Discussion

What Diversity in Books Has Done For Me As A Reader

This one is a personal, short discussion post I’ve meant to write for ages, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to perfect it. I’m still not sure I’ll able to pen this down well, but I still want to go ahead and put this up ♥

So, I don’t know how many of you know this, but I’m Indian! I’ve been a reader since I was almost 8 years old and have been reading avidly for the last 11 years. Diversity in books, as a concept, was introduced to me only recently. It was only a few years ago when I even realized that the characters I read in books were a) not like me and b) there is something most certainly wrong with it.

As a young reader, I simply gobbled up the books I could chance my hands on. I picked up books written by Americans and about Americans. I was very young when I moved on to books like Twilight, Divergent, and The Hunger Games. These books portray main characters with extremely common characteristics (as in, their skin color, sexuality, etc.) and yes, some side characters are diverse but the main characters, doing all the action and saving the world and getting to shine – there’s hardly anything diverse about them.

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Back then, I took that as normal. I did not find such characterization and portrayal as wrong – I just took it as the norm and accepted that maybe I’d never read about anyone like me unless the book was written by an Indian author. I accepted it very easily, I took it as the norm, and no one pushed me to think about what was wrong with that sort of thinking.

I grew up, I read more books and expanded my genre game. I opened a book blog and started looking at and viewing the dialogue and discussion in the online bookish community. 3-4 years ago, that was when the change started. 

When the movement (yes, I call it a movement) to read and publish diverse books started, the word ‘diverse’ was so new, used in this context. I was still too young to understand the full implications of why and what diversity would bring to the book industry, but it still made me happy. Starting to read diverse books made me excited because it opened me up to new things. I was just like…

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Reading about new types of people, new types of experience was SO EXCITING. It made me immensely happy and diversity actually taught me so many things. It introduced me to all these new cultures and races and experiences I didn’t know existed and the best part is, the learning never ends.

But still, I could never see anyone like me in the immense number of YA and adult books published in America and UK. I wanted to read about more countries and people from these countries, and I did get glimpses of them, but I still felt that something was lacking when it came to my own representation.

Slowly though, I started seeing more people like myself in the books that I read. People I read about in books seemed to look and act and seem more like me, and that made me glad. Yes, it has often been marred with stereotypes or misconceptions but nevertheless, I got the idea that people like me could be main characters too!

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Diversity in books, for me, has been an emotional, up-and-down battle. There have been days when I’ve felt like banging my head against the wall because of how wrong and deceptive my representation is in some books. When I’ve felt despair about the book portraying something in not the most accurate way, I’ve felt helpless. But there have been good days.

There have been times when I’ve sighed in appreciation, at how an author perfectly touches the emotions of a particular character, or perfectly encaptures the behaviour or a diverse character. I feel so happy when I see myself, any little tiny part of myself, in a character or a situation.

A book doesn’t even have to have characters exactly like me (i.e., Indian) for me to see myself represented in the book – a simple situation or experience that I recognize with makes me happy enough. For example, where I come from, gender roles take up an important role in society and cooking is considered a very, very important part of things women should be able to do. I’ve always hated this concept; I can hardly cook and I’ve been ridiculed about this for pretty much all my life – so whenever I see a character like me, who can’t really cook but is made to stick to such societal norms, I instantly connect.

We, as the bookish community, aren’t perfect. We’ve long way to go to make books completely diverse, to come to a point where diversity doesn’t have to be appreciated, where diversity is the norm but so far, we’ve been doing great. We’ve done well in producing some rich, diverse experiences on paper and making people feel at home in the books they read. For me, I’m glad that this has come to be ♥

What do you guys think? When did you start reading diverse books? When did you understand the importance of diversity in books? What have been your personal experiences with reading diverse books? Read below!

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18 thoughts on “What Diversity in Books Has Done For Me As A Reader

  1. This is such a beautiful post 😊😊😊😊
    I’ve been an avid reader for around 2 decades now and I didn’t realize how underrepresented I was in the books until last year… I guess I accepted the status quo and I always had the option of Reading Indian Books…
    but I definitely agree with you when you say even a simple relatable situation or a character trait can make us feel so excited because we can see ourselves on page… I read a book about a tall girl and the little inconveniences she faces in school or while shopping and I could just see my childhood… it’s such a powerful experience…
    And I’m there with you in solidarity about the cooking 😂😂😂 I had to learn after getting married but I still hate it and cook the same few dishes every week.. I have absolutely no interest in exploring more… !!!

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  2. I read a lot of travel/adventure memoirs and the lack of diversity in the genre stinks! I think it comes down to what type of person has the opportunity and means to drop their life and walk, drive, or fly around the world? A privileged white person. I wish we could sponsor these opportunities for minorities and expand the diversity in the genre. I also think a white man writing a travel memoir has the opportunity to include diversity by including and respectfully portraying diverse people he meets along the way.
    [I docked a star from my rating of The Road Chose Me by Dan Grec for the way he portrayed the majority of South American people in his book as scammers. Maybe this is really what happened in his experience, but make yourself worldly and employ some sympathy for these people who are trying to feed their families in a difficult economic situation.]
    I always wonder about the reading experience of other people. If you read a book with no racial description of a character, do you picture them as Indian or white?

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    1. I’ve never read travel books so I’ve never really thought about this, but what you said makes a lot of sense. Yes, it’s mostly the privileged who get the chance to travel as and when they wish, but like you said, its their responsibility to accurately portray the diversity they encounter on such travels.
      And interesting question! If a character has no physical description, I picture them according to the writer of the book. If its written by an Indian author (and the characters have Indian names) I picture Indians, and similarly with other authors.

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  3. I’m really excited about this post, you’re so right! It must be tough with the misconceptions or misportrayals as well. I’m norwegian and very much white, and I am so happy about the dimensions and representation other cultures can add to a story, as well as me learning things about the world at the same time. If you have recommendations of indian books, I would be happy to have some 🙂

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  4. I honestly didn’t notice growing up how lacking in diversity everything I was reading was… we did read books by African authors at school, like Ruby, which I loved. But beyond that… I’ve really noticed lately the opening up of diversity in fantasy. And I love it. It’s challenging and interesting. I like getting to see different perspectives. I agree there’s still a long way to go, but I’m glad that there’s starting to be a change!

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  5. I heard someone say once that every reader needs mirror books and window books – mirror books which reflect back some aspect of yourself or your experience and window books which open a window into someone else’s life and experience. Something about that really makes sense to me. I really hope that someday, the books we read, fully reflect the diversity of the world!

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  6. This is such a wonderful and important post, and thank you for making it! As an Asian I also find the lack of diversity in Western books or culture in general, especially regarding my nationality which is Indonesian. I do enjoy reading a lot of literature with Indian as the main character, I think it’s a wonderful culture to explore. I also see a lot more diversity in general these past few years, especially with the increase of recognition in the book blogging / Youtube community.
    As long as we all keep fighting to improve diversity, and support minority in not only books but all kind of media, I know we’ll be able to improve it in the future!!!

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  7. As a younger reader I never noticed. It still was on the back burner for me until I started teaching. I realized because it didn’t matter to me didn’t mean my student didn’t want or need to relate to the characters we were reading about.

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