Diversity is not a dirty word. Dildo, dinkle, dingleberry – all dirty words. But diversity is not.
Now when I talk about diversity in reading, understand I’m not talking about that ‘boycott all white male writers’ nonsense. I’m not talking about selecting books based on gender, sexual preference, or race alone. For all the advances we’ve made in personal liberation, I can’t help but feel affirmative action is a step backwards and identity politics is utterly toxic.
No. When I talk about diversity in reading, I mean true diversity. Exposing yourself to ideas from every social strata and corner of our globe. Bombarding yourself with so many differing perspectives that a deep understanding of our common humanity is guaranteed. Not ticking some quota so you can virtue signal on Twitter.
Is ‘diverse’ really diverse?
I’ve always thought my reading was naturally diverse. No discrimination. All walks of life and perspective are welcomed – not due to identity alone but due to insights those identities can afford.
The problem I have with consciously choosing to be diverse is that, though an admirable desire, it is dangerously close to creating a new type of discrimination.
In America, for example, choosing to diversify one’s reading often means diverting from the established canon of dead white dudes and choosing writings from authors with African or Asian heritage. The issue I have with that is some may get the false idea that their reading habits are diverse because they read some Toni Morrison or Mo Yan. But focusing on a few cultural subsets and designating them as ‘diverse’ really results in creating a new kind of exclusion.
When was the last time you read something by an author from Greenland, East Timor, or Suriname?
There’s a big old world out there and I believe that having the goal to be diverse is more likely to be achieved if we just take conscious choice out of the mix.
I’ve got my own diverse reading goal this year and it’s structured purely by randomness to ensure it gives me the most ‘diverse’ (whatever that word means) mix of texts possible.
Diversity from the roll of a dice
I use the random.country website to dictate where I will get reading material that is alien to my own cultural viewpoints.
I have the goal of reading 10 books this year that I find by pure chance.
Spin the random.country and whatever land you’re presented with is the country you are tasked with reading.
Obviously, this can get very difficult when you have countries like Greenland, East Timor, or Suriname pop up. So I like to consult Ann Morgan’s wonderful website: A Year of Reading the World (she has wisely confined her reading to UN recognised states).
Ann’s already tackled the tricky tasks of tracking down volumes from lands lacking much of a written literary tradition.
All you need to do is spin and seek out the texts that will expand your reading palette.
Wait… This isn’t diversity, is it?
You’re right. This is only one facet of diversity: nationality/cultural/place of birth.
I have yet to come up with an elegant and non-discriminatory technique of randomly assigning oneself books that deal with issues of gender, sexuality, or disability.
If you know a technique, let me know. Otherwise my suggestion is to be more proactive in seeking those perspectives out. I personally like the idea of combining this random country method with an active lookout for books dealing with those subjects.
If you are a millennial from a Western English-speaking country, chances are you have a good idea about different perspectives. You probably have a multi-cultural friendship group and are friends with people whose sexuality differs from yours.
What I’m interested in is how these issues affect someone from a wildly different cultural environment.
What would it be like growing up gay in the Sudan? What issues do women wrestle with in Saudi Arabia? What’s it like being autistic in Japan? Transexual in Thailand? Schizophrenic in Brazil?
My culturally diverse reading list
10 books is achievable. I like to set little goals that I know I can hit. Obviously I read more than 10 books a year, but 10 for this purpose seems like a good reading goal.
I’ve spun the globe 10 times and this is where my finger landed and the books I will be reading for each one:
- Saudi Arabia: Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea
- Botswana: A Question of Power by Bessie Head
- Iran: The Man Who Snapped His Fingers by Fariba Hactroudi
- Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino by Kurban Said
- Iraq: The Madman of Freedom Square by Hassan Blasim
- New Zealand: Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff
- Yemen: The Hostage by Zayd Mutee’ Dammaj
- Sierre Leone: A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
- Bhutan: The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden
- Brazil: House of the Fortunate Buddhas by Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro
Now doesn’t that look exciting?
What’s on your diverse reading list this year?
Set a goal (e.g. X number of random/diverse books this year).
Find vetted recommendations for your countries.
Read. Relish. Review.