About a year and a half ago, I listened to an episode of Writing Excuses called “Reading Outside the Box” in which Mary Robinette Kowal gave the following “homework” to listeners (paraphrased):
Look at your bookshelf. Determine the type of author you tend to read. Then spend a whole year reading books that don’t fit that type.
So, for example, if you’re mostly reading male authors, for a year you read female authors. If you’re mostly reading white authors, for a year you read authors of color, etc.
I didn’t have to look at my bookshelves to know that I read a lot of white women. A fair amount of white men, too. And mostly Americans.
I immediately wanted to dive into this “homework”/challenge, but I didn’t feel like I was at a place where I could commit a whole year. My son had just turned one, and I was still grappling with this whole “motherhood” thing. My reading (and thoughts) that year were still scattered. I had enough to keep track of in my life. But I knew I would return to this challenge eventually, “maybe when he’s three,” I wrote in my journal.
He is two and a half now, and I’m going to embark on this project for 2020. I’m calling it “My Year of Expanded Reading.”
During my Year of Expanded Reading, I plan to primarily read non-White and/or non-American writers. We moved last January, so when I unpacked my books, I separated out all the books I had that fit the criteria for this challenge and put them on a separate bookshelf. That will be my “go-to” bookshelf after the new year when it’s time to choose a book.
The reason for doing this for a whole year is to really challenge your assumptions about how storytelling is meant to unfold. To expand your horizons. This as an important practice for anyone so that we can stretch our understanding and compassion, but for writers it’s even more crucial not to get stuck within the same old assumptions (and then unwittingly perpetuate them.)
I am both nervous and excited about this project. I hope to blog more about it here as it unfolds.