For the last few years, diversity has been the buzzword of the entertainment industry, and for good reason. In a world where Rooney Mara can play a Native American adolescent girl and Emma Stone can play a part-Chinese, part-Hawaiian US Air Force captain, there exists a serious problem.
However, this issue of diversity extends far beyond the medium of television and film. A matter that has received markedly less press is the lack of diverse literature.
I can sense the confusion already. Diversity in books? What is that going to do? Fictional characters won’t help fix a real-world problem.
But that’s where you’re wrong. They most definitely will.
Diversity, as a rule, requires the representation and consideration of differences–whether cultural, religious, sexual, or otherwise. For this to exist, two things must occur: diversity in creation, and diversity in consumption. The former is not much of an issue, creators of all races, religions, and genders are out there writing provocative and sophisticated material. The problem is that they are being ignored.
This is where the readers come in. (Yes, that’s you!) You hold the power, readers of the world. If you buy books that represent diverse perspectives, then publishers will publish and distribute more of them. It’s not necessarily discrimination that has caused the dearth of diverse fiction, it’s business.
What publishing companies are afraid to bet on is readers’ interest in the narrative of the “other.” But reading diversely benefits everyone, not just the women, people of color, and LGBTQI persons who are so often misrepresented and underrepresented in popular literature. The awareness blog Book Riot puts it quite eloquently: “Reading about cultures, races, and sexualit[ies] outside of your own breeds empathy and respect. It expands your world view.”
Reading diversely should not be a radical concept. It’s a fun and enjoyable way to explore the world around you! Here are some suggestions for you to start–or continue (yay!)–your own diverse reading journey:
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Walk in the shoes of Ifemelu and Obinze, young lovers in pre-democratic Nigeria, who leave home (and each other) in the pursuit of better lives. Ifemelu leaves for America, where she encounters the difficulties and obstacles placed before her in a setting where her race is her most defining feature. The novel also follows Obinze, who leaves for London and discovers the loneliness and indignities of illegal immigrant life. Injected with humor, romance, and a heavy dose of reality, their stories highlight the modern immigrant experience in “post-racial” Western society.
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license…records my first name simply as Cal.” (Excerpt courtesy of Amazon.com)
This novel details the life and family history of Calliope “Cal” Stephanides, a second-generation Greek-American intersex man whose ancestors fled Greece during the Greco-Turkish War in the 1920s. In a fascinating narrative and coming-of-age epic, Cal explores his family history, wherein lies a dark and unnerving secret, and his own personal transformation.
A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
Possibly the most beautifully written novel I have ever come across, Hosseini’s second novel is emotional, provocative, and historically informative. It follows the lives of Mariam and Laila, born a generation apart, in Afghanistan during the last half of the 20th century. The novel deals with the history and culture of an evolving Afghanistan and the toll it has taken on its citizens–especially its women.
Drown, Junot Diaz
A collection of short stories, Drown fearlessly depicts the immigrant experience of many Latin Americans in New York City. Each story stands alone, but all seem to fit together like rough puzzle pieces. They range from the violence and poverty in the immigrant communities of New York City to the experiences of those left behind in the mother country.