Monday Musings | Diversity in Literature

Diversity in Literature Book Recommendations

If you’ve been around book blogs or Twitter lately, you’ll know that diversity (or lack thereof) in literature, publishing, and book conferences such as BookCon has been widely discussed. That the publishing industry is lacking in representation is not new, but what brought everything to the surface was BookCon’s guest speaker list announcement. Among those invited to speak, none of them were people of colour. Understandably, many people are angry and confused. Why did BookCon not include minorities in their panel? Are they the ones responsible, or are consumers to blame?

I do think that both sides are responsible for this “incident.” Of course, the BookCon organizers want to draw crowds with those on the bestsellers lists and readers are the ones that contribute to what becomes a bestseller. That being said, bestsellers are often the more heavily publicized books so that in turn influences which books consumers are (generally) more drawn to. If they don’t know about a book, of course they won’t be able to find and purchase it. But the point of my post today isn’t to point the finger. I want to do something more practical. I’m going to commit to make an effort to consciously read more diversely. I want to give other voices a chance.

So, I have compiled a list of books* I’ve either read or am planning on reading, written by non-white authors and/or discuss non-white issues:

1. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri:
“Two brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution. A powerful new novel–set in both India and America–that explores the price of idealism and a love that can last long past death.”

2. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi (reviewed):
“A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.”

3. Listen to the Squawking Chicken by Elaine Lui (read):
“Using the nine principles that her mother used to raise her, Elaine tells us the story of the Squawking Chicken’s life—in which she walked an unusual path to parent with tough love, humor, and, through it all, a mother’s unyielding devotion to her daughter. This is a love letter to mothers everywhere.”

4. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
“From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.”

5. The Orenda by Joseph Boyden:
“A visceral portrait of life at a crossroads, The Orenda opens with a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of the young Iroquois Snow Falls, a spirited girl with a special gift. Her captor, Bird, is an elder and one of the Huron Nation’s great warriors and statesmen. It has been years since the murder of his family and yet they are never far from his mind. Christophe, a charismatic Jesuit missionary, has found his calling amongst the Huron and devotes himself to learning and understanding their customs and language in order to lead them to Christ. As these three souls dance each other through intricately woven acts of duplicity, small battles erupt into bigger wars and a nation emerges from worlds in flux.”

6. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (reviewed):
“In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.”

*All book blurbs were copied from Goodreads.

What do you think about the issue of diversity in literature and publishing? Have you read any of the books I’ve listed above? Are there any books that I should add to my list? Let me know!

12 thoughts on “Monday Musings | Diversity in Literature

  1. Jen @ Book Scribbles says:

    Read Americanah and The Lowland, both were superbly written and a joy to read. Thanks for sharing your review again of A Tale for the Time Being…that one’s on my to read list and so I’m glad to hear you also recommend!

    • kmn04books says:

      I HIGHLY recommend A Tale for the Time Being. It’s amazing. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year. So happy to hear your liked Americanah and The Lowland – I’ve only heard good things about them!

  2. Naomi says:

    I’ve heard good things about all of these books, and they are all on my to-read list. The only one I’ve read is The Orenda, but it was a fantastic book, and was one of my favourite books of 2013.

    Just discovered your blog, and look forward to reading more from you!

    • kmn04books says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Naomi! I’m excited (and a little nervous) to read The Orenda as I hear it’s pretty violent in parts. But I think difficult reads are difficult for a reason and so I’m looking forward to reading it when I have the chance. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it! I haven’t heard one bad thing about it yet.

      • Naomi says:

        He did such a good job writing about the violence that it didn’t really bother me that much, but maybe that’s just me. And it’s only one part of the book- if it does really bother you, you can just skim it!

      • kmn04books says:

        Oh, good! Glad to hear it’s only one part. I’m sure I’ll read through it, but violence of that sort really upsets me. I’m a little nervous to read my copy of Twelve Years a Slave because of it.

      • Naomi says:

        Oh, maybe I should have said ‘a part’ instead of ‘one part’. There are several scenes of violence. I just meant that the book is about so much more than that. Sorry for the confusion! 🙂

  3. Ruby @ Feed Me Books Now says:

    I think this is definitely an issue in the publishing industry. I feel as if there’s a significant lack of books surrounding other cultures (especially in the YA age group) and that when there are books discussing other cultures, they’re not given the same publicity.

    I personally adored A Tale for the Time Being and also thoroughly enjoyed The Lowland. I’ve yet to read Americanah, but I fell in love with Half of a Yellow Sun, so I’ll be on the lookout for it! 🙂 As a another quick recommendation, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo is great (coincidently, it was also a 2013 Man Booker nominee like A Tale for the Time Being & The Lowland). 🙂

    • kmn04books says:

      Oh, thank you for the recommendation! I just looked it up on Goodreads and am adding it to my TBR list! Somewhat unrelated but I love the cover(s) for it. I agree that the YA age group needs more diversity – I was excited to see Jenny Han’s latest book (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before) prominently featuring an Asian girl on the cover. It’s a small step in the right direction!

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