Throughout the last few weeks, my bookstagram was full of posts, news, and ideas about what to think, read, educated oneself about, and what to do to be part of a change that is important and long overdue. Overall a lot of people from all over the world I follow on bookstagram are asking themselves: “What am I reading? Who am I reading? And why?” Too often we stay within our familiar grounds, buy and read authors we know and like because we are so used to it. Buying the first (few) book(s) that draws our attention, thereby following a certain preselection of a bookseller or Amazon according to bestseller lists, special promotions, or books we bought before.
When the #blackoutbestsellerlist challenge/hashtag started, I was enthusiastic to join the effort. Low buy or not, I could afford to buy at least two books by black authors, and I’m so happy that I did. Not because I only read old white men from the West. But because there are too many old white men from the West. And there’s so much more to learn!
Diversity is Queen
We all have favorite authors. Sometimes even favorite literary trends. Wonderguy is into magic realism. I’m not. So we share a passion for books and reading, but not similar tastes. Due to my academic studies, I read a lot of war literature from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And also from the US and Europe. Different voices writing about the same war bring diverse perspectives, insights, and attitudes regarding seemingly similar issues. At times reading war literature can be an emotional challenge, to me at least, so these are books I consciously decide to read.
Then again, reading is fun. It should be fun. So instead of stories about how North Vietnam used its people as human shields, Iraqi civilians trying to hold up important burial rites, or US soldiers trying to make sense of all the hate and negativity around them while destroying another hamlet, why not read some Paul Auster? Agatha Christie? PG Wodehouse? Something witty, clever, entertaining, funny, well-established, familiar, (oftentimes male) … and white? Why not? Do I consciously decide who to read for fun depending on their background? Hardly ever. Should I start doing so more often? Definitely.
Because there’s so much more. We all tend to gravitate towards our favorite authors and favorite topics, but why not try something new for a change? I for one am actively looking for more female authors and/or female protagonists from all over the world to enriched my bookshelves. Be it Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My sister the serial killer, Toni Morrison’s God help the child or Jokha Alharti’s Celestial Bodies – I encounter funny, magnificent, enriching and unfamiliar stories I’m so happy to read.
During my dark days, when work and/or my Ph.D. project seem overwhelming and frustrating and I want to quit everything, I love some comfort reading like my Jessica Fletcher books or other cozy mysteries. I do appreciate again and again coming back to authors, books, and themes that feel like family – even when it’s not that dark. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t leave my familiar setting and try something new. Like reading outside the box.
Rediscovering the shelves … again
Take a good look at your bookshelves. What do you see? Thanks to my ‘rediscovering my shelves’ motto during my low buy challenge, I’ve already found some hidden gems I didn’t even remember buying. Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sinan Antoon, Hassan Blasim, Le Minh Khue, Nurrudin Farrah, Chinua Achebe – it’s a start. And there’s so much more to read …
Let’s take a good look at our shelves and find some interesting, incredible, and important voices to add. A fresh perspective, a new angle, new insights, that’s what literature can be about. It may not always be comfortable but it’s always worth learning something new.