Bookish Articles,  Purple Book Club

On ‘Diversifying’ Your Bookshelf

Over the summer, as the Black Lives Matter protests took hold across the globe and non-Black people began to realise that our lives actually do matter, there was a surge in buying books about race and racism. In June Reni Eddo-Lodge became the first Black British author to top the UK’s official book charts with her fantastic book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Newspapers and magazines started publishing anti-racist reading lists for those who wanted to “learn more.” And of course, people posted their black squares (that’s not book related, but I just had to throw it in there because I found it so hilarious in its uselessness). The question now though, is how many of those books have actually been read? Now that the protests have largely died down, how many people are still committed to reading more widely and decolonising and diversifying their bookshelves?

Well, if you’re reading this I have to assume you’re one of those people who still holds that commitment and is actively taking steps to broaden their reading horizons. Good! Welcome! There are a number of ways of doing this, and one of the questions I was asked during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests was “where do I start? What do you recommend?” At the time I was a bit preoccupied with paying attention to events in the United States and Britain, while still protecting my own mental health, to answer fully. But recently I’ve been thinking about this a bit more, because I believe that what you do when anti-racism is not trending is what really shows commitment, so I think answering this now is actually more productive. Two points sprang to mind.

Of course books like Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Akala’s Natives, and David Olusoga’s Black and British are key, but I also believe fictional texts can and do play an important role in our collective education about race. I previously wrote a post on how Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye teaches us about how white supremacy pervades even the most innocuous aspects of our daily lives. While this isn’t the most overt theme of the novel, the way it underpins its events is representative of how white supremacy underpins our society. As we all know, fiction is a fantastic vehicle for educating us about a range of issues – race is no different – and is a good starting point for readers who are more accustomed to reading fiction over non-fiction, especially the commercial kind.

Secondly, when thinking about diversification of our shelves, we ought to remember two things. Firstly, that we can diversify in a number of categories. For example, I used to read fantasy much more when I was a teenager, but even then I was predominantly exposed to authors like K.A. Applegate (do you guys remember Animorphs?!) and T.A. Barron. I loved fantasy as a kid but somehow inadvertently ‘grew out’ of it as I transitioned to adulthood. Now, novels like Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi exist, and not only am I getting back into fantasy, I am reading a Black woman author in that genre. I was recently gifted a copy of The Fifth Season, the first novel in The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, so that’s also on my TBR. Sci-fi is a genre I’ve never fully delved into, so of course, Octavia Butler is going to help to take me on that journey. Do you see? The second thing we ought to remember is the intersection of identities – reading more Black authors is excellent, but remember that Black authors intersect with a range of other marginalised identities: Black womxn authors, Black LGBTQIA authors, Black disabled authors and so on.

So, how does one find such a range of books and authors if you don’t already know who they are or where to look? Well, here’s where I step in to help you.

  1. Take part in a reading challenge.

At the start of 2020, you know, when we were all so hopeful, I wrote about my reading pledges for the year, and that included completing the Linz the Bookworm reading challenge. I broke my pledge of not buying any new books until the summer within two months (but it was soooo worth it!) and, as the hell of 2020 unleashed itself upon us, I fell behind with my reading challenge altogether. I have since, at the start of October to be exact, switched to the Popsugar Reading Challenge. For those who don’t know, reading challenges give you a prompt and you read a book in that category. The prompts usually encourage you to look for a range of books that you wouldn’t normally – such as a book by or about a woman in STEM. There are tons of reading challenges out there to suit every type of reader, and every year GirlXOXO publishes a master list of reading challenges for that year.

What’s great about the bigger reading challenges like Popsugar’s or Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge is that they have lots of suggestions for each prompt if you don’t know where to start. This then allows you to look for books in that prompt category written by Black authors. For example, Popsugar’s lists are on Goodreads – my first prompt (a book that’s published in 2020) led me to my current read, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

  1. Join/follow online book clubs and book accounts.

There are LOADS of online book clubs out there. Even if you don’t have time to keep up with what the group is reading at the same time as they are, just being part of those groups or following book accounts can give you great insight about good books to read and authors to look into. Most of the bookish accounts I follow are on Instagram: @bookriot, @modernlit, @nonamereads to name a few. Of course, for us Black women, I have to give a shout out to Black Girls Book Club (@bg_bookclub). Melissa and Natalie put on lit events (see what I did there?) – brunches, dinners and more with Black womxn authors and members of the publishing world for us Black womxn readers. I really rate them and cannot wait ’til we can brunch again!

Me at a Black Girls Book Club Brunch with Elizabeth Acevedo, August 2019
  1. Follow book blogs and podcasts.

Again, there are loads of book bloggers, booktubers and book podcasts knocking about if you’re looking for recommendations. Who should I follow, I hear you ask? Well…me, of course. Duh. I have a section on my website specifically dedicated to book blogging, and there are a couple of video book reviews on my IGTV channel too. I’m still kicking around a few ideas on how to develop Purple Book Club even further, and if you have any content ideas/suggestions you want to see from me on that front, let a chick know.

Other than me, Book Riot has a few podcasts and sends out a daily newsletter with lots of book-related articles. Although based in the US, I like Book Riot because it makes a concerted effort to amplify minoritised and marginalised voices in this space. There is also the Black Chick Lit and Mostly Lit podcasts to check out too (although I think the latter may be on hiatus?)

Conclusion

So, now you know where to start or where to go next. Anti-racism involves educating yourself on race yes, and part of doing so means exposing yourself to the full gamut of Blackness: our identities, histories, creativity and day to day experiences. What we read plays a vital part in doing that, and I hope this post gives you some inspiration and impetus to decolonise and diversify. Let me know how you get on!

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