I began 2015 with a singular goal in mind: I wanted 75% of the books I read to be written by people of color. When I realized that the only book I read in 2014 written by someone who wasn’t white was The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, I saw that something was terribly amiss. One out of 19 books—that’s a measly 5%. I went out of my way this year to do better. A lot better.
So, you might be wondering, where do I stand now?
With 14 out the 19 books I read this year written by people of color, I am achingly close to my goal, but no dice. I fell just shy of the mark at 74%.
74%! I can’t believe how close I came. I probably wouldn’t be so frustrated if I didn’t know for a fact that it would have been 79% if I hadn’t been seduced by the lure of a book club that I didn’t even end up attending. Instead of reading the next diverse title on my list, I skipped it to read Station Eleven (which I hated, by the way) under the impression that I could do so and still reach my goal. Gah. So irritating! But oh well. I still came damn close.
I should also add that I’ve continued my practice of not including graphic novels or comics in my final count. I didn’t count them last year as part of the total number of books I read, and continued that this year. Mostly because I can read one in about an hour so it feels like cheating somehow?
I admit that’s an arbitrary distinction. I think I’ll have to look into changing that for 2016, but for now, I haven’t been counting them in my tally.
Numbers aside, the real question at the heart of this experiment is… did it work? Did I notice a difference in reading mostly people of color for an entire year? Do I feel different for having done so?
In this I am happy to report only complete, unabashed success. It changed everything. Americanah opened my eyes in ways no book ever had. Everything I Never Told You literally strengthened a friendship. The Sympathizer and The Wandering Falcon highlighted my own ignorance about two completely different parts of the world.
Never has reading left me feeling so incredibly, incredibly alive.
And I don’t mean to say that as a way to disparage any of the amazing books I’ve read in the past. Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, and Cormac McCarthy will always hold a special place in my heart. They’re brilliant. There’s no questioning that for me. It’s just that it’s impossible to see the ways in which your picture of the world is incomplete until you start hearing the voices that had been silent to you.
This little project has completely changed the way I intend to read for the rest of my life. I realized that I just can’t afford not to consciously seek those voices out. I can’t afford not to think about it.
I really encourage you to attempt this project in your own life. If 75% seems daunting (maybe you only read five books year), then try seeking out just one or two. When you add a book to your to-read pile, take the extra second to see if the author is white. If they are? Then go out of your way to add a book by someone who’s not.
And if you ask me why? Then I answer, to add new sounds to the symphony of your literary canon. To hear the full orchestra of the world.
And because it’s worth it.