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On Paying Attention to Reading Diversely

Since 2010, I’ve been very intentional about keeping track of all the books I read, along with some basic statistics about them. In addition to things like genre and format, I also tracked, primarily out of curiosity, author gender. As it turns out, without much intentional effort, I tend to read about equal or slightly more books by women than men. I think this is great, and I love that this balance happens for me without having to be deliberate about it. As the VIDA counts show us, this is not the case for all readers and reviewers.

One thing that I haven’t tracked consistently is the race of the authors I read. I didn’t think much about it because I figured that a great book was a great book, regardless of the gender or ethnicity of the author. I probably would have continued on that way without the pushing and passionate arguments of the writers over at Book Riot, who have made it a priority this year to include diversity in reading and coverage at the site.

While I still believe that a great book is a great book, I recently realized that my personal book-seeking habits are not conducive to finding great books by authors of color. I want to change that.

I’ve had trouble articulating this problem in my head, so I ended up making a chart that tries to explain how my limited reading of diverse authors is a result of intentional and unintentional filters that limit which books I end up reading.

book chart

Basically, there are a lot of books in the world. There are fewer books that I actually hear about. There are even fewer books that I remember, fewer books that I acquire and fewer books that I read. And since authors of color are underrepresented at every level of that chart, they are underrepresented in my reading life.

I’m really happy to know that many of the bloggers I trust for recommendations read voraciously and widely. Reading diversely has been a priority for many of them for a long time, and I appreciate and benefit from their suggestions. However, surveys and almost all anecdotal data show that the publishing industry as a whole has a diversity problem. There are also gaps in the number of authors of color (and female authors) that are represented in major awards.

Given those facts, it seems obvious that there is a whole group of authors who are just not coming to my attention. I just won’t see many of the great books by authors of color because they aren’t getting the same kind of publicity push as books by white authors. Admitting my reading has a diversity problem isn’t necessarily a dig on me because it’s a result of some much bigger forces at work in the way books are marketed and discussed.

With that in mind, I again agree with my colleagues over at Book Riot: the way I can help this systemic problem is to personally seek out more writing by authors of color. Then when I share the books that I love, they will be more diverse simply because I am paying better attention to those choices.

And I have some numbers to show that paying attention matters. Between 2010 and 2013 I read 423 books, but only about 20 of those (less than five percent) were by authors of color. Since I started to read just a little more intentionally in 2014, I’ve picked up 12 books by authors of color – about 16 percent of my total reading life. It’s not enough, yet, but it’s getting better because I’ve committed to paying attention.

And that’s, I think, the best thing each of us as readers can do: simply pay more attention to what we buy and read and share. If we make intentional choices to bring more diversity into our reading, it will start to change publishing for the better.


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  • Leah @ Books Speak Volumes October 7, 2014, 1:26 pm

    I agree with this 100% I’ve also been trying to be more intentional about reading diversely. I started tracking nationality and whether authors are people of color this year, and it’s definitely helped. Last year, only 10% of the books I read were written by people of color; this year I’ve bumped it up to 20%. Still a long way to go, but progress is progress!

    And if we all make a point to seek out diverse books, publishers will take notice and start putting more marketing dollars behind them, bringing them to the attention of more readers!

    • Kim October 12, 2014, 1:53 pm

      That second part is really the point — publishing won’t change unless they see a demand for change. The best way to do that is to read intentionally.

  • Trisha October 7, 2014, 3:48 pm

    I think the way you articulated the problem is perfect.

  • Tanya Patrice October 7, 2014, 9:27 pm


  • Julie October 8, 2014, 10:04 am

    I definitely think you’re right. If we want to read more diverse books, it is up to us to seek those books out.

  • Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader October 8, 2014, 10:47 am

    I’m glad you posted about this. I’m glad that so many readers are starting to really pay attention to this issue. It makes me think of my own reading habits.

    What you said about authors of color being underrepresented is so true. If there are a million books and we only hear about 100 of them and those authors aren’t marketed the way white ones are it stands to reason that we won’t be reading many authors of color. 🙁 That really stinks.

    Posts like this remind me to pay attention and seek out authors of color. So, thanks!

    • Kim October 12, 2014, 1:54 pm

      Right? It stinks! I don’t think people who read largely white authors do it on purpose… it’s just a function of what we see from most of the sources that write about books. The best way to do something is just pay better attention.

  • Sheila (Book Journey) October 8, 2014, 3:31 pm

    Awesome post. I am a diverse reader, but like you, most of my book recommendations are from other bloggers and friends who love books as I do. I did pick up a couple of great books by authors of color at this falls book sale. You have inspired me to read them sooner rather than later 😉

  • Jenny @ Reading the End October 9, 2014, 4:48 pm

    It’s so true that the difficulty of reading diversely is an offshoot of the diversity problem in publishing. I think this is at least getting called out more loudly and more often, which has to be a step in the right direction. I’ve been hovering at 65% white authors all year, which is better than the goal I set myself, worse than I’d like to be doing. It would help me a lot if publishers and review outlets would step up on this.

    • Kim October 12, 2014, 1:56 pm

      I think 35 percent authors of color is pretty great, all things considered. It can be hard to find books by authors of color even when you are looking for them because they’re just not “out there” as much as other books.

  • Aarti October 10, 2014, 6:06 pm

    Yes to everything about this post! I think a lot of people hesitate to delve too deeply into their reading habits because they are scared that it will make them seem racist if they track such things, or that they’ll FEEL racist if they find that they read majority white authors. But the whole system is stacked against reading diversely. All you can do is try to be more cognizant of the issue and work to improve it for yourself. Making an effort is really all we can do and, as Jenny said, hope that publishers will get on the bandwagon.

    • Kim October 12, 2014, 1:59 pm

      That’s what I really wanted to emphasize — if you’re a “colorblind” reader, you’re inevitably going to read a ton more by white authors because that’s the way the system is stacked. It’s ok to admit that and it’s ok to try and do something about it.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey October 12, 2014, 9:04 pm

    I’m with you here! I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that even in nonfiction, I naturally end up reading books by women authors about 50% of the time. In part, I think this is because I like books about women in history and books about feminism, so that helps shift the nonfiction author ratio towards women. However, I don’t naturally pick up books by people of color or translated fiction. This is something I’d really like to do better at and I’ve loved the recent posts at Book Riot recommending books in these categories. Great post!

  • Laurie C October 13, 2014, 7:51 pm

    I’m reading an ARC of a novel right now that might be of interest to you as a journalist/reader! It’s titled Jam! On the Vine and is set in the U.S. in the late 1800s-early 1900s. The major theme of the novel is the role that the black press played in the advancement of civil rights. The author, LaShonda Katrice Barnett, has edited some works of nonfiction and this is her first novel.

    • Kim October 15, 2014, 8:28 pm

      Interesting! Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll try to find that one to check it out.

  • Amy Reads October 22, 2014, 1:59 pm

    Really loved your post – such a great overview of the problem. Writers of color and from around the world DO write great books, we just don’t see them as often or get them marketed to us as heavily. I’m always happy to see people paying attention to that kind of thing 🙂

    • Kim October 26, 2014, 12:50 pm

      Thanks Amy! It really took listening to the folks over at Book Riot for me to figure out how bit of a problem this is and what small thing I can try to do to help.

  • Marilyn November 5, 2014, 10:57 am

    I totally agree with all the benefits of deliberately reading books by diverse writers. Since I started making the effort, I have found many exciting and excellent books that I would have missed otherwise. I feel like I know people from all over the globe. The books aren’t hard to find–especially on blogs that share an interest in them.