Reading Diversely (& Failings in the Education System)

There has been a lot of talk recently about the diversity in reading. I can’t quite remember where it originated but I’ve been following the discussion for over a month now and it’s been really interesting and also, it’s really opened my own eyes. Lydia posted over at her blog, which is a really interesting read, and included a spreadsheet to download which I altered slightly to suit me more. But using this spreadsheet really opened my eyes.

So far this year I have read 54 books – and if I count series as one book rather than having a series skew my data – it works out at 43 books. I have read a total of 26 female authors in that selection and 17 male authors. This is pretty new for me as, until about 18 months or 2 years ago, my reading was primarily female authors. I think this was mainly because I found it quite difficult to read male protagonists and I often found them quite hard to identify with so I tended to avoid male authors for this silly fact! Going back to 2013; what little I have logged is very much less male, nearly 80% of the books I read were by female authors.

As for diversity in race and nationality, I always felt I did read diversely on this account. Apparently I read less diversely than I realised as it appears my idea of diversity is a Japanese author once ever couple of months! Which actually shocks me. While it’s not something I’ve actively gone out to do, I always felt that I read more diversely than I do in actuality. So I feel that in future I will be actively thinking about the diversity when I go out and buy new books and put books on my TBR!

Only 5 of the authors I have read so far this year are people of colour/of a different race.

Five.

And two of those are Japanese authors.

I love Japanese fiction, I really do. I find it whimsical and wonderful, a lot of that can be attributed to a good translator but, ultimately, the author wrote it first. And Murakami, Yoshimoto and, at a stretch, Ruth Ozeki (who is actually North American, and writes in English, so as I said, it’s a stretch) all have this wonderful writing style that just makes me crave more. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, per se. I just think that maybe I need to widen my net a bit.

The problem I have is I think a lot of books you have to be ready for. I’ve not read 1984 – I know I will like it, but I feel if I wait just a little more I’ll be able to appreciate it more. Many books that fall in to the diversity category also fall under this umbrella for me. Maybe it’s also that they’re a bit intimidating. But books like Love in the Time of Cholera and Half of a Yellow Sun I just don’t feel I’m mature enough to enjoy fully. There is also the fact that I don’t have a grasp on the history and I don’t want to go in to a book that is packed full of history and be completely bowled over by that and, as a result, not appreciate the book for what it is.

Ultimately, I don’t think that reading diversely is necessarily a personal problem, it’s more of an educational problem. All the books I read at GCSE for English were by white people, the majority of them were males. The one section I did study on other cultures was poetry. Schools leave us out of touch with the real world, they make literature of other cultures seem like a chore because it’s so clunky and, truthfully, it felt like the teachers didn’t really want to teach it anyway. We need enthusiastic teachers and better variety at a young age. Because of that non-existent enthusiasm from teachers, we as adults are then less likely to turn to a new author, or a translated text. Truthfully, I didn’t even think about approaching translations until I was 16 or 17! If we got to read modern literature from other cultures, or translated, from a young age, it would be much less intimidating as an adult and they would be reading more diversely because they wouldn’t be afraid to try something new.

Looking at the Edexcel specification for the 2015-17 GCSE, there is one person of colour as an author on the list of books. 10 of the 15 authors are male. THIS is why there’s lack of diversity in reading. Because how many schools are going to pick the ONE book that is written by a person of colour? How many schools are consciously going to pick the female authors over the males? They’re more than likely not, quite simply.

This sort of went off at a tangent, but ultimately, I think the only way we can change this lack of diversity is by starting kids at a young age. Introducing them to translations of fairy tales from other cultures when they’re at primary school and gradually more structured books from different cultures, then throwing in a bit of Haruki Murakami, Kazuo Ishiguro and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith at GCSE level. There are so many things people could learn around a lot of these books – especially those by Adichie as (like I gave in my reason for having not read her work) history could be taught alongside it.

This has become more of a rant on the UK education system, for that I am sorry. Ultimately however, I’m going to consciously read more diversely, and with more balance and thought. Of course I will still pick books up on a whim, but I’ll be looking around more before settling on an author I’m familiar with, because I might find a new author I love!

One thought on “Reading Diversely (& Failings in the Education System)

  1. Wonderful, wonderful post! And I’m so glad that you linked to my blog because that meant that I could find this post! For some reason when I tried to find you from your comments the internet failed to find your actual blog, it was very tragic.
    I completely agree with you on feeling like you have to be ready for certain books. Sometimes you have to wait until you’re old enough to appreciate them. Sometimes you have to be in the right mood. Sometimes it has to be the right year. I think that SpiffinglyChoncey talked about this in one of her recent YouTube videos actually.

    And I love your point about the failings in our education system. So true! When I consider the books I studied at GCSE, they were ALL written by white men. All of them. That’s disgusting when you think about it. Like you, the only times we ever branched out to other cultures were in the poetry section of English Lit. Something really needs to be done by the examination boards to correct these numbers. Having 5 books by female writers and only 1 by a person of colour on that Edexcel course is just unacceptable really. I mean, it’s not like women and people of colour don’t write books worth reading and studying!!

    This was a brilliant post. So glad you downloaded the spreadsheet! (:

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