One of my favorite things about the web site Goodreads is how easy it makes it to track what books I’ve read. The site records what books I’ve read, when, and what I thought of them, dividing everything into years, number of stars, and length. This year they took it a step further, emailing me (and others members, of course) My Year In Books, which tells me how many books I read, how many pages I read, information about book length and popularity, how I did on my Goodreads Reading Challenge, and a big, long list of all the books I read. As a certified bibliophile, this link made my little heart soar. It also inspired today’s post, 2015, A Year in Reading.
The intention of today’s post isn’t just to plug Goodreads (though I do like the site), but rather to examine what type of authors I’ve read over the past year, which is a metric Goodreads doesn’t track for you. Instead, I had to write down all the books I’d read and look up their authors. I wanted to figure out what percentage of male-to-female authors I read as well as their races.
Why? Simply, I believe in the necessity of diverse books. I don’t think books or reading is the purview of white people, and I think only publishing or reading white authors dilutes the power of reading. Reading and publishing should reflect the diversity of this world. If they did, we would have better stories, make reading and publishing more accessible to all types of people, encourage marginalized people to write and read, and shorten the gaps because people’s understanding of each other. We could also help decrease the strength of white privilege and our inherently racist society (not to mention all kids would have someone to look up to and be able to see themselves in books).
So I wanted to see whom exactly I was reading. Publishing is skewed towards white males who often receive better contracts, higher pay, and better PR and are published more often. Too often, the top author in a genre is a white male. Too often, authors of color are told their books will never sell or have their work branded as “urban” or “exotic.” And while the publishing industry does need to and is starting to change that, it’s also up to us readers to let them know it must change. We all have to be held accountable.
My method was not scientific. To determine a person’s sex, I simply looked at their name or photo. Given the fluidity of gender and how people choose to present themselves, I could be wrong. Likewise, when I determined a person’s race, I merely looked at their photo, found out who their parents were, or read their bio. Race is not quite as fluid as gender, but the complexities of genetics means that some people can “pass” as white when they’re actually Asian, black, Native American, mixed, etc., so I might have also gotten it wrong. I’m including my Excel sheet here, so if you see someone I’ve misrepresented in some way, please let me know.
In 2015, I mostly read work by white males. The gender dynamic was more equal as 42% (71 books) of the books I read were by women. However, a full 78% (133 books) were by white authors. Only 37 of the 170 books I read this year were by Asian, black, Hispanic, or racially unknown authors. I don’t think I had any books by American Indians, Pacific Islanders, or Middle Eastern people, which is a big problem (I know I had at least one Muslim author, but that was probably it.). It’s not like American Indians and Pacific Islanders don’t write or want to be published. I should be reading them.
There’s a good possibility that this information is not wholly accurate. When something had both an author and an illustrator, was an anthology, or had several authors or editors, I used the first listed. Had I done otherwise, I probably would have had more women and people of color in the list, but I wanted to base my metrics off the main author and who was listed first, which is most likely the person to receive the most press. Is it a perfect system? No, but it’s most likely indicative of how the publishing industry sees the work.
I’ve already started to make steps to correct the situation, the first being to participate in the #BustleReads Challenge for 2016, which encourages readers to read women and writers of color. I will also be looking for books by Middle Eastern/Muslim writers and American Indian authors. A list of the former can be found here while a list of the latter can be found here. If anyone has any suggestions for books by women and people of color, please send them to me. I love recs.
For those of you that may be worried that this will interfere with your ability to read your favorite authors: don’t worry. You don’t have to stop reading James Patterson or Nora Robert or Donna Tartt. You don’t have to read a book that you find boring just because Marjane Satrapi wrote it. This effort to read more diverse books isn’t about shaming white authors or telling white people not to write; it is simply about expanding our literary canon and allowing good books written by women and people of color to find an audience. It’s about making life better, not worse. And I hope at least a few of you will join me. It’s going to be fun.