Mary's Minute: Diversity and my reading habits



There have been many recent discussions about diversity in YA recently, and usually the response is not great a complete dumpster fire, either because of the very real hurt some feel (from erasure or harmful statements or straight up hate) or because of a general sense of discomfort from talking about hard topics. For instance, when I see the topic of diversity come up, I usually feel ill. My stomach cramps, and I experience a few full body cringes because of the ignorance and disrespect and even bare hatred that often comes out during these discussions. Therefore, this post isn't going to talk about why I think diversity is important (it is. Full stop.). Many posts and discussions exist that were written by people much smarter and experienced than I am (Check out #ISupportDiversity on Twitter for some great inspiration!). I don't want this post to be a list of what to do or not to do for others, including you, dear reader. Instead, this post is going to focus on me, and a rather distressing thing I noticed about myself and my reading habits.

I believe in diverse books. I, a white cishet Christian middle-class woman, have always seen myself reflected in the books I've read, even when YA was a relatively new subset of books. I saw myself in Mia in The Princess Diaries. I saw myself in Cammie in The Gallagher Girls. I saw myself in Rose in Vampire Academy. I have seen myself in hundreds, even thousands of books of all genres. When awareness of a lack of diverse books in YA came to the forefront of YA discussion, I realized how blind I'd been. YES, diversity is important. I've seen myself all these times, but so many others haven't. For the past couple years, I have been listening. I've been learning. I've widened the range of people that I follow on social media, and I have been reading Twitter threads and conversations. I don't often comment because, really, what can I add to the discussion when I'm still learning myself, but I RT. I signal boost.

But here's the thing. During a recent conversation on Twitter about librarians and reading widely, I felt very defensive, and I couldn't help but wonder why. After all, I believe in diversity. I believe in reading for my job. I also believe in reading for pleasure. So why did I feel attacked when I was merely an observer, a member of a silent peanut gallery? I pondered, did a little soul-searching, and then I turned to Goodreads.

I'm a huge fan of Goodreads. I don't use it for the social aspect so much as for the reading journal aspect. I am very consistent with my Goodreads usage. I carefully track my reading, the editions I read, the dates. I'm not always the best about posting reviews, but I do love to keep track of what I read and when. I try to keep track of the books I own, the books that are signed, the authors I've met. It's a diary, of sorts. But by being so active, I have created a black and white (and beige, which you think would be a horrible style choice for a website but whatever) record of all my failings. Sure, I have read 900-ish books in the last six years, which I think is impressive. But let's look at those stats a little more closely.

I started using Goodreads regularly in 2011 so my reading record was incomplete that year and all years previous. Of the 40 books I have listed as read in 2011, 3 were by authors of color. All 3 were required reading for my children's lit class.

In 2012, I read 262 books (including novellas). Out of that 262, only 18 are by authors of color. Of those 18, several are novellas. Those 18 titles were written by 6 authors. That's 6.8%.

In 2013, I read 197 books. 12 are by authors of color. Those 12 were written by 5 authors, only one of whom was new to me. Of the 12, a couple are novellas, and a couple are audiobook rereads of the books I read in 2012 so they weren't even new books. That's 6%.

2014: 150 books. 6 books by authors of color. Same authors. 4%.

Keep in mind 2014 was when We Need Diverse Books was created so the discussion truly began. Diverse titles were being pushed a little more, and some change in publishing started happening.

In 2015, I read 131 books. 10 were by authors of color + 1 was an anthology with 2 authors of color, and a couple were audio rereads. 9 authors total. Of those 9, 7 were new to me. 7.6%.

Of the 105 books I have completed so far in 2016, 10 are by authors of color (one is an anthology, one is an audio reread). 11 authors, 8 are new to me. 9.5%

Granted, this year, about half of my books have been audiobooks. As I only listen to audiobooks of books I've previously read and the books that I've read have been overwhelmingly white, obviously I'm listening to a lot of white books. That's still not okay.

Another damning statistic: In nearly 4 years of Mary Had a Little Book Blog, I have talked about a lot of authors. I don't know the exact number, but when I was researching for this post, I discovered only 16 are authors of color. 16! And some of those mentions of those 16 authors are only on things like Top Ten Tuesday or Waiting on Wednesday. So not only am I not reading more diverse books, I'm also not really talking about the ones I have. I don't want to diss TTT or WoW. They're both excellent blog features that can give books and their authors great exposure. But if I'm not backing that up with my own thoughts and original posts, it's not good enough.

In the stats I list above, I'm only talking about authors of color, which is one kind of diversity. There are other kinds such as LGBT+, disability, neurodiversity, religion, etc. Those are important too! I'm just making a point here.

The worst thing is, I have read many more books with main characters of color. But a lot of those books are by white authors, and that's a huge problem. I haven't been backing up my talk, and that honestly breaks my heart. According to several reports, I live in one of the most diverse zip codes in the US (white, black, and Hispanic populations are all nearly equal).* The library that I work at is frequented by a diverse patron population. The teens I work with are a wonderful and diverse bunch. How can I possibly be the best at my job, how can I say I believe in diversity and that everyone deserves to see themselves in a book if I'm not doing more to read and support those books? Obviously I can't.

What can I do? The ONLY answer is that I need to change my reading (and blogging) habits immediately. I'm not saying that I'm not going to read white authors. But I AM going to be more thoughtful and conscious of what I'm reading. I'm going to make a concerted effort to choose more diverse books. More #ownvoices of all types. I do believe it's important so I need to show that.

I challenged myself to read at least 10 more books written by POC authors, but when I actually created a TBR for the rest of the year, the number increased to 19. Of those 19 books, 9 are new-to-me authors. I can still do better considering there are 66 books on that TBR, but I also challenged myself to finish at least 10 series that I previously started (something else I'm horrible at) and I'm still listening to a lot of audiobooks.

Next year, I have challenged myself to increase the amount of #ownvoices and diverse titles that I'm reading AND listening to. I also want to use my blog and the platform I have created to give them more attention.

This post has been a difficult one to write, possibly the scariest one I've ever written. The topic of diversity is sadly a very rocky one, and this post doesn't reflect upon me well. It's uncomfortable for me to lay myself so bare. I have said on many occasions how important I consider diverse YA literature to be so I'm ashamed to admit I haven't been backing up my words. But that's exactly why I think I need to publish this post. As a white person, my "comfort" isn't the important thing at stake.

I wrote this post before That Video was posted and before the horrible troll attacks that came from the diversity hashtags. I was already apprehensive about posting this, and those awful events made me even more nervous. But after getting some feedback from a friend and after reading over this post again several times, I still believe it's important to share. The views of That Vlogger and the blog post from a couple weeks ago and the Twitter trolls are not ones I share, and I can't stay silent and support a status quo that supports those views.

 I haven't been the best at truly supporting diverse authors and titles with more than my words, but it's time to start. Diverse books deserve my time, my action, and my money. We live in a diverse world. What is important, what is essential, is that, to the best of my abilities, I help others experience what I have so many times in my life: seeing a reflection of self in a book. For now, I can read. I can learn. I can write. I can purchase. I can support. I can do better, and I will.

*These reports are supported by real data. However, I am uncomfortable sharing links or specifics because I do not wish to share my address, even just my zip code, on my blog.

Do you have a diverse or #ownvoices recommendation for me? Please share in the comments!

6 comments:

  1. This is a fantastic post, Mary. Like you, I talk about the need for diversity, but I haven't ever made a really concerted effort to follow through with the talk. I've never taken a hard look at the numbers and made an assessment of how I'm really doing when it comes to reading diverse books. I have a feeling that if I did, I'd be in much the same boat as you are. I obviously need to make some changes.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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  2. Thank you for writing this, and for taking the time to think about your reading habits. It was really eye-opening for me. I love the idea of diversity, and I love the diverse books I have read, but I have also been rather lazy about seeking out and actually reading more and more diverse books or books from POC authors. Part of this is because there are so many books I want to read from the years before diverse books became more prevalent, and I'm still trying to catch up, not because I am choosing to set aside these newer diverse books in favor of others on purpose. But I also realize that's not an excuse (merely an explanation), and I need to be more intentional about this if I am going to begin to understand minorities in a more in depth way. (I also need to do this more because I'm writing a book with a POC cast, so the onus is on me to make sure I do a good job.)

    Anyway, thank you again. I wish this discussion could be so much more peaceful, because it needs to happen and people need to hear instead of getting up in arms, and I know I've been scared to include my voice too much on this issue, for multiple reasons. But it also occurs to me more and more just how much I take my own prevalent representation in literature for granted, and it makes me sad that many minorities don't get the same luxury of taking their own representation for granted.

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  3. Thanks for going ahead and posting this! I'm a person of color and I can very much relate this post myself as not reading enough.

    Tanya Patrice
    Girlxoxo.com

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  4. Yep. Guilty of all of that too. I started tracking specific numbers around authors of color and diverse characters of other types (sexuality, health, etc.) this year to prompt myself to do better, but I slip very easily into reading primarily white authors as soon as I take the focus off. Thank you for your honesty and for reminding us all to be more conscious in our choices.

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  5. Great post! for me, I don't even know most of the time what nationality an author is when I choose a book to read. It would be interesting to go through my Goodreads and see how my diversity stacks up too. I enjoyed this emotional and thoughtful post.

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