Last year I read 129 books. That’s a record for me. I mean, I think it is. I’ve only been keeping track for the last three years, but I’m pretty certain I have never read this many in my life. 2015 came out at 86 books, while 2014 was a whopping 52. So there’s been a lot of improvement in the numbers.
But total numbers isn’t the only improvement. I’ll admit, until recent years I never made much effort to broaden my reading horizons. I read what was available. Or if I was writing something I might try to read everything available that was similar, but for the most part my reading tastes veered toward whatever appeared on a B&N end cap.
And to be honest, I was always okay with that. I was a white cis-het girl living in a white cis-het world, and it didn’t even occur to me that that was a problem.
But it is a problem. A big one. I was doing what millions of teen readers do: read what is available, as well as read what I see. I see white people . . .
So what made me change? Well, getting more involved in book communities both on Absolute Write and on Twitter opened my eyes just a crack to the huge disparity in children’s literature that is available. And even more than that, the fact that ALL kids need to see themselves reflected in literature, but also that white, straight, middle America needs to see ALL kinds of people in literature too.
So I started reading more diverse books. It wasn’t easy. Living in a mostly white community in rural Michigan where almost everyone is Christian, straight, and cis means that books that reflect other walks off life are few and far between. So I had to start ordering titles on line just to get a few, but my book buying budget is limited. A Kindle helped, especially when I’d wait for books to be on sale. But what really saved me was Inter Library Loan!
The librarians began to tell me I didn’t need to request 20 books at a time. They’d still be there when I wanted them, but no! I needed to have them now! Beautiful little books lined up on my desk just begging to be read! It was like the candy dish you can’t stop eating from because it’s there!
Anyway, reading more diversely was a priority for me not only because I wanted to read and promote diverse books and authors, but also because I wanted to learn and do better so that when I wrote characters unlike myself I could do a better job at it. Nothing can replace the value of Own Voices stories, but writing responsibly is the least privileged authors can do.
But despite my “purpose” in reading diverse books, I discovered something very quickly: I couldn’t get enough of them. There were so many quality books out there that I hadn’t encountered before. I had been missing out! And so are all the readers like me who are settling for whatever YA series the publishing industry has decided will be The Next Big Thing!
Okay, so to the stats: (I don’t feel like making a graphic, so I hope the numbers will be fine.)
- Total Books: 129
- Non-Fiction: 9 (6.9%)
- Books Featuring LGBTQ+ Characters (MC or important Side Character): 41 (31.7%)
- Non-binary Characters: 8 (6.2%)
- Books Featuring Characters of Color (MC or important Side Character): 65 (50.4%)
- Books Featuring a Disabled MC: 9 (6.9%)
- Books Featuring a Female MC: 98 (75.9%)
- LGBTQ+ Identifying Authors: 13 (10.1%)
- Trans Authors: 2 (1.6%)
- Authors of Color: 47 (36.4%)
- Authors w/ a Disability: 3 (2.3%)
- Female Authors: 95 (73.6%)
Some books were counted in more than one category for obvious reasons. And for others that weren’t so obvious, a trans author is counted under LGBTQ+ Identifying, Trans, and possibly Female if that is how they identify. Same with Female MC. Female Identifying and Female are the same in my opinion, so that’s how I counted them.
So looking at the stats, I need to read more authors with a disability and stories with disabled characters. In my defense, I searched pretty hard for these stories and they are not easy to find. I can also improve on LGBTQ+ Identifying authors and stories, and luckily there are a lot of great examples (not as many as there should be) but definitely a variety.
One problem I encountered is that so many books written by or about people with marginalized identities are “issue” books. It’s like the publishing industry doesn’t want to publish anything that doesn’t involve people with marginalized identities suffering for those identities. We need lesbian space princesses saving an alien race, and brown kids bringing down a dystopian government, and disabled characters riding dragons to fight a horde of trolls. And most importantly, the marginalized part of their identity is not the point of the book!
*sigh* I know I’m not telling any of my fellow writers things they don’t already know. We’ve been talking about these issues in publishing for years. But as a reader, I’m going to make more of an effort to read diverse books, and diverse authors. Not only because I need to use my monetary voice to make my wishes heard in the industry, but because they’re just damn good books!
Edit: Realized i forgot to include numbers for:
- Own Voices stories: 51 (39.5%)
- Muslim MC (Own Voices): 3 (2.3%)
Looks like I can do better on reading stories with Muslim characters and by Muslim authors.
So here are my Favorite Reads of 2016 in no particular order. And yes, there’s a lot of them. Fight me. I can’t pick a favorite child anymore than I could pick a favorite book. They’re all beautiful and special!
- A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC & A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by V.E. Schwab
- PROMISE OF SHADOWS by Justina Ireland
- SINCE YOU ASKED by Maurene Goo
- THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp
- THE LESSER BLESSED by Richard Van Camp
- BLACKBIRD FLY by Erin Entrada Kelly
- AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES by Randy Ribay
- PANTOMIME & SHADOWPLAY by Laura Lam
- BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray
- A HISTORY OF GLITTER AND BLOOD by Hannah Moskowitz
- THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma
- SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN by Jeff Garvin
- THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater
- THE WINNER’S TRILOGY by Marie Rutkoski
- IF I WAS YOUR GIRL by Meredith Russo
- GOOD KINGS, BAD KINGS by Susan Nussbaum
- JULIET TAKES A BREATH by Gabrielle Rivera
- THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig
- THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi
Check out My Year of Diverse Reading Part 2 for more thoughts on my 2016 reading.