Why I read diverse books

Why I read diverse books

I was going to hold off on posting this for a few days, but I’ve been feeling down lately and decided to post this today.

This is a question I’ve been trying to post about for a little while now. I think for a lot of people “diverse reads” means something different to them. It could be reading women. It could be reading about people of color or authors of color. Since there are so many different ways to say “diverse,” I figured I’ll share what I believe.

My diverse reading journey started with myself. Being Asian American, I’ve lived a very different life than the people who grew up around me. I’ve been met with racist remarks and stereotypes everywhere I’ve gone. It’s an isolating experience and even when I had friends and family members going through the same thing, it still felt extremely isolating.

So I looked to books. When I was a kid, the only book that really resonated with me was The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Even though we come from different Asian nations, I could still feel the resonance in her voice; that want to please your parents and be yourself at the same time. The century-old Asian traditions intermingling with the new experiences as an American. You want the burger, but you settle for kimchi. It was a world I struggled with and still struggle with knowing better. I don’t ever know if I belong in a group with all white people or if I belong in a group with all Asian people. I’ve tried both and my bones felt like they were all stuck out of place.

Thankfully, as I grew older, authors also expanded on the subject and I was not only able to find stories relating to what I went through. I also found stories of people who come to terms with their Asian American heritage and make the best of their situations regardless of the color of their skin. I think this was probably the most profound thing I’ve ever experienced; normalcy.

I am a firm believer in culture and society. Throw yourself into any country in the world and there is a certain way of life you may have never thought to see before. I also firmly believe that I live in a huge bubble. Being born and raised in New York City, you are stuck in the center of the most culturally diverse city in the world. However, you also end up thinking a lot like the people you live around and being a population-dense city, you live around a lot of people.

So I wanted to take a step back. I wanted to read the stories of people who live in other places and the struggles they see on a daily basis. I wanted to read what it was like to not be me, be in New York City, and be someone else. As the old adage says, readers live a thousand lives in the books they read. I’ve just wanted my lives to be a little bit more diverse.

What I found were beautiful prose and deeply rich stories of people in the private moments of their lives. The thoughts they have, even in fiction, are so overwhelming true and real. They all speak to me in some way or another be it a story of a young girl trying to find her place to the story of a young man shot down because of the color of his skin. It feels dangerous to write these stories because it’s a truth that’s personal and sacred to the person writing it.

Publicly sharing your feelings is never easy. There’s constant judgment and people who won’t find you appealing. But these stories remind me that it’s okay. You can be whoever you want to be as long as it’s your truth. As Oprah elegantly spoke this weekend, “what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

I’ve read so many wonderful stories of promise and hope in my diverse reading. I’ve read so many stories that I’ve been able to connect deeply with the people in the book. I’ve been able to educate myself on the experiences of other people because of diverse reads and no longer do I imagine a white person in the other stories I read. It’s such a ray of light to read diverse books and share these books with you.

I’ll be posting a whole new section in my blog about diverse reads. Will you join me in reading more diversely?

Book Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The family is like the forest: if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.

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Synopsis (from Goodreads.com)

Two half sisters, Effia and Esi, unknown to each other, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and will live in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle, raising children who will be sent abroad to be educated before returning to the Gold Coast to serve as administrators of the empire. Esi, imprisoned beneath Effia in the Castle’s women’s dungeon and then shipped off on a boat bound for America, will be sold into slavery. Stretching from the wars of Ghana to slavery and the Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the American South to the Great Migration to twentieth-century Harlem, Yaa Gyasi’s novel moves through histories and geographies and captures–with outstanding economy and force– the troubled spirit of our own nation. She has written a modern masterpiece

Rating: 5/5 Stars

My thoughts

A remarkable read. I loved every single word of this book. I don’t think I’ve come across a novel like this in a really long time.

The story follows the bloodlines of two half-sisters; one who marries a white trader in Ghana while the other is shipped off to America to be sold as a slave. Both of them experience the prejudices and hardships of being a person of color within the last 100 years.

While in the middle of reading this book, a guy on the street asked me for directions to the train. Instead of just pointing out to him where to go, I asked him to follow me since we were going in the same direction. He asked where I was from and what part of Brooklyn I lived so I asked the same. “BedStuy, but I got out of there because I had enough,” he said.

“Did you always live in Brooklyn?” I asked curiously.

“No, I made my way up here from Mississippi with my mom,” he replied.

It was uncanny how I was in the middle of reading a book on families moving and striving for a better life for their young ones and then I encounter a man who’s family has done the same thing. I don’t think I would have had the same amount of curiosity for him and how he grew up if I wasn’t reading this book.

Honestly, everyone should read this book and other diverse books. Homegoing is one of those books that opens my eyes to the reality of the world. It makes me sad that some people can’t trace their ancestry back any further than a few generations. People made sacrifices in order for other people to survive. Some people are lucky enough to have their family heirlooms passed down generation after generation. Others, not so much. I wouldn’t have known that had I not given this book a shot. We read so many novels about the same characters going through the same hardships, so it’s good for readers like us to branch out and learn a little bit more about something we’re not so comfortable with.

This book made me want to call my mother and ask for more information about my family. I want to know my lineage and being an Asian American, it makes me want to connect further with my roots.

This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others. Those who were there in the olden days, they told stories to the children so that the children would know, so that the children could tell stories to their children. And so on, and so on.

I can’t say it any more clearly that people should read books like Homegoing. It will broaden your mind and make you less ignorant of the person standing next to you.