As I’ve mentioned in several previous blog posts, I decided to make a concerted effort in 2015 to not only read more but to expand the diversity of my personal reading. Although I consider myself to be a person who generally values and cares about diversity, that feeling hadn’t translated to my reading. When I took an inventory of my personal reading from last year I found that, in addition to my being in a reading slump, I was reading overwhelmingly white, women. That didn’t sit well with me, hence my commitment to read harder.
So far, I’m doing reasonably well. I’ve gotten a little off track but a detour into the Toni Morrison backlist is hardly a waste of time. This year I’ve read significantly more stuff by women of colour and my TBR pile is more multi-cultural than it probably would have been if I wasn’t mindfully selecting my reading. But there’s one trend that I have not reversed: I’m still reading more books by women than by men. And I’m wondering – is that something I should feel bad about? On the one hand, the lack of male authors in my personal reading means a lack of representation which is technically a lack of diversity. On the other hand, the fact that women remain sorely underrepresented in the industry means that I have a difficult time feeling too badly about this. That’s only half the point though. The real goal of this challenge for me (and I suspect most participants) is to identify the voices that are absent from our personal reading and seek to include them. In general, men are not marginalized voices in literature but am I missing out by reading from a predominantly female perspective?
Perhaps the only way to answer this question for myself is to explore why I gravitate toward female writers and determine if there’s a gap that needs to be fixed. I don’t know why I tend to read more female authors than male authors but it’s something I’ve always done. Perhaps it all began when I was a young reader and had the potentially naive reasoning that I would relate better to female characters and since more female authors wrote stories about girls I sought out female authors. Since the read harder challenge is all about challenging out preconceived notions about the types of stories we may relate to, my gravitation toward female writers may be problematic. Sounds like I should make an effort to include more male authors in my regular reading.
I came to this conclusion and still felt a little weird about it when it dawned on me that reading more male authors didn’t mean that I needed to start reading more white male authors. I sheepishly admit that this obvious point didn’t hit me immediately but now that it has I’m working on a male-author TBR pile that will satisfy some of the Read Harder challenges and extend beyond. I have physical copies of books by Rohinto Mistry, Sherman Alexie, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, and Kazuo Ishiguro and I’m finally next in line for Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao at my local library. My mental list also includes Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose work I’ve never gotten around to, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, because I love his non-fiction.
Does that mean I’m sworn off white male authors? Absolutely not. There’s no way I’ll stop reading Dan Brown, Robert K. Massie, Lawrence Wright, George R.R. Martin, James Salter, or David Sedaris. And I’ve always wanted to really get into Hemingway and see what all the fuss is about. For me, reading diversely isn’t about subtracting from my personal reading but adding to it. I’m adding a little more men and a lot more colour, and my reading world will be richer for it.