As I well know, like a lot of you other bookworms out there, it’s easy to get stuck in a reading habit: often gravitating towards the same authors, the same genres, the same publishers and subjects; filling your bookshelves with all the stuff you already know you love. But at a time when myriad sorts of exclusion and exclusivity are being perpetuated from places on high (aka: the current White House administration) it’s essential that, here on the ground level, we encourage inclusivity whenever we can, wherever we can. And that even extends to your bookshelves, where you can make a point to feature more diverse books and focus on different ways to make your reading more inclusive. After all, as Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami wrote in Norwegian Wood: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” Let’s avoid that, shall we? I’ve got some tips that’ll help you out.
From reading more diverse books, to teaming up with your fellow book lovers, to thinking outside your typical book-buying box, and more, here are seven ways you can make your reading more inclusive this year. Check ‘em out.
1. Read more books by writers from marginalized or underrepresented communities.
This includes, but is not limited to: writers of color, immigrant writers, refugee writers or writers living in exile, women writers, LGBTQ writers, disabled or alternatively-abled writers, incarcerated or formerly-incarcerated writers, writers from low income communities, homeless writers, writers living outside the United States and/or English-speaking world… the list definitely goes on. You might be thinking: “sure, OK, I already know all this, but where can I find diverse books?” You can start by checking out this list of where to find diverse books, thoughtfully compiled by the grassroots literary organization We Need Diverse Books. There are also a handful of independent presses that specialize in publishing exactly the types of writers listed above — and you can find out more information about them below. So keep reading.
2. Read more books in translation.
Books in translation are a key way to bring more diversity and inclusivity into your bookshelves, providing global perspectives that you simply can’t get anywhere else. There are tons of awards for literature in translation — including awards like the PEN America Literary Awards (be sure to check out both the winners and the nominees!) which uniquely focus on literature in translation. But don’t just stop there — once you develop a list of your own favorite translated writers, go the extra mile and discover what books those writers are reading (check out interviews, the acknowledgements section of their books, even their author websites or Goodreads profiles) and explore some of those authors too. You never know when your next favorite book in translation might be just around the corner.
3. Extend your reading beyond your genre comfort zone.
Think of your reading needs as you would your dietary needs — inserting genres in place of nutritional groupings on the food pyramid (campy, sure, but I have a point.) You need plenty of fiction and nonfiction, a healthy dose of poetry, some graphic novels, some memoirs, history books and biographies, experimental texts, thrillers and mysteries and science fiction and romance novels and fantasy… again, the list goes on and on. When it comes to my own literary diet, I definitely don’t always get a balanced meal (seriously, I love my carbs.) But it’s only by extending beyond the boundaries of your genre comfort zone that you’re going to get the most fulfilling, well-rounded literary meal (ehrm… experience, I mean.)
4. Join Bustle’s American Women Book Club.
There are tons of great book clubs out there, but personally, I’m a little biased to this one. Bustle’s American Woman Book Club believes that reading (and reading widely) is just one small step in educating yourself about experiences outside your own and mending the divides of our nation. And the books we read encompass a broad range of American experiences — those of Muslim-Americans, Latinos, African-Americans, LGBTQ+ individuals, undocumented immigrants, white working class women, and more. Past and current reads include Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath, Brit Bennett’s The Mothers, and most recently Ibi Zoboi’s American Street. Join us to check out the next title we have in store, perfect for your year of reading inclusively.
5. Organize regular book swaps with your favorite book pals.
One of the best ways to add new, diverse reads to your bookshelves is to just ask for them (I know, who’d have thought it was that easy?) Know a BFF whose shelfies you’re always eyeing on Instagram, or a coworker who is always reading something new on her lunch break? Ask them for some recommendations. And pay all that book love forward, by offering to swap one of your favorite reads for theirs.
6. Subscribe to a literary journal or magazine.
It’s well known in the writing world that literary agents check out tons of literary magazines and journals, often looking for their next must-sign author. But who says agents are the only folks allowed in on the lit mag game? Creative magazines and journals are a great way to expand the list of authors you love, and they’ll introduce you to plenty of new and emerging writers as well (so you can be sure to tell all your pals you were reading the next big it-author before they were.) Plus, when you subscribe, you’re helping those magazines and journals stay in circulation in a tough market — and you're helping pay writers for their work as well.
7. Support indie publishers in addition to the Big 5.
Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster — you recognize their names, you’re well-acquainted with their authors, their books are all over your shelves. And that is awesome. But there are tons of independent publishers who need your love too — and they’ll love you right back, with the lists of amazing authors they’ll be more than happy to share with you. Plus, there are tons of indie publishers who focus specifically on marginalized and underrepresented communities of writers: women-only presses and publishers that celebrate writers of color, houses that specialize in LGBTQ representation in literature and others that support writers from low income communities, and more. Make sure the presses you’re supporting are just as diverse as the books you want to read.