I don’t normally stick to New Years’ resolutions. Either, I don’t have the mental fortitude to keep up with them, or they’re too vague and I never really start.
This one just… happened.
I keep a reading log of all the books I read in any given year, to remember the titles of books I should recommend to friends, and to keep track of how many books I read so that next year, I can try to improve it.
I looked over my reading log for 2014, and realised, with a cold, sinking feeling that most of the authors I had read were white, male authors. Of course there was the occasional Haruki Murakami novel, some Virginia Woolf, and a few authors of varying backgrounds, but it wasn’t enough.
I had always held the belief that I didn’t read a book based on the ethnicity of the author, only on the quality of the writing. But I think I unconsciously chose stories I knew I could relate to the most, ones I would be the most comfortable with.
So, I decided that for 2015, I would read more diversely. I would read more books written by people of colour and more books written by women. I wanted to read more books written by LGBITQA people, being a queer woman myself. I want to read about different cultures, I want to read feminist books and essays, I want to read a book that isn’t set in London or Paris or New York for a change.
So I borrowed a reading template from the internet, made a list, and set myself up. I started, as one should always start a challenge like this, with a book of poetry by Maya Angelou. I didn’t purchase the book – it was given to me at Christmas by one of my closest friends. The uncanny timing of this still surprises me.
… of course, I won’t cross white, male authors off my list of to-reads. Why should I? I want more diversity, so nothing should be left out. I still have a ten-hour dramatised version of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings waiting for me.
I think a lot of people are quite indifferent to the idea of deliberately reading novels by authors of colour, because it’s fiction. There are blue people, and green people, people with pointed ears and people with eight limbs – why does it matter who we read and why?
But people of colour shouldn’t have to choose between being represented in history, or represented in fiction. Any person of any minority, LGBITQA people, people with disabilities, with mental illnesses, no one should have to choose that.
Particularly when people like that are often misrepresented or left out of history anyway. Most of the books I’ve compiled by now have been banned in their respective countries. They became underground successes, or resurfaced years later to become cornerstones of fiction or non-fiction.
I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter if I have virtually nothing in common with the author, or the characters, because all the novels I read have a common thread of humanity.
Doing this challenge has made me more compassionate, more empathetic, more self-aware, and certainly more interested in what I read. It’s one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done, and I’ve only just started.
And if anyone else is interested, I have plenty of recommendations.