The Importance of Diversity in Contemporary Literature
Romance books are big business. Everyone buys them – even my grandmother. I think people like romance story lines because regardless of our background, social status, ethnicity, orientation or identity – romance is pretty universal. Who doesn’t want to be swept off their feet (or sweep someone else off of theirs)?
Personally, I am a voracious reader – I will read pretty much anything. I have read the back of the shampoo bottle at least 1.2 million times in my life and I am pretty much an expert about the perils of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
That being said, I also find time to read actual books, and I’m so often struck by how few of them employ a diverse cast of characters – especially as protagonists. Generally these characters are relegated to side kick or background character and of little consequence to the main story. But when I find a book that has a main character that reminds me of me, I am in heaven. I will inhale the book, and then actively seek out anything else the author has written. I will ask friends about similar authors, and spend ages online looking for other similar stories. In short, that author now has a customer for life.
And I’m not the only one. There are multitudes of websites, groups and lists devoted to diverse books and story lines. People search it out and buy it and read it and then they become fans for life.
I think it’s because we all like to see ourselves reflected back in the world around us. It tells us that we matter, that we are worth having our stories listened to.
People learn about the world around them by the different types of media they consume; whether it is music, TV or books. If entire segments of our society are left out or only represented as side characters whose sole purpose is to advance the main stream protagonist, what does that tell people? I think it says that there are some people whose stories don’t matter, or aren’t worth telling – and I disagree.
Diversity within literature can serve to empower readers who might otherwise feel invisible or forgotten by society. I remember how powerfully I connected with the unashamedly intelligent and assertive character of Hermione Granger, and how it empowered me to not feel awkward about being a smart lady who likes to be in charge. It allowed me to frame the belief that I wasn’t just a “know it all” or “bossy”. I am a stone cold bad ass.
And while I know my invite to Hogwarts is unlikely to be coming any time soon, I will continue to watch for owls - just in case.