READING IN COLOR

I recently had a discussion with one of my best friends. She is one of the most avid readers that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Her appetite for reading, exceeds my own – that’s saying something. I (like other readers that know her) seek her opinion when they are looking for a specific type of book. They know that her knowledge about fiction – and specifically romantic fiction is trustworthy and her reviews are honest. Indie writers seek her out to beta-read because her opinion is valuable. Recently, my friend suggested a book to me and for the first time, I was hesitant to accept her recommendation.

My friend, my sistah found my resistance silly and not based on any specifics about the story. It frustrated her that I wouldn’t read it. It was afterall a love story. My objection was that neither the author nor the characters were “of color” and more to the point: This book was written by a caucasian man, and there were NO people of color mentioned in this story at all. I eventually read the book and I have to admit, it was a decent love story. BUT – I READ IN COLOR!

Those that know my background would probably scratch their heads and wonder why I was resistant to reading a book written by a “white man”. I am a mulatto. My mother is white and my father is black. “Is she denying her heritage?” NO! I’m not. I love my mother and her background is a part of my background. I’m as much my mother’s child as I am my father’s. Have I never read a book by someone other than an African-American or some other minority author? I’ve read many, I’ve been reading for over 45 years! Up until I was introduced to AA Romance, and IR Romance, I read pretty much whatever looked interesting – and I’ve always been an avid reader. But I’ve ALWAYS had my personal list of favorite authors and I admit that most at the top of my list are African American and they wrote African American fiction. I’d never read romance before I was introduced to AA Romance because I couldn’t identify with the heroine or the hero. Not my cup of tea.

Let me try to explain my reasoning: Over the years I’ve read many, many books. Most of the books up until about 4 or 5 years ago were written by a myriad of authors, admittedly mostly caucasian. I’ve read some great books. Wonderful stories. Here’s the deal though: The books I love most are the characters I can identify with. No, I’m not every woman and there have been more than a few AA female protaganist that I didn’t like or didn’t feel I had much in common with; lived a lifestyle that I couldn’t identify with, whether that was a super rich diva or a straight outta the hood hoochie. That isn’t what this is about. It’s about seeing folks that look something like me, have a commonality in their life experiences (yes I am the child of a white woman – but I am an African American) and more importantly, this is about SUPPORT. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that it is my responsibility as a reader and lover of African American fiction to support “our” authors. If we don’t who will? I have a special affinity for Indie writers. If you pop over to Amazon and read the reviews for the book that I finally “gave in” and read, you’ll see that book had more than 2000 reviews. Two thousand!!! Most of the authors I’ve read – even the most popular ones have at most 200 – and that’s a SUPER popular book to have garnered that many reviews. Some of the writers I love the most have the least reviews and yet, I’d read their books over that guy with the 2000 reviews in a New York minute! I look at my Kindle content and I have over a thousand books. I’ve read most of them – and more importantly, I’ve paid for most of them. I love my people and more importantly I love it when I can lose myself in a story when I identify with a history that I too share and I can do that AND support their creative endeavors.

People may take issue with my stance regarding my reading preference because it is their argument and belief that it doesn’t matter who wrote a book, as long as it’s a good book. I’ve heard that you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an AA story and a “mainstream” story – that the characters in the stories should be interchangeable and you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. That may be true to some extent as well, but personally, I like stories that involve “markers” that distinguish them specifically as having folks of color. We are the same and yet, we are different. I don’t say or mean that in a polarizing way, but in a loving way and in acknowledgement. I READ IN COLOR.

15 thoughts on “READING IN COLOR

  1. What am I supposed to do with you? ☺️You make a good argument Muh jr. I guess I was hoping there was one place in the world where the color of our skin does not matter, I thought a book was a good place to start.

    • C’mon Deloris! You know me better than that. I too would love a place where color doesn’t matter and honestly, books are a great place to make that happen. Unless of course you are me and you like seeing the subtle differences people of color make to a story you are reading. For me, I relish a good story, no matter who’s written it, but I like it all the better when I feel I can identify with a character with a more “personal” connection. No doubt it’s a personal “quirk” but I like what I like…Thanks for always having my back!

  2. Sabrina, I read in color too. I do however branch out occasionally and have been pleased with many stories that were given to me without color. But… I imagined color while I read. Not sure there will ever be a cure for my affliction of loving, loving in color. And if there were a cure, I’d reject it. Love the post.

  3. Thank you Aja! I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one with this particular “affliction” – but even if I was, it would be ok. We like what we like and we identify with what is familliar. It’s neither good nor bad, it just is what it is. Thank you for stopping by!

  4. I remember a sign in a library when I was a child, “A book is a boat” or some similar phrase. The point is that we are taken away when we read the words of someone whose experiences are different from ours and this causes mental and emotional growth and expansion. For example, my favorite book in the world is an out of print paperback called Child of the Dark, the diary or Carolina Maria de Jesus, published in 1960 in Brazil. This writer’s story captivated me. She was black; I am white. She lived in a favela in Sao Paulo; I live in a lower middle class neighborhood in Los Angeles. We almost could not be more different and yet, as women, mothers and fighters for change, as strugglers for survival, we are sisters. She is my inspiration forever. She made me think, grow, appreciate my privilege, gain a better understanding of the world. And then there are Caroline See and Amy Tan, whose stories of the Chinese experience, both in China and in America, gave me such incredible entertainment and a feeling of warmth and recognition of the plight of women in this world, set in a different culture. There are some wonderful writers from Puerto RIco and the Caribbean whose stories have opened new worlds for me. I dearly love to climb aboard that boat and venture forth. But then, that is my nature – to explore, to try to experience the world through the eyes of others. For other readers, the comfort of familiarity is more attractive. Our preferences in reading seem to mirror our preferences in life. It reminds me of our traditional family Thanksgiving dinners. Every now and then, I’d like to slip in a new dish or alter one that we have had for 30 years straight. There are other family members who writhe in discomfort at this and heartily protest the slightest change. The important thing is that we are all sitting down together at our holiday table. Or sitting down alone with a wonderful book.

    • Hi Patty,
      I responded to this post last week – not sure what happened to my response but that just gives me the opportunity for a redux! I remember that book Child of the Dark, it was an amazing read for all of the reasons you stated, as were the books by Caroline See and Amy Tan. I love learning history from women of different cultures because there is always something I didn’t know. More importantly, I think you’re right about our preferences in reading mirroring our preferences in life. I love good AA love stories with strong black men and women, living life and loving each other. I love stories that talk about things that I know about as an African American woman because they are things I grew up learning and there were not a lot of books that spoke to me and my experience growing, so I relish the intimacy (for lack of a better word) that these stories share with me. I love you Mom, don’t mess with Thanksgiving dinner…

  5. What I love about this, Sabrina…is that the HONESTY, THE TOTAL FROM THE HEART sound of this resonates in my heart even tho i’m totally white, russian jewish. I will reach for stories that describe life in Israel even though I’ve never been there. Holocaust stories scare the hell out of me….i know coulda been me….my little fat ass in the ovens. Anyway, I read whatever moves me and many times, it’s a woman’s story out of Africa, South America, early London, Russia…..etc. But I applaud your blog…..and your ability to stand up and say it like it is. THANK YOU…….Bev…..

  6. Amazing piece, Sabrina. Thank you for sharing it. This excerpt of your blog in particular resonated with me: “I’ve heard that you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an AA story and a “mainstream” story – that the characters in the stories should be interchangeable and you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. That may be true to some extent as well, but personally, I like stories that involve “markers” that distinguish them specifically as having folks of color.” I’ve heard the same thing and when you talked about ‘markers’ it was as though you jumped right into my head. I write in color, but don’t as often read in color for some reason, and largely because for years I couldn’t find people of color to whom I related in popular fiction. Now, in large part thanks to that friend you mentioned, I’m discovering new ones. Being unable to find people like me in books was, as a reader, frustrating and difficult because race and racial identity are important to me — to think, read, write and talk about. So I try to write with those markers, without making the characters into a caricature of their race (or any other type of caricature for that matter). I know what it’s like to be an avid reader who does not see herself often represented in the fictional worlds they visit, so you inspire me to do my small part to support more AA writers, help create buzz about their work, so others don’t experience the same frustration. I still read everything, but I like knowing I have the choice now. Sometimes I just want to visit “my” folks. Makes you wonder doesn’t it? How many more young kids of color might read that much more avidly if they saw themselves in the amazing stories they’re being asked to read in school?

    • Thank you so much Nia! I’m thrilled to know that this post resonated with you. Growing up, I read quite a bit, and really a pretty vast variety of books. My mother (who’s comment is below) was a wonderful “guide” and gave me the freedom to read what I wanted from a pretty early age. Even with that freedom, there weren’t a lot of books that were written by African Americans that resembled (for instance) your characters. Btw, Lorna, Riley’s mother is probably my favorite. I appreciate that you totally “get” point of this post. Our friend, is working on us all little by little but, I’m resistant for a reason and it’s the same reason that you’ve given here. For a very long time, there weren’t a lot of relatable folks that looked like me that were characters in books. When I read James McBride’s Color of Water, I vibrated with happiness because his family resembled mine. Please keep writing in color, Nia – even if our friend lures you to read otherwise 🙂 Thank you for stopping by!

  7. Great post Sabrina. And Nia’s right it was thought-provoking. It reminded me that I stopped reading the romance genre per se when I first went to college. What was out there at the time wasn’t ambiguous in its diversity. It was all white, all the time. It was also pretty corny and often sexist. I had actually started having a romantic life by then and thankfully it was completely different than reading about it. When I started reading romance again last year I read hundreds of books before I felt the frustration of not seeing my face or hearing my voice in any of the books. I think that was because I was so astonished at how the genre itself had change, expanded, and taken root. Then I did my research and one clicked on Maureen Smith, Sienna Mynx, and Pepper Pace all in one week. My life hasn’t been the same. What resonated for me in your post was the 2000 vs. 200 book reviews ratio and what it really means. Like your friend I prefer to read in every color without discriminating. I’m also empathetic like your Mom and really enjoy occasionally thinking and living in someone else’s life that I have no frame of reference for. But those numbers still get to me and to know that there is a whole world of books that are inherently marginalized because of color is in a word, vexing.

    • Thank you Lily! I’m happy and inspired that this piece resonated with you. I too know the frustration of reading and looking for someone in a story, only to find that apparently, the writer wasn’t familiar with people of color. The world they created did not include ANYONE that looked reomotely like me. When I was introduced to Brenda Jackson, Beverly Jenkins and Francis Ray, it was as if someone opened a side door to a magic kingdom that looked like the best amusement park I’d ever been invited to! I was SO happy! That you found Maureen Smith, Sienna Mynx and Pepper Pace all in the same week must have been the most exhilarating and exciting experiences! Any one of them individually would have made me happy. But the review situation, ahh yeah…it bothers me, alot. Especially when I know that I’m guilty of not getting my reviews up in a timely manner. Seeing the 2000 reviews for that book and looking at ANY of the book reviews for the authors that include folks like me in their work and I realize that I’ve got to do better. Thank you for stopping by Lily, I appreciate the support.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s