I got the idea from a newspaper article about a teenager reading at least one book from each country in the world. What a novel thought! Why hadn’t I thought of that? All my life, I’ve read about the adventures of various White kids and adults.
We’re told how Enid Blyton books are quintessential childhood stories even though my childhood didn’t resemble it in any way. Even contemporary writers widely available in my adulthood were White.
I have written previously about my quest to diversify mine and my son’s bookshelves. Here, I talk about this in detail. I’ve also added my list here, so if anyone’s interested in expanding their reading list or even help me with recommendations.
What I learned about what I read
When I started paying attention to who I read, I decided to make an Excel Sheet by region and country. I was pretty surprised by what I saw, although I shouldn’t have been. The UK and US columns overflowed, while the India column was relatively modest. Even within the UK and US columns, there were hardly any authors of colour.
There were barely any mentions in any other columns. It was an eye-opener for me. So, I set about diversifying my reading list.
How to Diversify your Bookshelf
Brimming with newfound enthusiasm and purpose, I made a list of countries in the world (254 in all). I filled in the books I had already read based on the author’s place of birth.
I was a little conflicted about this. If a person moved from A to B at a young age, wouldn’t they be counted as an author from B since their experiences would be from B? On the other hand, wouldn’t their heritage and culture also play a big part in their writing? I decided to go with the more straightforward option of just considering the place of birth for my list.
Next, I did some research about what books from other countries are recommended. This was not as easy as I thought. The language barrier restricts me. I could only read books in English or the ones that have been translated into English. That cuts my list of good books significantly. Then comes the obstacle of actually getting hold of these books. My book count in the Oceanic Islands region is pathetically low because books from these places (even English ones) are challenging to find.
I have seen more authors of colour and from different countries being talked about in the media now, but that is a recent phenomenon. The only books you’d hear being reviewed or publicised were by established authors or a handful of new White authors. Even though writers of colour were getting published, they were getting paid significantly lesser than their White counterparts, and their books were not marketed with the same gusto. (Just How White Is the Book Industry?)
My Diverse Bookshelf
It has been about four years since I started my journey of reading books from around the world. I make it a point to read a few books from various countries. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading popular authors, or White authors for that matter. I’m just more aware of what I’m reading. For example, I would pay more attention to books written by people sharing their own experiences rather than someone else (such as the infamous American Dirt or The Help).
Out of the 254 countries globally (including Dependencies or other territories), I have read books originating from 55 of them. I’ve discovered some gems such as A Daughter of Isis by Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt), Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Ghana), and The Mountains Sing by Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (Vietnam), to name a few.
I still haven’t gotten down to making this list more usable in terms of adding rating or genre. Hopefully, I’ll do that one day!
Do send in your recommendations to improve this list, or if you’ve read any book from this list, let me know how you liked it.
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