If you read book blogs (obviously), you’re probably familiar with “diversity challenges,” in which a reader tries to expand his or her reading tastes and worldview by reading books only by female authors for a year, or one writer of color a month, or a book from the perspective of every letter of QUILTBAG, or what have you. The people who set these challenges for themselves are avid readers, and generally they start off their challenge by noting the great disparities that exist in literature when it comes to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or probably some other things I am forgetting to mention.
Don’t get me wrong. I have said things like this in my own blog before, and I completely support anyone who is identifying the clear problems in publishing (all areas, but for the purposes of you Hub readers, we’ll go with YA) when it comes to having too many white ladies writing about white ladies, and too little of everything else. And, of course, any time you are trying to read more books more of the time, you are doing something right.
But there’s something about such challenges that makes me uncomfortable. Well, actually a lot of things, but let’s assume that you are already fairly well versed in issues of privilege and diversity in YA (it’s all over the blogosphere, but you can even stay right here at the Hub to get some background). My librarian-specific issue has to do with what you were doing before you decided to read diversely. Because to me, it seems like saying that you’re “trying to read diversely” means you’re already doing it wrong.
I’m assuming that one of the major reasons you got into library science was that you love to read. Admit it. Much as we love reference and readers’ advisory, cataloging, community programs, or whatever else makes library work your chosen career, we’re all really here because we love to read, right? And there’s that thing they say about librarians — something about how we’re librarians because we want to be experts at everything. That, at least, is one of the biggest things that informs my reading. I naturally want to know a little bit about everything.
That’s why I don’t really understand having to be forced (even if you force yourself) to read diversely. My question is: why (and how) were you not doing that already? Even if you’re not a person who wants to know about everything, if you’re a librarian, it’s your job to know what’s out there so that you can inform other people.
For me, I find out about new books (by which I mean new to me, not just new to the world) from everywhere: characters or writers mention books in the books I’m already reading; I get attached to authors and decide I have to read everything they wrote; I read roundups and best-of lists for all kinds of themes; my friends tell me to read things; I troll bookstores; I read blog after blog and learn about titles I may have missed or about debuting authors. And aside from noting whether a particular genre or plot device grabs me, one of the biggest things that grabs me is that it’s something I’ve never read about before or haven’t read about for a long time. That’s it. Simple.
How do you feel about the idea of diversity challenges? Is it a crutch or a necessary thing to get you out of a reading rut? Would you rather set up a challenge with criteria and reading lists or diversify the sources where you get your book news and recommendations?
— Hannah GÃ³mez, currently reading City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster