Diverse Books: What does that really mean? – Let’s Talk Bookish

Hey all! Welcome back. As always, Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by me & Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

Today’s topic is: What is the Meaning of Diverse Books?

This was my topic and I chose it because it’s been nagging me for the past few months. I’ve been reading a couple of books set in Europe, and every time I want to shelf these books, I hesitate when it comes to marking them as diverse or not. So, I’m very curious to see what you all think and I’ll also talk about how I decide if a book is diverse.

Let’s get started!

Since around July, I’ve been reading quite a bit of historical fiction set in Europe and it’s made me wonder how these books fit into the diversity label.

For instance, I read The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys, which is set mostly in Spain, with alternating POVs between a Spanish main character and an American one. At the time, I instantly shelved it as diverse because it was a totally different culture and language.

A few months later, I read another Sepetys book set in World War II about a Lithuanian girl living in Lithuania and then being forced into a concentration camp (it is phenomenal, I highly recommend it!). When it came time to shelf it, I paused. Was it really diverse just because the MC doesn’t speak English and doesn’t live in the UK or US?

And then that raised a series of questions. Why don’t I consider books set in the UK diverse, if I’m American and have never been to the UK? Are Canadian or Australian books diverse? What about French ones? Is any book that isn’t Hispanic/Latinx, African, or Asian not considered diverse?

And that finally led to the ultimate question: What exactly defines a diverse book?

Most of the times, I automatically include books with Black, African, Latinx, or Asian main characters on my diversity shelf. I also include books with disabilities rep, mental health rep, different religions and sexual orientations, etc. on the shelf. If it’s a fantasy and the author is part of one of the previously mentioned groups then I also include the book on that shelf.

However, when it comes to characters from Europe, I tend to hesitate because they are still White (I think?) even if they don’t speak English. But then I also wonder, doesn’t the fact that they don’t speak English make it diverse? Isn’t that still diverse representation for Europeans who are accustomed to just seeing English speaking characters in books, or characters from “English speaking” countries?

and English speaking is in quotes because most countries do have English as a predominant language besides the main language, but in this case I mean countries like the US

And if you say that language doesn’t really make a book or character diverse, then does that make books set in Spain or with Spanish characters not diverse? Same with Italians. Are they not diverse?

Their cultures are completely different from the “standard” I have issues with this “standard” too; why is it even considered a standard? and so vibrant and amazing, just like any African or Asian culture. If we consider Africans and Asians diverse, then I think non-English Europeans should be considered diverse as well.

Actually, that doesn’t really satisfy me that much. What about Australians or Canadians? They’re different compared to my American self and aren’t usually settings for books, so can’t a book set in Australia be considered diverse since it’s different from the normal standard setting and from my life in the US?

I know. I like to make things unnecessarily complicated.

But these are questions that I really want to know the answers to so I don’t feel weird when I have to shelf a book that isn’t automatically identifiable as diverse.

This Week’s Participants:

Dani @ Literary Lion | Evelyn @ Evelyn Reads | Dini @ DiniPandaReads

Rian @ Dogs and Books

So, what do you guys think? What do you consider a diverse book? Do you consider books written by authors from diverse backgrounds to be diverse even if the book itself isn’t? What are some of your favorite diverse books? I overthink things way too way much, right? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

17 thoughts on “Diverse Books: What does that really mean? – Let’s Talk Bookish

  1. I hope it doesn’t sound racist, but first of all thanks for acknowledging the diversity of European continent! I am an ethnic minority from Russia ( Soviet Union) and this is my take, so to speak. I think it depends on the culture that’s in control of the nation, because all nations, for better or worse are stratified. And it also depends where the reader comes from and their life experiences. For me, I can’t see Western European nor American tales and novels as diverse. But Eastern European tales are diverse and feel like a connection to the past. Maybe it’s because for almost 30 years I lived in America and had Western European novels shoved down my throat, but it’s difficult to see them as different.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is a great discussion! When I think of diverse books, that usually means that one or more of the characters is a POC or some kind of minority. I guess it could also be diverse if the setting is a country other than the US, which is where I live, and especially if the country speaks a non-English language, but I feel like it really depends on the main characters and the book overall. But if I’m saying that the minority main character makes it diverse, does that mean that MCs with disabilities also make the book diverse? I think so, but again, it also depends! I think a lot of things can make a book diverse, but some can be more diverse than others.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting topic. Personally, I’d say we should be more liberal when can call a book diverse. I’m a straight, Jewish, female, born in the USA, and living permanently in Israel. However, the vast majority of my readers are in the US and other English speaking countries (UK, Canada, and Australia, in that order). Technically, if I read a book written by an Israeli, for my readers, that’s diverse. That said, if I read a book about a Christian living in Europe, for me, that’s diverse, but it isn’t as diverse for my UK readers, for example. If I read a book by an LGBT author, even if the book doesn’t deal with gender issues, that’s still reading a diverse author – for me. If we define diverse as “unlike me” then I’d say that 90% of the books I read are diverse, either by virtue of the identity/origins of the authors, or by virtue of where the book takes place! However, I don’t think this is the type of expansive definition that most people would want to promote.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed the prompt this week and even though I’d never really given it that much thought before, it did make me think about how I come to classify books as diverse. I did come up with even more questions while contemplating it, but I think that diversity is so hard to neatly package in a simple box. It’s rather subjective because we all have different experiences and perspectives about what makes something diverse for us. I do mostly look at it from the “standard” that you mentioned though, and whatever is different from that, I would consider diverse (although that’s also really simplifying it lol). Love seeing everyone’s thoughts on this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really nice discussion! I never thought of the language aspect before. To me, a diverse book is one that shows themes which are generally not in the books which are popular or promoted more. I basically second Dani’s comment who has put it in a much better sentence.

    But also, I think the meaning of diverse changes over time. Books that are diverse now may not be as diverse or even come into that category later on because it’s themes have come into normalcy. And that’s the dream, honestly.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. As someone from a non-english speaking country I would not consider books with English speaking characters as diverse, since then every book would be hahah (books rarely take place in The Netherlands haah)
    To me a diverse book/character is someone who is different from me. Generally I would not see someone from Spain as really different from me, unless they have a different sexuality/disability/etc! Although the culture is also quite different so maybe I should?! It is actually quite a hard question to answer!


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  7. I feel like we get European canon shoved down our throats and really don’t consider it to be diverse. I mean, there’s the whole thing with “world history” classes in high school in America being, like, 90% European history, 1 week on Latin America, and 3 days on Asia? one day on Africa maybe? In high school I read Crime and Punishment, which was originally published in Russian, A Tale of Two Cities, which takes place partially in France, Oedipus, the Odyssey, and a bunch of Greek mythology, Hamlet (I believe in Denmark), Diary of Anne Frank (Netherlands) and part of Don Quijote (Spain). Honestly probably more that I can’t think of off the top of my head too. We’re also exposed from an early age to so many European fairy tales (I believe the brothers Grimm were german, Charles perault French, and Hans christian Anderson danish). Meanwhile, the only mainstream Asian fairytale (it’s not even a fairytale, but did get disneyfied!) that people know is Mulan. we learn basically zero fairytales or novels from Asia, Africa, Latin America… but all that knowledge about Europe! so yeah I don’t classify European stories as diverse because they’re the same stories I’ve heard over and over again, and yeah white people are definitely not traditionally underrepresented lmao.
    Super interesting discussion though!! and you raise some good points about cultures different from America, so although I personally wouldn’t call them diverse, you definitely can if you think it’s right for your shelving!!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I’d honestly never thought of books set in Europe being considered as diverse, but I agree with what you said about the cultures being different. It’s a definitely very interesting discussion and something to think about!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I generally consider books diverse from a cultural/experience perspective that isn’t common in English literature. This could be gender, sexuality, race, religion, disability or even just different settings. There are so many different aspects to being diverse that sometimes a book might not scream diversity from the rooftops but still have a main character who is autistic or bisexual and that’s still good diversity.

    Liked by 5 people

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