Reading Widely

According to Goodreads I read 179 books in 2020. Looking back over them, just briefly, fewer than 10% were written by white men. As my goal is to read no books by white men, that’s actually higher than I expected. Books by white women, on the other hand, are a significant percentage. That is clearly my comfort zone. A quick estimate suggests that about 40% of the books I read were written by IBPOC. Looking back at the 134 books I read in 2013, that percentage is significantly lower. It is reassuring to find that I am making progress on my goal of reading a much more diverse collection of authors, even as I know I have a long way to go.

The last books I finished in 2020.

The fact is that the majority of books that are published are written by white folks. The majority of books that are widely promoted are written by white folks. It is easy to read books by white authors (especially white male authors). As long as we keep doing so, we continue to have a publishing industry that sees that as the demand and that remains the focus.

This is even more true when the books we offer students, either as options or requiring them, are overwhelmingly by white authors. We purposefully continue the cycle. As an elementary school teacher, I don’t require that my students read books (aside from ones we read in guided reading groups – everything else is their own choice) but I do have control over our classroom library. It has taken thoughtful effort to curate a classroom library that is more diverse. For many years my classroom library was majority, a significant majority, white authors.

My students have had a diverse classroom library thanks to many educators and librarians, many of them BIPOC, who generously share online about new books. The four brilliant folks who founded and continue #DisruptTexts are some of my favorites. The work they are doing is critically important for our current and future students. They are far from alone, but they are high enough profile to have been attacked in a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (I feel no need to link to it here).

Why have we, as a society and especially as educators, decided that the books most worth reading are written by white men and a handful of white women? Can we not recognize the systems that have always valued those books over any others? We, as a society, as educators, and for our children, can do so much better.

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