It started with a reading challenge. It was 2017: I randomly saw the #AsianLit Bingo and participated without knowing that this challenge would definitely change my reading game. I was a mindless reader before that: riding bandwagons, scouring lists to get the new big title in the market, stuffing myself with mainstream reads. This was a time when I am not truly that exposed to diverse literature. It was the first time that I took a good look at the word “asian” as a determining factor of what I need to read next.
The book suggestion list compiled for the challenge was a gold-mine. Suddenly there’s these endless stories that seem unique but familiar at the same time. I remember being excited to picture rich new worlds, meet new characters – not the cookie-cutter plots and personalities that have too often plagued and filled my head because of the materials I’ve consumed in the past.
And you know what? It was glorious.
WHAT ARE #OWNVOICES BOOKS ANYWAY?
““Own voices” means that if you are writing a main character who is part of marginalized group, you are part of that marginalized group.” — Blue Crow Publishing
I first came across the #OwnVoices movement in this particular challenge. And digging further, along with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, the goal is “to have more diverse, authentic and intersectional representation across the industry”. The hashtag was started by Corinne Duyvis, an own voices author, initially book recommendations for “kidlit with diverse characters written by authors from the same diverse group”. From there, the hashtag took a life of its own – books from different genre being recommended and tagged as such.
I liked the idea: by patronizing own voices, you get a unique experience. It’s a chance to be represented, to be heard and to actually ‘hear’. It’s authentic and not manufactured.
CROSS-CULTURAL IMMERSION THROUGH #OWNVOICES BOOKS
And though own voices books does wonders in discussing and taking into account several minorities in terms of body image, mental health, disabilities etc., what I found pretty fascinating these past few years is the experience of reading authors that seamlessly incorporate their cultural heritage in their books. I remember the feeling when I first read Roshani Chokshi’s short story, The Star Maiden. The familiarity unnerved me and it caught me off guard. And I realized how wonderful it is to capture a specific way of life so accurately.
I am not really a well-traveled person. I don’t meet a lot of new people or go to a lot of new places. Most times, I think the only window I have of the world is the internet and I know it sucks. But then there are books.
Books allowed me to explore places and meet people that I haven’t gone to or met before. I finished Kat Cho’s Wicked Fox last month, and it struck me how easily I can visualize the events as if they are a scene playing just in my head. Even the food, the way people say their expressions, heck I can even hear imagined background music in my head while I was reading it – a product of years of being caught up with Korean dramas and frequent Korean restaurant hopping around my area. I also constantly consume a lot of Japanese media ever since my high school days and there’s this comfort of slipping almost too easily in their world, one that is different than mine.
I read Want by Cindy Pon back in 2017 as part of the #AsianLit Bingo and I really loved it. Then, later that year, I was able to book a flight to Taipei. Instantly, the book descriptions became more alive. It was intoxicating, and it added to the richness of the experience of actually reading the book (I reread it again after the trip, why not?). Because I was able to actually see what I just visualized in my head all this time.
“Walking the streets of Taipei was to feel its heartbeat, to take in the city’s vibrancy through all the senses.” — Ruse, Cindy Pon | This year, I made one of my bookstagram dreams come true: This is Ruse by Cindy Pon (sequel to Want) against Taipei night lights.
But there was also a different case for some reads I’ve had recently. I’ve read Roshani Chokshi’s Gilded Wolves earlier this year, and though I absolutely loved it with all my heart (Enrique, my child!), I will have to admit that there are a couple of moments when I have to stop to google things on the part of Laila’s backstories. The same goes when I read Tomi Adeyemi’s The Children of Blood and Bone last year. With the release of the Hungry Hearts anthology, I was able to make peace with the fact that there’s still so much I need to read and see and understand about other’s culture. And it was such a wake-up call, at least personally.
And now, I embraced carefully researching things mentioned in the book whenever I read a story that is in a place other than mine. I try to understand certain character decisions and actions that are maybe rooted in cultural beliefs and specific societal climate. I also make sure to always incorporate own voices books in my TBR. Not only did I get pretty good book recommendations from all over the place, I was able to make my TBR a more exciting and richer list than it was ever before. I thought gone are the days when you say that being “well read” means you are exposed to the world, to different ideals and different beliefs – now I realize it’s just a matter of choice.
Reading diverse, own voices book can definitely be a measure of how you are exposed to the world. How you know other culture, other way of life. And with every unexplored place – there is a promise of a lot of things you are yet to understand and witness, if only just through the pages of a book.
In supporting diverse, own voices books, you are killing two birds in one stone: handing others a mirror where they can see themselves authentically represented and having others witness a true picture of cultures outside their own. After all, respect comes from understanding others.
Want to find your next #OwnVoices read and explore a new culture? Here are helpful lists:
- #AsianLit Bingo Book Recommendation List
- Asian Readathon 2019 Book Recommendation List hosted by readwithcindy (skip to page 2)
- Own Voices Book Lists by Goodreads
- You could also follow @YearOfTheAsian at Twitter for monthly book recommendation for the ongoing year-round Year of the Asian Reading Challenge
Want to know more about the #OwnVoices movement? You may read the following:
- What does #OwnVoices mean?
- Why the #OwnVoices Movement Is Crucial for Young Readers
- #OwnVoices FAQ – by the creator of the hashtag herself, Corinne Duyvis
So what are you waiting for? Grab a diverse, own voices book or two – it’s the cheapest way to travel.
Augvocate for the Day
Riza is a twenty-something auditor and round-the-clock geek from the Philippines. She loves coffee, stationery and reading to an almost unhealthy extent. In her free time, she tries to write about her thoughts on the things she loves at Pages and Coffee Cups.
This guest post is part of a month-long collaborative series called Augvocacy, which is shorthand for August with an advocacy. Essentially, this project aims to bring together like-minded individuals — be it bloggers, authors, or readers — in actively forwarding a particular advocacy. All contributors to this project are referred to as Augvocates — and each Augvocate will share their thoughts on my blog from the 1st day of August
until the 28th.* Find the rest of the Augvocacy 2019 posts here.
For this year, Augvocacy hopes to discuss and encourage the importance of amplifying Asian voices in books and in media. While this particular call brings attention to the oftentimes-ignored demand for more authentic Asian representation, it also aims to debunk the bigoted view that Asian cultures are a monolith and to shed light on the nuances of struggle, privilege, and identity within and across our own communities. Learn more about Augvocacy 2019 in this post.
* Note: Due to unforeseen delays on my part, the posts for Augvocacy 2019 will keep coming until the 23rd of September! Hence, the new title: #Augvocacy2019 (Extended).
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I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 What are your thoughts on Riza’s article? Do you agree that reading #OwnVoices stories is a bit like traveling the world and immersing yourself in different cultures?
🌻 Have you ever picked up a book by an #ownvoices author? If yes, how would you describe your reading experience?
🌻 What are some of your favorite #ownvoices books?