Changing Your Mind, One Book at a Time

Months ago, I came across an article talking about a study of Harry Potter, and how those that read it tended to have increased levels of acceptance towards people with different backgrounds from their own, as well as a lower inclination for notions of violence.

While books are pretty magical on their own, I’m not saying that people who have read Harry Potter are instantly better human beings than those who have not. While the study is conducted by reputable people, it is also inconclusive because there are about a billion variables at play that could skew results.

But if reading can change a young person’s perspective for the better, wouldn’t reading diverse books be a good way to do it?

At the moment, the issue of ISIS is huge and complicated. While I’m not clear on all the details, I am aware of how society is responding.

Their response is valid of course – the problem is real. But innocent Muslims are getting the short end of the stick when society (not everybody, obviously) starts lumping them all together in a group and then pointing fingers while saying awful things that shall not be repeated here on this blog.

The kind of hate I’ve seen reported of the offenders in the Australian media at the moment makes me mad. Stories of people ripping off Muslim women’s hijabs and getting spat on in public is despicable and it really makes me wonder why they think it’s okay to behave in such a way. I even saw a story the other week about how a school kid asked a classmate if their family were terrorists.

On the grand list of a billion things that are not alright, this is definitely one of them. A kid saying that when they’re young cannot be justified by touting the line: “He’s just a child”. An adult doing these things is even worse because you would assume that they know better.

So how do books come into play?

Education. Information. And just a better understanding of other people instead of alienating them.

People need to step outside their bubble and realise that we’re all human beings. Yes, there are extremists who do the wrong thing, but there’s no need to generalise. For people like me (22-year-old Australian Chinese Girl with a penchant for nachos), I admit to not knowing too much about Muslim culture beyond what the media feed me and through some friends. However, I feel that if more people took the effort to learn about others, they wouldn’t be so quick to judge and that maybe they’ll have a think before spouting off some racist BS.

Especially for children and young adults, this is important. Learning things whether it be from the influence of your friends, family, context, culture or books; they have an effect on you. I know younger people aren’t sponges and that they’re selective and capable of rejecting ideas but also remember that they can also accept them and it’s probably pretty important to foster ideas that are not going to cause awful and negative things like racism.

So after a lot of talking, here’s a short roundup of links that can recommend you some YA books that feature Muslim characters:

Till next time,

Not Another Mary Sue

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What book had a lasting effect on you for the better when you were younger?

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The Best Way to Promote Diverse Books (IMO)

In a society where internet is king and social media is prolific, you would think that the best way to promote diverse books would be obvious. Lots of people and organisations do it this way– We Need Diverse Books has an indiegogo campaign going on at the moment, bloggers talk about diverse titles in hopes of getting people to support and encourage diverse literature and here I am on WordPress and munching on butter cookies pretty much doing the same thing.

But is that the best way to promote diverse books?

Maybe. You might have a bigger reach in terms of audience, but how many people are actually going out there to borrow or buy these titles? Probably a disappointing few.

So my 2 cents? Start small. People don’t achieve world domination in a day and I’m not optimistic enough to think I can influence more than half a dozen people into thinking anything (actually, even six people is verging on optimistic).

Get out there and talk to your friends and family about books you love. Personally, I’m much more likely to read something based on a personal recommendation from a friend because I trust their judgment enough to give it a go. Do the same for diverse titles that you like- Read it, talk about it and pass it on.

Will it become a bestseller because you told everyone in your friend circle to read it? Probably not (unless you’re a mega celebrity and people take your word as law).

But even if it influences just one person’s thought on a topic or shows another different perspective, at least you have made a contribution and that counts for something.

So dear readers, have you ever successfully convinced a friend or family member to read a book you love? Was it well received?*

Till next time,

Not Another Mary Sue

* And isn’t it crushing when you ask them if they enjoyed it when they’re done and they say it was “ok”? Well do you know what else is ok? Me not talking to you for the next few hours. (This is not at all from personal experience…)

A Brief Guide on How to Read More Diversely

In this aspect, I am a huge hypocrite. I am the number one fan of sticking to my favoured genres (sci-fi, fantasy and historical fiction FTW) and my favoured authors. I am hardly one to #readoutsidethebox but I sure would like to change it. If there’s anything other great campaigns on diverse books have taught me, it’s that there’s not necessarily an absence of diverse fiction, but rather it’s not being talked about enough which usually leads to them largely being unknown, which consequently sucks.

"What d'ya mean you don't read diversely?" ft. My Judgmental and Possibly Overweight Cat named Po.

“What d’ya mean you don’t read diversely?” ft. My Judgmental and Possibly Overweight Cat named Po.

So how can you and I read more diversely? Here are some tips (from a complete novice by the way):

  1. Don’t depend on Goodreads

I am an absolute sucker for this one. I read reviews and browse through ratings on Goodreads before purchasing books a lot of the time and it’s a terrible habit. What I should be doing is reading it and then making up my own mind but what I end up doing is setting up expectations pre-read and either not getting the book at all, or being judgmental and nitpicky throughout the entire reading. Of course, Goodreads is still a great site/application. For example, if a book has thousands of reviews and an average of 1 star out of 5, it probably means it’s not that great for a variety of reasons. I also personally enjoy reading hilariously angry reviews by other people but hey, that’s just how I like to spend my Saturday nights.

  1. Have a peek at smaller publishers or authors who self-publish

Many smaller publishers specialise in diverse books or just an array of titles that you may never have heard of in the mainstream book world. Also, many authors choose to self-publish these days to get their books out there without all the red tape involved – google search and have a hunt around blogs and writing communities!

  1. Consider picking up a translated story

Authenticity gets bandied around a lot when it comes to diverse books. Does this author write about this particular culture of group of people well? Is it inauthentic? Or is it *gasp* A STEREOTYPE?! To combat this problem, who better to write a story with a semblance of authenticity to a particular race or culture other than a person from that country/society themselves? It may be hard to track down translated stories but it’s doable and you might discover something amazing (which you can then recommend to me 🙂 )

So, what other ways have you guys found diverse books?

Till next time,

Not Another Mary Sue

Writing Gripes: Physical Attributes

Today, I read an interesting post by Hannah Sutker at The Huffington Post called “Writing and Polite Racism”. Essentially it was about how some writers tend to approach writing race in characters in two ways: (1) Ignoring it; or (2) Watering it down into more ambiguous terms. Since Miss Sutker does such a sublime job at writing her own article, you can read the entire thing here but what I wanted to focus on was point number 2.

In the article, Miss Sutker provides some fine examples of the physical characteristics of ethnic characters being compared to food stuff. A part of me wonders whether it’s because as children we were made to learn poetic techniques (similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia – remember learning these fun tidbits for about 8 years?) and then forcefully inject them into every piece of creative writing we ever did. Did this contribute to the lack of originality when describing ethnic characters? Or is it really like Miss Sutker suggests? That authors “water down” racial character descriptions so as not to draw attention to race itself?

Nevertheless, this is not a topic that I feel like I have an informed opinion on. What I do have an opinion on however, is the bits of racial character descriptions that I see in books that annoy me (but not all are related to food!). Here’s the top 3:

1. “Almond shaped eyes”

A character descriptor most commonly used on characters with Asian heritage. FYI, I’m 100% Chinese and my eye shape does not resemble mildly delicious nuts. Just sayin’.

2. “A halo of frizzy hair”

Usually used when describing a character of African or African American descent. I suppose frizzy hair could be described as a halo if it is gravity defying and surrounding the head, but in my mind it just conjures up images of somebody with a doughnut made of hair that is hovering angelically above.

3. “Chocolate coloured skin”

Again, used to describe darker skin toned people. This isn’t quite as annoying as it is common because I feel like writers could think outside the box with this one because chocolate is not the only thing that is darker in colour. My dislike for this description is very much akin to my dislike for when writers harp on about how “the colour of her eyes were like fresh blades of grass in the spring” but when it comes to brown eyed girls and boys, it’s either “chocolate” or just “dark”. Come on guys, consider putting a little thought into it.

Now I realise that this whole post just turned into me revealing how nitpicky I am, but aren’t all roses flowers? Are Ferraris not cars? And are not blogs essentially spaces for opinion and occasionally ranting?

I’m sorry, I’ll dial back the melodrama in the future but for now, answer me this: What is your biggest gripe when it comes to describing ethnic characters in books?

Till next time,

Not Another Mary Sue

Marty Stu, I Don’t Want You

Dear Marty Stu,

I know what you’re thinking: “Who cares if you want me? You’re one in a billion girls! It’s no loss – there are still plenty of readers to fawn over my good looks and angsty past!”

"What do you mean you don't love me?" Source: cracked.com

“What do you mean you don’t love me?”
Source: cracked.com

Well, yes. You’re right Marty. There will always be readers who love you and your ridiculously handsome face but I for one am looking for someone different. Let’s just say it’s me, not you. You will find the perfect girl one day, but that girl is not me etc.

For those who don’t know, a Marty Stu is the generally agreed upon term for the male variant of the Mary Sue. He’s good looking, he might be mysterious and more often than not, he’s a bit of a noob who does things for the female protagonist because it’s “what’s best for her” (seriously, if you want to know what’s best for her – JUST ASK HER.).

Now, I don’t have anything against good looking people (not many people do, to be honest), but the astounding amount of cookie cutter male characters is starting to grate. Not only do they contribute to the unrealistic expectations of men in general, but it’s just getting so boring.

So Marty Stu, I want you to remember that you don’t always have to be heroic. Everyday people aren’t always heroic human beings and you can let yourself be vulnerable or dare I say it; realistic.

I also want you to know that you don’t have to be a human embodiment of perfection. People are flawed – both in character and in physical looks and that’s a beautiful thing.

And I want you to remember that you don’t need a tragic backstory to be interesting. You could be the most average Joe whose life’s blood comes from getting your morning coffee from the little café down the road. I don’t want you to get confused with the differences between character complexity and having angst for the sake of attracting readers, who then get roped in under the premise that another character can “save you from yourself” or set you on the road to redemption.

But perhaps most of all, I want you to be yourself. You can be a character with your own agency outside your love interest. You can be whatever you want to be without worrying whether you would sell books because there will always be at least one girl/boy out there who loves you for who you are.

So I suppose this is goodbye Marty. I’ve had a good time reading about your perfection but it is time to move on*.

Love,

Not Another Mary Sue

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: From all the books you’ve read, who do you classify as the biggest Marty Stu?

* By move on, I mean talk to me on my Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr! #readoutsidethebox