Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nonfiction November: Diversity in Nonfiction






Back into Nonfiction November - this week hosted by Becca at I'm Lost in Books, where we are talking about diversity. This week's prompt:

Diversity and Nonfiction: What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to a book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for? What kind of books besides different countries/cultures do you think of as books of diversity?

Like Kim, I'm going to divide it up survey style!


What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to a book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background?

To me it’s definitely all of the above! And I readily admit I do better on some of those criteria than others, and SHOULD do better on some. ‘Author’s nationality or background’ has particular resonance with me. Perhaps because I studied cultural anthropology, particularly the need for cultural relativism. I think it also has something to do with being from a country that often has UK and US cultural norms imposed upon it simply because it has a predominantly white population and is considered ‘First World’, when those norms often don’t apply within its socio-cultural context. For whatever reason, I think it’s extremely important to read diversely in terms of background, and particularly to read diversely in terms of reading works by those that have the cultural authority to write about a subject (one of the reasons I found Tim Butcher’s Blood River problematic earlier this year), although of course external perspectives on any topic are also deeply valuable.

Personally, from a quick analysis of my own reading non-fiction reading in the last year, I have an almost even split of male vs. female writers and definitely read books of different locations and subject matters! But, I’m not meeting my own standard in terms of author nationality and background, and reading authors writing about their own cultural context. I’ve managed ONE non-fiction book this year that would fit that criteria. Time to improve!!!!

What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction?

I really enjoy reading about French culture – particularly the perspectives of foreigners living in France. I wouldn’t really consider myself a Francophile, but I guess I’m trying to realign my own experience (I lived on-and-off with my boyfriend/fiancĂ©/husband in France while he completed his Master’s degree, firstly in Lyon and then in a rural town in the French Alps) and understand my husband’s experience (he lived in France for upwards of 6 years, through his late teens and early twenties, and due to his multi-national upbringing considers himself as much French as any other nationality). A favourite of late is Mastering the Art of French Eating, by Ann Mah.  


I also really love reading about colonial forces and the impact they have had on the world today. King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild is a great example of the genre, but I’ll pick up pretty much anything on the Scramble for Africa and the South Pacific colonial eras in particular. 



What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for?

I’d love some great recommendations for non-fiction set in the Middle East. I’ve read very little from this part of the world and it feels like time to expand my horizons! The America’s is also ripe for exploration in my non-fiction reading (yes, even North America!).

What kind of books besides different countries/cultures do you think of as books of diversity?

I think the first thing that comes to mind is books by authors of colour. As I admitted above, this is something I don’t do great at and should make an effort to improve on. It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut of 'white heterosexual male' perspective simply because they tend to be the books most often at the forefront. I think reading widely in terms of subject diversity in non-fiction is also important. I tend to read non-fiction with a historical focus because that’s just my area of interest, but I feel like I would be a more well-rounded person if I made more of an effort in the next year to read non-fiction on more current issues around the world. Recommendations anyone?


6 comments:

  1. I've heard King Leopold's Ghost mentioned by more than one blogger this month, so I definitely think I'll have to check it out!

    I really liked The Lost City of Z for a book that crosses between North and South America and focuses on American exploration in South America.

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    1. Oh that sounds great, will add it to the list!

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  2. Wow - I just mentioned King Leopold's Ghost on another non fiction November post comment a few minutes ago. Fascinating book and quite an eye-opener!

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    1. Glad you agree!! Such an interesting book!

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  3. I think your comment about reading authors who have cultural authority is an interesting one. I definitely agree that reading a book by someone familiar with a place is good, but I also tend to be drawn to outsider/insider books where an author gets immersed in a place and then writes about it. I know those can be tricky, but when done well I find them so interesting.

    One example that is about the Middle East is The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg. A few other Middle East books that I liked a lot were House of Stone by Anthony Shadid (memoir about Syria) and Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni (another memoir).

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    1. I totally agree Kim - in many ways the outsider perspective is just as important! (and interesting). Where I get tired/grumpy is when the outsider tries to impose their own norms, or doesn't acknowledge themselves as an outsider (from an anthropological perspective, not acknowleding your own affect is just bad 'science' as such). Looking forward to checking out your Middle Eastern recs!

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