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Every year, we use Black History Month as an excuse to audit the diversity of the authors we review. Why? Well, because we truly believe we are what we read; and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing in our libraries, and allow us to fill those gaps during our next year of reviews. Our latest audit results are discussed below today’s new reviews of four – oops five – great books (one each of adult fiction, adult nonfiction, YA, children’s, memoir).
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958) – In this lucky reader’s life there have been a few books that find their way into my hands that upon turning the last page cause me to reverently and gently place them down, to blink and slowly exhale, and then to turn my gaze back out upon the world feeling that my view has changed. This is one such book. Things Fall Apart is a novel set in precolonial Africa towards the end of the 1800’s and chronicles the effect of the the arrival of British missionaries and government on village life. It is the story of Okonkwo, a brave and powerful but flawed warrior of the Igbo clan in Nigeria. The tale is told from the deep “inside” of his clan. The “Obi” (main house), the religion, the lore, the language, family structure and the traditions are shown through his eyes and those of his family and friends. The reader is transported to another world and way of life where pythons are considered sacred and yams represent riches. It is also one where social order and connection is maintained by full moon ceremonies, wrestling, foo-foo feasts, the power of ancestral gods, and the reality of banishment. All of which is threatened by the arrival of white people. This novel explores the reality of an ever changing world while forcing us to consider what we lose along with that change. It also pushes us to consider the complexity of leadership, community, justice, and what it means to respect our fellow humans. It is not hard to understand why it is considered by many as one of the most important 100 books of all time. ~ Lisa Cadow
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019) – Ms. Thomas’s second novel for Young Adults proves she is not a one hit wonder. Once again, she handles tough topics such as teens figuring out who they are, race, stereotypes, violence, and addiction with compassion and fearless honesty. In this outing, 16-year-old Bri wants to rap and be a rap star more than anything – including doing well on the ACT to ensure she enters an amazing college. But, any progress at all is hard when your dad is long dead from gang violence, your mom just lost her job and is working to remain eight years sober, there is no heat in your house or food in the fridge, and the only job your brother, the brilliant college grad, can get is delivering pizzas for money your family desperately needs. Due to an incident at school, and other conspiring events, Bri finds herself going viral and being unfairly viewed as a hoodlum. The question for her becomes – what if a being a hoodlum helps you make it? ENJOY!
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee (2019) – A great book for younger readers (perhaps 4th-8th grade?) that helps them understand Black Lives Matter, while also providing insights into navigating middle school, friendships, teachers, and the ever-evolving process of figuring out exactly who you are. Ms. Ramee’s main character, a 7th grade African American girl named Shay, hates to get in trouble, doesn’t understand her older sister’s insistence being black is embedded in certain traits, and honestly really just wants to get out of Middle School with her friendships intact, her grades their usual A+ level, and ideally with a cute boyfriend. The world is conspiring against all her wishes, and her hand is forced when a local white police woman is acquitted for shooting a black man. Shay will make you assess what is important for you to stand up for, how your unique traits will manifest your stand, and ideally to actually stand up for something. I hate to compare it to The Hate U Give, but Ms. Ramee’s debut novel is reminiscent of Ms. Thomas’s unflinching look at what it is like to be a Black adolescent in the USA today, and that is high praise. ~ Lisa Christie
Well That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey (2018) – Our nonfiction review highlights Ms. Ramsey, of MTV fame, who uses her book to explore the lessons of her life as a social media star and activist. She discusses how her life changed dramatically once her YouTube video “What White Girls Say . . . to Black Girls” went viral — twelve million views viral. She is simultaneously funny and serious about the importance of social justice, and what we can all do better in our efforts to help others. A great book for anyone in your life who would like to see their passions and messages spread. A great reminder we can all do a better job communicating. And just a lovely look at someone who would probably be very fun and enlightening to have as a friend, and who inspires us all to do more.
~ Lisa Christie
And now the Audit Results...
During the twelve months since our February 2018 audit, we reviewed 202 (up from 164 reviewed last year) authors.
The fine print for this audit: We did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections. We also excluded books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors. Although we know some of the authors we highlighted identify as members of the LGBTQ community, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to economic class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race/ethnicity.
Some significant numbers from this latest audit: Women authors were 55% of the authors we featured. 32% of all authors we featured were white women from the USA, and 8% of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA. 4% of our featured authors were Latinas and 6% were Asian women; and, 12% of the authors were Black women from around the world.
There was slightly less diversity of country and ethnicity in the men we reviewed. Almost a quarter (23%) of the authors we featured were white men from the USA. 8% of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA. 7% of the authors were black men (from anywhere in the world). Very few authors we featured were Asian men (fewer than .5%) or Latinos (2%) or Middle Eastern men (2%).
Adding men and women together, 36% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color. Within the white authors there was some geographic diversity — a quarter (26%) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA (mostly Canada, the UK, Australia, Sweden). The largest group (13% of total authors reviewed) of authors of color were Black.
To sum, while we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 36% of authors in 2018, 32% in 2017, 26% in 2016, 23% in 2015 were persons of color — the fact remains that over half (64%) of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were white authors. And while we are curious if our percentages are greater than the percentages of authors of color who are actually published in the USA each year (as this affects the pool from which we can select books), once again, we vow to review a greater diversity of authors.
Happy Black History Month.