Why you shouldn’t only read books that feature white characters
This is a bit of a tough column to write, because I don’t consider myself someone who thinks people should read books based on political scorecard points.
In a world and country as diverse as ours, I subscribe to the notion that you should read what you want, when you want and how you want. Reading is an act of leisure, one most of us use to relax, or escape from the horrors of the world.
It’s something we do because we love leaving the real world behind and immersing ourselves in worlds that are fantastical and characters whose adventures allow our minds the freedom to imagine ourselves in their places.
There’s nothing I enjoy doing more than recommending books to people, especially if it’s a genre or novel that I think would be right up that person’s alley. However, I do know the difference between simply urging people to read a book and forcing them to read a book, especially if it’s a book that is not within that person’s line of interest.
Having said that though, in the age of social media where breaking news is just a tweet away and trending hashtags set the tone for what’s next on the debate score card, it’s hard not to be aware of the important issues that are going on in the world.
I have found that while I still readily enjoy my fluffy, happy-making reads, my reading choices are continually evolving.
Following Trump’s recent ban, I came across an article on Bookriot about the different ways we can support authors from countries all affected by his ban and it really got me thinking about inclusivity and representation in books.
The one thing I’ve found that social media has been good for, is providing a platform for making voices from all walks of life heard.
It’s no secret that there are still a lot of books that only feature predominantly white protagonists.
Characters that are black, differently-abled, come from different religious backgrounds, are old, or are gay, are often relegated to the sideline - if they’re actually featured at all (and frankly, the sidekick best friend role they’re often relegated to is a tiresome and insulting trope because to me, it implies that they’re not important enough to have a narrative of their own).
But, that’s changing.
Both authors and readers are making their voices heard and calling for more diversity in books.
Let me make it clear - I think you’re entitled to read books that feature only white characters if that is what you prefer, but I also think that your world is much poorer for it.
There will always be a place in the world for books that have white-only narratives. There always has been and adding diversity into the mix is not going to change that.
Wanting more diversity in books is not going to cause me to stop reading books featuring white characters, but we are living in a global and multicultural universe, and I don’t know about you, but I would like to see more of that diversity reflected in the fictional worlds we often use as a means of refuge.
And in a world where immigrants, people of colour, different religions and different sexual orientations are already persecuted, don’t we owe it to them to make sure that their stories are told, read and spread worldwide? We start being proper allies to marginalised groups the moment we start listening to their stories.
I don’t always get it right, but I will never stop trying.
I recently saw a tweet that talked about books being empathy machines. And right now, in a world where rampant xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, fascism and homophobia is threatening to undo us all, uplifting voices and reading stories of characters that don’t look or act like you is one of the most empathetic acts you can employ right now.
It also opens your eyes to experiences of people you’d never otherwise haven given a thought to.
A few quick recommendations if you want to read more diversely:
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue – With the spotlight on immigrants and refugees from around the world, this book explores themes of marriage, class, race, and influence using two families who come from two very different backgrounds.
Read our review:
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak – Set in Istanbul, this book follows the lives of three different women and explores themes of identity, feminism and religion.
Full review here:
The Call by Peadar O'Guilin – Featuring a disabled protagonist, this dystopian fantasy is about a girl forced to survive in an environment where nothing but death is pretty much guaranteed.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you try to read as diversely as possible, or do you prefer reading stories that you can identify most with? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
Here are our top ten books for the month:
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Emily Hobhouse – Beloved Traitor by Elsabe Britz
Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb
Because we want to celebrate and share our love of diverse fiction and authors, we’ve got two signed copies of Zadie Smith’s new book, Swing Time up for grabs.
Zadie, bestselling author of White Teeth, is back with Swing Time – a book which has been receiving praise worldwide and tells the story of two brown girls who both dream of becoming dancers. It’s a novel that explores themes of race, privilege and colourism in both the Western World and Africa.
It’s a novel we can’t recommend highly enough, and we suggest you get your hands on a copy now! Enter here.
Until next time,
Happy reading everyone