Who do you read?

Let’s look at books. Yours. Mine. Your kids’, if you have kids.

How many of those books have people of color in them? How many have Muslim characters? LGBTQ? Characters with disabilities? Does that include the main characters? And if you’re male, how many books do you have that have female main characters or authors?

I’d say that a tiny minority of what I’ve read has had characters who fall into any of the above categories. Most of what I’ve read consists of books by white men and women written about white men and women. I’m guessing that the same applies for you, and I think that’s a big problem.

Diverse Books Lead to Greater Empathy

It turns out that reading fiction makes you more empathetic, and reading diverse fiction makes you more empathetic towards people who are different.

It seems that literary fiction is better at this than genre fiction. But if you happen to read or write genre fiction, I still encourage you to seek out diversity. As a reader, I almost never see people of color in mysteries—especially the cozies—and I rarely see them as main characters in fantasy. But more people read genre fiction than literary fiction, and seeing different types of people in fiction helps reaffirm their humanity in the real world.

Give the Gift of Diversity, If Only to Yourself

So if you’re a writer who is a person of color, Muslim, LGBTQ, has disabilities, etc., keep writing! You don’t have to write literary fiction. Just write.*

If you’re a reader or a writer who doesn’t fall into one of the above categories, then actively look for books about people who are different from you—especially if they’re written by people who are different from you.

Perhaps most importantly, if you have kids (or even just know kids), look for diverse books that you can give them as gifts. There are some good kids’ gift ideas at the WeNeedDiverseBooks.org. It might just tip the balance in favor of a better, kinder future.

So what about your books? Your kids’ books? Let me know in the comments. I’m curious.

Footnotes:
*I should take my own advice.

4 thoughts on “Who do you read?

  1. This is something that began to bother me a lot recently. So much of what I read was written by white men and featured mostly white male characters. So I started to try to consciously select books written by women and POC authors and about women and POC characters. I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit lately (read Cloud Atlas and Hard Magic, both by white guys), but before that I’d read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, the Farseer books by Robin Hobb, the Dreamblood series by N.K. Jemisin, Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (Ruff is white, but the story is all about POC in a Lovecraftian world), J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike books, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon. Currently reading Killing Rage by bell hooks and The Color Purple by Alice Walker (although again I’m cheating by reading Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind).

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    1. Jim, I think it’s okay to read some white male authors. There are a lot of them, after all. But it’s too easy to only read white (male) authors. Honestly, I think you’re far ahead of the curve, compared to most people.

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    1. I do love the Dresden Files, but it’s part of the same problem: It’s a book about a straight white male protagonist, written by a straight white male author. Does that mean I won’t read the next Dresden Files book? No. But I really need to make an effort to read more books by authors who are people of color, not straight, etc.

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