It’s time to shake up your reading list

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As ELLE’s literary editor and as a woman who loves books, I read to explore, to learn and to feel. The problem? Women’s voices are under-represented, under-read, and often unheard? So a lot of the time, I’m only getting some of the story.

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One of the great benefits of reading is that it heightens your empathy, but if you’re only reading about men, or straight people, or white people, your empathy is going to be focused on those experiences. And it’s important to consider race and sexuality and class when we’re talking about this; if you’re interested in feminism and equality then you need to get interested in intersectionality; the way that different oppressions and prejudices interact with each other. 

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In February this year K. T. Bradford wrote a piece for xojane.com entitled ‘I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year’. In the same month Sunili Govinnage wrote a piece about reading only non-white authors for 12 months. Both of the authors drew attention to the fact that unless you are conscious of who produces what you’re reading, the biases in our society will lead readers to more books by men, and usually white men. 

Earlier this year Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie challenged publishers to only publish women in 2018 (the centenary of women over the age of 30 getting the vote) to see if it would affect the publishing landscape and the voices being publishing to challenge ‘our preconceptions of what is unchangeable’. It received a mixed response but independent publisher And Other Stories has accepted the challenge.

While I welcome and celebrate these challenges and special projects, what I’d like to see is a world where the literature we consume come from a diverse range of voices simply because there is an appetite for it. Without having to prove a point. For now, we need to highlight the imbalance by magnifying the problem but we can all make a change today by simply taking some risks with our reading lists.

This isn’t about censoring your Kindle, it’s about making a conscious decision to consume a diverse variety of voices.

Here are a few suggestions from me to get you started -

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A story of race and gender about Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to the US and gains attention for her blog about race in America. You can hear Adichie’s TED talk on feminism sampled in Beyonce’s Flawless

For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu

This debut tells the story of a trans woman growing up in a second generation Chinese Canadian family desperate for a son. A moving look at how class, race and gender intersect. 

I Call Myself a Feminist: The View from 25 Women Under 30

This new anthology is brave, inspiring, angry, funny and hugely important. It reflects the feminism of a diverse array of women including Laura Bates, Reni Eddo-Lodge and Maysa Haque. 

Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

This literary retelling of Snow White comes from one of Granta’s Best of Young British authors, Helen Oyeyemi. Opening in 1950s Massachusetts, it explores identity, gender and mother and daughter relationships. 

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

An iconic collection of fairy tales retold from a feminist perspective, these are dark, unsettling and clever. Carter explores female sexuality and power in new perspectives of stories including Little Red Riding Hood and Bluebird. 


Words by ELLE Literary Editor Anna James

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