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The Benefits of Reading Diverse Books

Reading Diverse Books
Have you ever read a book and thought, "Wow, I really relate to this character” or “this character is just like me”? Oddly, at one point in your life as a reader, you’ve related to a character to a certain degree. It may have been that you connected to how they coped with anxiety, or maybe it was how they were obsessed with being organized, or perhaps you both came from a similar background. Books with characters of diverse backgrounds and personalities allow more readers to feel seen and understood - something that is incredibly valuable for a good reading experience, but also for a reader’s mental health.

Broaden your perspective

"When we expose ourselves to new foods, books, visit new countries (if we can’t afford to travel, perhaps new parts of the city or country we already live in), we are expanding our understanding of people and the world,” author Jackie Khalilieh told me in an interview.She's the author of "Something More," a forthcoming teen romance novel featuring a Palestinian-Canadian girl trying to hide her autism diagnosis while navigating her first year of high school.There are numerous benefits to reading books that show diverse perspectives and backgrounds. One of the more obvious ones would be that you will learn from these characters and the author. No matter what, reading will broaden your understanding of the world around you. If you are not part of this community, reading about it will provide valuable insight to understand it better and its members. If you are part of this community, you may still learn new things about it that you weren’t aware of before. No one is identical. I’m someone who deals with anxiety. Thus I can consider myself part of the community of people who struggle with anxiety, but my anxiety is not the same as anyone else’s - it is unique to me. So, there is no limit to how much I can learn about this community.  

Increase your sense of belonging

Diverse books help everyone feel like they belong, humanizing people that are traditionally marginalized in our society.It is essential to have various authors from the same community writing their own stories. While the two authors could be part of the community of anxious people, the way they write about anxiety or panic attacks can be vastly different. Having both options allows for a broader audience to feel seen and, in a way, a part of this community. “When you think about reality shows, the premise generally is to bring people from all walks of life into this one shared situation and to watch how it all unfolds. Time and time again, viewers see how polar opposites come together, bonding over similarities that they weren’t expecting," Jackie Khalilieh told me in our interview.

"In the end, it’s not about where you come from or what your abilities are, it’s about who you are as a person and connecting on a human level.”

We need to fight for more diverse books in our communities. Encourage your local booksellers to highlight diverse books by, for example, creating displays celebrating the diversity of authors and commemorating important months such as Black History Month, Autism Awareness Month, and so on. 

Representation matters!

“As a young reader, I didn’t even look for books with Arab protagonists. Because one, I didn’t think they existed and two, if they did, the stories would likely be about 'being Arab' and what that means, and less about the growing up, coming-of-age experiences I longed to read about," Jackie Khalilieh explained."I’m also autistic (but I didn’t know), and I was drawn to certain types of characters. Girls who had big mouths and weren’t afraid to speak their minds. Every book I love features a character that mirrors an aspect of my life or personality. And they’re also very different because it’s hard to find a character who fits exactly who you are when you’re Palestinian-Canadian and autistic," she concluded.

"That's when the magic happens for me as a reader. I can relate, but I can also grow as a person with greater understanding for what other people experience.” 

Finding yourself on the bookshelf

I think the very first book I read where I truly felt like my anxiety was seen and accurately represented was A Brush With Love by Mazey Eddings. I first read ABWL when it was released in March 2021, and when I came across the descriptions of Harper’s anxiety, I had to pause and regather myself. I’d read books that discussed anxiety and panic attacks before this one, of course. But I’d never felt such a strong surge of emotions while reading because it made me feel like it was okay to go through such events in my life that it happened to others out there. It encouraged me to talk about my mental health more often and be more open with others. "Even if we read diverse books, it’s important to note that if you’ve read one book with an autistic main character, that’s one experience you’re reading about," Jackie Khalilieh told me in our interview.. "Same goes for being Palestinian-Canadian. Jessie’s Arab family may not match another Arab family, but that doesn’t make the representation wrong or bad, it just makes it different. Which is why the more diverse representation we have, the better. There’s no quota; no two stories will be the same." 
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