There were so many things I wanted to say in my post yesterday (My Year of Diverse Reading), but it was getting pretty long and I had to cut it short. So I’ll try to address a few of them here, though my thoughts are a little scattered, so I hope this has some coherent structure, but I promise nothing.
First, when I started my reading year, I hadn’t made any kind of choice for this to be a year of diverse reading. I’d been trying for years (albeit not as hard as I should have been) to broaden my reading horizons. But I didn’t have any plans for this to be the year it all changed.
But I was writing characters with diverse identities, and had plans for more, so it only made sense to add more books to my reading list that reflected more than cis-het, white, abled, and Christian. I’d already done countless hours of research online reading blogs and articles, watching Own Voices movies and TV shows, and of course reading diverse YA, but the percentage in comparison to non-diverse YA was small.
And let’s talk for a second about “diverse” and “non-diverse” or privileged. I’m not a fan of the current label of “diverse”, though I use it in default of anything else. It’s so normative. If you are LGBTQ+, disabled, non-Christian, or a person of color, you’re “diverse” as in “not normal” as in normal = white, straight, able, cis gender, and Christian. Why does an identity that differs from the “expected norm” have to be called something like “diverse”? Why is there a norm? Why is anyone “different” if we are all essentially different from each other in some way?
I don’t have an answer, so I’ll use the terminology for now, but I look forward to the day when we no longer have to have these conversations. I’m doubtful it will happen in my life time.
Next, I want to talk about why I wrote the post about my reading last year. It wasn’t for “ally cookies” or recognition. I don’t deserve accolades for doing something we should all be doing anyway. I wrote the post in the hopes that maybe even one reader (hopefully more) would be inspired to increase how many diverse and Own Voices books they read in the next year. I listed some of my favorites from 2016 (not all diverse) to give some examples of what books maybe they could pick up in the future. And I wrote the post to normalize the idea of reading diversely.
We talk about “normalizing” a lot on Twitter. Mostly in the context of “Don’t normalize Trump/White Supremist hateful views and behaviors.” But there’s a flip side to that too. We have the opportunity to normalize diverse reading, empathy, intellect, kindness, etc. I know this alone isn’t going to defeat what has happened to our country both in the election and the dredging of dormant views of white supremacy, but it’s a start. Providing all kids with books that reflect themselves as well as the diversity around us will only increase empathy and understanding. It will hopefully lay the groundwork for better discourse in the future and more empathetic individuals to lead this country.
I mentioned a term in yesterday’s post that I’d like to talk more about: monetary voice. It’s the voice that speaks when I spend money. Often it’s the most powerful voice we have. (Which is completely sad, but sometimes you have to work within the system you have.) Purchasing diverse and Own Voices books speaks volumes to a publisher. The more we spend on these books, the more publishers will realize that they are a valuable market. Publishers will then acquire more, put more money in advances for diverse authors, and put more money toward marketing those books, which will then increase their sales and exposure.
You see, right now we have a situation where diverse and Own Voices books don’t sell particularly well (there are exceptions, I’m speaking in general terms). So publishers pay small advances, print fewer copies, and put very little money (if any) toward marketing those books. The books are not readily available, haven’t been advertised, have little buzz, and aren’t prominently displayed on a B&N bookshelf. In case you missed it, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You know the old addage: If you believe you’re going to fail, you will. Well, if a publisher believes a book won’t sell, guess what . . .
We need publishers to start taking more chances on diverse books through not only buying them, but aggressively marketing them as well. But that’s not under our control. So what can we do? Buy more diverse and especially Own Voices books. Publishers will see dollar signs rise, and put more effort into acquiring and marketing those books.
But what else can we do to increase the sales of diverse and Own Voices books? Well, let’s go back to normalizing the reading of these books. First, read them, whether you buy them or get them from a library, you are telling someone that these books are in demand. Second, review the books. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads are all prominent places where readers look to find out about books they might want to read. Even just giving it a star value on some of the sites will help, though a written review is more likely to sway a reader deciding if they are interested. Third, use your social media to spread the word. Share your reviews or just talk about the book online. The more people see you reading these books, the more they will normalize it as an option for them.
Though all of the above mentioned points are valid reasons to increase the reading of diverse and Own Voices books, there’s another great, basic reason: THEY ARE AMAZING BOOKS! I have been blown away this past year by the beauty, the grace, the poetry of some of the books I have read. For me, they are windows into a world I could never really know about any other way. For many others they are mirrors and there are far too few mirrors for marginalized youth in this country. There were heartbreaks and up lifiting moments, adventure and beauty, love and revenge. I cried tears of sorrow at soul-crushing endings and sighed with contentment at HEA’s. These books will produce all the feels, OTP’s, and ships you can possibly come up with. And I promise you, if you make room in your TBR for diverse and Own Voices books, you will NOT feel like you are missing out on other books. They are just as good (often better) than some of the novels publishers push as The Next Big Thing.
I’ve run out of things to say right now, though I’m guessing about midnight when I’m trying to sleep, some other thoughts will pop into my head. That’s how it always works. For now, please consider some of the above ways you can help increase the exposure of diverse and Own Voices books, and how reading about all kinds of characters can help our kids grow to be better people.
And now, I have a lot of reviews to write . . .