Who are you reading?

I love books – words in general, really. I come from a family of readers. Every summer – in the days before Kindles – my aunts and uncles and grandparents hauled big bags of books to trade at family gatherings. “What are you reading these days?” is a common topic of conversation.

I stopped reading for pleasure at some point in college – it wasn’t exactly a leisurely respite from the thousands of pages of required reading each semester. But after I finished grad school and settled into something like a rhythm of adult life, I found that I missed reading and rededicated myself to it. (Around this time, I also discovered Goodreads and was roundly horrified to see that I had read all of 2 books in 2011.)

I started setting annual reading goals and have been able to increase my reading time steadily each year for the past five years:

screenshot-2017-01-12-15-34-59

Yesterday, I was catching up with my friend Andrew who recently started a new personal reading challenge. We started chatting about what we’ve been reading, how we source recommendations, how we balance fiction and nonfiction texts. Then, Andrew pondered aloud something that I have often wondered myself: whose words am I reading? What’s the breakdown of male and female authors? Am I reading books by mostly White people, or also by Black, Hispanic, and Asian authors? We both suspected there were a lot of white male authors in the mix – particularly because we both read a lot of business books, which are overwhelmingly written by white men.

While I hope that Goodreads will someday allow me to analyze the authorship of my books as easily as the stats on page count or genre (stats from 2015 and 2016 above), I decided to run this analysis myself. Woof.

2014-2016 Analysis of Authors by Gender and Ethnicity

Between 2014 and 2016 I read 92 books. Here’s how those authors (or, in the case of essay anthologies, editors) broke down by gender:

2014-author2015-author-gender2016-author-gender

As you can see, I’m pretty consistently achieving gender parity across authors. I suspect that if I broke this down further, the majority of my nonfiction/business books would be authored by men, so I think that’s the area for improvement here. I would love to find more business books written by women. Right now, I think that list is limited to Sheryl Sandberg and Arianna Huffington.

And here’s the not-so-surprising yet majorly disconcerting breakdown of authors by ethnicity:

2014-author-ethn2015-author-ethn2016-author-ethn

I expected that the majority of these authors would be white, but this was jarring to see. Across 93 authors and editors of books that I’ve read in the past three years, 79 of them were white – nearly 85%. Only five books had Black or Hispanic authors: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2 books), Junot Diaz, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Toni Morrison.

This is startling to me because I have long held the assumption that I have been reading broadly, from a wide range of authors, genres, and perspectives. In reality, I’ve just been reading 50 shades of white.

Why does this matter? I love books and words because I believe they have power. I believe books have the power to challenge and shape our worldview, mold opinions, inspire ideas, and change perspectives. If my worldview, opinions, ideas, and perspectives are being narrated by white authors 85% of the time, they won’t be an accurate reflection of the country or the world. One of the joys and aims of reading for me is to change my thinking or learn something new; reading primarily white authors is more likely to validate my existing worldview and perspective than to challenge me to consider new ones.

This has been an eye-opening exercise for me and something I’ll be paying much closer attention to as I select books from now on. If you have recommendations of favorite books by Black or Hispanic authors, please share in the comments!

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