Taking a Break From Whiteness: My 50 Books Challenge
Posted by Avory
Last March, I decided to try something a bit different with my reading. This wasn’t for any particular online challenge, but just an exercise for myself to clean out the constant din of white voices for a while. I decided that for the next 50 books, excepting those required for work or reviews, I would not read any white authors. A couple of months ago, I somewhat anti-climatically finished the fiftieth book, and I thought I’d do a little write-up about the experience to end the year.
Unsurprisingly, this is something I think everyone should try at least once. Of course, I also could’ve gone further. White perspectives are insidious, and it’s not just book authors. During this period, I’ve continued to consume articles, blog posts, podcasts, web comics, music, films, television shows, and games by white creators, so I’m not sure how much of a dint the challenge has made in my thinking. The greatest effect, I think, is that the challenge has simply made me more aware of who’s producing content of all kinds. As white people, we’re not encouraged to have this baseline awareness. White is often presented as default, whereas “diversity” is something to notice.
It wasn’t difficult to think of books I wanted to read by authors of color. I keep a very, very long list in Goodreads and I have an authors of color shelf. When I started the challenge, I was excited about the opportunity to read a bunch of books and authors I hadn’t yet got around to. I often find that placing a restriction on my reading frees me up a bit in pointing me towards a particular part of that massive list. But I did notice how much intentionality it takes to avoid white authors. In my local libraries (three, over the course of this challenge) if a particular book was unavailable, I’d sometimes skim the new fiction and new non-fiction shelves looking for something else, and 95% of the books would be by white authors (even in Baltimore and D.C., both cities with very large black populations). There’s an “African-American Fiction” section, but that’s mostly paperback romances. Similarly, the free e-books and Kindle titles on large lists would be almost entirely written by white people. Given how easy this makes it to slip into a white-creators-only consumption trend, I plan to be much more intentional as I go forward in reading books by both white and non-white authors, and in recommending books by authors of color.
During this challenge, I was also just taking baby steps into the world of comics. As I developed an interest in the comics genre, I learned that it’s even harder to find creators of color here than with text-only books. The way I handled what “counts” for comics is that the writer and the illustrator, at least, needed to be people of color. I did find some things I could read, but actually only one comic I could access (Watson & Holmes) outside of manga.
I also kept track of some demographics of the authors I read during the challenge. I read mostly black authors (29 books), as well as seven books each by Asian and multiracial authors. The rest were a mix of Latinx, pinoy, and native (North American and Hawaiian) authors. I also read far more books by women than any other gender (37), and only six books by men, so my reading was heavily steeped in women of color perspectives during this period. A little over half the books I read were written by authors who are US American by nationality, and about half were written by openly queer (or gay, lesbian, or bisexual) authors. I imagine this was rather slanted by what was already on my to-read list. My favorite books were generally written by QTPOC, and often published by small presses. Not all the books I read are easy to access, which is worth noting.
I may tag the whole list on Goodreads at some point, but for now, you can visit my authors of color shelf for ideas.