Tracking My Reading (or white men… white men everywhere)

In one of Sabrina‘s recent videos, in which she discussed her end of year goals, she linked to a fantastic blog post that detailed how the writer tracked their reading. The writer linked to an outline of the spreadsheet that they used, which I downloaded and filled in with the books I have read this 2014.

The spreadsheet tracks the book, author, author’s gender, date started, date finished, total pages, genre, format, author’s nationality, and whether or not the author is a person of colour. These last two are not in the original spreadsheet outline, but, like the author of the blog post, I added them in.

This year there has been a lot of talk on social media about diverse books and reading diversely. It has been an important conversation; I’m glad that it has taken place and is still going on. This conversation sparked me to start paying closer attention to my own reading habits. I have also striven to read more diversely, particularly aiming to read more books by authors of colour.

Despite this, I knew that my reading would likely still be overwhelmingly white and male. Seeing the proof all written down, however, was somewhat shocking. Of the 35 books I have read this year, only 11 were written by women, and only 13 by people of colour. Even if you include the two books I am currently reading, my total of female authors does not change, and my total of books written by people of colour is only increased to 14.

Upon seeing these facts in black and white, I have decided to make a particularly concerted effort to expand my reading in 2015. I’m especially going to strive to read a lot more female authors. Hopefully by the end of next year I will have discovered more favourite authors who are not white men. Because at the moment my bookshelf is decidedly white and extremely male.

I’m not going to completely desert my white male authors. For a start, that’d probably be impossible and, also, they are capable of writing wonderful books.

Now, I want to make it clear that I am not expecting any brownie points for this. Reading diversely is not something that is impressive and me trying to read more diversely is not worthy of praise. I just think that it is important and, as it’s something I’m going to try to do, I thought I’d share these plans with you.

How about you? Have you been paying attention to what and who you’re reading? Have your results been shameful like mine, or have you been reading diversely?

7 thoughts on “Tracking My Reading (or white men… white men everywhere)

  1. This was interesting! I’ve been following the diversity topic unfolding and I’ve been a lot more conscious of the ratios between male/female and writers of colour that I’ve been reading. So I downloaded the spreadsheet & altered it slightly and put in my 2014 books.

    In 2014 I’ve read 52 books so far, 34 of them are by female authors and only 7 of those are by people of colour (and a little shamefully, 3 of those are Japanese! I know it’s at least some diversity but it feels a little cheaty to me!) Also, my most frequent repetition of traits were “female/white/british/classic”!

    I’m definitely hoping to read more diversely and this spreadsheet has opened my eyes more than anything else has!

    • Yay for more people downloading this spreadsheet! I’m very impressed with the number of women authors you’ve read. I was shocked when I saw the number of female authors I’d read this year was so incredibly low. But yes, it’s so shocking to see the numbers all written down and have it really hit home how un-diverse my reading has been. And that’s /with/ me trying to be more diverse. I dread to think what it would have been like if this diversity conversation hadn’t taken place!

      Thank you so much for commenting! Good luck with your 2015 reading! (:

      • I think I just find male authors less appealing. Mostly because I struggle to get in to the mind of a male protagonist which is more common from male authors! If I ignore repeated authors my male:female ratio is a bit more 40:60 which is a lot better! 😜

        I shall be blogging about this myself sometime soon I think because it’s really interesting!

  2. That’s understandable! I wasn’t expecting the number of female authors I’d read to be so low! Beause normally I’m like “eh women are better than men anyway” 😛 so this was like a massive realisation that apparently I do like male authors! Doesnt mean I’m not going to try and read a ton more women though!

    Ah that’s really cool! You must let me know when you blog about it! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Reading Diversely (& Failings in the Education System) |

  4. The spreadsheet addresses the what but not the why.

    Likewise, my reading is overwhelmingly white, but it’s particularly English language with a somewhat classic bent. It’s most accessible for me as well as most enjoyable, and of course, then, my reading is going to be primarily white. No doubt there are a great many Indian, African, Japanese, etc, authors, and reading them possesses a novelty and newness, an exposure to different world views, but the cultural operating system I engage through is white western, so as important as different perspectives are, my reading naturally tends towards the white. What is wrong with that?

    I think people should read the literature they enjoy without having to politicize it. Non-white and female authors aren’t, as far as I’m aware, discriminated against by publishers or even readers. Haruki Murakami is enormously popular, and with Young Adult literature, there are whole hordes of successful female authors pouring through the walls. These might just be minor examples, but I think they demonstrate race and gender don’t deter people in their reading selection: people enjoy a good book whoever it is by if it happens to appeal to them.

    Additionally, it’s a narrow division: white/non-white and male/female. Why not divide by books by the middle class and books by the working class (probably you’ll find the middle class dominate the book shelf). You could create that division anywhere and then patronizingly deign to read the books of the lesser, righteously imagining it a just cause, but politicizing something you enjoy like that is probably the first step towards ruining your own enjoyment of it.

    • I totally agree that the spreadsheet doesn’t focus on why. There’s been such talk recently on youtube and other social media about diverse books and reading diversely that I didn’t wish to go into that here, and I imagine that the bookriot post had a similar intention. Although of course I cannot speak for them.

      Of course when reading classics that were originally written in English you’re going to be primarily reading white people, and frequently white men. But just because books written by white people are the ones that have recieved the publicity and have been kept in publication doesn’t mean they’re the only books worth reading. There’s nothing inherently wrong with reading books written by white people, but I personally want to have a more diverse reading experience. It’s also important to note that not all people of colour are writing in languages other than English. Both Britain and the USA and Canada and Australia are diverse countries, we have plenty of people of colour who will be writing in English, whether it is their native language or not. Throughout it’s history our publishing industry has focused on books written by white males, it still predominantly does, and so I think it’s worthwhile for me to try to read more diversely. White male writers are not the most easily accessible authors because white men inherently write better books than women or people of colour, but because history has favoured them.
      Rincey from RinceyReads has actually done some really interesting videos on diversity within the books she’s read and reading habits based on what is easily available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edaMgbSl-QQ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8i6SJD9LCA
      Two of the most insightful articles she links are a breakdown of female vs. male publicity exposure: http://www.vidaweb.org/vida-count-2012-mic-check-redux/ and white vs. poc exposure: http://therumpus.net/2012/06/where-things-stand/

      I don’t think that readers are necessarily consciously choosing to disciminate against people of colour or female authors. I’m sure that 99% of readers just pick up a book they’ve heard of or that they see on the shelf and choose whether to read it based on whether it sounds interesting or not. I know for sure that that is generally what I do. But I think it’s fair to say that white male authors get the most exposure and publicity, so you’re far more likely to pick up a book by a white male author, which leads to this disparity in my reading habits. It’s not the readers fault, and I’m certainly not going to blame publishers or reviewers either, I don’t think there is just one person to “blame” and I think that it’s part of a much wider cultural issue, but I still think that I personally want to try and read more diversely and find new authors I might otherwise have never heard of.

      I also have not found that being conscious of my reading has lessened my enjoyment at all. In October I only read books written by people of colour. One of those was by James Baldwin, an author I would never have discovered had this talk of diversity not begun on YouTube earlier this year, and who now has become one of my favourite writers of all time. I only didn’t enjoy one book that I read that month, and that’s fine with me. I’m not going to finish a book that I’m really not enjoying, because I can’t be bothered to do that anymore, and I’m sure there will be plenty of female authors and authors of colour out there whose books I don’t enjoy, but I’ll never know until I try them, y’know?

      For me this is something that is important. I live in a world where roughly 50% of the population is female and where white people are by no means a majority, so I don’t want my reading to consist of mainly white men. I wouldn’t force anyone to change their reading habits, but I do think that it’s an important thing to be aware of (as are all social inequalities within this world).

      I do agree without that in this post I have only talked about white/poc and male/female. I haven’t considered class, I haven’t considered whether the author is cisgender or transgender, nor have I considered whether they have a disability, I also have not looked at the author’s sexuality. These are all things that are important themes to be aware of, but I feel like I can’t take it on all at once. Changing my world views and the media that I expose myself to isn’t going to happen over night, and if I try to tackle it all at once I feel like I’ll get overwhelmed and just give up. I’m just trying to slowly adapt the ways that I live my life and spend my time.

      Ultimately, I find that reading diversely is something that is becoming very important to me and it is not lessening my enjoyment of reading at all. I’m not reading worse books, I’m just reading books I might otherwise have never heard of. You don’t have to change your reading habits, and nor would I tell anyone that they have to, but I think it’s important and I’m going to continue trying to read more diversely (:

      (also this is probably ridiculously incoherent, and I do apologise for that, I’m not very good at articulating things quite a lot of the time)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s