Meet William Ottens our guest blogger this week! William is the Cataloging and Collection Development Coordinator for the Lawrence Public Library. William is also the author and creator behind the blog Librarian Problems which uses GIF's to humorously identify the funny problems Librarians encounter in their profession. We are super excited to have him share his thoughts this week. You can follow William on Twitter @williamottens
“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” - Malorie Blackman
My junior year at Graceland University, I took an author study course on Toni Morrison, led by Professor Emeritus Dr. Barbara Hiles Mesle. It quickly became one of my favorite classes I’d ever taken. There were no more than fifteen students, and we were tasked with reading and discussing seven of the author’s novels throughout the semester. Aside from the worksheets, tests and papers, it felt much like a book club.
I also appreciated this course because it was the first time I had done an in depth reading in an experience outside of the white, anglocentric focus that typically dominates required high school lists in the United States. It opened my eyes to the value of reading books by and about people who aren’t like me and the importance of the voices of the marginalized.
Toni’s first novel, "The Bluest Eye", tells the fictional story of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who prays for blue eyes and blonde hair. With her dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes, she’s mocked by other children and knows she doesn’t fit in.
Because Pecola, and the other children, don’t have access to dolls, books, magazines, and other media that depict people who look like her, they’ve been led to believe that beauty means whiteness. Beauty means blue eyes and blond hair. This fallacy ultimately leads to the deterioration of Pecola’s mental health.
Moving Beyond the Single Story
"The Bluest Eye" was written published in 1970. Beyond beauty and whiteness, the novel addresses important questions about race, class and gender in a way that an author outside of the black, female experience would never be able to do to the same effect.
While society, media and the publishing industry have made some progress, there’s still a considerable lack of diversity on bestsellers lists and bookstore shelves. Though that’s not to say diverse stories aren’t out there; you just have to do some digging.
In her TED Talk, "The Danger of a Single Story", author Chimanda Ngozi Adichie explains that we risk critical misunderstanding when we hear from one perspective. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”
So how do you move beyond the single story? How do you read outside of your comfort zone? How do you find books written by diverse authors?
As I’m a librarian, that answer comes easily for me: your local library. Whether you live in an urban area or a small town, your public library should be able to provide you access to books (and other media) written from a number of different perspectives and experiences. They might even be able to curate a list for you.
Enduring Principle: Worth of All People
The Community of Christ upholds the enduring principle that “God views all people as having inestimable and equal worth.” It’s easy to claim this, but how do you exemplify this in your day to day lives? How could you uphold this through your reading practices?
Humans are creatures of habit, and we naturally stick to what we know and with which we are comfortable. Even if we aren’t intentionally exclusive, we gravitate toward the familiar because of that internal bias. As I look back at my own reading list, I see that, even with my job and the world’s resources at my fingertips, I’m guilty of this.
It’s not wrong to read what you like, but if you limit yourself to one perspective, how can you learn about and appreciate others? How can you fully know that those who don’t look like you, those who don’t believe the same things you do, those who come from different places, have worth? That is the value of diversifying your bookshelf.
Through listening to and learning about others’ perspectives, we can understand more fully that black lives have worth, that Indigenous lives have worth, that Muslim, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized lives have worth. And through lifting up and supporting those marginalized voices, we can demonstrate this enduring principle.
I want to give a big thank you to William for sharing his wisdom and experience with us about incorporating diversity into our reading. If you have any further questions or comments shoot them our way and I will be sure to have William respond.
This week identify an interesting book written by an author from a different cultural background. Buy it, borrow it, or find it at your local library and get started!
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.
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