what i still need to work on

I’m going to be teaching a Continuing Ed class in April through Simmons called Diversity 102: Moving Beyond and Forward. If you have spent more than five seconds here, you know that I am passionate about diversity in books but rather fed up with this 101 approach everyone keeps taking – if we don’t move past calling for diversity and wanting diversity, we’re not actually going to get anywhere. It’s all well and good to care but quite another to actively stop buying books that don’t support a more diverse canon or to read books that move beyond stereotypes and tropes into fully realized diverse characters. Etc etc.

Anyway. I am really excited to teach this class and would love it if you wanted to take it. But really, what I’m realizing as I build the course is that I still have some work to do myself (duh – we all do). Without fully auditing my last year’s reading (thanks, error on GoodReads), I can say just from general reflection – and having been asked by a teacher colleague at work if I can recommend books by Asian writers – that I do not read many Asian writers, and most that I do read are South Asian in descent or origin, not East Asian. So I need to work on that. I hear Ruth Ozeki is great and now I really want to try her novels, and I have books by Ellen Oh, Maureen Goo and Grace Lin on my bookshelf, but I will gladly take suggestions for authors if you can name a specific book that you think I would particularly like. With, of course, the caveat that comes from all of my accepting of book recommendations – my to-read list is incredibly long and entirely aspirational, so if I don’t read your suggestion, that doesn’t actually mean I don’t want to, just that I haven’t been able to quit my day job(s) yet. If something really and truly interests me, it goes on that list and stays on it. And I read it when I can. And given that this is a huge gap in my reading, I intend to do some rearranging of my current piles of books and try to get to it sooner.

The same goes with Native writers. And I really do need suggestions there, because aside from Joseph Bruchac’s Killer of Enemies ARC that I still haven’t read (sorry), I am pretty much at a loss of where to start after Sherman Alexie. I really disliked Ceremony when I read it in high school and am not in a mood to try to give it another chance right now (this is an entirely emotional memory tied most probably to general anger and dissatisfaction with everything educational as a teenager and not meant to be a well reasoned attack against the book), and I don’t know where to start with Louise Erdrich, so suggestions there would be welcome. And then other author recommendations, please. Same caveat goes, and again, please take into account what you know of my reading interests. I am not someone who reads The Book Everyone Is Talking About just because. I have read Pale Fire but not Lolita; Jude the Obscure, not Tess of the D’Urbervilles; Gone With the Wind, not Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I just want to read books that I am most likely to like, to connect with, to be intrigued by, to be inspired by, etc. There is no time to waste on books that are Important but that I already know enough about to understand general western cultural references. Personalized recommendations from people who know my reading tastes and whose reading tastes I value are what I’m looking for.

I would also be interested in reading a bit more about bisexuality or fiction with bisexual characters. I need to go through the Disability in Kidlit site and read more in that area, because I know the titles but haven’t actually read most of the books. I especially want to read more books with characters with physical disabilities, as mental illness in literature is something I’m a bit more acquainted with. And finally, I really like weird science and neuroscience, and it seems mostly white men write about that, so if you know of some non-white men (and non Mary Roach, because she’s amazing but I’ve almost finished her entire collection) who write science for non-scientists, please do tell me.

Even those of us who are committed to and well versed in diversity can do with a refresher sometimes. As soon as you stop trying, you’re complicit in the nonchange that is going on.

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3 thoughts on “what i still need to work on

  1. I checked out your goodreads page (you’ve read some books/authors I was going to recommend) and our tastes seem to overlap quite a bit, so here are some books I really enjoy.
    1. Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
    2. When the Emperor Was Divine and The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
    3. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
    4. Stealing Buddha’s Dinner and Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen
    5. 1001 Cranes by Naomi Hirahara
    6. Child of the Own by Laurence Yep
    7. The Best Bad Thing by Yoshiko Uchida
    8. Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu
    If you like Maurene Goo you might like An Na (especially The Fold)
    If you like Grace Lin you might like Lenore Look (the Ruby Lu books).
    The Alvin Ho series by Lenore Look is good too, but the third book shows kids playing Indian and reinforces Native stereotypes.

    • Oh wow! Thanks so much for this great list. Everything I Never Told You has definitely been on my mind, and I haven’t read anything by An Na since her first book, so it would be good to go back to that. Off to check out goodreads!

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