S. Yumi Yamamoto
Diversity (in all senses of the word)
It's Tuesday, and once again I'm at a loss at what to write... What's new?
Well, that would be my YOUTUBE CHANNEL! 😂
Yeah, I've been meaning to start up booktube/authortube for a while, but I decided to wait until after NaNoWriMo to do so... And now, I've got two videos up and a third filmed, edited, and queued for later this week.
That being said, there are a couple things I've noticed in the last few days that haven't really occurred to me before. I suppose I'm always in my head so much that it's difficult to see me for myself. Most people have this issue (I think, anyway), and now that I'm recording myself, watching it back, and editing... let's say I have a clearer idea of who I am in this regard.
First, I am really happy about books. I know I'm a writer and all, but like... I'm REALLY happy to talk about books. I filmed a video giving the run down of my To Be Read list (TBR), and within ten minutes of filming I went from almost miserable to genuinely happy, comfortable, and excited to read these books. The energy just changed. I didn't know that I could look that happy about anything, even writing. I don't believe I'm a very well read or well rounded reader, so I had never given myself credit for the things I HAD done. I felt a little bit like a fraud joining Booktube where so many other people were well versed in literature, especially because I didn't see myself as loving books enough. I can now say with confidence that isn't true. Books make me happy in a way that nothing else does, in the way I used to feel about TV and video games. I actually can't wait to start reading again <3
Second, I hadn't realized just how diverse my book collection was. In my head, I thought I was a fantasy reader (or at least that was the majority of my novels). While more books fit in the category of fantasy than any other single category, I have so much diversity in my collection! I have more contemporary/literary fiction than I had originally thought, and books by authors of all backgrounds. I have classics, and horror, and short story collections. I have Chinese last names sitting beside German and Pakistani ones. I have stories about intense lovers and intense friendships and intense enemies. I have books that are deeply introspective but also ones that are sugary fluff. There are self-help books, escapism books, history books, and biographies. There are books in my collection that I bought solely on their covers, and others that I knew exactly every story point before I began to read them. I have ebooks, and audiobooks, and some works where I now own both! Really, the only thing I can say I definitively lack is anything #ownvoices related (and even then, it's only by volume in comparison to other categories).
And this is where I came to realize just how important the diversity in my book collection was.
It was not a conscious decision to collect all these books. If I'm honest, I don't look at authors. If I really loved a book (like 6 out of 5 stars status) then I might look at who the author is, but on average I don't know who wrote what. These books were not pushed upon me. I came by them naturally, and because something about the story, writing, or cover spoke to me.
While some would argue that's a reason why active representation doesn't matter, I argue the opposite. Something the creator did - whether it be design, theme, plot, imagery - drew me in where other creators did not. Admittedly, I hate classic literature, whereby the authors were mainly white men writing about their contemporary issues or were white women who wrote mostly about love, relationships, and social ladders. These things don't appeal to me, and so I've always stayed away from it. But 'An Ember in the Ashes' spoke to something in me that I didn't know was there, as did 'Children of Blood and Bone'. I FELT something reading those novels, something raw and hurtful and deeply telling of a life untouched by privilege: being different than others.
I also feel a great sense of how these works affect me as a person, as someone who is trying to develop herself in a way vastly different to how she grew up. It isn't enough that I read about girls/young women going through what I am going through, or in worlds that might appeal to my aesthetic. It IS important that I find other people's truths, see how their worlds and lives are lived and appreciate their struggles. While I am a POC, I am not Black and I cannot pretend to fully understand and know what it is like to wear the face and skin and hair of an African-American person. It is not that I am unsympathetic or unempathetic; it simply is not my reality, and I wouldn't dare assume anything. I am on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, but I am not treated as such because I am in a cis relationship. Similarly, I wouldn't dare assume to understand the life of a transgender person because that is not my day-to-day reality. I NEED these books to understand better, to have old ideas broken down and have the truth laid bare before me. Truly, I believe there is more that makes us similar than different, but the details of our individual struggles are important and they need to be shared and understood.
That is why there is a self-help next to a biography, next to a book that was written when the author was struggling to find peace in the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement. There are books that describe great heroic triumphs for the days when I need to feel there is good in the world, and books that remind me that concepts of good and evil are fluid. There are books that show me the good of religious belief and ones that show me how awful religion can treat others. Even the books I don't want to read (those that are written by long-dead authors) show me why we are the way we are, and how far we've come to changing the world for the better.
If I stuck to one type of novel, one gender, one sexuality, one country, one point of view... That is where I would be eternally. I would be merely reinforcing beliefs and build up the walls between people ever higher. If I only read fantasy, or biographies, or literary fiction, I would isolate myself from others, never able to talk about something I love so much with others simply because I was too much of a snob to reach over to another genre.
Having come up through a rich and diverse academic system, I can say with certainty that everything I've stated is a problem. We don't teach our young readers to diversify. We want them to read the tried-and-true classics, and don't show them the relevancy it has to their own lives. We shove books down their throats like bitter vegetables, saying they they're good for them without teaching how to properly enjoy their meal. We have professors who would rather slap novels out of their students hands if their book isn't a literary work of art. There is such a disconnect with young readers: what they want and what others want for them. I suffered through this for most of my life (still do). The internet saved me, and I believe it has saved an entire generation of readers.
The influencers of the Millenial and Gen-Z age are not afraid to read what they like, explain why they like their books or not. They are conscious of their decisions, and will start book clubs not for the prestige or class of it, but because they genuinely want to read the books. In recent years, I have not seen a book club that banished YA fiction, or romances, or sci-fi. Some have even picked up graphic novels as a way to critique storytelling and embrace an ever-growing hunger for media. These readers don't want to see the same archetypes over and over. They want to see the world through the eyes and words of others. And there is nothing more noble than someone who wants to widen their gaze.