In the past year, I’ve been convicted that my reading list is too white.
In September 2018, I devoured Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson. I’d already enjoyed many of her recommendations and picked up even more. But her lists seemed to be missing something. With few exceptions, the books were written by white, Western authors. While I still enjoy and recommend Book Girl, I was convicted that I couldn’t truly be a book girl if I spent my whole life reading white Western authors.
Since I grew up and live in the USA, have visited only foreign countries who are largely English-speaking, and have attended schools where most teachers are white and Western, my reading life has shown a distinct bias. I know little about the literature of continents other than Europe and North America. This summer, I decided to do something about the vast lacuna of my reading.
For two months, I only read books by authors of color. I didn’t tell many people, but reactions varied. Sometimes, eyes lit up and recommended titles and authors poured forth. Other times, people reacted as if I intended to extract their voice boxes. I’m sure that some years of my life have found me reading no books by authors of color. I’ve read, and will read, hundreds upon hundreds of books by white authors. I doubt my favorite novel will be anything other than Middlemarch. By intentionally reading more diverse books, I’m not cutting white authors out of my life, which would make my seminary studies impossible. Instead, I’m putting on glasses to fix my myopia.
And, y’all, I saw a horizon miles beyond anything I’d seen before.
Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife astonished me. Her detailed world and complex characters still live in my memory, and I have more by her waiting on my shelves.
Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable brought the perennial Pride and Prejudice to new, sparkling life in Pakistan. I’m on a quest to read all the culture-swapped P&Ps now (completed: Pride by Ibi Zoboi; currently reading: Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev; to-read: Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin).
Catherine Chung’s The Tenth Muse is one of the few books I wish could be twice as long, and is the only novel I’ve read about a mathematician.
The Narrative of Sojourner Truth filled in a big gap in my historical training, and is one of the least gruesome slave narratives I’ve read, though it is gut-wrenching and mournful, with a good dose of hope.
Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, one of the few sci-fi novels I’ve read, confounded me, and I have Parable of the Talents in hand.
This is just a small selection of the 20+ books I read. By feasting on the works of writers of color, I’ve gained new favorite authors, subjects, and perspectives. My understanding of the world is more nuanced. I have a tiny, but better, grasp of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese history, and the social intricacies built on a long history.
I thought I was stepping outside my comfort zone by reading these books. Instead, I found myself at home among characters totally unlike me, but still completely human. Stories are universal, and they’re one of the best ways to relate the complexities of culture, identity, and religion.
In the future, I plan to keep reading diverse authors, keep prioritizing their stories, and keep feasting on the bounty of global narratives.