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Nonfiction November: Diversity and Nonfiction

nonfiction november 2014It feels like November is just flying by. I can’t believe it’s already the third week of the month. Next week will be Thanksgiving and the week after that it’s already December. Craziness.

The host for week three of Nonfiction November is Rebecca (I’m Lost In Books), who suggested we look at a topic that is getting a lot of attention in the literary world, diversity. Rebecca asks:

Diversity and Nonfiction: What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to a book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for? What kind of books besides different countries/cultures do you think of as books of diversity?

I thought about some more creative ways to approach this topic, but ultimately I decided to go with the easy way out and treat the prompt like a survey. Here are some unorganized thoughts on diversity in nonfiction.

What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to a book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background?

About a month ago I wrote a post about how one of my goals is to pay better attention to reading more books by authors of color. But I think that’s just one way of thinking about diversity. There’s value in reading books about different cultures or places that are written by white authors, even if their experience in a place is very different from the experience a local to that place might have.

What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction?

I tend to read a lot of books focused on issues in the Middle East. A few that come to mind are The Secretary by Kim Ghattas, The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg, Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni, House of Stone by Anthony Shadid, and Hope Street, Jerusalem by Irris Makler. I’m interested in that area because of the complicated gender dynamics and the role that region plays on the world stage.

What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for?

One area that I don’t read enough about is Africa. I’ve considered several memoirs by African writers – A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah or Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller – but I just don’t tend to pick them up. I would love some other suggestions for nonfiction set in Africa.

What kind of books besides different countries/cultures do you think of as books of diversity?

My first reaction to this question is to assume that diversity has more to do with different countries or cultures than it does with anything else. However, I think there’s value in thinking about diversity a little more broadly, reading about anything that is not familiar or not part of the dominant culture. One of the things that is great about nonfiction is the way it can help us understand lives that are completely unlike our own.

Before I end this post, a little bit of self-promotion: I’d like to suggest a couple of posts I wrote for Book Riot on diversity in nonfiction: 12 Excellent Memoirs by Authors of Color and 12 Excellent True Stories by Authors of Color. I’m proud of those posts, and I think they’re a great resources of you’re looking for some ideas for diverse nonfiction.

Programming Notes

  • Our readalong posts for The Restless Sleep and Cleopatra: A Life will go up on Wednesday, Nov. 19. Follow this link to find out more about the readalongs.
  • Our Nonfiction November Twitter hashtag is #nonficnov. The conversation there is awesome.
  • A big shout out to my co-hosts: Leslie (Regular Rumination), Katie (Doing Dewey) and Rebecca (I’m Lost In Books). Rebecca is your host this week so make sure to link up your discussion posts and reviews there. Katie will be hosting week four.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Leah @ Books Speak Volumes November 17, 2014, 7:59 am

    I don’t read nearly enough “diverse” non-fiction. And I think that, in addition to thinking about diversity in terms of geography and the author’s skin color, diversity should also include other types of experiences that are different from our own — books by or about people who are LGBT, disabled, etc.

    • Kim November 18, 2014, 8:57 pm

      I don’t either. I didn’t check the numbers, but I suspect most of the “diverse” books I read this year were fiction rather than nonfiction. It can be tough.

  • Trisha November 17, 2014, 8:14 am

    Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight is such a wonderful read!

  • JaneGS November 17, 2014, 11:29 am

    I appreciated your insights into diversity in reading. I tend to read along very familiar lines, with little time left for exploring outside my comfort zone. I appreciate diversity, but don’t necessarily practice what I preach insofar as exploring our cultures. I plan to read your book riot posts to get some ideas for next year’s must-read list.

    • Kim November 18, 2014, 8:58 pm

      Reading diversely takes effort. Publishing isn’t great about promoting and celebrating books by authors of color, so they have to be sought out… and sometimes that’s work I don’t feel like doing. I hope the Book Riot posts are helpful — they definitely added to my TBR.

  • JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing November 17, 2014, 2:36 pm

    I really liked The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Copper. The audio version is narrated by the author.

    • Kim November 18, 2014, 8:59 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation!

  • BermudaOnion(Kathy) November 17, 2014, 4:09 pm

    Yep, diversity should include sexuality, life experiences, etc. I think you’re a very diverse reader.

  • Jess - A Book Hoarder November 17, 2014, 7:41 pm

    Damn you and your Book Riot article links. As if my list hasn’t exploded enough. I read The Translator by Daoud Hari around the time I read A Long Way Gone and it was a good one if you are looking for memoirs by African writers.

    • Kim November 18, 2014, 9:00 pm

      Thanks! I actually have that one on my nonfiction shelf right behind me but forgot it was there.

  • Becca Lostinbooks November 17, 2014, 11:19 pm

    I have read a ton of books set in the Middle East in fiction but for some reason I have like next to nothing read in NF there. Same thing with Africa. Only NF I’ve read there is A Long Way Gone. It’s pretty interesting when I look at my diversity statistics in fiction vs. nonfiction.

    • Kim November 18, 2014, 9:00 pm

      I didn’t check the numbers, but my gut says I’m pretty similar — more diverse fiction than nonfiction.

  • Becca Lostinbooks November 17, 2014, 11:20 pm

    Also, did you notice how I totally added that last question late and talked about it but forgot to put it in the prompt? *facepalm*

  • Sarah November 18, 2014, 2:57 am

    Although it is by a white author, I found King Leopold’s Ghost: A story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa, by Adam Hochschild to be absolutely fascinating – some great insight on why that part of the world has the problems it does today and extremely readable, well written and well researched to boot.

    • Kim November 18, 2014, 9:02 pm

      Thank you! I feel like I need some big picture books on Africa before I start diving into memoirs or books about a specific country. Context helps.

  • Jennine G. November 18, 2014, 8:02 am

    I don’t strive for diverse reading. Honestly, I just want to read anything that sounds interesting to me. Sometimes it’s diverse, sometimes it’s not. Although, I also have a very different definition of diverse when it comes to reading. I’ve always thought of diverse reading as reading something that I don’t usually read. So it could just be a change of my usual genre. (Though I can see how this might not count in the bigger world of reading and publishing.)

    • Kim November 18, 2014, 9:03 pm

      I think that’s a good definition too. It’s good to read out of our comfort zones in lots of different ways.

  • Jay November 18, 2014, 7:35 pm

    It was little disturbing, but I found Peter Godwin’s “The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martydom of Zimbabwe” enlightening. Also “King Leopold’s Ghost” about Belgian colonialism in the Congo was a real eye- opener.

    • Kim November 18, 2014, 9:04 pm

      I read Peter Godwin’s other book… can’t remember the title now… and thought it was excellent. I think I own The Fear as well — thanks for the recommendation!

  • Jenny @ Reading the End November 18, 2014, 8:40 pm

    I really think you’d like Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Kim. It’s an excellent, excellent book. For other nonfiction from Africa, that’s one of my projects for the new year, so I’ll keep you posted. The Dark Continent was great, and I have a bunch of histories of various African countries on the docket too.

    • Kim November 18, 2014, 9:04 pm

      Thanks for the endorsement, I’ll have to pull that one down to read soon. And keep me posted on the great books you find — I’ll take all the recommendations I can get.

  • Shannon @ River City Reading November 18, 2014, 10:09 pm

    I’m so glad to see you mention that diversity doesn’t just mean reading about different countries – I totally agree. I think we need to aim for reading about different perspectives and experiences as well.

  • Paris Carter November 19, 2014, 8:25 am

    I have read through tons of “diverse” fiction novels, but I haven’t ever thought to read through any Nonfiction ones. Guess I have a few more to add to my reading list!

    • Kim November 23, 2014, 12:58 pm

      That’s the best part about Nonfiction November 🙂

  • Sarah @ Sarah's Book Shelves November 20, 2014, 11:44 am

    I think subject matter diversity is also important in reading…I like reading a wide range of books about a wide range of topics. I think this usually leads to some author diversity, but I tend to just read what looks interesting to me. Following this method, I did end up with 75% female authors for my Nonfiction November choices.

    • Kim November 23, 2014, 1:02 pm

      Absolutely, I think it’s good to stretch in all sorts of ways when we read. I don’t naturally pick up books by authors who are not white (not intentionally, but it happens), so it’s something I have to pay attention to in order to make happen.

  • Mome Rath November 25, 2014, 8:35 pm

    I’m late to this, but I have some African non-fiction recommendations if you’re still looking for more:
    We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed along with our families (Rwanda) — tough subject matter with the 1994 genocide, but it ends with some hope; the best book I’ve read this year
    We Are All the Same (South Africa) — inspiring biography of a boy born with AIDS who put a face to the crisis in South Africa
    Girl Soldier (Uganda) — another perspective on child soldiers — this time from a girl kidnapped and forced to fight for the Lord’s Resistance Army

    I heartily agree with the already recommended (and fantastic) King Leopold’s Ghost (Dem. Rep. of Congo) and Long Way Gone (Sierra Leone). Also, while I haven’t read Isak Dineson’s memoir Out of Africa (Kenya), I’ve heard great things about it.

    • Kim November 25, 2014, 8:55 pm

      Not to late at all! Thank you so much for the recommendations — I will put all of these on my list.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey November 28, 2014, 2:26 pm

    I don’t read many books about the Middle East, but I’d like to read more. I felt like I learned a lot reading The Underground Girls of Kabul and The War on Women in Israel. These books raised a lot of interesting gender issues and made me feel much more passionate about defending women’s rights abroad and at home. As you pointed out, religion is a major factor in world events and I also think this region in particular plays a large role in world events, so I’d love to continue to learn more about it.

    • Mome Rath November 30, 2014, 9:32 pm

      Have you read anything about Gertrude Bell, one of the chief architects in the creation of Iraq? If not, I really enjoyed “Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations” by Georgina Howell. Bell was really an incredible woman, even if Iraq didn’t turn out the way she’d hoped.