Ari’s Guest Blog No. 2: Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone

Because I’m in transit,1 I asked Ari if she would step in for me, and she kindly said yes. Thanks, Ari!

I’m back! So yesterday I gave you a list of books about poc that I think you should read, although I’m sure I left off some great books by accident. If you want some more lists check out Susan’s at Color Online for specifically sci-fi check this out the Happy Nappy Bookseller’s list and for bi-racial, multi-racial poc go here.

Also I want to share some information with you on the Diversity Roll Call meme. Diversity Roll Call is hosted by Ali at worducopia and Susan at Color Online. Anyone can participate. It’s for two weeks and is basically like a challenge. The meme asks you to really evaluate your reading habits, how diverse are they (gender wise, religion wise, race-wise, economics-wise, sexual orientation).

The current assignment asks you to blog about a book that appeals to both genders, talk about gender in your writing (if you’re an author), or take a book that you love and change the gender of the protag. You can do all or either of these. I highly recommend everyone join in! More details when you follow the above link. If you don’t have a blog, just leave a comment answering the question. Have fun!

You may be wondering: why should I read books about people who aren’t like me? They’re not the same gender as me, the same sexual orientation, race, or religion. I’m uncomfortable reading about what I don’t know. I would never be able to understand them.

My response: No, no, no! Don’t think like that. First of, let me explain. I don’t only read books about poc. I’ve read (and loved) many books featuring white characters (I currently really want to read Eyes Like Stars, Deadline, Angry Management, Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, and Perfect Chemistry). But I don’t just want to read books about people who don’t look like me, so I can understand where the ‘I don’t wanna read about people I can’t relate to’ crowd is coming from.

Sometimes I don’t pick up a book because there’s a white person on the cover and I think ‘I can’t relate.’ But then I stop and think ‘I would hate to know someone else is doing this same thing to a book with a Latina on the cover’ (or any other race/religion/gender/sexual orientation), so I at least read the synopsis. Often I end up getting the book and enjoying it (like You Are So Undead to Me, the Mortal Instruments Trilogy, the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, Heat, Private series).

I think it’s important to expand your horizons. Reading books can really put you in someone else’s shoes. For example, Whale Talk is one of my favorite books in the world. I could totally relate to the male main character even though I’m not a guy. Or reading about a lesbian teen (Down to the Bone—on my tbr list!) even if you’re straight can help you experience and sympathize with the hate, ignorance and discrimination LGBT teens and adults often face. They can also make you see that the way LGBT teens feel about their loves and lives are pretty similar to those of a straight person, the only difference is liking their same gender (or both genders).

Also, often when you’re reading a book you may not even notice their ethnicity a whole lot (like in the Make Lemonade Trilogy), they just are what they are. You get so wrapped up in thinking ‘Yeah I’ve been through that’, or ‘I definitely would have said that too’, that you don’t notice a character’s race, religion, or gender or anything else, except that you can relate. That’s awesome. One of the most powerful things books can do is help tear down stereotypes (especially the negative ones). They educate, uplift and make us laugh. Read more books about poc, the opposite gender or sexual orientation, and/or religion and I bet you’ll not only learn something new, but you’ll really enjoy it (maybe not all, but I’m sure you won’t hate all books about guys, if you’re a girl, for example.)

In writing this blog post, I’ve stepped back and really looked at my diverse reading habits. I definitely need to read more books about LGBT teens, Native American teens, Asian teens, and teen guys. So if you have any suggestions do share!

I hope I haven’t bored or insulted anyone. I would love to hear your thoughts on my posts so leave a comment on Justine’s blog, my blog, or email me willbprez at aol dot com.

Thanks Justine for letting me guest blog! I hope you don’t regret it.

  1. These two guest posts are timed to post while I’m travelling. If your comments get stuck in moderation you’ll have to be patient. Sorry. []


  1. Shveta on #

    What an absolutely excellent post. You summed it up so well. We’re all people, and while the experiences we have may differ, we all go through what it means to be human.

    I’m going to link to this. 🙂

  2. Julia Rios on #

    Thanks, Ari! This is a really great post! I am checking out the links now.

  3. Kaethe on #

    I make an effort these days to read as many different types of books, containing as many different types of characters as possible. Is it just me or are the authors writing for younger readers much better at creating believable diversity? Westerfeld, Larbalestier, Levithan, Pratchett, Rex, Reeve. The books I’m either reading to or for my kids seem to include a broader cast without making a single characteristic a substitute for character. They’re like the anti John Updike.

    Thanks for the links. I’m always looking to broaden my reading list.

  4. Rumi on #

    Heya. I was referred here by my dear friend Shveta. I’ve been sort of following your blogs through her journal. I always enjoy your insight and views on a issue that not many people are aware of. Which is sad.

    I’m a Caucasian woman and I tend to read anything I can get my hands on. I’m limited by what is available to me and price. Unfortunately, I live in a small part of the US that is limited in diversity by sheer size. Our culture may be thriving and growing, but literature is a bit behind on that.

  5. Jennifer L on #

    Well, reading outside my comfort zone is something that I’ve been working on. Up until six months ago or so, I’d never read anything by any authors of color that I was aware of. I didn’t avoid them deliberately, but the market majority is for books by white authors. I didn’t realize what I was missing, to be honest.

    Then a friend lent me a few books by Octavia Butler, and I loved them. Then RaceFail hit LJ around that time and I realized I’d been letting the market dictate my choices. Now I go out of my way to seek out authors from many walks of life, and my reading (and life) is richer for it.

    (BTW, your post is excellent, so I have to thank my friend Shveta for pointing it out to me.)

  6. MissAttitude on #

    Thanks Sheveta for linking to this post! I’m so glad people liked it and agreed and are trying to expand their horizons.
    Rumi it’s so awesome that you try and read more diverse books. If you’re on a budget, I really recommend Amazon. I use them all the time, they have the cheapest books that I’ve found so far. And they often have older, sometimes impossible-to-find-otherwise titles.
    Jennifer I haven’t yet had a chance to read Octaivia Butler’s books, but I’ve heard rave reviews about them. They are at the top of my tbr pile. I’m so glad that you make a conscious effort to read books about people different than you!
    Kaethe I would agree, although I haven’t read that many books by white authors from long ago, so I’m not sure how they handled diversity per se.
    Everyone keep it up 🙂

  7. tricia sullivan on #

    Ari, thanks for your post. I love it that you are guest-blogging here.

    The links and challenges that you’re putting up, and the ones that came up in Justine’s previous posts, are opening up a whole world for someone like me–I’m white and don’t even live in the US anymore, so I feel cut off sometimes from the reality of race issues in America. I’d already gotten in the habit of seeking out PoC books and reading them, but I wasn’t aware of the online community around YA books by writers of colour. It’s exciting to see the discourse going on at places like Color Online.

    And the fact that we all can benefit from getting out of our comfort zone as readers is a good point in any context.

  8. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    I love the guest blogs! One of the scary things to me about privilege is how little I notice: I remember not knowing the people in Ursula LeGuin’s books weren’t Caucasian for years. When I found out, I was pleased, but also saddened by my own blindness! It’s so easy not to notice, when you’re not the one targeted: whereas I am always at books with my feminist analysis tools of doom.

    Making a conscious effort to notice and expand your horizons enough to keep caring and keep taking notes = helped along by posts like these, so many thanks! And now back to my study of British-Caribbean culture so I can get the girl narrating my third book right.

    (Oh, and Perfect Chemistry has a great mix of Caucasian and Latina characters, all rounded and interesting characters. I think you will like it. ;))

  9. Delaria on #

    Shveta linked me to this post, and I’m glad she did. A lot of what you’ve said here applies to precisely why I like to read fantasy: for experiences that I have not, cannot have but with characters I can sympathize with and learn about. It’s also why, whenever I find an author of more diverse fantasy, I jump on the books if I like them at all. I don’t know if you’re looking for those recommendations in the fantasy genre, but a book with a male character who feels like a teenager is The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. It has two books that follow it, where he’s a little older. Old Mediterranean-type setting. For a fiction book about an Asian girl who grows from child to teen over the course of the story, you might like Revolution is not a Dinner Party by Ling Change Compestine.

    Very good, interesting post. Thank you for writing it.

  10. Rasco from RIF on #

    Thank you, Ari, I so appreciate what you have said in this post. We all need to stop and take a deep breath now and then and review our reading habits, I do agree!

  11. MissAttitude on #

    Rasco-I read and loved your article Book Covers and All That is Between Them. I’m glad that you evaulated your and your organization’s reading habits and seen that there is a need for some improvement. I’ve realized the same and like you, I’m making a more conscious effort.
    Delaria-Thank you for the recommendations. I love the title Revoultion is Not a Dinner Party!
    Sarah-Best of luck in getting the British-Caribbean voice of your narrator right. I’m sure you will! I really like the design of your website 🙂
    Tricia-I’m so glad that I helped you find websites that feature books and lists of books about poc, and glader still that you already were looking for books with poc!

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