Getting Personal: Why Jess & Anisha Read Diverse Books

As our last post points out, there are many reasons related to society, culture, and representation for supporting diverseIMG_2083
books. These are important overarching reasons to read diverse literature, and we believe in all of them.

But, like most readers, we also have our personal reasons. As avid readers, we both lived in a world of books before we ever knew or cared about the larger implications of what we read. Even after we started The Bookmark, our views have been adjusting. We started by reviewing mainstream literature, and quickly realized that our passions are more closely linked to supporting diverse literature. Why? Check out our reasons below.

Jess and I come from very different backgrounds, so our reasons for supporting diverse literature are different. Here are just four of them:

Anisha’s Reasons – A perspective from a brown American girl

  1. Being American does not mean being white.

When I was in middle school and high school, I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain my family and background. I could say “I’m Indian” – but that didn’t really cover it. I didn’t feel Indian – I was born in the US, spoke only English, and had only visited India twice (less than some of my friends had been on vacation to Europe). I had a very “Western” childhood, with sleepovers, make-up, and dating. But I didn’t feel like my experience was normal, and the only way I could explain it was to say “I’m basically white”.  I didn’t think the American experience was anything but the white one. I was having a white childhood, in an Indian girl’s body.

You can chalk that up to immaturity, but I think it’s more systemic than that. None of the movies or books I read represented my experience. Mainstream literature tell us that “normal” girls are white, rich, and thin (even when they think they’re fat). And while I wasn’t actively seeking out diverse literature or movies,  I should not have had to. Mainstream books should reflect the experiences of all of their readers, and show us that being “American” can mean a lot of different experiences.

 

  1. One “diverse” book should not have to be the magic bullet

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier was the first diverse book I read. The book is fantastic – well crafted, great story plot, and with an Indian-American girl trying to find her identity in high school. In many ways, it was perfect.

Except – and this took me a long time to admit – it wasn’t my Indian-American story.  And as the only Indian-American book I could find at the time, I felt it was the only story I was “allowed” to relate to, and the fact that I could not made me realize that only having one story for thousands of Desi girls was wrong.. Just as Sarah Dessen can’t write for every white girl, Tanuja Desai Hidier can’t write for every Indian-American girl.  I, and every Indian girl, should have hundreds of narrators of Indian origin to choose from. And then I can find my own story from these girls.

Note: Jessica Pryde wrote an excellent piece about this topic at Book Riot. I highly encourage you to check it out.

  

Jess’s Reasons – A perspective from the cultural hegemony or a white, cis, hetero girl  

  1. Books are doors into other’s lives

Books are a way to dip into the lives of other people, experience a life different from my own, and internalize a little piece of what it would be like to be someone else. Sometimes that means I’m a dragon-flying space colonist jumping through time, other times it means I’m a princess trying to fight a strategic political marriage. A few weeks ago, it meant that I was a high school student working through the gentrification and racial shift in the neighborhood I grew up in. Diverse books are important to me because they provide more chances to expand the types of experiences I’m able to have within my one, single life. When we read books, we become the characters and that makes it just a tiny bit easier to understand what kind of experiences, thoughts, and dreams the people around us have. Diverse books are an integral part to expanding the kinds of people readers are able to become.

  1. Our stories reflect our individual truths.

But, diverse books should not exist to help the majority population “feel what it’s like to be someone different.” Since I grew up as a white kid in the US I could usually find someone that looked like me in books. True, she might end up the girl that needs saving most of the time, but at least most of the stories and characters were easy for me to relate to. Those girls still looked and felt like me. I care about supporting diverse books because I think everyone should have the same chance I did and do. Every reader should have the same joy of finding a story that speaks to their soul and that features characters and stories that look like them and lead lives like theirs. Often diverse books are called “window books” because they let the majority (white, cis, hetero, able, nominally Christian) population peek into what those “other” lives are like. But, I think that’s wrong. These books aren’t and shouldn’t be (only) about that. They are about individual truths; there are millions of different people and stories and each and every one stands on its own terms.

What are YOUR reasons for supporting diverse books? Are you part of the “norm”? What has mainstream literature gotten wrong about you? Leave a comment or tweet at us @Bookmark_Place.

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3 Comments

Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Historical

3 responses to “Getting Personal: Why Jess & Anisha Read Diverse Books

  1. Pingback: Book Discussion: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel | The Bookmark

  2. Keep on writing, great job!

    Like

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