Decolonize My Bookshelf: Reading Intentionally

Last year, the average number of books an American adult read was twelve. In my adult life, I have read significantly less than twelve books a year for pleasure. My enthusiasm for reading declined as reading became mandatory in school and didn’t really pick up after I graduated college–until now, when I’ve stopped reading books by white cis-men.

Now, I can’t stop reading books.

books blog 1This year, I stopped choosing my reading material based on what my friends tell me to read and started intentionally reading books by women and people of color. By reading intentionally, I relate to what I read more and more. Because I can relate to it, I am more excited when I pick up a book. I devour the words on the page. I find myself only wanting more. The way I read has also changed–“What will this teach me?” I think. “What knowledge, what truth, what beauty does this book hold?”

The process of seeking out books by people of color and women is somewhat new for me. I’d heard of many famous Black authors, but had never actually read James Baldwin or Maya Angelou. Rather than picking up the books that might be the most convenient, I seek out powerfully written books by folks writing from specific identities. As I go through the more obvious authors, I am realizing that I don’t know of many Indian authors. I’ve read far more Gabriel Garcia Marquez than Arundhati Roy. This project raises questions about who gets famous and why, but also raises the more personal question of why I have never sought out South Asian writers before.

books blog 2In less than three months, I’ve read eleven books. I’ve almost hit the “average American” benchmark. It’s nothing to brag about, but it’s an accomplishment for me. The books I’ve read so far have been filled with stories of solidarity and struggle and love and grief. I have been reading a lot of memoirs, but each has been beautifully different from the other. I’ve read one non-fiction book, other than memoirs. I’ve even read a play and a book of poems! My ability to read a wide range of genres and styles has expanded. I crave book recommendations and I go to the library more often. I feel like a teenager again. I can’t stop reading. A few weeks ago, I actually read a book in a day. Sometimes, I stay up late because I want to just read one more chapter. I keep asking people about what books they are reading and am shocked when they aren’t excitedly gushing. Once, I even wished my subway ride was longer so that I could dive deeper into the pages in front of me. Today, I walked home with a book open in front of me, the way I usually text-walk.

Reading books by people of color and women that are written for folks with those identities has helped me to deepen how I relate to my own identity as a brown woman as well as develop a new level of empathy for folks marginalized in different ways. While it’s obvious, I have become acutely aware of how important it is to read books by individuals who are portraying themselves, rather than reading books by white dudes that depict non-white, or non-cis male, people. When I decided to intentionally consume media by women and people of color, I couldn’t have guessed how much more important reading would become to me.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” James Baldwin

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