Thursday, January 14, 2016

Discussion: I Read Diversely And Still Failed At Reading Diversely

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2016 Discussion Challenge.

At the end of 2014, I decided that 2015 would be my year of reading diversely. I read books with non-white main characters, books about people with disabilities and illnesses, books about religious minority groups, books about immigrants, books about rich people and poor people, books set in high schools and retirement homes. I read a lot of historical fiction. I read a book set on every continent except South America (I couldn’t find an interesting one). I got into LGBT literature for the first time . . .

And I think I still failed at reading diversely. Here’s why:

For all of 2015, I tracked statistics about the books I read, but I didn’t pay much attention to the statistics until I put them into graphs at the end of the year. When I made my author nationality graph, I saw this:

Other = Netherlands, South Korea, Norway


Yeah, that doesn’t look very diverse, does it? Seventy-nine percent of the authors I read last year are from the US. I guess that makes sense because I live in the US, and English is the only language that I can read fluently. It’s really easy for me to find books by US authors.

However, reading so many books by US writers isn’t really diverse, in my opinion. Authors don’t write in a vacuum. They are influenced by the culture, ideas, history, art, media, politics, environment, etc. of the country where they live. I know that the US is a diverse place, but I’m betting that a lot of the authors I read have similar worldviews. The characters in the books are diverse, but how diverse are the ideas behind the characters? How much does an author’s nationality influence what he/she writes? Would a book be different if it were written by an author from a different national background?

I have no idea how to answer these questions, but I’m determined to read more international authors this year.




What do you think? Do you pay attention to the nationality of authors? Do you think an author’s nationality has any influence on what he/she writes?



17 comments:

  1. I haven't ever really thought about the author nationality. Good point! And good luck with your reading this year.

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  2. I understand your point and I have to agree with you! This is the reason why in the 2016 Reading Challenge I've included categories from different parts of the world, as well as different mediums, such as poetry and plays.

    Aeriko @ The Reading Armchair

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    1. I’ll have to check out that challenge. I’m trying to read more international authors this year.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. It's not that hard to find translated works in English though! You just need to know where to look. Of course most books that you see around will be by either Uk or US authors. Some people who are NOT UK/US that I can recommend are Nnedi Okorafor, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Haruki Murakami, Stieg Larsson, Khaled Hosseini, Isabelle Allende, Kazuo Ishiguro - when in doubt just look for diverse writers via Goodreads lists!

    I'm not American and I can definitely tell the difference between American writing and writing from other countries. You've got certain tropes. ;) Also the YA genre as it is doesn't really exist outside of anglophone countries, which I find actually quite sad.

    I think in order to REALLY read diverse we have to branch out and read booksd that aren't from people who speak our language or live on our continent. I'm trying for more African writers this year. Let's see how that'll go.

    - Jen from The Bookavid

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    1. YES! The tropes are exactly what I’m talking about! The tropes found in books by US authors are probably a product of US culture. Even if a US author is writing about characters from a different country, the book is still heavily influenced by US culture because that’s what the author knows best. The characters are diverse, but the ideas in the book aren’t.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. Never really thought about it or paid attention I guess. It makes sense what you said though. I will have to pay more attention now!

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    1. I never paid attention either. This graph just got my attention because it doesn’t look very diverse. It made me wonder why I wasn’t reading more international authors.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. Good for you for being intentional about this. Seeing the world through new eyes can only be a good thing. I've made it one of my goals to read more diversity, but maybe I need to keep this in mind as well.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. Thanks! I hope you get a chance to read more international authors.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. I am sure that if I tracked my statistics, they would be horrible. I don't read very many books from authors outside of the US and haven't really thought about it. I may need to branch out. Thanks for making me think about this. Great post!

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    1. Thanks! I also didn’t realize how many US authors I was reading until I saw the chart.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. This is really interesting! I'm really into reading diverse books, but I've never really paid attention to the nationality of the author I'm reading. More about the diverse characters within the book. I guess this is something I should keep an eye on in future. Thanks for the thought-provoking discussion!

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  8. While nationality is a thing, I think it's a little less important than looking at ethnic and family backgrounds (when those are available), because in some ways those can be more important--an immigrant who now appears to be US American still has the immigrant experience and those cultural influences. However, I think this also illustrates the importance of the #ownvoices movement, because I think most of us want to make sure that the experiences we're reading are written by the people who had them, rather than only the people who've had to imagine them.

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  9. I've actually never thought about author nationality. I just grab books written in English xD But the thing I'm wondering about, is how American were your American authors? This country is kind of a melting pot, so I'm wondering if there's a way to break down your pie graph. Of those Americans, how many were born here? How many found refuge here? How many are citizens here, but grew up somewhere else? Or vacationed and visited relatives in different countries? Just because someone lives in America and wrote a book in America, doesn't mean they can't have diverse experiences from everyone else in America. (Side note: I'm not attacking you or anything xD I'm just thinking out loud and wondering about the numbers behind the numbers.) Example: My boyfriend is born and raised in America, but he says he's Mexican. By all means, he IS american, but his parents were born and raised in Mexico. His family is in Texas or Mexico. Even though we were both brought up in the same surrounding cultures, his heritage and way of thinking is different from mine. He was raised in a cultural inside of a surrounding culture. So that just makes me wonder about the American statistic on your pie graph. Who ARE these authors xD

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    1. P.S. if you ever look into those numbers, could you tell me? I'm really curious about that and it's hard to find blog posts again haha :) you can find me on twitter @sjbouquet

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    2. Good question. I used the authors’ birthplaces to make the chart because that information was fairly easy to find. A lot of authors have it on their Goodreads profiles or Wikipedia pages. The chart probably isn’t 100% accurate because I don’t know what nationality the authors consider themselves. For example, the South Korean author grew up in Korea but currently lives in the US. I have no idea if she considers herself Korean, American, or both. I put her in the “Other” category because her birthplace was listed as South Korea.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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