- Non-white authors (if this is decipherable)
- International authors
- Books in translation
- Religious affiliation or sexual orientation different from my own
Diverse subject matter within a novel's plot is a popular criteria for many readers, but because I tend to read across genres, mediums, and genders, I've decided this facet isn't as big a challenge for me as the bulleted list up above.
All this was well and good, and I felt at peace with my bulleted list until I started researching some of the authors on my ereader. I thought I'd take a quick spin through my unread ebooks over lunch to see which diverse titles I might consider picking up next, and right off the bat I found a problem. The author I chose to research had a last name that sounded "international," so that's what set me to Googling. Pictures indicated that the author has olive skin, but as I started reading biographies of this author, there was absolutely no indication of her background, heritage, or ethnicity.
This led to the question on Twitter...
"If you're tracking diversity in reading, how do you actually know if the person is of a racial or ethnic background you consider diverse?"
I got some answers like "I Google them!" or "I go by last name." But if Google comes up dry, is evidence of a non-white skin color or an international-sounding last name enough to deem that author diverse? In itself, it seems that using qualifiers like skin color and last name as a deciding factor promotes the same stereotypes we're trying to get around by reading diversely.
Maybe I'm splitting hairs here, but it left with me a decidedly icky feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Ultimately, I know that every reader has to decide for him or herself what diversity means or how they'll outline it in order to keep track of their reading goals. Many of these boundaries are arbitrary as I'm finding out as I do more research. However, arbitrary as they can be sometimes, if you want to definitively keep track, some lines are necessary.
In the course of the Twitter discussion that spun off of my initial question, Beth Fish Reads said...
"Diverse for me" is a key item. With the arbitrary lines in place but with good intentions to read beyond our own experience, all we can do is define diversity in relation to ourselves.
For a real life example, when I was counting up my diversity stats for 2014 (I ended at 29% diverse reading), I included G. Willow Wilson as a diverse author. Many of you probably already know, but she's the writer behind one of the most buzzed-about comics of the year, Ms. Marvel.
G. Willow Wilson is a white American woman who is also Muslim. According to this article, she promised God, at the age of 18 and during a bout with illness, that she would convert. After graduating from college she moved to Egypt and was a contributor to Atlantic Monthly and other respected publications. She also has a memoir, The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam, that I can't wait to read. While I consider her diverse according to my criteria, others' criteria which differs from my own might disagree. And that's fine!
What I'm learning, even in these very early days of 2015, with a goal to read at least 40% diverse authors, is that each book and each author is special. I think what we're all trying to do by reading diversely is find the specialness--the nuggets of inspiration or insight that come from experiencing something beyond ourselves. How we find the wisdom or insight is up to each of us, and it's not easy. It shouldn't be. It takes a little digging and it definitely takes some thought, and so far I'm grateful not only for the books read and authors found, but for the exercise of thinking through these issues because they're that important.
I'll research every author. Not just the ones with non-white skin or cool last names. There's so much more than that to discover. Our definitions of diversity will ultimately prove as diverse as the authors we choose to read.
A special thank you to Aarti from BookLust and Didi from Brown Girl Reading for having very open, honest conversations with me on this topic over the course of the week. Sometimes they disagreed with me, other times they made me feel more comfortable with my own guidelines, and they always made me think! Cheers to more honest conversations.