BLOG: Reading Widely – Challenging Myself to Be Better

I have always considered myself to be a conscientious and broad reader, although in recent years I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to do two things:

  • Read more books by women
  • Read more books by non-White authors

In light of the recent campaigns, and as I now have two and a half years’ of reviews to work with, I thought it would be a good time to see how I had done on that since I had data I could now use to show exactly, in cold, hard numbers, how I had done.

I totted up 134 authors, from 128 books. A handful of these books were co-written, where it came to graphic books I focused on writers and not illustrators for the sake of this data.

NOTES ON THE DATA

The categories I have set up to demonstrate the ethnic groups of the authors I have read is done with the broadest possible strokes. This is because, when it comes to data sets, 134 isn’t a huge one and if I drill too deeply down into the individual layers, I worried the overview would become no more useful than the raw data as there would be a lot of individual entries.

I am also going based on what information I can find online based on authors’ backgrounds, and this is often difficult as, naturally, people don’t include a family tree in their author profiles. This means that the data may not be 100% accurate, but as it is for illustrative purposes and personal use, I think this margin of error is allowable in that it will demonstrate my reading habits to me and help me to adjust them. It’s not informing any policies, just giving me a rough guide to help steer me in the right direction.

I have only used binary gender data here. As far as I am aware, all of the authors I have looked at identify as men or women, although I did make sure to try and check this is also data that – again, naturally – isn’t always included in author profiles. In the research I conducted, all of them used he/she pronouns, although I will be more than happy to amend this if anyone is aware of other gender identities of any of the authors I’ve reviewed on this blog so far.

All the books reviewed on my blog have been published in the UK, and most of them have been published traditionally, although I think there were two or three self-pubbed books in the archives.

I did not include any markers for the sexuality of the authors I have read, although I know there are a number of LGBTQ+ writers in my list. Now I have the raw data in an excel sheet, and intend to keep it updated so I can revisit it in future, drilling further into the representation of LGBTQ+ creators on my reading list would also be a valuable exercise. This would, as with the ethnicity query, be difficult to gain 100% accurate information, and naturally is a very personal issue for each individual author.

I’ve tried my best to do this as sensitively as possible, however I know that I am not a perfect person and I am still trying to learn. If I have used any of the wrong identifiers, please let me know and I will change these immediately. The purpose of this is to challenge my own perceptions of my reading list and shine a light on where I can improve. It’s important to me personally that I try and read as widely as possible, reading authors from as wide a variety of cultures and experiences as possible, in order to ensure that I am still learning and growing, and never taking the world around me for granted.

POINT ONE: Read More Books By Women

Chart Authors by Gender

This was a pretty reassuring graph, as an overall split. Throughout the reviews on this blog, there were 28 authors who identified as men, vs 106 who identified as women. If I wanted to develop this further in the future, it would be interesting to look at how this split is reflected through genre. For instance, I’m aware I read a lot of YA books, and romances, both areas of publishing which tend heavily towards women writers. How would the stats compare across genres and age markets?

When I revisit this data in the future, with more information, I’ll be interested to see what else I can get from it.

POINT TWO: Read More Books By Non-White Authors

Chart Authors by Ethnicity

This data was far less pretty, but it did exactly what I wanted it to do. It showed me very clearly the truth of my reading habits, and made me uncomfortable. 81% of the authors reviewed on this blog were White, 109 out of 134. That’s a staggering discrepancy when the next highest ethnicity represented, East Asian authors, was only 7% with a total of 9 books.

There’s been a lot of discussion, particularly lately, about how the publishing industry as a whole can seem hostile to authors who don’t fit the perceived ‘bill’, authors who aren’t White, authors who are from different socio-economic or cultural backgrounds. The current global wave of BLM protests has made a lot of people within publishing sit up and take note, and they are offering support to authors to address that imbalance.

This is just a small selection of the schemes available, most of which have been quickly set up in response to the BLM protests, and they’re fantastic if overdue. Bernadine Evaristo was the first Black woman to win the Booker prize this year since it was established in 1969, and she still had to share the prize. Candice Carty-Williams became the first Black author ever to win Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, even though it was founded in 1990; meanwhile Evaristo was the first Black author to receive the Author of the Year award at the same ceremony.

There was a brutal report on the state of racial equality in the publishing industry released last week, saying that readers and authors of colour are routinely overlooked. On the macro scale, publishing needs to address this, the report should make them uncomfortable and make them address the issues to solve it.

The data exploration I’ve done here is my attempt to address the issues on a micro level, to make myself uncomfortable and force myself to make changes for the better. I want to read a wider variety of voices, and I want to make space for them on my blog and in my work in the industry. Unless I keep holding myself to account, the way the industry has to hold itself to account, then I’m not going to get better and things aren’t going to change.

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