Actions, Intentions, & Diversity in Reading

When I was in college, I started trying to pay attention to the race of the authors I was reading. When I started doing this, it was definitely a half-hearted, nice-to-do type thing. I didn’t exactly go out of my way to find POC authors in the genres I like reading, but when I found something that checked both boxes – sounds interesting, is by a person of color – I added it to my TBR. I was pretty proud of myself for doing this, and as my feeds have gradually gotten (a little bit) less white since I started trying to pay attention, I thought I had been doing a pretty good job of reading diverse authors. So when, back in March, I started actually trying to be intentional about my role in systemic racism, I decided to see how I’d been doing. Spoiler: not as good as I thought.

To make these charts, I went through my Goodreads history. I started book blogging and using Goodreads consistently in 2017, so my data goes from 2017 through 2019, because that’s the timeframe for which I have complete lists. To compile all this, I went back through Goodreads’ “Your Year in Books” feature and looked up each author. If I read more than one book by a single author, I only counted that author once. Here’s how I did in that 3-year period.

(Also, a note: Latinx/Hispanic people can be any race. I included those authors in the POC category because here in the US, at least, Latinx people have a cultural minority status and their work has traditionally been underrepresented in mainstream publishing as far as I know. This is a very unscientific project.)

Authors by Race: Books Read 2017-2019

Race of Authors Read 2017-2019

As you can see, over the past three years, even with my stated intent to read more authors of color, I still managed to read 75% white authors. I wish I had the data to compare to what I read in high school, but I imagine it’s really not that much different.

After I did this for the authors I have read, I went through all the books I added to my Goodreads to-be-read list (TBR) for that same time frame. My theory was that I would have a more diverse racial mix of authors in my TBR.

Authors By Race: Books Added to TBR 2017-2019

Race of Authors Added to TBR 2017-2019

As you can see, my 2017-2019 TBR is still overwhelmingly white, but it is a little more diverse than what I actually read. I imagine that if I did this for 2020, the pie slices would continue to get more even. But without intention, my actual read list might stay mostly white.

One thing I noticed was that in 2017, the books I added to my TBR were mostly by white authors. As I got into 2018 and 2019, my choices got more diverse. I’m attributing a lot of that to the changing opinions in the book blogging world. People want to read authors that look like them, and about characters they can identify with. Publishing still has a long way to go as far as equal representation and pay for authors of color, but it is starting to move in that direction based a lot on public pressure and opinion. When book bloggers continually recommend diverse authors, their readers – me – pay attention.

The other striking thing is the difference between my actual read graph and the TBR graph. Comparing those two, you can tell that I want to read more diverse authors, but my intention often does not line up with my action. Honestly, that can be said about me in many, many areas of my life – not just my newly-born intention of living an antiracist life, but also more broadly with regards to my intentions around work and family. Even hobbies like blogging get this treatment. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Especially with regards to antiracism though, I want to do better. I need to do better. Reading more authors of color is not my only goal here, but with as much reading as I do, it’s an important one. I learn and become more empathetic by reading, and often books are my catalyst to larger conversations with people I know. White people need to be talking about race much, much more than we do, and I can do my part in that by reading. If my actions line up with my intentions. In 2021, I will make it a goal to actually read the authors of color I say I want to read.

How do you choose which authors you read? Do you pay attention to the author’s race? Do you also struggle with your actions not lining up with your intentions?

16 comments

  1. This is fascinating. Honestly, I rarely learn very much about the author of things that I read. I tend to read the stories that interest me, without much attention paid to who is telling those stories. You;ve got a point though; I should look into this. My own goodreads history goes back about ten years, with varying levels of consistency.

  2. I think its great that you are focused on this because the media doesn’t necessarily steer us in this direction (although I think its changing a bit.) I recently read American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson which I heard about on NPR. I also just finished the book Yellow by Don Lee. Shocker, the later is almost 20 years old and I’d never heard of it but really enjoyed it. I’ve always read books by non-white authors because of my times overseas, but I think you are doing much better than I am.

  3. Love this. It’s such a good example of how intentionality in the less obviously-political sides of our life can shift our world views. I read mostly people of color now, or those from marginalized communities. This year, a major shift for me has been food justice and shifting my focus to cookbooks from people of color and other communities that don’t make up the majority published. It’s been a delicious journey, ha! :)

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