Do you make new resolutions?
I try, and start with the best of attentions, but yearly goals usually just aren’t for me. But this year was different.
Back in November, in response to the American election, I sent this email. The gist of it was that hate and fear come from not understanding people different from ourselves, whether they’re from a different race and culture, or a different sexuality.
And taking a look at my own reading habits, I found I’d read mostly white gay male romance. I’d completely I’d completely neglected, well, the rest of the LGBTQ spectrum, not to mention different races, cultures and abilities.
So in the tradition of Gretchen Rubin, I set myself a year-long challenge.
Each month, I’d read at least one diverse book.
- My rules were lax. The chosen book could be:
- Any genre, including my twin loves of romance and fantasy
- Either #ownvoice or by allies
- Had to either be on the LGBTQ spectrum, or represented another race, culture, disability, or neurodivergent
- Read into the next month (but it only counts for the original month)
I ended up reading 20 books, most of which I really liked. And I’m so glad that I opened up my reading a notch, although admittedly, looking at my best of list, I still have a ways to go.
My Best Diverse Reads of 2017
So, if you’d like to try this challenge this year, or just want to read something different, here’s my top picks (in no order):
City of Hope and Ruin by Kit Campbell and Siri Paulson (Lesbian Fantasy)
After generations of struggle against monsters, soldier Theosophy discovers a world outside their City dimension — and an alluring but naive girl she meets there could save them all.
This LGBT fantasy took me two tries to get into, but that’s nothing against the story. I wasn’t in the right mood the first time. I particularly enjoyed how both protagonists are so driven and certain of themselves, yet naive in their own ways (a perfect example of new adult characters), although I still question just how much they could actually fall in love with each other when they’d had a total of thirty minutes together during the book. The two authors take their time drawing out the mystery and will keep you guessing.
If you love LGBT fantasy, then you’ll like City of Hope and Ruin.
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson (Gay/Africa)
Aqib meets a beautiful foreign soldier by moonlight — a meeting that was supposed to change his life.
Kai Ashante Wilson has won so many awards, and it’s no secret why. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of him before. Between developing fantasy out of African cultures (as opposed to Europe), and his literary-like writing, he creates bold, beautiful if bittersweet stories. I highly recommend this novella, and if you like it too, try his sword-and-sorcery fantasy Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant (Trans Male)
I’ve raved about this one before, and I’ll rave it about it now.
Unable to bear his life as Wendy Darling, Peter Pan returns to Neverland to his old, better life.
But everything has changed, even how he feels for his old nemesis Captain Hook. At 164 pages, Peter Darling seems like a quick romance, but it’s so much more. We’re talking a theme so deep and skillfully woven that it resonated with me for weeks. We’ve all experienced life so unbearable that we need to run away. Is that really so wrong?
Dreadnought by April Daniels (Trans female Superhero)
Danny has a blessing and a problem: she’s finally become a girl, but she also inherited the powers of the world’s most famous superhero.
As an action-adventure superhero and young adult story, this story is well worth a read on its own. It’s light and funny and takes a look at what life for civilians in a superhero world is really like. The trans story makes this a must-read. Among the usual transphobia/homophobia, the author introduces radical feminist transphobia. I don’t know GreyWytch, Danny has been brought up to think she’s worthless; isn’t that the quintessential female cultural experience you say she lacks?
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King (Native American/Aboriginal History)
Thomas King is an amazing writer. I first encountered him in English 101 in university, with one of his short stories as required reading. Many people in the class didn’t get it (there’s no quotation marks, they cry — it’s supposed to be spoken aloud because its oral storytelling tradition). He has this dark humour that I can’t get enough of. (Such as how the Nazis ruined eugenics for everyone.) King doesn’t hold himself up to the rigorous standards of historical research, but it’s still more about Native American/Aboriginal history than most people will ever know.
(I also suggest the Great Course’s Native Peoples of North America, which is amazing. Instead of the tragically inevitable vibe when this was taught in school, they explore history from the native perspective up to the modern day. They’re not dead, not gone, and their fate was not inevitable. They were actors in their own lives, not victims.)
Femme by Marshal Thornton (Gay Romance)
Okay, this wasn’t technically one of my diverse reads (or at least not the one that checked the box). It’s a) about white gay men b) set in California and c) is totally a romance. However, one of the protagonists is femme, the kind of guy who wears high heels and short shorts, who always has a sarcastic and biting comeback. The kind of guy writers are warned against creating because they’d be perpetuating a stereotype. Both romance readers and other gay men reject them, because they’re seen as ridiculous, not sexy. Except then, these absolutely real guys, either find themselves represented as the flat, cliched joke, or not at all. (And if they are included, your first thought is ‘stereotype’.) So that’s why I’m including Femme on this list, because it helped me open my eyes to the strength and beauty and sexiness of femme guys.
Also, Marshal Thornton is hilarious. I usually shy away from comedy-focused books, but he made me laugh all the way through. (Fun fact: if someone tells you they’ve slept with over 5,000 people, and they’re only 30, they’re lying.)
Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg (Bisexual)
After a confusing semester of falling in love with his male best friend, Ben believes he’s returned to normal — but whose ‘normal’ is it? It’s certainly not Ben’s.
In this controversial sequel to the young adult Openly Straight, Bill Konigsberg continues to explore what labels mean to us, but this time how we allow others to place labels on us. I related to Ben’s inner struggle with ‘not good enough’ and ‘not living up to expectations’. If you love YA, high school norms and figuring out who you really want to be, then you will love Honestly Ben. (But read Openly Straight first!
As Daniel Shroeder struggles to keep his dream-crafting business afloat, he meets the man of his dreams. But is he just a figment of his mind, or might he actually be real?
But I can’t tell you the reason why this series is on this list (particularly, book 2). It will spoil the ending. You’ll just have to trust me that it’s diverse. What I can tell you is that I loved the surreality of the crafted dreams, or mnems as they’re called in the book. Daniel and I are never quite sure if he’s experiencing real life, or a mnem, or something in between.
Am I taking this challenge again? Not exactly. I have a bit of a different challenge planned for this year, starting around May, but more on that later.
What were the best books you read in 2017? (Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you choose only one 😉 Share with us by commenting below. I’d love to know.