Friday, May 2

Diversity in Reading

I like to consider myself an eclectic reader. I don't have a preferred genre, although I do skew in favour of fiction, particularly novels. I believe that a good book is a good book is a good book. A compelling narrative, preceded by a good hook, is sure to gain and hold my attention. Even so, I am always finding ways in which I need to branch out with my reading, whether it is reading more classic literature, non-fiction, or books featuring more diverse casts of characters.

Diversity in literature is important. Reading about characters who differ from us in gender, ethnicity, sexuality, culture, economics and physicality allows us to expand on our perception of the world. We are better able to empathise with other people and their situations. We find connections with characters that we might not initially liken to ourselves, or our own experiences, because of those very differences.

Yet diversity is also important in order for readers to connect with characters and situations which they do relate with on a more intimate level. Reading is not just a form of escapism. It is also a gateway for readers to feel connected to people who share their experiences and sense of identity. Stereotypes, minor roles, and ill-representations are unacceptable. This is especially important with young readers, who are discovering who they are as individuals.

I like to consider myself an eclectic reader, but I do have the candour to admit that I need to be much more proactive when it comes to reading diversely. While readers, myself included, don't necessarily go out of our way to avoid books written by or featuring people who aren't cisgender, white and heterosexual, we should make more of an effort to seek them out. Just because these books may not be as prominent when it comes to publicity, does not mean that they aren't aplenty and extremely well written.

Reading is an established form of escapism. That doesn't mean that it should not be realistic. It means that it should be a gateway to stories that both reflect and differ from our own lives. Books allow readers to connect with themes and stories, and to find kinship with characters. That doesn't mean that the protagonist has to be a blank canvas that the reader can insert themselves in, and a white, male protagonist is not universally relatable. To suggest that readers cannot connect with characters that differ from the "social norm" promoted by modern media is utterly inaccurate. One quality does not define an individual but it is important to acknowledge what makes us different. Diversity is something to be celebrated, not disregarded.

There is a false conception that in order to be politically correct, you must behave as though you do not see the differences in people around you. Yet by dismissing the things that make us different, we are trivialising all of the positive qualities that come with those differences. Instead, we need to embrace them and promote their significance. We are diverse people. We need to be reading and supporting books which reflect that.

There is an excellent campaign happening online at the moment called We Need Diverse Books. It is running through 1-3 May, but the need for diversity in literature is always evident. We have diverse books now, but we always need more, and we certainly need to be reading and promoting them. I know I'm going to do my best to read more diversely and reflect that commitment here at Quill Café.

Let me know why diversity in books is important to you and what titles you would recommend me, and others, to help diversify our reading.

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