Over the last year I have attended several different science fiction and fantasy conventions. At most of these events I have attended or participated in discussions about the representation of diversity in books. The conversations have gotten heated and frustrating because almost everyone in the room seems to agree the there is not enough diversity in books. And it’s not that I disagree and it’s not that I agree, it’s just not what I’m looking for in a book. Maybe it is because I’m white girl living in Middle America and the majority of my friends look just like me. I’m more concerned about reading a quality novel that grabs me and doesn’t let me go until the last word than I am that a particular character is black or white, gay or straight or looks and acts just like I do.
When I read The Hunger Games, I did not see Rue and her district as African-American or Black or dark-skinned. I saw them as oppressed farmers and Rue as a young girl fighting for her life. And then I saw the movie. Does it make sense that Rue’s District is assigned with this ethnic group? If Panem is America after a great catastrophic event, sure. Historically African-Americans/Blacks have fit this role in American history. Am I bad person for not seeing District 11 as a minority group? I don’t think so, but perhaps you are thinking that I am a horrible person for not seeing this especially if there were clues within the text of the novel to tip me off. But I’m not looking to identify with a particular race either. I’ve never struggled like others have with finding people like me or been oppressed or denied things because of who I am, what I believe in or what I look like. When I’m reading books, I’m looking for personality traits and experiences I can relate to, not the color of a character’s skin or their gender identity as a means to connect to the story being told.
What bothers me most about these calls for diversity is that books can’t be everything for everyone all the time. And that feels like what people are begging for. But not every book can have an equal balance of diversity, deliver a life changing, mind-blowing experience and still be a good book. That’s the Holy Grail. Sure it would be great if all the novels in the entire world could incorporate all the colors and beliefs of the world. But if every book contained this perfect recipe we wouldn’t have the diverse range of books that are currently on the market. Imagine our lives if every book were the same?
I believe there is diversity. We just have to be willing to search it out, and define what diversity means to each of us individually. That might mean one person desires more books with people of color and another might desire more books dealing with LGBT issues. For me, diversity in books, means being able to freely switch from fantasy to science fiction to chick lit and finding unique characters that speak to my soul. Looking for that hidden gem—that diamond in the rough. I like to be surprised and amazed. That’s the magic of reading.
We have to make an effort to find those books. Then we have to yell from the mountaintops (without spoilers, of course) when we find a book (or books) that strikes a cord with our personal definition of diversity. That’s our responsibility as readers. Making sure that the books that speak to us, get the attention they deserve. And perhaps, you feel your voice is tiny and not being heard. But if one even if one person listens to you, picks up that book and it speaks to them as well, your efforts have been worth it. Trust me. I know.