Here are my numbers for 2021:
- 58% POC books.
- 55% female/nonbinary authors.
Here are my numbers for 2020:
Here’s how that compares to previous years:
It’s also helpful to compare it to my total reading:
And why do I track these numbers? Because when I didn’t pay any attention to it, I gravitated to a very homogeneous reading list. Which isn’t very good if you want to be exposed to a range of voices and ideas.
Here are some other stats from my reading in 2020:
If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.
In addition to tracking my reading, for 2017 I started grabbing some more stats.
The biggest numbers I’ve been tracking are for diversity, and I’ve been keeping an eye on those for a few years now. Being more intentional makes a difference (Just compare my favorites from now with a few years ago—if you have very few diverse reads among your favorites, you’re doing it wrong). If you ignore the numbers and hope it all works out, it’s eye-opening how it doesn’t.
Of course counting these numbers is tough: I base gender simply on the author, counting a book if any contributor is a woman. For race I count a book if a contributor or main character is a person of color.
This year’s numbers:
Here’s how that stacks up historically:
Here’s what that looks like compared to my total reading:
I’m pretty thrilled to see those diversity numbers getting higher. If you think that’s silly or ridiculous, well, talk to my kids. It matters to them, and it matters to me.
I also tracked some other details this year, which revealed some interesting trends:
If you want help reading more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.
I read a lot of books. That’s no secret.
I love the power of reading, but I also think we have to be intentional about the kinds of books we read. I’m a big fan of reading what you love, but I think it’s still important to pursue diversity in those choices.
I’ve learned from experience that you have to be intentional about that. So every year I track those diversity stats to see how I’m doing. It’s not a perfect system and it’s not the only thing I do, but it’s one step.
I base gender simply on the author, counting a book if any contributor is a woman. For race I count a book if a contributor or main character is a person of color.
Here are the results for 2016:
Here’s how diverse my reading has been since 2001:
Here are the actual numbers (with totals) for 2016:
While the numbers are just numbers, I think the real results are showing up in my lists of favorite books for the year. Both my fiction and non-fiction lists this year were topped by writers of color, and my fiction top five is all writers of color. Those lists have been getting more diverse over the years.
It’s all pretty subjective, but in general I think it continues to push me toward hearing and responding to more voices, especially ones that are different from my own experience and perspective.
If you want to read more, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.
Last week I looked at diversity in my reading going back to 2001. I simply looked at racial diversity, assuming gender diversity wasn’t a big deal anymore.
Out of curiosity, I went back and charted gender diversity.
Turns out I’ve been lacking gender diversity as well:
Clearly, more proof that diversity doesn’t happen by accident.
I read a lot of books last year (203, not that I’m bragging), and I was curious how diverse my selections were. I made an effort to read more diverse books in 2014 (in part thanks to We Need Diverse Books), but I was also curious about previous years as well.
So here’s a chart of the diversity of my reading going back to 2001:
Maybe even more than the original Romeo and Juliet, this story is truly about crossing family lines. Devorah sees something beyond her strict religious upbringing and wants to know more. But instead of just condemning her former life, she still sees value in it.
And the nerdy Jaxon who never quite fit in or connected with a girl, found a girl, well, like no other.
Forty Acres by Dwayne Alexander Smith is one of the most thought-provoking and terrifying books I’ve read this year. That’s both a good thing and a disturbing thing. Especially as I’m reading it in the aftermath of Ferguson.
Martin is invited to join an elite group of black businessmen, but he discovers they’re part of a secret society that wants to repay the evils of slavery by enslaving whites.
Every evil committed by white slave traders and owners against black slaves is being brought to bear on the ancestors of those slave traders and owners. Literally abducted from the streets and taken to this stronghold that purposefully resembles a Southern plantation—except the slaves are white and the masters are black.
So we’re talking servants, manual labor, treating humans like cattle, rape, abuse and more.
In some ways the story is completely implausible—a secret slavery stronghold, hidden in the middle of the United States? But that’s not the point. In other ways it’s brutally realistic. Martin is forced with a terrible choice and he has to do the unthinkable to even stay alive. The story also avoids the Hollywood approach with perfect plans and a Jason Bourne style escape. That makes it all the more real.
The story is a fast-paced thriller, but it’s wrapped around this thought-provoking and terrifying idea.
It’s terrifying in the way you’d expect. Any time I’ve read about slavery the evil is so apparent, so gruesome and revolting. It’s hard to understand how anyone could justify it. But it’s a part of history. People did do those things. Society accepted it. People were taught that those things were acceptable.
So Forty Acres is doubly terrifying because you have a group of people enslaving another group of people knowing full well the terror of what they’re doing. There is no societal justification. Just their own brutal vengeance. It’s an eye for an eye taken to it’s own logical end. And it’s not a pretty place to be.
But as I read it, I felt a deeper sense of terror as well. This is what white people fear. Whenever anyone talks about reparations for slavery or affirmative action or trying to find some measure of equality, there are some people who ask when is it enough?
There’s an unspoken fear in that question of giving up power. Making society equal means someone has to give up their power. Forty Acres presents an extreme answer to that question, an answer that’s morally abhorrent. But it’s also raising a serious question. No one would seriously suggest the scenario in Forty Acres, but there is a hidden fear that these conversations and questions would lead there.
Part of what I found disturbing about this story was my own reaction to seeing white people enslaved by black people. Somehow it seemed more unjust than the reverse, which is ironic since one happened and one is a work of fiction. I’m not saying this reaction reveals some kind of closeted racism, but I think it reveals bias and white privilege within myself that I’m barely aware of.
Let me put it this way: The image of a white man beating a black man, while vile and repugnant, isn’t that jarring to me because it happened over and over again as part of our ruthless history of slavery. But the image of a black man beating a white man, I found completely jarring. Both are horrible, but I have an easier time moving past one of them. And I think that’s a product of institutional racism or white privilege or whatever bias I bring to the table.
In 1865—149 years ago—slavery was fully abolished in the United States with the passing of the 13th Amendment. But the legacy of that evil institution continues to haunt us today. Despite many advances in civil rights, racism and prejudice persist. It’s not something we simply move past. There’s often unconscious prejudice we don’t even realize we have. Forty Acres taps into all of that, making it one of the most powerful books I’ve read this year.
It’s the coming of age story of a wizard, but unlike Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, there are no wars and the main enemy is primarily internal. It was an intentional choice by Le Guin to create something different and portray a world that wasn’t defined by endless war and violence.
It also has the distinction of being a fantasy novel published in 1968 where nearly all the characters are people of color. The only white characters are villains and savages, a telling reversal. Unfortunately the publisher refused to reflect that in the cover art.
While all that is fascinating, I didn’t think the story was. I’m not a big fan of fantasy, which is one big strike, and then the story felt distant and slow. Part of it was her style, which felt older than the 1960s—more like ancient legend. Then there’s the fantasy trope—”I traveled to the [bizarre description] isle of [weird name], and found the [more bizarre description] people, know as [another weird name]. But I think the biggest factor was the slow plodding pace of the story and feeling like we weren’t going anywhere.
This is probably sacrilege to all the Earthsea fans, but there it is. The book has more than 100,000 ratings on Goodreads, and still has a very positive 3.96 rating (out of 5), so clearly lots of folks would disagree with me.
Half Way Home by Hugh Howey offers one of those classic and incredible sci-fi setups: Planetary colonies are sent out across the universe and governed by an artificial intelligence that decides the viability of the colony and aborts when not fully viable. You get a sense for the creepy undertones already.
The story follows one colony that is aborted, but the abort sequence is stopped. Maybe 15% survive, having been interrupted in their gestation and only half grown and educated (meaning they’re teenagers instead of adults). As the surviving confused colonists stumble out of the vats, they’re in for a strange new world where their AI tried to abort them but then changed its mind, and rather than give answers insists they work to build a rocket ship that has nothing to do with survival.
So it’s part colonization story, part Lord of the Flies, with a little bit of creepy Dave from 2001: A Space Odyssey thrown in.
The fact that Hugh Howey wrote Half Way Home for National Novel Writing Month means it’s quick and has a special place in my heart.
One of the deeper themes in the story (SPOILER ALERT) is the main character’s orientation. He’s gay and slowly comes to terms with this throughout the story. What he’s really coming to terms with is the fact that he’s alone—and we learn that’s quite intentional (thank you creepy AI). It’s not an overriding part of the story, but it is an interesting commentary on the “otherness” that society creates for LGBT people.
The only downside to Half Way Home is that it’s supposed to be a YA novel, but I think that fails. I read a lot of YA (probably half the books I’ve read this year are YA or middle grade) and even knowing what to expect I couldn’t read it that way. The characters came across like adults and not teenagers. And it’s not that Howey can’t write teenagers. He did a great job with the YA feel in the Molly Fyde series.
But Half Way Home‘s non-YA-ness didn’t lessen my enjoyment at all. I’ve been lacking in some intergalactic sci-fi lately, and while colonizing a planet isn’t gallivanting across the stars, it’s still pretty great.