This past year it came to my attention how little diversity I had in the books I was picking out to read. This came to my attention via two ways. The first probably being the most unsurprising place possible: Tumblr and the second through a book tag on YouTube meant for fun. I was catching up on my book tube subscriptions and I came across the lovely Londoner, Lauren (Reads and Daydreams) doing the Diversity Tag and I thought to myself, “hmm, I bet I’ll nail this one” and oh man was it sad. I had almost no books on my shelves that were from an author that existed outside North America. The only exceptions were a few authors from the UK and one from Australia. It was really disappointed and I was even more bothered by the fact that 98% of the books I owned were authored by white men and women.
The whole point of reading, I think, beyond just enjoying yourself is to become educated in something you otherwise wouldn’t have known. It’s to see another viewpoint. If as a collective group people refuse to learn or to expand their world view we remain stagnant. Diversity in the media we choose to consume can either expand or contract that view. In this case, by using media I’m referring not to networks like CNN or Fox, but instead to the main means of mass communication (especially television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet) regarded collectively.
To expose people to a view entirely unknown to them was the reason that writers like Mark Twain, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison wrote. How different would the world be if Harriet Beecher Stowe hadn’t written Uncle Tom’s Cabin? A book that made such an impact to it’s readers it led President Lincoln to allegedly say,”So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” to Stowe. I am of course referring to the common myth/legend that Stowe’s book sparked aggressive discussion, if not creating a direct link to tensions that led to the American Civil War. As easy as it is to write books off as paraphernalia for frivolous past times (and many are) they’re so much more. When done well, novels are the mirror held up to society.
Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman to raise the issue of victimization of workers by their capitalist employers. Upton Sinclair’s wrote The Jungle, a book of fiction so horrific and disturbing it caused the creation of new laws, after visiting the meat packing industry.
Reading books from the perspective of someone distinctly different from me opens me up to learning about things that I didn’t even know existed. In the past couple months, I read Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed; a novel about a young Pakistani* girl living in America. I’m unsure if she was born in America but I am positive that she lived most of her life there with her parents having grown up in Pakistan and then moving to America. Naila’s, the protagonist, parents are conservative and when they believe she has lost sight of her roots they decide to return to Pakistan “visit family and explore her roots.” While there she essentially becomes trapped in her family home and when she refuses to do so willingly, is forced into an arranged marriage, following the traditions of her family. Whats horrifying is that it’s not “forcing” as in do this or you’re grounded, Naila is genuinely imprisoned in a room and the only food and water she receives is drugged. When she refuses to sign her marriage license her family takes her hand and does it for her. The worst part of this whole disturbing scenario is that this novel was realistic fiction, meaning this kind of thing happens everyday, all around the world to young women.
It’s easy to write this kind of behavior off, by saying “oh, it’s the culture and it really only happens to women in third world countries” but first off, that’s still horrible and second it happens to women in the so-called ‘first world’ too. Naila in this book was first generation American; she’d grown up in the states, went to a regular high school and still became trapped in an arranged marriage by her family.
Before reading this book, I knew what arranged marriages were but I had no idea the extent or how real it is for so many women today. The author of the novel, Saeed, had an authors note at the end of the book explaining how arranged marriages can happen in any culture, country or religion and should be based on love by all parties involved and no one should ever be forced. Saeed was married through an arranged marriage, but she was not forced as Naila was.
I would also like to clarify that ‘arranged marriage’ is not necessarily a synonym for forced or unhappy or abusive marriage. An arranged marriage can be a healthy and successful one as in the case for Saeed. But the ones there are too many cases where arranged marriages are like the ones Naila experiences as this book describes.
Had I not read Written in the Stars I never would have known what I know now about the practice of forced arranged marriages. Even though Saeed’s novel was a work of fiction it still acted as a mirror to the world today exposing me to something beyond my regular scope of understanding.
Essentially, what I’m trying to say with this post is that I choose to read diversely because that’s how we learn. The world changes when people know things. If I continue to live in the box of the North American white (fe)male I’d never learn anything new; I’d never understand or even know of the plight of other people. Summed up in one cliche: “I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken.”
*Please, correct me if I’m wrong. It’s been a little while since I’ve read this and I did not have a copy of the book to double check when I was writing this. **I’d also like to say this was written over a year ago and was in my archives.