“Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there’. I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
—Looking for Alaska, John Green
Since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Twitter and Tumblr campaign began a few days ago, the internet has been abuzz with literature-lovers talking about why we need diversity in books, especially young adult books.
Haven’t heard about this campaign? Well, here’s the lowdown.
Basically, the idea is to get people online talking about why we should be pushing for more diverse books for young adults (and in general) by posting pictures of themselves with signs that say why we need diversity in our books. And there were a lot of answers.
Many of the responses were about finding someone in literature who young readers can relate to (when many young readers don’t find books about people who are their own race, sexual orientation or have the disabilities they have). Other answers were that reading about people who are different from you is just as important as reading about people who are like you.
I think these responses get right to the point–books are about the human experience, which is inherently diverse–and also unifying. By only allowing certain types of peoples’ stories to be told, it messes up that unifying quality of literature. It’s saying these peoples’ stories are the human experience, and leaves a gap where other stories should be.
I also discussed this campaign with Talia Adry, who worked at Barnes and Noble for 10 years and now is working at a publishing house. Here’s her take on the campaign (which I just showed her before this interview) and the nature of YA literature and diversity:
Talia makes a really good point that because the YA genre is new, and has a different set of authors who tend to be primarily American so less cultural diversity tends to show through. But young readers are diverse, so their books should be as well.
While most people agree that more diversity in YA (and all) literature is important, it’s difficult to figure out exactly how to get there. Should white authors write about people of color? Can they accurately represent someone from a different culture? Does anyone want them to?
Should more diverse authors be encouraged to write more? Or are there plenty of diverse authors, but is their work is marginalized by the advertizing of companies, education pushing of the hetero-normative canon, and an obedient consumer demand?
It’s difficult to pinpoint an answer to these questions, because the answer is different depending who you ask–and it may be that the answer is some combination of these issues.
So what can people do from here?
I think it’s important to keep the conversation going. Part of the problem with underrepresented groups is that it’s sometimes people don’t even notice they’re missing because people aren’t talking about it. It needs to be asked for.
And I think this pretty much sums it up (especially the conclusion paragraph). I sort of half-heartedly ended my Twitter conversation above with the idea that if we keep talking about diversity and hope people notice, change will happen. But Léonicka is right–we can’t just sit around and talk and hope for change. We have to actively be asking for literature that is diverse in all sorts of ways. And we need to encourage people to write all sorts of diverse stories, and we need to read them and share them.
By reading and supporting the books we want to exist, I think we can help create the market that makes those books exist.
“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.
That is their mystery and their magic.”
― Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
As any English major knows, it can sometimes be hard enough to find time to read the books you’re supposed to read for class. So extracurricular reading often gets pushed aside until you have a little extra time, meaning the summer. I’ve been accumulating books that I want to read over the summer (including ones I’m going to try to use for my Honor’s Thesis next semester), and here’s my list!
- Divergent, Veronica Roth – I’ve been hoping to read this for a while, and even started it this semester, but I just don’t have time to read the whole thing until classes are over. But maybe I’ll try to read all three books from this series.
- Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami – This author was recommended to me by a friend, so I decided to put it on the list. It’s a translation from Japanese, and has two intertwining plots – which is always something I find interesting in a book.
- The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood – Since I read Oryx and Crake, I’ve been dying to read more of Margaret Atwood’s work. She’s just amazing and I keep hearing about this book, so I’m excited to see what everybody’s been talking about.
- The Road, Cormack McCarthy – I’m doing my thesis on dystopian novels (as you might be able to guess I’m interested in from the line up so far), and people have been telling me to read this one for a while now. The cashier at Barnes and Noble said it was pretty bleak when I bought it from him, but he also said it was amazing. So we’ll just have to see, I suppose.
- The Dinner, Herman Koch – I bought the two books above this one in this list at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago, and there was a buy two get one free sale, so I picked up this guy. It seems to be about a pair of parents whose children did something terrible (the synopsis didn’t say what), and because of their social class, don’t come right out and talk about it, but carefully broach the topic over the course of a high-class dinner. I’m pretty interested in this book because I love books where high-class people are forced to deal with the nitty and gritty but do it within the constraints of society – at least that’s my understanding of what this book might be.
- Les Miserables, Victor Hugo – I got this book for Christmas two years ago, and still haven’t gotten around to reading it, but I’m pretty determined. I want to see the movie, but I won’t until I read it, because I know it’ll have to be a big time commitment and I want to plot to carry me through.
- Anthropology of an American Girl, Hilary T. Hamann – I bought this book a long time ago, as well, and I can tell it will be a good one. I love the cover, the title, the way it feels – I know you’re not supposed to judge a book so superficially, but you can sometimes just tell when a book is going to be good–like, be something that you in particular can relate to–based on those things. I started reading it, actually, and I really like the style of it, but I didn’t have time to really focus on it, so I wanted to wait until I could give it enough time to really absorb it.
- The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri – I read The Namesake over winter break, and I loved it (possibly in large part because I love Gogol, the Russian author who was a big part of the book, but also because the writing was expressive and real), so I’m very interested in her new book, which has already been nominated for the Man Booker Prize.
I will hopefully have a lot of time to read, because these are just the books I can think of off the top of my head. I feel like my reading list is always changing, because some books catch your attention at some times more than others do. Do you have any good summer reading suggestions? What’s on your list?
Get yourself to a nearby coffee shop and drink up!
Original video found here: http://visual.ly/how-coffee-affects-your-brain
Designed and animated by Jorge Cham
I like literature with a capital L. I like reading “good” books, partly because it’s fun to challenge yourself, and partly because I like looking smart – even when I maybe don’t actually love reading that particular book (Jane Eyre, I’m looking at you).
But these books aren’t always the ones that catch your attention or influence you in a deep way. Sometimes that comes from books (or even television shows) that you would rather not admit you were reading or watching.
And even if Honey Boo Boo doesn’t resonate with you on a deep level, is there value to that type of media consumption? Or is our world being taken over by weird interest in the daily lives of people who don’t ultimately add value to our lives?
As an avid watcher of reality television, I have to argue that guilty pleasure TV and books have their place in the world – and don’t deserve as much scorn as they get.
I used to love the Twilight series in high school. I admit it.
Looking back, I’d say there were some moral lessons about treating yourself with respect regardless of who you love that probably should have been included, but regardless, the story captivated me and my imagination.
Now, I’m not going to say it is particularly good literature or art. But it also isn’t worthless.
Stories like Twilight, and TV like Honey Boo Boo offer another view on the world, a different reality from the canonical classic literature that gets stuffed down our throats. They offer the types of stories about love that we as human beings are drawn to–the impossibly intense romantic love and the unconditional familial love, respectively.
While much of the capital L literature is beautiful and will change your perspective on the world, it’s also important to branch out, and understand what the life of a particular family in Georgia might be like – because that’s why we are interested in stories, I think. They offer us a different perspective on the world.
Now, I know some argue that reality TV is far from real – but so is fiction, and we find plenty of value in that.
By writing off those stories that don’t fit into a structured view of what is “good” you may miss out on some really interesting stories and lives that may, in their own way, change the way you look at the world.