There is a small Book Club who comes to our store about once a month to choose a new title. They come together, all four of them, after their Book Club/Curry dinner. They walk through the store, browsing titles and cracking jokes while they figure out what to read next. They are pretty hilarious. The last book they chose was James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”. They chose it because, as they put it, “2015 is the year we don’t read white guys.” I laughed when they said it, but it struck me as an easy thing to say, as if all novels written by caucasian men are going to be the same. As if a white person living in South Africa will write the same kind of novel as a white man living in Indiana, or London. It’s kind of an ignorant way to choose your next book: This year we only read books written by women, or ethnically “diverse” people – i.e. anyone whose pallor doesn’t read “white”.
Why would you want to do that? I understand that setting boundaries can help when there are too many choices, but I have never chosen a book based on the skin color, gender, or ethnicity of an author. That seems really, really weird to me. If the idea is to broaden your horizons, then couldn’t the parameters be, “Authors which you’ve never read before”? Take the average number of books you read in a year (for me about 40) and make HALF of those absolutely new authors to you. You could even take it one step farther and spend the entire year reading works by authors you’ve never read before, and genres which you don’t usually read. You are bound to end up with a diverse list.
There is more than one way to achieve diversity. Limiting your reading based on race, gender, or sexual orientation limits you. Why restrict what you read? For starters, it’s pretty lame to “only” read one thing no matter what that thing is. You don’t want to be one of those people who says silly blanket statements like, “I don’t read non-fiction“. Yeah, right. BECAUSE ALL NONFICTION IS THE SAME. No way! That’s like saying “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (a 2013 book by French economist Thomas Piketty. It looks and weighs about the same as a dictionary.) is the same as “Me Talk Pretty One Day”, by the always hilarious and readable, David Sedaris. Non fiction encompasses a wide range of topics, from Business and Economics to memoirs, history and health and self-help. Saying you won’t read female authors or white authors is the same thing. Just be savvy about what you choose and you won’t have to set silly limits for yourself. If you try new authors and different genres then you will inevitably read different types of writers. Writers who are men, women, gay, straight, wealthy, dead, poor, alive, foreign or local. Avoiding a book because of the authors physical or genealogical background is lame. And you don’t want to be lame.
The best way to avoid being lame is to be inclusive. You don’t want to be one of those single-minded idiots who being sentences with, “I don’t…” . Like this, “I don’t read non-fiction”. Or this one, “I don’t read dead, white guys”. Or my favorite, “I don’t read living authors”. Uh. Okay weirdo. Close minded people annoy the shit out of me, and there is nothing more closed-minded than emphatically stating what you DO and DO NOT read. If you are reading books which interest you, then you are on the right path. If you are reading books for the approval of the Twitterverse, then… I just feel bad for you.
My advice is this: If you want to read different types of authors, then do it. Just don’t do it to exclusion. Rotate what you read, and pretty soon it will become a habit. If you feel your reading list has gotten a little too, vanilla, then shake things up by picking a book by an author you’ve never heard of before, maybe an author from another country. It works! I promise!