Corralling Books and Fiddler Blue have begun a meme to inspire bloggers to engage in conversations. Participants answer the question of the week and then discuss! Even if you aren’t participating formall, feel free to leave a comment. This week’s prompt is:
Are there any particular diverse books you read more and why?
I tend to choose my books based on a variety of factors including the summary, the genre, the author, the publisher, and the cover art. I like to read classics, fantasy, middle grade fantasy and sometimes contemporary or mystery, and nonfiction. Most of these genres are not, let’s face it, diverse. There are, of course, diverse classics, but my penchant for Victorian novels, Renaissance drama, and British and American children’s books means that diversity is a rare occurrence, even a surprise; when you read something like Othello, you notice that it is an anomaly.
I do think it’s important to read outside one’s comfort zone, however. Reading, after all, allows us to experience the world through the eyes of others and, hopefully, to gain some sympathy for and understanding. I made an effort this year to read more African American literature. Train Whistle Guitar by Albert Murry, Jazz by Toni Morrison, and Corregidora by Gayl Jones are among the books I read. They were different and difficult, but they were worth reading.
If I read diversely in any sense, I think I read religious diversity. I like books that show characters of faith, regardless of what that faith is. Literature often glosses over the fact that religion exists because religion makes people uncomfortable–but religion is a huge part of many people’s daily lives and philosophies, and to pretend it doesn’t matter isn’t very realistic. J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, L. M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, and Chaim Potok are some of my favorite authors who depict characters of faith. And, of course, many classic authors such as Charles Dickens also write characters of faith, even though they aren’t writing “religious literature.” Other classic writers such as Shakespeare and Marlowe depict religion in their works or just assume their audiences understand religion is a force in the world, without much comment on it. Indeed, simply by enjoying Renaissance drama, I expose myself to a lot of religion just because it was so contentious at the time. Simply by enjoying medieval literature I expose myself to a lot of religion because these writers assume Catholicism as a shared faith. But I don’t seek out these books. They just happen to be the types of reading I already enjoy.
I do try to read more diversely, though, and when I find a book that contains a diverse character, one of color, one with a disability, etc., I make a note of it. These books can be difficult to find. I didn’t know when I picked up Natalie Lloyd’s A Snicker of Magic that it has a character in a wheelchair. I didn’t realize when I began reading N. D. Wilson’s Ashtown Burial series that the two protagonists have dark skin and so does their mentor. The covers and the summaries of books don’t always reveal when diversity is happening (indeed, the Ashtown Burial covers suggest that the male protagonist might be white). So, when I do stumble across a diverse character, I am pleasantly surprised. And I hope that the young readers who pick up these books are also pleasantly surprised to find themselves represented. But more than that, I hope that one day, this becomes the norm and we can stop being surprised to see diversity in literature.