Conversations (1): Diverse Books

Conversations Diverse Books

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.

Krysta 64

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “Conversations (1): Diverse Books

  1. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    Mm, very interesting that you point out that sometimes a book can be diverse, without you even realising it for a bit! I feel like that’s definitely true, and when that happens – it’s just awesome. Because it just shows how normal they are (in cases where you have disability, or LGBT for example), and how any phobias/discrimination against them are unfounded/exaggerated.
    Glad you participated in Conversations, Krysta! So awesome to hear that you like reading about religious diversity! 😀

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I like that diversity can just be a natural part of the story and we don’t have to yell “LOOK A DIVERSE INDIVIDUAL! WHAT AN ODDITY!” like we’ve come upon a rare creature in the wild. However, I also think that sometimes publishers kind ignore the diversity for marketing reasons. I can think of several books that either don’t put a protagonist of color on the cover even though models seem to be the trend in YA, or books that feature models who appear white, even though the text indicates that the protagonist has dark skin.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

        Yess – for me, diverse books that do that are some of the best. I mean, of course you’re going to have some books where the difference has to be very clear, but apart from those – that’s what makes some diverse books so awesome to me.
        And that’s really interesting – I haven’t actually noticed that so much! But you are right, now that I think about it…that makes me sad 😦 Do you reckon there’s anything we can do to change that? Or do you think that #WeNeedDiverseBooks is in some way, helping to change that, maybe?

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          I’m not entirely sure what #WeNeedDiverseBooks is so I’m not sure. But I think we need to begin introducing readers to diverse books earlier, maybe. Picture books tend to be pretty diverse, but then when students moves into elementary and middle school, the reading lists are often just “children’s classics”–that is, books by American and British authors about white kids. And then it suddenly I think it becomes difficult for some students to move out of that comfort zone and read about other kinds of people.

          I’ve also noticed that the teachers among my acquaintances are not really invested in stocking their classroom libraries with diverse books and that they often don’t understand why they should have books featuring characters of color. Those aren’t the types of books they grew up reading and they don’t understand why a girl with darker skin might need to see a character who looks like her.

          I’ve tried donating diverse books to some of my teacher friends’ libraries and they just act confused. :/ To be honest, I don’t know if they ever even put those books on the shelves.

          Like

  2. Lola @ Hit or Miss Books says:

    You’re right about classics steering clear of LGBT elements most of the time b/c of obvious reasons, BUT, I discovered one that doesn’t and I’m so happy I did! It’s called Maurice by E.M. Forster, and it was written in 1913 but only published in 1974 – if I’m not mistaking – b/c, again, of obvious reasons. I watched the movie and it IS incredible!!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Oh, yeah, E. M. Forster is known for being really risque for the time! I haven’t read any Forster yet, though.

      I don’t think I addressed LGBTQ issues specifically in this post, but it is true that writers such as Marlowe had to be very circumspect about it if they didn’t want to run into legal trouble.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Annika - Hiding Books says:

    Great post, Krysta! I like how you point out that you don’t always notice the diversity! I think it’s great that it’s not always brought up as a central point of the story, I guess. It’s just a part of the book and it makes sense and it doesn’t have to be a selling point in order for it to be included.

    I’m so glad you enjoy reading about religious diversity. I will admit that I do find religion uncomfortable to read about sometimes – it’s okay when it’s in a historical context and it makes sense to me, but since I grew up surrounded by atheists it just feels weird when I’m confronted with a lot of religion. It doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy a story or anything, it’s just something I really notice. I should try to conquer that issue, probably 😉

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I think it’s nice when diverse characters are just in the story rather than in a storyline about acceptance, for example. It makes them seem like a natural part of life rather than an oddity. However, it does bother me when I don’t realize a book is diverse because the publisher put what appears to be a white cover model on the front when the text states that the protagonist has dark skin.

      I guess I know people with different beliefs, so reading about such characters just seems realistic to me.

      Like

  4. Greg says:

    Well said, and you don’t hear much about religious diversity. That’s a great point and I also like it when diversity is just assumed or treated as just another facet, not something that has to be trumpeted.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, it can be awkward when diversity is pointed out like a diverse individual is some rarity of nature. I always imagine the Crocodile Hunter for some reason: “And here we have the rare person of faith! Let’s get a closer look!”

      Like

  5. Kate @ Midnight Book Girl says:

    I read a lot of books and a lot of genres, but I have made more of an effort in the past couple of years to read more diverse authors, more male authors (I read a lot of YA, which is female dominated), and foreign authors. Just being part of the book blogging community has helped to increase my knowledge of books outside of my once small book universe.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, YA is so female-dominated and I get confused when YA blogs say we need more female writers. I admit that male writers tend to receive more credit for writing YA for some reason–you know, John Green writes “real” books and “good” YA, but female authors don’t, apparently. But numbers-wise, females do seem to be the ones being published in YA.

      I think blogging is a great way to find books I wouldn’t have known about otherwise, though! I love seeing the diverse book lists other bloggers put together or hearing about an international author for the first time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • fiddlerblue says:

        I always wondered about that too, with regards to male:female author ratio. It is true that in adult fiction-or just the fantasy genre, for example, it’s dominated primarily by men.YA is the one place I feel where female authors are abundant. I don’t know if there’s something there or it’s just one of those issues in publishing we rarely hear about.
        Great post Krysta. I am particularly interested with what you said abour religious diversity. I’ve read a lot of books these past two years and I think I can count in one hand the ones that mentioned any religion at all. If they were even mentioned, it’s always to criticize them or to use the name of God in vain. Always a touchy subject in literature, I’m afraid. Sometimes, I feel like it’s even more sensitive a discussion compared with mental health or racism. I guess it all boils down to how it is portrayed and how much research was done to avoid misrepresentation.

        Like

        • Krysta says:

          There are still cases where authors take on pseudonyms to write in a specific genre, whether that means a woman uses a male name to write science fiction or a man takes on a female name to write a romance, so I think there is an awareness of the current market dynamics and how gender could affect sales.

          Yes, when I see religion in contemporary books, it’s usually so the protagonist can dismiss it, make fun of it, or point out how dumb they think it is. Real people do this, too, so it makes sense that some characters would be portrayed this way–but it also seems like a disproportionate number of characters are against religion, when I consider that much of the world considers themselves to be religious or spiritual. I think literature is a good place for us to explore these issues and to learn about other faiths, and I wish more authors would take on the challenge to be sensitive about these issues and to try to build bridges.

          And it’s definitely a pet peeve of mine when the book dismisses religion based on an interpretation of the religion that a person in it would not agree with. Why build a straw man to knock down this religion when you could actually learn about it and teach your readers about it, too?

          Like

  6. DoingDewey says:

    LIke you, I think I’m more likely to stumble onto some books that include diversity by accident. I’d like to do more deliberately searching out books with particular types of diversity, but so far I’ve not done a great job of this. I am making a particular effort to read more translated books this year and that’s helping me read books by authors who aren’t just from the US and the UK, but that’s about it. I’m about the opposite of you when it comes to religion though! I wouldn’t say religion in books makes me uncomfortable, but I’m always wary of it becoming preachy.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Ooh! Reading more translated books sounds like a great idea!

      I don’t think books with religion are generally preachy unless they’re specifically Christian fiction or something. Otherwise they’re usually just exploring questions of philosophy or morality, or just presenting it as a fact of life that people of faith exist.

      Like

Leave a Reply! We'd love to read your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s