On Twitter, there’s been a raging torrent of interest in diversity, recently: Diversity in books in particular.
It’s good that there’s so much of an interest in reading, and in expanding one’s consciousness through reading. That’s the way to do it, really.
But how much of this interest is actually in reading? As in what’s actually contained in the books? Words and stuff. . .
Much of the concern on Twitter seems to be focused on what images appear on book covers. Many want them to represent a politics of inclusion–something beyond the ol’ traditional Anglo-middleclass-hetero.
Extreme example, I know . . .
But it seems everyone raging on Twitter — many currently beating each other up to prove more-diverse-than-thou — would be ok with hackneyed story lines, sappy sentimentality, lame softcore (or hardcore) porn and other things that sell books these days, provided someone on the cover is either dark-skinned, wearing a turban, in a wheelchair, or perhaps all three at once.
Make it a rainbow turban and you have a four-bagger.
But there’s a problem with this–and it goes beyond the dismay that strikes me whenever a great cheer goes up from people begging: “Please pander to us! It’s our turn to be pandered to!”
And it’s this:
What if I told you that the diversity that’s really missing from popular fiction these days can’t be addressed through the inclusion of token “outsiders” depicted on covers?
What if I told you that traditional publishing houses expect 90% of their offerings to lose money, and thus they put enormous pressure on authors to round off edges and smooth out rough spots–which is to say, anything that might upset their typical existing customer base?
What if I told you that the stultifying prose of most modern fiction owes its dull uniformity to constant attempts to offend no one even at the cost of pleasing no one, either?
What if I told you that covers with diverse-looking people often spell death on the shelves not due to some conspiracy to undermine them, but because the deliberate and artless inclusion of specific identifiable groups makes many readers think “Oh, this book is intended to mollify this specific group”, and that many find this to be manipulative, exploitative, indulgent, and exclusionary? What if I told you that many of the intended beneficiaries of this “inclusiveness” actually find it offensive and choose against it?
What if I told you that a true selection of “diverse” books would include titles that might get shunned as sexist, racist, classist, colonialist, Islamophobic, homophobic, bitter, hateful, and all those other things that spell social death for dashing moderns?
What if I told you that if you want a diverse experience in literature, you’ll need to submit yourself to fiction that reads like nothing you’ve ever seen before, with characters and experiences that make you wonder how anyone could think that way. It’s difficult, this reading truly diverse books.
I am fully in support of the proposition that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We need truly diverse books.