As you may have seen on my twitter account, this year I wanted to consciously experience and give exposure to more books from diverse authors.
Partly this is so that I don’t just read from the viewpoint of authors with a similar identity to myself, so I can have a more rounded experience. The other part is to encourage others to hopefully follow my lead and see what great stories there are from various demographics.
I was prompted recently by a blogger I respect to take a look at my reading history and see how diverse the list was – there was a split of men to women of around 65% to 35%. In the defence of my ignorance it did feel like there are more men writing science fiction and fantasy (which may only appear to be the case because I mostly populate my TBR from ‘popular’ lists online) but if we predominately buy only books from men, it is only likely to discourage potentially brilliant female authors from creating more SFF stories.
The same goes for people of colour/non-white authors whose stories may not gain the exposure or influence in the genre to the extent that they deserve to. I imagine there are many readers with subconscious bias who don’t ‘take a risk’ with authors from vastly different backgrounds because they feel they won’t relate to the story or think only certain writers will create the type of story they enjoy reading.
What I’ve decided to do, then, is spend February and March 2020 reading SFF books only from women and/or non-white authors. I recognise there may be questions such as “Why not just choose a story and ignore the identity of the author?” or, “Is that not penalising white male authors?”
To answer the first question – that’s what I do already! But inevitably most of the sources I look for fantasy books are not particularly diverse. Approx 50% of the UK for example is female and just under 20% is non-white. That’s almost 1 in 5 people, which I don’t feel is represented in this community. In addition to that, the community is an international one; other parts of the world have a much higher percentage of non-white citizens yet this is not represented in SFF. If we take just a little time and make a conscious effort to try and incorporate writers from diverse groups into our reading it will encourage writers from those groups to write more SFF and it will benefit everyone, being more representative. Everyone, whether they like it or not, is shaped by their upbringing and that can have an influence on various aspects of their writing. Do you really only want to read from authors with similar experiences? Will we not gain a much richer, colourful and varied experience in the genre reading from authors with all different experiences and ideas? Personally I think that’s a huge positive and exciting.
On the second question, there are millions of SFF readers. Nobody is going to stop reading Sanderson and Abercrombie, me included (and I’m pretty sure those authors would encourage you to read diversely) and every single series or novel on my ‘want to read’ or TBR list (and in future) will be bought and read at some point. There are no books that will be overlooked so author is going to miss out on having their book bought or reviewed. There is no suggestion that any one individual has any more right to be read than another except on their own writing merits. This is simply to help make sure everyone is given that same chance.
I am not dishonest enough to promise that all of my reading will be exactly proportional of the country’s demographics (for a start the number of writers to choose from isn’t proportional to the population, in the UK and elsewhere)
I’m also not going to blindly read books that simply don’t appeal to me just because the author belongs to a particular community – I think this would be disrespectful on my part. What I can promise is that I will be mindful and conscious of making sure my reading isn’t one dimensional, that I research and look below the surface of ‘most popular fantasy’ type lists and challenge my own subconscious biases – for example I have a history degree and am very knowledgeable on European history. For this reason I’ve almost always clung to the safety net of stories written within this setting. Often, this isolates Asian or African fantasy authors whose stories are sometimes influenced by those continents. Why wouldn’t a European reader be able to enjoy a story that is influenced by the history or culture of another continent – surely that will make them a more rounded, knowledgeable and nuanced reader and human being?
As well as this, and there being so much discrimination (conscious and subconscious) still prevalent all over the world, a large part of this comes from ignorance. Encouraging people to read from others’ perspectives can only help to create empathy and understanding. This includes not only authors but characters in the books we read. Would more authors write LGBTQ+ characters if more books with those characters were reviewed? Definitely. Hearing different voices as a reader can have a massively powerful effect and the power of books to bring people together cannot be overlooked.
Even taking a small pledge to read more diversely benefits everyone and is a step towards the ideal of not even taking gender, race, or identity of any kind into account when reading, or for publishers selecting a novel. And it just gives everyone more great stories to read!
Thankyou for reading! A follow up post is on the way with the books I’ll be reading in February and March. I have 8-10 books in mind; if I haven’t finished them by the end of March I will continue with them until they’re all read. Some of them are already well reviewed, some are less known, but the focus is on diversity! Happy New Year!