Nonfiction November: Diversity and Nonfiction

This week’s discussion for Nonfiction November is hosted by Lost in Books, and we’re talking about diversity and nonfiction!

“What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for? What kind of books besides different cultures do you think of as books of diversity?”

To me, “diversity” encompasses just about anything that is different from my own narrow life experience as a straight, middle-class, educated white woman in America. Diversity includes factors such as geography, race, religion, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, age, physical ability, and much more. I think we often look at an author’s race or nationality when discussing diversity, but I believe diversity covers many other areas.

As for whether “diversity” refers to a book’s location/subject matter or the author’s background, I would say both. I think a book by a white author about a Pakistani girl can be called diverse, and a book by a Chinese author about a white man can also be diverse. I think celebrating diversity means making sure different types of characters and experiences are portrayed in literature AND that authors of different backgrounds have voices.

I am ashamed to admit that my nonfiction reading is very white. (That said, I think EVERYONE should read Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. It is devastating and vital.) The percentage of nonfiction by authors of color I have read is astronomically lower than the percentage of fiction by authors of color. This presents me with a lot of questions about diversity in nonfiction in general; is the percentage of nonfiction books written by POC actually lower than fiction? Are nonfiction books written by white authors taken more seriously by both publishers and readers? Or are the roots deeper? Does it all go back to privilege and opportunities? Where does the problem really start? I don’t know that anyone really has the answers, but I think they are important questions to ask.

However, I would really like to read nonfiction about the experiences of women around the world. I have been seeing a lot of great reviews of The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg in the last few weeks, and I would love to read it and other books like it. I would also love recommendations for books about India and Southeast Asia.

Oh! And I want to read books about social issues that are rarely talked about or kind of taboo. I’m beyond excited to read Selfish, Shallow, and Self Absorbed:  Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum (coming out in March). It may not be diverse in the way we usually mean the word, but 16 different (diverse!) people talking about a decision that is not very well accepted or understood in mainstream culture seems like it fits the diversity bill perfectly.

What are your favorite diverse nonfiction reads?

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5 thoughts on “Nonfiction November: Diversity and Nonfiction

  1. I love your comment about taboo social issues as diverse reading. So true! I am dying to read On Immunity by Eula Bass for this reason. Vaccines have become such a hot topic these days, and I have my (strong) opinion, but some well-written nonfiction that covers the issue broadly will be educational for me.

  2. I was asking myself the same question about picking up books by authors of different ethnicities – “where does the problem really start?” It’s easy to see that minority authors are under represented in book publishers’ catalogs. Now is that because they’re being ignored? Are there just not that many ethnic folks writing books to be published? I’m not sure. But it seems like we all will be better off if this starts trending the other way.

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