Every now and again, I will get asked, "How do you read so many different books?" One time, I went to a bookstore with my grandmother and I pointed out several books that I had read, some in the adult section, most in YA, and a handful in the psychology/non-fiction area. My grandmother noted the fact that I read so many various genres with much surprise, and I didn't really realize until then that she was right. And this is not to brag about my exceptional skill in seeking out stories of all genres. I've always been drawn to so many types of books because I get bored easily and don't like sticking to the same story, repeated over and over.
In this post, I'll be sharing how I read different books, and how it has helped me in life as well as in my writing journey. And I'll include 5 incredible diverse books that I'd recommend to begin building your diverse shelf!
With everything going on, more and more people are realizing the importance of reading outside their comfort zone. There's nothing wrong with reading from the same genre or from the same authors because, in the end, books are for entertainment and enjoyment. You should always read books you are interested in, not force yourself to read something incredibly boring because you were recommended it. However, reading from books of different genres offers many benefits.
Reading diverse books can help us...
Experience things we will never get to in our lifetime
See the world through someone else's perspective
Become people we aren't
Work and live through problems we will never have to
Diversify our knowledge
When we read diverse books, too, we can incorporate new issues and different plots into the stories we're writing. For example, I read a lot of mystery, but I don't write mystery, and yet my books and stories tend to have this mysterious edge to them because I like that style. I'll be writing romance and it'll seem just a little over-the-top intense, and I love cliff-hanger endings. Reading different forms of writing can help you figure out your style and find the voice you'd like to move forward with. If you're not sure what your writing genre is, either, you can read a variety of books and figure out which one suits you.
And reading different stories makes reading more fun, anyway! Each book is slightly different from the last, and each voice is prominent and unique. That, to me, is what makes reading so enjoyable.
How to diversify your bookshelf
1. Try buying 1-3 books of a new genre to read
Or, you can rent them from the library--whatever works! Just for fun, try picking out books you may have shown interest in, but didn't follow through with and rather stuck to a comfortable read. If you enjoy mystery, maybe try horror or vice versa, so you're still staying in your comfort zone but are easing out of it. Or transition from sci-fi to fantasy. Who knows--you may like that new genre better!
2. Ask others, or even strangers, for recommendations
One of my favorite books, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin was on the recommended shelf at a local bookstore. It had sea turtles on its cover, which initially caught my eye (it's my spirit animal), and eventually, I picked it up and asked a cashier if it was that good. It was sci-fi, something I didn't read much of, but I loved those sea turtles. The cashier told me it was, in fact, a fantastic read, and she was right--it was. Also, trust those recommendations your friends give you--anything recommended is usually for a good reason (besides Caraval...).
3. Choose books with main characters who are different from you
Oftentimes, just for fun, I like to search for male narrators, as I feel like they offer an interesting perspective and help me write male characters in my own stories. I tend to read books about teenage, female book nerds because that is... me, and I can easily relate to them. But sometimes, not being able to relate to a character for who they are and what they are going through makes the story all the more interesting. It expands our minds and allows us to live in the heads of someone else.
Also, more recently, I am excited to read books with characters of different sexualities and different races with the intention of understanding what it may be like for them. It's easy to stick to characters you can easily become, but putting yourself in the shoes of someone completely different than you can change your perception for the better. Make it a point to reads about characters with different lifestyles, and different ways of living.
For some recommendations of books by Black authors for the BLM movement, check out this article by Oprah magazine here. I listed an article because unfortunately, I have only read a few, but I cannot wait to read more!
4. Read books of different time periods
This means books set in the past, present, and the future. We are only going to be alive during a certain point in time, so it's so important to read books from the past, about people who lived long ago and have a story of their own to tell, and to read books about the future, so that we have an idea of how other people see the world thousands of years from now. Reading books from different times can help us see the value of life and the value of science and the importance of our evolution into what we are today. These stories can allow us to be grateful for these present moments since they won't last forever. Not to get all deep, but I love books from different times so much!
5. Look for authors who have unique stories themselves
I'll be honest--I rarely pick up a book for the sake of the author. Rarely do I even remember the author's name. I'll pick up a book, read it for its story, read the bio at the end, possibly look them up, then forget them forever.
But I suggest that you, and I, search for authors who have fascinating tales of their own and who worked so very hard to get where they are and finally getting a book out there. Follow author blogs and watch for releases. Support your writer friends and read their books when they finish them. Look up authors of various nationalities and backgrounds and read their books to support them. Look up books by Black authors or check the link above. And remember who they are, just as you'd like to be remembered for your hard work.
5 book recommendations for building your diverse bookshelf
(All of these books are books I have read!)
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
This book is set in Philadelphia during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793. While we are going through a pandemic ourselves, this book still made me see illness in an entirely different light. In 1793, they didn't have the resources we have, their only communication mail or the newspaper. It was fascinating but obviously disheartening, to live through what the citizens of Philadelphia underwent many years ago. I am so grateful for the incredible technology we have in our lives. Find it here.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
This is a lovely screenplay about a poor Black family living in a small apartment and longing to live in a house in a nicer part of town. There is a mother, father, son, aunt, and grandmother and grandfather crammed together in a single place, but when the grandfather passes he leaves just enough money for a new place to live. They find one, but its in a White suburban neighborhood, and Whites aren't so happy to have them live there and even suggest paying them to keep them out. This book opened my eyes to what it must've been like for a Black family in the '50s, and is a beautiful and heartbreaking tale of a family that'll do anything to achieve their dream. Find it here.
Stolen Innocence by Erin Merryn
This book was originally a diary that was published into a novel for the sole purpose of showing the world what child sexual abuse is like. Erin was about 8 when her cousin abused her for the first time, and even after opening up to her parents, after many years of abuse, her extended family decides they don't believe her and shuts everyone out. Erin undergoes several mental health issues and has consistent nightmares, working steadily to heal through her trauma throughout her teenage years. It's a harsh reality of a tale that helps people see the effects abuse has on others. Erin is now a beautiful woman and an advocate against child abuse. Find her book here.
Thin Wood Walls by David Patneaude
I read this book back in middle school, but I remember it so clearly. It's about a young boy who is sent to a Japanese Internment Camp during World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The book is about his journey and time within the camps, separated from his family and writing poetry until he is free again. Gosh, it was so good and eye-opening, going deep into a historical event we often don't remember or discuss much. Find it here.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
This book is about a man named Charlie in his 40s who is mentally challenged and undergoes testing to make him intelligent, and it works! A little too well. His IQ tops anyone else and he becomes so smart he forgets how to human until something goes wrong with the testing. Charlie experiences love, heartbreak, and realizes his entire childhood wasn't quite what he thought it was, battling with many emotions at once. Intelligence has it's downsides. This book ripped me apart and put me back together and made me realize how mentally challenged people are often treated and allowed me to see them in a new light. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Find it here.
I hope this post has encouraged you to diversify your bookshelves! If not, at least you now have some good book recommendations, haha!
As writers, and just people in general, it's so important to be able to live through others, hear their stories, take in their wisdom, and take advantage of the plentiful amount of books all around us. If you don't want to read more, then sit down with your family members, or even various citizens, and ask them about their life. Ask for their advice and hear about their journey.
Everyone has their own unique story, all you have to do is listen.