Diversifying what you read
In a quaintly stereotypical fashion, I came to terms with being a lesbian over the three years I spent earning a college degree in art. At some point during that time I went to Barnes and Noble and pulled up my to-read list and just stared at it, realizing that I was no longer interested in any of it.
Essentially, it was a lot of YA-fantasy, murder mysteries, historical fiction, and other scattered genres in which I knew the (white) female protagonist was going to fall for at least one (white) dude. If it was gonna be a shake up from my usual choices, the dude was the POV character. And I was just like, I do not relate to this. Why is everything I read like this?
Absurdly, I felt like I was bad at being a lesbian. I sat down in one of the armchairs near the not-really-a-Starbucks, and I pulled out my iPad and started looking up Must Read Lesbian novels. I came up with things like Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Rubyfruit Jungle, Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, Carmilla — classics, and things I was peripherally aware of.
I picked up a couple of those, and over the next year or so, I started on this weird mission to just consume as much gay-lady-media as possible. I used tumblr masterposts, goodreads lists, BookRiot recommendations, autostraddle articles: you name it. Along the way, I found some of my all-time favorite books and movies, and overall I started feeling more connected to a culture that I had been a little nervous to try and get to know.
That’s the power of representation. It’s knowing you’re a part of something, and all annals of exploration and growth and opportunity are available to you and people like you. It’s un-learning through media that people like you belong in certain kinds of jobs and homes and roles, or that their stories get certain kinds of ends.
I want everyone to have this. I want everyone to dive in and discover there’s a whole ocean of things that connect them to their identity, and remind them that they aren’t alone. And I want the rest of us to read those stories: to know that there isn’t a default romantic story that everyone’s supposed to relate to. To know that the stories of POC are valuable and varied and necessarily different from one another. I’m a firm believer that the stories we consume are a major factor in the way we learn to feel empathy. We can know logically that terrible things are happening to people all around the globe, but it isn’t until we pick up that book by a former boy soldier, or listen to an interview with a victim of domestic abuse, that we really get into their heads and start to comprehend (as best we can, because these experiences are still not ours) what that was like. And much more than the “struggle porn” we see, we need to hear stories that shed light on the truth of what lives so removed from our own are like. Exposing ourselves to diverse stories and narratives helps us escape the idea that there is any “default” way to be, which is all the -isms and -phobias in sheep’s clothing.
It’s not always easy: so many of the books we hear about are glaringly non-diverse. So it helps to have some support when it comes to finding those semi-hidden gems, at least in the literary world:
➢ BookRiot is one of my very favorite sites. The thing about BookRiot is that they are actively trying to do good. The best way I can think of to illustrate this is to show you some of the articles in a recent newsletter from them:
BookRiot isn’t here to recommend the same bestsellers you’d find at the front table in your local Barnes and Noble. They’re going to tell you about books that should be on that table and aren’t. They’re going to point out ways to use reading to expand your horizons and consume media from a more diverse pool of creators. They’re going to recommend 100 books by Arab women while Trump is trying to defend his Muslim ban.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a personalized recommendation, pop over to my all time favorite podcast, Get Booked — Amanda and Jenn are wizards who will not only give you 4 awesome recommendations from their insane bank of book knowledge, they also have the rare ability to tell you exactly enough to whet your appetite, and never so much they ruin anything. They’re everything you wish book blurbs were (but never seem to be.)
➢ You probably know about Goodreads, but if not — make an account. Download the app. Keep track of your TBR (to be read) list on-the-go. Get emails about deals for things on your shelves. Check reviews. Write reviews. Add me so I can see what you find.
Book Clubs are an awesome way to engage in some friendly, thoughtful discussion about intense topics — and luckily, it’s 2017, so while the ideal is still bringing a bottle of wine over to Judy’s house to argue with her about whether or not Heathcliff is a weenie (he is), we can also do this online. My hermit-ass is singing Hallelujah.
You can find an online bookclub for pretty much any sect or sub-sect of diversity you’re looking to jump into. Whether you just want to expand your horizons, or you’re craving some queer genre fantasy, you can find something for it. Try goodreads first, but a good old-fashioned google search is going to give you some golden results as well.
Some recommendations and useful links here:
A lot of us are in (or have given up on) book clubs, either in person or online, and if your experiences are anything…bookriot.com
We've been hard at work figuring out how to make our Read Harder Book Groups more accessible and flexible, both for…bookriot.com
Dear Readers, As part of my work with UN Women, I have started reading as many books and essays about equality as I can…www.goodreads.com
Reading challenges are like a book club but not social. As someone who loves lists, but hates socializing and deadlines, they are kind of the entire backbone of my reading experience.
Reading challenges, like book clubs, can be designed to cover a wide variety of things or specialize. And luckily, because they’re something you do individually, you can alter them and combine them and tailor them as needed. Here are some great ones to expand your horizons:
Welcome to the third annual best reading challenge ever, the 2017 Read Harder Challenge. (I've been waiting all year to…bookriot.com
You can find rec lists anywhere, for anything. They’re especially handy if you’re trying to fill in a slot in one of those reading challenges — some great places to look are BookRiot, Goodreads, tumblr, and any book bloggers you may find. Here are a few to get you started:
Lists of books that members vote on: Books That Everyone Should Read At Least Once, Best Young Adult Books, Books That…www.goodreads.com
The last two years may have been a bit of a trash fire, but it brought some incredible novels featuring Muslim…bookriot.com
47 books based on 17 votes: The Oldest Soul - Animus by Tiffany FitzHenry, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night…www.goodreads.com
Unlike presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush, Donald Trump isn't much of a reader. According to…remezcla.com
LGBT+ MASTERLIST PROJECT BY ROCIO @nuevayorWeek One: TELEVISIONWeek Two: MOVIESWeek Four: POETRYWeek Five: MUSICWeek…nuevayor.tumblr.com
**In a previous article, I talked about places to find free & affordable books, so check that out to find a more economical option for anything that catches your eye in your search.