Why it’s time to diversify your reading list!

It’s a hot topic in the publishing world and on the YA twitter feeds: DIVERSITY IN BOOKS. The argument goes that publishing is way to white and middle-class and we need more “diverse voices”(people with different backgrounds and experiences) in the industry and writing books. And we need to get better, as readers, at pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones and reading different stuff.

 

We talk to co-founder of #ReadDiverse2016, Naomi Frisby, about why what you read matters and about reading can change your life!

Firstly, could you tell us about what #ReadDiverse2016 is?
#ReadDiverse2016 is a campaign to encourage readers to read books by writers of colour, writers who identify with LGBTIQ communities and writers who are differently abled, and then to share the books they’ve read and enjoyed via the hashtag.

Could you tell us a bit of the background to the current campaign?
The campaign really began at the end of November 2015 when my friend and fellow book blogger, Dan Lipscombe, tweeted that he was only going to read books by BAME writers (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) in December. His tweet was a reaction to the World Book Night list, which for 2016 doesn’t have a single writer of colour on it. We love World Book Night, it’s a fantastic initiative, but the list highlighted the lack of recognition for these authors and was particularly disappointing following the Man Booker Prize shortlist where four of the six authors were writers of colour. Dan created the hashtag #DiverseDecember and it took off in a way we never imagined: it trended for more than 24 hours over the first two days of the campaign and was featured in The Guardian as well as a number of online magazines. It gave us the impetus to turn it into a year-long initiative.

The big one: why do you think reading books from authors from a diverse range of backgrounds is important?
I honestly believe that reading can change people’s lives. That sounds like a very grandiose statement but a great book allows you to inhabit someone else’s life and if you can become part of their life for a short time, you can begin to understand it. When you acquire a new perspective on the world, it changes how you think, feel and behave and it seems that more than ever we need to understand other people’s points of view.

What is the purpose of the campaign? What do you want to change? Is it just individual reading habits or do you have your eye on publishing and beyond?
Right from Dan coining #DiverseDecember it’s been about both individual readers and the publishing industry. You can’t have one without the other and although an individual reader might not influence the industry, a group of readers certainly can. We’d like to influence individual reader’s habits, for the reasons stated in the previous answer, but also because reading books written by a wider range of authors will give these writers greater visibility and convey to publishers and those compiling lists – whether for recommended reads or for prizes – that readers want to read books by a range of writers. There are so many stories and so many ways of telling those stories still out there in the ether, or on people’s harddrives, and – from a selfish, personal point of view – I want to read them!

Why have you adopted Twitter as the main outlet for the campaign?
Initially, I’m not sure it was a conscious decision; Dan and I both spend a lot of time on Twitter (it’s where we met) and because we’re both book bloggers we follow and are followed by other bookish people – both readers and publishing people. What Twitter is brilliant for is reaching a lot of people relatively quickly through a hashtag. The consequence for us was that not only did people contribute to #DiverseDecember by sharing book recommendations but they also took the idea to their own blogs and websites, shared their plans for the month and reached other readers. I’m not sure there’s another way of replicating that reach on any other platform.

Give us a few practical steps that Cuckoos could take to make their reading more diverse!
This is a lot easier than it might sound: have a look at the last five books you read. In each, turn to the author’s biographical note and see what gender and race the writer is. Is there a pattern to the authors you’re reading? Mine used to be white – British or American – middle-aged men (often heterosexual – ‘lives with his wife and two children’). Make a manageable commitment to read books by a wider range of authors; maybe one a month by someone new to you or someone whose book you might not have picked up in the library or at a bookshop.

And here are some of Naomi’s #ReadDiverse2016 top recommends……

Ours Are the Streets by Sunjeev Sahota

Imtiaz, a young Muslim man from Sheffield, writes to his wife, Rebecca, to explain why he’s going to carry out a suicide bombing in Meadowhall shopping centre.

More info ›

All of the Above by Juno Dawson

Sixteen-year-old Toria Bland moves schools and has to deal with making new friends, falling in love and exams.

More info ›

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

When Ijeoma’s father is killed in the Nigerian Civil War, her mother sends her to live with a grammar school teacher and his wife. There she meets Amina and falls in love.

More info ›

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan

A short-story collection that subverts traditional ideas of gender and desire, sprinkled with a handful of magic realism.

More info ›

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A letter from the author to his 14-year-old son in which he attempts to answer questions about race in America.

More info ›

Tweet Naomi: @Frizbot