My Year of Diverse Reading Part 2

rainbow-books

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 . . .

My Year of Diverse Reading

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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.

Post #21: #OwnVoices: Why We Need Diverse Authors in Children’s Literarure

I know this sounds like something I’ve already posted, and while it is about the importance of diversity in children’s literature, it is specifically about needing the voices of diversity to be at the forefront of the stories we tell. It’s the #OwnVoices type of article I’ve been looking to share. Though Kayla is talking specifically about physical disability, the ideas she expresses concerning #OwnVoices stories can be applied whether we are talking about racial, religious, physical, sexual or gender diversity. Really, any diversity.

Kayla Whaley: #OwnVoices: Why We Need Diverse Authors in Children’s Literarure

*New readers may wonder why I’m sharing these posts and why they’re numbered. Here’s a link to my post I’m Giving Up HATE, PREJUDICE and INDIFFERENCE for Lent.

And here are my latest 5 posts in the series:

Post #16: Listen and Learn . . . 
Post #17: Comprehensive List of LGBTQ+ Term Definitions
Post #18: Discussion: Body Positivity in YA – Where’s the Love for Curvy Women?
Post #19: Beyonce in Formation
Post #20: #OscarSoWhite

*Please remember to leave the sites I post clean. We are here to learn, not debate. Even if you disagree, we need to learn that just because we have an opinion, doesn’t mean we need to share it all the time.*

Your Bookshelf Doesn’t Look Like America*

I hate to see the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign end with only one month devoted to it, so I’m reblogging this excellent article. I’m a fact and numbers person, and the numbers don’t lie! My favorite line was “Equally as important as providing a plethora of lovable characters that kids of color can relate to is preventing white kids from growing up to be participating oppressors in a broken system.”

You're gonna need a bigger book

“The mission statements of major publishers are littered with intentions,” says Christopher Myers in his New York Timesarticle from March 2014, “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature.” He couldn’t have written a more understated, nor more damning sentence. Big publishers’ mission statements are full of platitudes and lofty ideals about diversity that have yet to translate into actual, measurable change.

In 2013, just 253 of 3200, or 8%, of published children’s books starred protagonists of color. To those defensively insisting, “It’ll get better! Change takes time!”—sit down. It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse. In 2008, for example, the number sat at 13%; in 2010, 9%. Even when children’s books featuring non-human protagonists are excluded from consideration, the percentage only goes up slightly to around 10.8% for 2013. This number is ridiculously low, given that in 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that non-white children actually make up…

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