Reading Diversely

Last week I was wasting time getting up-to-date information on Twitter, when I stumbled upon a couple tweets by Amanda Nelson, the managing editor of Book Riot.

Curious, I watched Nelson’s video. Her point, in a nutshell: “If you’re not paying attention and doing it on purpose — reading diversely on purpose — what you’re going to do is read mostly white people.” Due to a LOT of different factors, the majority of books that people read are by white authors (and mostly white male authors, at that). It’s not really through any fault of their own, but unless people consciously pay attention to the diversity of their reading list, that’s just the way the chips are gonna fall.

To demonstrate this, Nelson shared the numbers from her own reading logs, both before and after she started paying attention to reading diversely.

  • In 2012, Nelson read 92 books — 4 were by “people who were not white,” so 4.3%.
  • In 2013, her percentage was 3.6%.
  • So far in 2014 (after she started paying attention to reading diversely), 15 out of 91 books have been written by people of color, putting her percentage at 16.4%.

So I was curious. I took a look at my Goodreads account and studied the authors from the past couple years. (Note: I only started using Goodreads in 2013, and don’t have a log of my reading prior to that.)

  • In 2013, I read 23 books. 7 were by women authors, putting that percentage at 30% (admittedly, 3 of the 7 were Margaret Atwood). 1 was written by a person of color (Haruki Murakami), so 4.3%.
  • So far in 2014, I’ve read 21 books. 10 were by women (47.6%), and 1 has been by a person of color (Sherman Alexie — 4.7%).

Ouch. I assumed my percentages wouldn’t be great, but interesting to note — even though Nelson reads a LOT more books than me, our percentages are similar. Which goes to prove what she’s saying — if you’re not paying attention, you aren’t reading diversely. My percentage of women writers is pretty damn good. And you know why? A couple years ago, I made the conscious decision to start reading more books by women authors. If I made the same decision regarding ethnic diversity, how much better could I make those percentages?

(I know some readers at this point are asking, why does it matter? Why should I be concerned at all by the ethnicity of a writer? To which I would say — watch Nelson’s video. She more eloquently explains all of this than I ever could. Why do I personally care to make my reading more diverse? Because it’s a big, big world, with a lot of people, and a lot of different experiences. I feel more educated, more aware, if I get even a snippet of that diverse experience.)

I’ve had Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison on my reading list for a while — think I’ll boost them up. Any others you’d recommend? How do you ensure that you’re reading diversely — or do you decide to at all?

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7 thoughts on “Reading Diversely

  1. This was really fascinating to me, both your post and the video. I went back and looked at my Goodreads stats from 2012/2013/2014 too, because I was curious. It turns out I actually do read a lot of books by women (unintentionally), but the number of non-white authors is kind of shameful.

    2014 (so far): 50 books, 30 (60%) by women, 6 (12%) by people of color
    2013: 44 books, 28 (63%) by women, 5 (11%) by people of color (though admittedly, three of those were one author [Carlos Ruiz Zafón])
    2012: 52 books, 24 (46%) by women, 3 (5%) by people of color

    And I was kind of surprised to see that, despite reading several books in the past few years about slavery, or set in the slavery-era, almost all the authors were white.

    Great topic. I don’t know that I’ll intentionally pick up books BECAUSE the author is a woman or is of a different race, but it’s a good thing to be aware of.

  2. I started trying to consciously read more books by women after hearing about the 2014 “year of reading women” initiative, which I thought was a great idea (how about 2015 as the year of reading people of color?). But looking back on my Goodreads I guess I was already reading a lot of women…

    2013: 41 books, 24 by women (59%), 6 by PoC (15%)
    2014: 54 books, 29 by women (54%), 11 by PoC (19%)

    Side note: a lot of the PoC authors I’ve read are also women, so these two lists overlap a lot.

    Have you read any Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? I think you’d like Americanah, it was great. I also loved her short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, and just checked out Half of a Yellow Sun from the library. Zadie Smith has been on my to-read list for a while, too.

    1. Your numbers are pretty damn high! Also, you read an insane number of books.

      I HAVE read Zadie Smith (White Teeth) – it was good, as I’ll recall. Hadn’t heard of Adidichie – thanks for the rec!

  3. I love this exercise! So far in 2014 I have read 17 books (REALLY? ONLY THAT MANY?)

    3 were people of color: 18% (4 if you can’t Jewish… I don’t know if we count Jewish)
    11 were by women: 64.7%

    I like good stories, varied stories. Roxane Gay is my latest obsession.

    1. Don’t worry, I was dismayed at how low my overall numbers are, too. You at least have a small human being as an excuse!

      I was actually internally debating this afternoon if Jewish “counted”. I feel like yes? It seems like that’s a POV not typically represented.

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