are at seeing Amina again warms your soul a little bit, you can’t help but feel a little excited too.
You feel a ripple in the air, a light wobble at your core, and – look! Over there, Amina, carrying a beautiful lute and a knapsack, is wading through the thicket of bushes. When she looks over and sees all her friends, she smiles.
“Oh, how I missed you all so much,” are her first words, her voice gentle and soothing.
“Amina!” they all yell, running over to her. Xiaolong tackles her in a big hug, and Varian looks absolutely delighted. Even shy Gen is grinning from eye to eye and is nuzzling Amina’s cheek. Cuddle approaches shyly – it’s the first time Cuddle has met Amina too! They all seem so happy to be together.
Over Varian’s shoulder, Amina spots you and smiles knowingly. “Who’s this, my darlings? Is this our newest friend?”
“Oh yes!” exclaims Xiaolong, pulling Amina over to you. After Xiaolong introduces the both of you, she turns to Amina, her gills bouncing. “Amina, what stories do you have to tell today? Did you learn new kinds of magic? Did you meet new magical beings from other places of magic?”
“Yes, Xiaolong! I had the most wonderful adventure and I’ll tell you all about them, but first!” She sits down on the floor, opens her knapsack, and pulls out what appears to be a well-loved and worn journal. “I have to share this piece of wisdom for you. Sit down friends, let me tell you about…”
Hello friends, and welcome back to The Quiet Pond! I hope you all are reading some lovely books and are enjoying your current reads. ✨
Today’s post will be on how to read more diversely. This is, interestingly, quite a common question that I receive on Twitter, and the question always excites me! Reading diverse books is something I am incredibly passionate about and I’m always happy to help people diversify their reading. So for those of you who are thinking of reading more diverse books but aren’t quite sure how to, or even for those of you are reading diverse books at the moment but want tips on how to find more books — this post is for you. 💛
But first, why read diverse books?
Maybe you are here today because you aren’t quite familiar with diverse books and why it is important to read them. And that’s okay! Thank you for being here, and I hope that this post will be helpful to you.
Diverse books are books that are written by marginalised writers (such as writers of colour, indigenous writers, gender-diverse writers, queer writers, disabled writers, and all the intersections of identity) and are often about characters that are marginalised themselves. Diverse books aren’t limited to a specific genre; they certainly do not have to be contemporary or romances where a culture or identity is represented to reflect real life. Some truly great diverse books are ones where a culture has influenced the worldbuilding of a story or it can be as simple as having a marginalised character be the hero of a story without their identity being at the forefront of the story or conflict. Supporting diversity within publishing, therefore, is supporting marginalised authors and their stories with marginalised characters.
But beyond this, why do I recommend reading diverse books? There are a plethora of reasons, but here are my top three.
As a book blogger, one of my biggest joys is helping people find books that they love, especially books that represent them. People, especially youth, deserve the positive experiences of representation, and if you look at any media statistic, people of colour, queer and gender-diverse people, and disabled people are massively underrepresented. There is plenty of evidence supporting the notion that representation in diverse books (and the wider media) is associated with positive outcomes, such as better outcomes in life and more positive self-identity, breaking down negative stereotypes, and greater empathy for others.
In my view, diversity of representation is a win for everyone: it allows marginalised people to see themselves in media; it is a message to marginalised people that, yes! they can be the heroes and not only just specific tropes that constrain meaningful characters; it shows that people that are different to us may experience the world differently, and that is something we should be always thoughtful about; and that difference is something that should be celebrated.
2. Fosters empathy and greater understanding
Books written by and about marginalised people can offer a humanising perspective, and this is extremely important when groups of people – such as Black, indigenous, queer, genderqueer, immigrants, refugees, and disabled people – are systematically dehumanised and diminished to harmful representations. Having a diversity of experiences in books can provide a safe space for individuals to explore, question, challenge, and learn about different issues, events, and topics, and also foster greater empathy and understanding.
In my experience, diversity can also be incredibly helpful for marginalised people who have to grapple with their own experiences — but they may not know or understand what they are experiencing or feeling. Therefore, diverse books can also provide a space for individuals trying to navigate the complexity of the world to see themselves and develop greater understanding of their own feelings, develop their perspective, and foster greater empathy for themselves and what they are going through. Diversity in literature and seeing yourself can be incredible empowering, and it can empower us to do better and foster greater social responsibility.
3. Support marginalised writers
The truth is, the publishing industry generally favours hegemonic voices, specifically white, straight, cis, and abled voices. Though there is absolutely nothing wrong with white, straight, cis, and abled voices, the problem is that a lot of stories told by people who are not white, straight, cis, and abled are often left out and their stories often don’t make it to a bookshelf. As an example, did you know that Black, Latinx, and Native authors combined wrote just 7% of new children’s books published in 2017? There definitely aren’t a shortage of Black, Latinx, and Native writers who are writing excellent children’s stories, so it is important to interrogate how publishing institutions are preventing Black, Latinx, and Native writers from entering the industry in the first place.
Did you know that a lot of writers, whom are mostly White, are writing and publishing books about characters with marginalised identities, whilst non-White writers are not being offered publishing deals to write about their own identities? For example, only 29% of books about African/African American people were by Black authors/illustrators, 39% of books about Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans were created by Asian Pacific creators; 53% of books with Native content/characters were written/illustrated by Native creators (source). This is an extremely concerning problem, especially for authors of colour, and authors of colour face pressure to write ‘accessible’ and ‘relatable’ characters (i.e., white and heterosexual) to just get their foot in the door. The lack of diversity within publishing has been an ongoing issue.
Therefore, reading diverse books written by marginalised writers not only supports them to continue writing their stories, you also contribute to the growing message that readers do want to read more diverse books by marginalised authors.
4. Honestly… diversity is just more fun to read
Before I made the conscious decision to diversify my reading… I was really starting to get bored with reading. When I was in high school (which is a long time ago now!), a lot of the books that I read and were recommended to read were overwhelmingly white and straight and cis and abled. And whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with these identities and these perspectives, I started to get… really bored. Over time, I began to find that the books that I read were rehashes of the same storyline, all the characters looked the same and sounded the same and had the same lives and had the same concerns (concerns that I, frankly, just could not relate to).
Diversifying my reading has enabled me to find a space for me to examine my own experiences and perspectives, learn about how people’s experiences are different to my own, and see myself represented and feel validated by that representation. In addition, reading diverse books has enabled me to support marginalised authors who want to tell the stories of their hearts and their truths. Diversity has just made my reading way more interesting, more fun, and more exciting — and I promise that it’ll make your reading more exciting too.
Diverse books do not exist to educate you.
I recognise that a byproduct of diversifying your reading and reading books about characters with different perspectives to yours may teach you something in the process. That’s great! As I said before, books can be a safe space to help you to learn about the people and world around you.
However, diverse books do not exist purely to teach you something about a person’s culture, experience, and pain. In my view, books that feature marginalised characters are, and should be, for and should prioritise the people being centered in the stories. In other words, diverse books are absolutely not obligated to teach you about a character’s culture or identity.
Tips on how to diversify your reading!
Tip #1. Start with what you are familiar with.
If you want to diversify your reading but aren’t sure where to start, the easiest step is to start with the genres or tropes that you love reading about! If you love to read science-fiction and fantasy, then there are plenty of science-fiction and fantasy books out there written by marginalised authors — and the same goes for all genres!
Where is a good place to start?
- Goodreads is a great resource, and there are ‘lists’ that you can use to find diverse books! I searched ‘books by authors of color‘ as an example, and a few lists with a good number of books showed up! (I particularly love this list, ‘2019 Adult SFF by Authors of Color‘ because it gives me their lists from previous years too!)
- We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organisation devoted to promoting diversity within publishing! They have an incredible list of diverse books that you can find here.
- I especially love this post that Aimal from Bookshelves and Paperback does every year: the ‘Ultimate Guide to Diverse Books‘ lists! If you hover over the book covers, it will come up with the representation that you can find in the books.
- BookRiot is actually a great place that highlights a lot of diverse reads! Check out their excellent lists here.
Tip #2: Read #OwnVoices!
#OwnVoices is now widely understood to mean books where authors have written main characters that share the same identity as them. #OwnVoices are great places to start when diversifying your reading, as the stories, characters, and experiences in #OwnVoices books are often authentic, insightful, and have great representation.
Though #OwnVoices books are certainly a great starting point, be mindful that one #OwnVoices book does not represent all experiences of that identity! Diversity is, of course, diverse, and identities and experiences associated with those identities can be very different from each other — and that’s valid. (Definitely read Fadwa’s excellent post about the purpose and limitations of #OwnVoices.)
Where can I find lists of #OwnVoices books?
- Again, Goodreads is your friend here! I searched ‘ownvoices’ into the search bar and came across a quite a few lists. I particularly like this list!
- Barnes and Noble have a blog, and they have a great list of #OwnVoices books!
- Want to read books by queer and/or gender-diverse authors? YA Pride is an incredible resource to find some #OwnVoices books.
- Though this website is no longer being updated, Disability in Kidlit is still an invaluable resource if you’re looking for books about disabled characters.
Tip #3: Participate in a reading challenge/read-a-thon!
For those of you who not familiar with the term, reading challenges are challenges run by readers (and usually take place in social media) to get people to read books pertaining to a specific theme! For those of you are who love a challenge, reading challenges are perfect: you often set yourself a goal for how many books you want to read during the period of the challenge, and then you just read, read, read!
Organisers of the reading challenge may offer book recommendations to help you – which is a great way to discover new books! – and there may be also a designated hashtag for the reading challenge to help you connect with others. In addition, there may be read-a-thons (reading marathons!) during significant months. For example, Blackathon ran during Black History Month, so Black readers participated in a month-long read of books by Black authors! There is also Autism Pride Month, and Latinx Heritage Month.
What reading challenges/read-a-thons are there?
- A year-long reading challenge going on right now (and I’m one of the co-hosts!) is the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge! If you’re looking for some book recommendations by Asian authors, I have some book recommendations specifically for this challenge.
- Alternatively, you can join LitCelebrAsian during the month of May for their annual AsianLitBingo to celebrate Asian-American Heritage Month!
- #RamadanReadathon, as the name suggests, runs during Ramadan every year and is about reading books by Muslim authors. Be sure to check out their Twitter for updates!
- #Blackathon ran during February, but that doesn’t mean you can’t read books by Black authors! Be sure to check out the #Blackathon hashtag for some recommendations!
- Pride Month is also coming up and runs during the month of June, and is the perfect time to read books by LGBTQIA+ authors!
- April is the month of Autism Pride Month, and Becca from Becca’s Book Realm put together an incredible list of books by autistic authors.
Tip #4: Join a book club that reads diverse books!
Book clubs are absolutely wonderful, and if you join a book club that reads diverse books, it is usually led by some of the most passionate advocates of diverse books. Book clubs are not only a great way to read a new book, but it’s also a way to meet and talk to others about the books that you are reading.
What are some book clubs that I can join?
- I love @LatinxBookClub on Twitter! It is run by passionate Latinx readers, and they have a book club pick every month, regularly boost and talk about books by Latinx authors, and share news about new Latinx book releases.
- The Dragons and Tea Book Club on Goodreads and Twitter is wonderful. It is run by Melanie and Amy, and they select a book by marginalised authors about marginalised characters every month.
- Prideathon is a monthly book club that focus specifically on intersectional LGBTQIAP+ young adult books.
Tip #5: Keep and update a list of books you want to read.
Once you start finding some great diverse books to read, it’s difficult to decide on where to begin. I highly recommend keeping a personal list of all the diverse books that you want to read, to help you keep track of what you can read next, what you feel like reading, and also new books that you’re looking forward to reading! You may never read all the books on the list – an all too-common problem for all readers – but at least you can have fun (or die) trying.
How can I keep track of the books I want to read?
- If you make an account on Goodreads, you can add books to your ‘to-read’ list! Your list will be overflowing with hundreds of books in no time. 😉
- Or you can do what I do: use an Excel spreadsheet (complete with columns of release dates)!
Tip #6: Follow more book bloggers who advocate for diversity
I saved the best and most important for last because this is the best advice that I can give you: follow more book bloggers who advocate for diversity in publishing and regularly talk about diverse books. Not only will you discover some new reads this way, but book bloggers are often attuned with what books are interesting or are engaging audiences, which books to steer clear from, and they also offer some valuable perspectives as well.
Though I’m a book blogger that advocates for diversity, I have definitely learned a lot from other book bloggers. (In fact, a recent analysis that I conducted found that book bloggers spend, on average, 30 hours on reading and blogging a week! In other words: they work hard and they know their stuff.)
My advice: follow them, listen to them, and be open to learning!
Where can I find book bloggers that talk about diversity?
- You can find an extensive list of book bloggers who regularly talk about diversity in this Twitter thread! Look through the replies (there are over 122!); your feeds will be filled with amazing people in no time.
So, now I read diversely… now what?
The mere act of reading diversely is wonderful, but you also possess the power to make diversity within literature a more common and accessible thing! So what can you do to promote diversity in literature?
- Talk about the books you are reading! Word of mouth is a powerful form of marketing, and people tend to gravitate towards things that they are familiar with.
- Don’t just talk about books within the book community – talk about diverse books outside of the book community too. You’d be surprised by the number of people who don’t consider themselves ‘readers’ but want to start reading again – often they don’t know where to start.
- Recommend diverse books to your local library! There have been many times where the library that I use don’t purchase books that I want to read, so I complete an online form and recommend the book to be purchased.
- Recommend diverse books to your book clubs.
- Purchase diverse books for your friends and family when buying gifts.
I hope this post will serve as a useful resource for you, for those of you who are looking to read more diverse books and for those of you who are looking to diversify your shelves even further.
If you have your own tips of reading more diverse books, I’d love to hear them in the comments below! Alternatively, feel free to recommend your top five diverse books so other readers can find some new and exciting reads. ✨
Thank you so much for reading, friends, and I hope you all have a wonderful day. 🌻