Writing: #WeNeedDiverseBooks Debate

As a writer, I do feel some draw to put my two cents into the debate which has arisen around “Spend 12 months not reading cis white male authors” (CWM) or not.  In case you’ve missed it (somehow), K.T. Bradford challenged readers to take the next 12 months and either focus on a group of writers you normally don’t read (women, LBGT, race, etc.) or at least cut out the CWM authors who dominate the market.

To me, this challenge would be both easy and difficult. Many of my favorite authors are women. But many of them are white cis women… so I still have room to expand my repertoire myself.  I do think it is an excellent concept for people to expand their reading exposure. Get a new view of the world. Get into the head and heart of someone alien to yourself.

It is one of the things I miss about school.  My high school had amazing English teachers who introduced me to books and ideas I never would have discovered on my own. Both in class and outside the classroom, my teachers encouraged me to read great books. (Granted, one of them also suggested I read The Lovely Bones and I never quite forgave her for that one.)  In college, my history professors encouraged us to the look at literature as an integral piece of the culture(s) we studied, we would read political pieces, short stories, and poetry very regularly when we studied history (not usually novels, but I’m sure that’s only because of time constraints of semesters).

Without school pushing to have people read and study context, people do fall into a place of comfort (as John Scalzi discussed) and read authors similar to themselves. I do. I have found myself picking up a book and thinking “God, this is just like the last 3 series I’ve read.” and then follow it with “why can’t I ever find something original anymore?!?!”  That’s my sign I’m getting entrenched. For me it feels stifling, and I seek out new authors. I sniff into different sections of my local bookstore. I pick up a few $0.99 titles on Amazon or Google (or now I’m going to start looking at Scribd). I look at curated lists on Goodreads.com. That’s how I find new books. New authors. New ideas.

It was only a little while ago I hit one of these funks and found The Twentieth Wife Indu Sundaresan, and immediately read A Feast of Roses (the sequel).  Personally, I can’t imagine getting so ingrained with CWM authors to avoid seeking out others.

I think it’s healthy to expand your horizons. See how others are different (and the same!) Explore the world from a new set of eyes. And yes, sometimes it’s good to get uncomfortable because the author presented something you are unfamiliar with.  And yes, you may walk away thinking “no. never. Baaaaad” – I find I can say why I dislike the idea(s) much better having read about it.  (Perfect example: Twilight).

I do think as a political statement, it might help the book industry to see that we (readers) want and need that diversity.  I have been looking since I read the initial few comments and articles on this, but haven’t been able to find primary resource (census data, industry reports, etc.) which back up the statement that CWM dominate the market.  I can only say that the bookstores certainly reflect that.  Google Play is a little better (or at least presents me with the oddities of my reading that let me explore outside CWM authors).

So will I avoid cis white male written books this year? No. Will I seek out non cis white male authors this year. Hell yes. I will always seek out diversity in my library.  I have loved The Tokaido Road, The Twentieth Wife, Imperial Woman and Dalai Lama, My Son: A Mother’s Autobiography too much. I do think this has made me think about being more deliberate in finding some of those groups where I haven’t read as much. And I will continue to encourage my friends to also be deliberate. Look at your reading list. Are you in a comfort zone or are you seeking to grow your reading list outside those lines?