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.

*I should take my own advice.

French Friday: Le Dormeur du Val

I’m not doing a traditional Vendredi de Vocabulaire, but today’s post is related to French.

Last night, I went to a reading at the Free Library of Philadelphia called La Belle Epoque: Poetry from the Banquet Years. Several speakers read poetry from the Belle Epoque: the period between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I. The poet Rimbaud (en français) featured prominently.

Most of the readings last night were of translations, although a few people read both the original French and a translation. In addition, one person read two translations of Le pont Mirabeau (one of which also happened to be the lyrics to a Pogues song). I would have liked to hear the original versions of more of the poems, but overall, it was a good evening.

I wanted to share one of the poems read (in English only). I’ve included the French text and then an English translation below it.

Le dormeur du val

C’est un trou de verdure où chante une rivière,
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D’argent ; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit : c’est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.

Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort ; il est étendu dans l’herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.

Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme :
Nature, berce-le chaudement : il a froid.

Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine ;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.

And an English translation (although I’m not sure it’s the same one that was read last night.)

The Sleeper in the Valley

It is a green hollow where a stream gurgles,
Crazily catching silver rags of itself on the grasses;
Where the sun shines from the proud mountain:
It is a little valley bubbling over with light.

A young soldier, open-mouthed, bare-headed,
With the nape of his neck bathed in cool blue cresses,
Sleeps; he is stretched out on the grass, under the sky,
Pale on his green bed where the light falls like rain.

His feet in the yellow flags, he lies sleeping. Smiling as
A sick child might smile, he is having a nap:
Cradle him warmly, Nature: he is cold.

No odour makes his nostrils quiver;
He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his breast
At peace. There are two red holes in his right side.

Note that the translation, like most translations, isn’t exactly word for word. Translation strikes me as being an art rather than a science.

Dinners and Serialized Stories

It’s week two of Philadelphia’s Restaurant Week. I took advantage of it by going to Le Bec Fin, which is definitely one of the fancier places in Philly. I have to say, it didn’t disappoint.

I actually went twice: once with my French conversation group, and once with some friends and new acquaintances. This meant that, by surreptitiously stealing bits from my dinner companions, I managed to get at least a taste of almost everything on their Restaurant Week menu, and everything really was delicious.

There are no pictures, so you’ll just have to imagine what the food was like.

I also just started reading a serialized mystery called A Conspiracy of Friends, written by Alexander McCall Smith. It’s the third novel he’s done in this way, and so far, I like it. This is the first piece by him that I’ve read.

Finally, the Twitter Exquisite Corpse that I started a few weeks ago is now on the final round, and will probably conclude in the next two weeks. The archived tweets will be posted here, or you can follow using the #ecp2010 hashtag.