Reading Diversely: Reflecting on the Year

If anything seemed to characterize this year in reading, it was the ongoing discussion about the importance of reading more diversely, whatever that meant for you as an individual reader. The conversation touched on a number of points, but focused primarily on reading women authors, reading authors of color, and reading books where the characters themselves were more representative of the diverse population of the world. Reading diversely is especially important for writers, because of all the ways it provides you with a broader outlook, greater empathy and understanding, cultural insights, and more scope for your imagination.

Like many dedicated readers, I like to think I’m pretty broad in my choices of reading material, but I made a point of paying more attention to what I was reading this year, mostly because I had the nagging feeling I could do better. While I still have a couple of books in progress, and I may finish one or more of them before we ring in the new year tonight, I think we’re close enough that I can take a general look at the shape of my reading for 2014.

I’ve never tracked my reading choices beyond noting the title, author, and date I’ve finished reading the book, but it’s easy enough to run through the list of authors and determine how they fall in terms of gender and race. As has been the case the past few years, I read much less than I’d have liked this year, but certainly enough that I can share my percentages.

In terms of gender of authors, 55% of the titles were written by women, and 45% by men. These percentages include one book that had three authors, one female and two male, which was weighted accordingly. This is actually a more equal distribution than the last few years, when I read more books by women than men by a much larger margin, something I know is partly due to the fact that I read a fair amount of romance and young adult fiction for work reasons, and those genres seem to boast more women authors than male authors.

As for racial/cultural diversity, approximately 25% of the books I read were by authors of color (male and female), which isn’t a horrible percentage but is certainly smaller than I would like it to be. One of the two partly read books currently on the nightstand is by an author of color, but I have a bit more left than I’m likely to get through tonight. The upside is that it will be the first book finished in 2015 and thus get me off to a good start for next year’s reading goals. Reading more diversely has become part of my ongoing reading objectives, not simply something to think about for one year and trade for a new goal the next. I loved that my efforts to read a bigger variety of authors in 2014 led me to finally read James Baldwin, after years of meaning to pick up one of his books; to delve into Roxane Gay’s emotional novel An Untamed State; and to discover Zadie Smith’s wonderful essays.

Thinking about reading in 2015, I’m recommitting to my standard “read more books” goal, and also to reading more diversely. In addition, I’m going to try and get through more of the books I own rather than continuing to buy books that end up collecting dust for years before I get around to them. I’m considering a number of writing challenges that I’ve discovered around the bookish internet as a way to focus my personal reading efforts. Of course there are the standards, that involve setting a goal of a certain number of books read for the year, or reading books only by women or only by authors of color. However, there appear to be many more specific challenges, addressing every facet of reading you can imagine, from tackling more classics to reading regionally. I’ve linked to a few that sound intriguing below, and I’d love to hear about any others you might be giving a try.

So how was your year in reading? Did you have a specific goal in mind for 2014? Have you discovered any wonderful new reads simply because you opened yourself up to books outside your traditional comfort zone? What are you excited to read in the year ahead?

Reading Challenges for 2015

The Classics Club – Commit to reading at least 50 classics (of your choice) over a 5-year period.

2015 TBR Pile Challenge – Commit to reading 12 books that have been on your TBR pile for a year or more.

Reading England 2015 – Travel England by reading one book per county for as many as you choose to tackle.

The Pre-Printing Press Challenge – Read some serious oldies, such as Beowulf or History of the Peloponnesian War.

The Literary Movement Challenge – Read a book (or more) each month for that month’s assigned literary movement, such as Romanticism, Post-Modernism, etc.

Victorian Bingo Challenge – Read Victorian novels that fulfill a Bingo card of statements, one book per square.

Popsugar Reading Challenge 2015 – Read books to fulfill the 50 statements/categories on the challenge listing.