At the end of November a couple of Bloggers (at From Inside the Dog and The Writes of Woman) started up the #Diverse December reading challenge. They argued eloquently and persuasively that it’s no good just ‘reading what’s out there’ when ‘what’s out there’ is demonstrably under-representative of society at large. It really made me think, because I’ve never gone out of my way to seek out BAEM (Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority) authors, it’s always felt too much like unnecessary positive discrimination. A little reflection has shown me my mistake. As a devoted reader it is my obligation to make the effort to find such writers because evidence shows that, otherwise, I’m never going to read them. They are less likely to be published, less likely to receive publicity and far less likely to appear on prize lists (which is a major source of my own reading).
I’m not actually going to be able to take part in Diverse December, because I’m very very busy trying to finish off my year of Russian reading, but I do pledge to be more diverse in 2016. In an attempt to be specific rather than vaguely aspirational, below is my planned A-Z of diverse reading for 2016.
A – ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
B – ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’ by James Baldwin (1953)
C – ‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang (1991)
D – ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2009)
E – ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ by Laura Esquivel (1993)
F – ‘The Story of a New Name’ by Elena Ferrante (2012)
G – ‘Sea of Poppies’ by Amitav Ghosh (2008)
H – ‘The Guest Cat’ by Takashi Hiraide (2014)
I – ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)
J – ‘The Book of Night Women’ by Marlon James (2009)
K – ‘Twilight of the Eastern Gods’ by Ismail Kadare (2014)
L – ‘The Moor’s Account’ by Laila Lalami (2014)
M- ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry (1995)
N – ‘I am a Cat’ by Natsume Sōseki(1905-6)
O – ‘The Famished Road’ by Ben Okri (1991)
P – ‘The Kiss of the Spider Woman’ by Manuel Puig (1976)
Q – ?
R – ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ by Claudia Rankine (2014)
S – ‘The Lonely Londoners’ by Sam Selvon (1956)
T – ‘Quicksand’ by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (1928-30)
U – ‘The Ministry of Pain’ by Dubravka Ugrešić (2008)
V – ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ by Juan Pablo Villabos (2011)
W – ‘Possessing the Secret of Joy’ by Alice Walker (1992)
X – ‘The Dream of the Red Chamber’ by Cao Xueqin (18th century)
Y – ‘Kitchen’ by Banana Yoshimoto (1987)
Z – ‘Islanders’ by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1917)
As you can see, there are a few false notes. I’ve included a couple of white women (Ferrante who is Italian and presumably a woman and Ugrešić who’s from former Yugoslavia). I’m also not sure if Albanian counts as ‘ethnic minority’ in the British publishing world, but I’ve included Kadare in the hope that it does. My excuse is ignorance of other BAEM authors with these initials and the fact that I really want to read these books … I am open to other suggestions though, because I’d hate for one author to squeeze out another in what is supposed to be an inclusive A-Z.
I also have slipped Zamyatin into the list, yes he’s a dead white man but he’s Russian and I have just discovered this 1917 novella. If anyone can suggest another Z writer to wind up the alphabet I’ll be happy to add them.
Finally, I don’t know of any appropriate author whose name begins with Q. This letter is therefore going to stand for query unless someone can recommend (and I can get hold of) an appropriately wonderful novel to add to the exciting list above.
As the A-Z shows, I’m not limiting my reading by consciously considering BAEM authors, I’m widening it. On the other hand, I’m also taking the opportunity to prioritise books that have been on my wish list for ages (like ‘The Famished Road’) but that keep getting postponed. Diverse December has given me a valuable reminder to pay attention to what I’m reading. If the supply and demand model holds then readers should never just accept what is out there, but should support those who are trying to change things, so that literature can truly reflect the diverse society in which we live.