Ten Diverse Reading Recommendations

As a straight, cis-gendered, white American woman who has never been affected by a disability or mental illness, my cultural experience is pretty well represented in the media. And when you belong to the majority, it can be easy to blind yourself to the experiences of people with less privilege and to internalize the prejudicial messages our culture propagates. To me, being a “good person” means consciously trying to unlearn all of the racist or homophobic or otherwise intolerant attitudes I have picked up through the years.

To do this, I try to read diversely and to listen to the stories of people who are different from me. Reading about the experiences of others helps me develop my empathy; a book can put me in the shoes of a Nigerian immigrant to America or an Autistic child. Reading books by and about people of diverse backgrounds humanizes groups of people that our culture prefers to think of as “less than.” (Book Riot also has a fantastic series of posts about why it is important to read diversely.)

In the last few years, I’ve been actively trying to ramp up my reading of books by and about people who are not straight, cis-gendered, white, or born in America/Canada/UK. In 2013, only 13% of my reading represented diverse voices, and 2014 saw a bump up to 20%; so far, 28% of my reading in 2015 falls into this category. I could still do better, and I’m always seeking out new books. For now, though, I’d like to share ten of my favorites for other people who are trying to read more diversely!

Ten Diverse Reading Recommendations

1. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. This collection of prose and poetry catalogues the microaggressions and blatant racism black Americans face on a daily basis. It’s powerful and uncomfortable, and it should be recommended reading for anyone trying to understand the frustration and fury felt by people of color.

2. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. In four years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men she cared deeply about. In her struggle to make sense of their deaths, Ward sees a common thread tying them together: These men died because they were male and Southern and black. Full of grief and loss, this memoir probes the ways America fails its black men.

3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Both a beautiful love story and a tale of the immigrant experience, Americanah follows two young Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze, who leave their home country for America and England, respectively. It’s a thoughtful contemplation of race and identity, highlighting how race is experienced by non-American blacks.

4. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. On the first page, we learn that Lydia, the child of a white mother and a Chinese American father, is dead. The rest of the novel explores everything leading up to her death, including racial tensions in a small town and pressure to fulfill the dreams her mother wasn’t able to chase.

5. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. This Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories is made up of pieces about characters with ties to India. Some are the American-raised children of Indian immigrants, some are immigrants themselves, and some are white Americans observing Indian culture through their friends and neighbors. The stories are beautifully written and convey an interesting tension between two cultures.

6. Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg. Journalist Jenny Nordberg delves into the phenomenon of bacha posh, or girls who live as boys until they reach puberty, in Afghanistan. It’s a fascinating look at a practice that reveals really complicated things about gender roles in this Islamic country.

7. The Round House by Louise Erdrich. Set on a reservation in North Dakota, The Round House is a devastating coming-of-age novel about a thirteen-year-old boy seeking justice after his mother is brutally raped and left for dead. In addition to exploring life on the reservation, it reveals the frustrating complexity of tribal vs. state law.

8. For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu. The only son among three sisters in a Chinese Canadian family, Peter Huang is under enormous pressure to live up to his father’s ideals of Western masculinity. However, Peter struggles with his father’s expectations, for he knows in his heart that he is really a girl. For Today I Am a Boy is a fantastic portrayal of a transgender character without falling into the trap of being an “issue novel.”

9. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Shortly after coming out as a lesbian to her parents while in college, Alison Bechdel found out her father was also gay. But just a few weeks after this revelation, he died in an apparent suicide. Decades after his passing, Bechdel explores her relationship with her late father. This graphic novel is a fantastic meditation on family, sexuality, and the power of literature.

10. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida. Written by a thirteen-year-old boy with Autism, The Reason I Jump takes readers into the minds of people who live with this often misunderstood disorder. This is a must-read for parents and teachers, but also recommended for everyone who is curious about Autism.

What are your favorite books by diverse voices or about diverse characters?


19 thoughts on “Ten Diverse Reading Recommendations

  1. Everything I Never Told You made my list as well! And – I recently added Salvage the Bones to my TBR (a different Jesmyn Ward) and am planning on getting to Underground Girls of Kabul during Nonfiction November. I read The Round House a few years back, and while I didn’t love the book, I did appreciate the message she was trying to convey and found the legal dynamics of the Indian Reservation and how it intersects with Federal law fascinating.

  2. Yes to Americanah and Underground Girls of Kabul! I would also add Welcome to Braggsville and I really like Jason Mott’s books.

  3. Great list! Books help us learn about places and cultures we aren’t otherwise exposed to in our daily lives–or, in my case, they’re a way for me to explore my own identity (I’m half Sri Lankan, but grew up in a place with very few Sri Lankans). “Fun House” sounds really interesting. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. This post just made me go back and see what my diversity level was at. Only 22%. I have some work to do. This list is going to be really helpful for that. I was reading it going “oh I want to read that…that one sounds good…oh I will see if the library has that one.” So thanks!

  5. I would quote this entire post in this comment section and caption it with “ALL OF THIS”. It’s exactly how I feel about reading in general. To learn about others and unlearn all the crap told to me. And for sheer escape. 🙂 Great list!!

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