Sometimes it feels like I haven’t done much this year, but I read. By read, I mean, I went through a metric ton’s worth of books (THANK YOU LIBRARY). And because my TBR is endless, I’ve made it a rule to prioritize books by marginalized authors when borrowing or buying. This has been soooo rewarding. I’ve been a lifelong fantasy reader, and this has blown up my world in a big way. The same old tropes feel fresh again!
But you know, even if I am a POC, there’s no way I understand the nuance behind every marginalization or every culture. That’s an impossible task for anyone, which is why I think that when you are reading books by marginalized authors, reading with generosity is the key.
What does that mean?
- Acknowledge that (even if it is a culture or marginalization that you share), everyone’s experience of it is different, and no culture is a monolith.
- If a story makes you uncomfortable, reflect on why. Is it really that the story is bad, or is it your mood right now, is it written in a style or tradition that you’re unfamiliar with, or are you simply not the target audience?
- Stories by marginalized authors don’t have to teach you anything about a culture, or a lived experience. Let them be fun or playful or scary, or whatever genre they are. There does not have to be a reason for a character to be a POC/Disabled/Queer. If you learn something, that’s extra. Joy is as valid as pain. And even if a book is not explicitly #OwnVoices, an author’s culture/experience/point of view still influences the story in big ways, so it is still just as important.
- Remember that the diaspora is it’s own thing, therefore it has its own concerns and audience. It will not speak to the same issues as the source culture, and it’s unfair to expect it to.
OKAY, so yes, some books by marginalized authors are not that good, or contain problematic content. Yes, we can still acknowledge that, just like we do for other books… but it’s good to check yourself first.
One last note! Before I started tracking what I read and who it was written by, I thought that I read more authors of colour than I really did, so even I fell into that trap. If you’re serious about diversifying your reading, I do recommend keeping a record of the books you read and author demographics. I just use a spreadsheet.
I am still a work in progress. Sometimes I get frustrated, and have to say “This is not for me” when I dislike a story. But I know where my blind spots are, and trying to do better is worth it, because authors are working so hard to throw open doors and windows to worlds we haven’t been invited into before.
(One day I’ll have time to get back to doing book reviews, but not just yet.)