As was probably apparent in my post about How I Read so Many Books, I LOVE to get lost in a good book. However, it wasn’t until I started really tracking what I read through Goodreads that I started to consciously change my reading habits to expose myself to more diverse stories and thoughts, and I am so glad I did.
After my first few years of Goodreads reading goals/challenges, my summaries for the year showed me I was mostly reading books written by white dudes. Now, this includes many books that I love! I’m not saying we should all stop reading books written by white dudes. However, especially after spending most of grad school reading pretty much EXCLUSIVELY plays written by dead white dudes, I decided I needed to make an intentional effort to broaden my reading horizons. I wasn’t about to give up the fantasy series (a genre I think we can all agree is particularly dominated by white males), but I wanted to add a few more perspectives now that I wasn’t reading for a degree and could just enjoy whatever I wanted and read for fun.
So I started by committing to read more female authors and to shoot for at least a 50/50 split if not to move toward reading a majority of books written by women to make up for the years when I’d neglected them a bit. It was amazing how just by recording what I read and adding books that fit this qualification to my “to read” list so that I had ideas ready when it was time to head to the library changed my reading habits. And what I was reading started to change how I looked at the world and the perspectives I had on various events. For one, representation really does matter and reading more books by women had the effect of reframing my own narrative about myself and whether I looked at myself as a protagonist or a supporting character. Even more importantly, reading a greater number of books by women meant that I gained MANY different perspectives and examples of what a “woman’s view” or “woman’s voice” might be instead of placing the burden of a singular, inscrutable voice on just a few authors which is what was unintentionally happening when I had less representation in my reading. More than just representation though, it changed a great deal about the way my brain approached problems or made assumptions about people. What happened reminded me very much of a Neil Gaiman quote:
“(Reading fiction) gives us empathy.. the act of looking out through other eyes tells us something hugely important- that other people exist.” -Neil Gaiman
Other people exist. Our views and experiences are not the only ones. I knew this already from a lifelong love of reading and of theatre, but In theatre you are mostly cast as characters similar to your “type” and sometimes you don’t know just how much you don’t know.
After incorporating more female authors intentionally into my reading, it was easier to keep that trend going. So I started to diversify more. I realized that I read comparatively few non-fiction books and wanted to branch out there as well. And then I realized I was still lacking in diverse ethnic viewpoints so in 2020 I made a conscious effort to read more BIPOC authors (and I guess I was lucky to put a bunch of those books on hold before June because happily this seemed to become a very popular thing to do after all the civil unrest last summer) and I will admit that some of those stories have forced me to sit with some discomfort sometimes and to stretch my empathy muscles. And I believe I am a better person for that.
This is something I am ensuring starts early with my children. Especially now that my son is moving into reading books on his own. I want to be sure we have books around that showcase kids who don’t look like him or have different life experiences alongside the classic kids books about animals and kids who do look like him. I want to make sure they read about boys who are nights and boys who want to play with dolls, about kittens who lose mittens and about bulls who want to sniff the flowers, about Disney princesses and paper bag princesses and water protectors and the lives of saints who are beautifully diverse and lots more.
Aside from wanting to strengthen their empathy muscles, I want to try and help them avoid some of the availability bias that has made some parts of life more difficult for me. (The idea that if something is easy to recall it is probably more prevalent or more true even when that is often not the case…) I want them to think of female mathematicians, of Asian priests, of male ballerinas, and so much more than the often cookie cutter representations I grew up with. But I also want to keep reading them classics from my own childhood and to have really good discussions around those. Basically… even after my kiddos get vaccinated (really hoping that happens SOON), and I anticipate our rate of reading will drop, I want to continue to be a family immersed not just in stories, but in all different kinds of stories!
But first I had to notice where I was starting and take one tiny step toward more diversity. Have your reading habits changed in the last few year? Do you want them to? Let me know!