own voices · Uncategorized

Reading Reflections: On Reviewing Diversity (Part 1)

When I think about it, many reviewers (myself included) rarely acknowledge the background we come from when we’re reviewing representation in a book. #DiverseBookBloggers is one way to acknowledge this. My other example is a bit different. I hesitated to include that I wasn’t part of the same community as Juliet in my review of Juliet Takes A Breath. However, I did share that aspect because I also wanted to acknowledge that I don’t necessarily have the same experiences as a reader who might be a part of that community.

Even though I could relate to so many other aspects of that story, I thought that it was as equally as important to convey that this story will probably mean something more to a reader of a community. Likewise, a critique of another book with LGBTQ representation from me as a reader should not carry the same weight as a critique from an actual member of the community. The implications of privileged perspectives when reviewing books is discussed in depth in Malinda Lo’s post: Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews.

On the other hand, as a PoC* reader/reviewer, I may love the cultural representation in one story but a friend (who is also a PoC) may dislike it too. Even though we’re both PoC, our individual experiences will still diverge at times. I know this boils down to acknowledging the subjectivity of our reading experiences but we need to acknowledge what influences subjectivity. We need more than one story because one story does not represent one whole community. See Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story.

I won’t always share how aspects of my identity influence how I read or review but since this is a personal reading blog, I will occasionally reflect upon it. My identity does not define my reading experiences but it certainly still does affect it.

*It’s a little strange for me to use PoC as a term because it’s a term mostly used in America but as with all labels, it’s hard to find any term that encapsulates the complexity of identity. Therefore, it must be noted that there are limitations to the term PoC and how individuals may or may not identify with it.

 

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12 thoughts on “Reading Reflections: On Reviewing Diversity (Part 1)

  1. Lovely, thoughful post! I agree with you that a single story can never cover the range of experiences within a community. We need each and every story!

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  2. Great post! I’ve never been that comfortable with the use of POC but it is prob the easiest term to use that many people (or at least people who read my blog or other social media posts) understand.

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    1. Thanks Sharlene! I find most blanket terms uncomfortable too – but I agree that it’s the easiest way to understand certain elements about identity on blogs. ‘Intersectional’ identity is probably a more accurate term but I’m not sure if it’s a familiar one for a wider audience.

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  3. So spot on about being from the same culture reacting differently to a single book. I really saw this among the backlash of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. There were some people with disabilities that were really offended, and others that liked the portrayal. It’s so dependent and I think people sometimes get caught in a trap of trying to create a representation that encapsulates all people from a certain group. And the truth is, it never will. And it makes sense to me to acknowledge the differences in our reading experiences, especially in reviews, because it can affect how we liked/didn’t like the book. Great post!

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    1. Thank you! I enjoyed Me Before You but I completely agree, I understand how it is a split read because there aren’t as many mainstream books/films about disabled people for comparison, which is how the representation traps starts to form. I also agree about acknowledging our different experiences in reviews – it’s part of the fun & it’s a bonus to share knowledge.

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  4. I love this post! Thank you for writing it.

    It’s a different experience, but I am going to share anyway. My brother has autism, and as such I have a particular sensitivity about stories concerning people with disabilities. I am hyper aware of representation. I often read reviews where people have read a novel about a kid with a disability (there is one going around about a blind girl right now that I think sounds like THE WORST), where people will talk about how amazing the representation is and I’m like… it’s really not? My brother is pretty involved in disability activism and one of the things he is always always saying about representation is how frustrating the single story is. So much of the time when minorities are written about they are the only member of their community present. As if more than one member of a minority group would confuse us or something? It is so frustrating.

    Also I am all over that TED talk. I adore Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I didn’t realise there was another talk as well as We Should All Be Feminists!

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    1. Thanks Lydia! I definitely agree that the one story narrative problem applies to a whole range of identities. My cousin is autistic and I’ve yet to read a story that reflects his experience either. (When we do meet up at family gatherings, we mostly talk about Doctor Who). Corinne Duyvis is a YA author who openly talk about her autism and I really like reading her interviews too: https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2014/aug/17/autism-helped-me-become-author-corinne-duyvis

      I also follow Disability in Kidlit because they hold important discussions and review books with that awareness in mind: http://disabilityinkidlit.com/

      Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is just amazing. Her TED talks are the best. We Should All Be Feminists <3. So far, I've only read her Americanah novel, which I really liked but I've still got to check out her other work.

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  5. This is such a wonderful post, Glaiza, and so well thought out and presented. I’ve been thinking, myself, along a similar thread, wondering if it does or should make a difference in my reviews of LBGTIQA+ books that I’m not out as a member of that community, not on my blog at least (not really; there is a Top Ten Tuesday post where I featured an equal amount of fictional male/female characters I had crushed on which I personally thought was quite telling at the time), and it’s quite interesting to consider. Would people count my reviews for certain books as more worthy, if they knew my sexuality? Does it make a difference, if *I* know my sexuality and recognise elements in books as things I have felt and experienced? I feel like this is a conversation that could be taken so far, and I was just incredibly happy to see you’d posted this. It made me think, and the posts that make me think are my absolute favourites.
    You’re right that being a part of a community does give you an insight that people outside of it don’t have. And even within that community, there will be a hundred stories that tell unique tales. I wish we had more of these stories. I’m so glad we’re starting to get them, bit by bit.

    One of my favourite things, during our bookclub get-togethers, are the discussions we sink into, how we talk on representation and diversity and what we want out of books and reviews, and I always leave being so happy for those conversations, my thoughts spinning and lit up and even more impassioned than I was before. I love that we can, do and are talking about these things on our blogs, too, because they’re so important. And they’re so much a part, in many ways, of who we are as readers and writers and lovers of the written word.

    Your last sentence is just wonderful. And important. And beautiful. And true. “My identity does not define my reading experiences but it certainly still does affect it.”
    xx

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    1. I’m so happy that this post brought out more thoughts! Self-perception and outwards perception are definitely complex experiences. I also agree that it is possible to identify lived experiences in a book without being direct about an aspect of one’s own identity in a review – It’s a bit like letting that sense of self-awareness inform your thoughts and shape a more rounded review while maintaining enough distance to be able to share your thoughts about a book for others to read. I just occasionally decide to share a bit more about my own perspective XD.

      Sharing any aspect of one’s identity is always a personal/context specific experience. I do think that communal blogs (like Diversity in YA or Disability in Kidlit), which specifically cover diverse literature are more likely to be direct about reviewer identity because communal blogs are safe places and the expectations of blog readers align with the theme. In comparison, individual bloggers have the freedom to choose if/when they feel like sharing more about their own background.

      Thank you for inviting me to join book club! This discussion post was partly sparked by our rambles. It takes me a while to put thoughts together but I might continue writing reflection posts since I do have a few tangents, which don’t fit book reviews XD. Thank you, Romi.

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