Books that Influenced how I Look at Diversity Today

The 2016 Presidential Election

Two weeks have passed since Election week. 

I purposefully avoided the political maelstrom that swept all forms of social media since Tuesday, 11/8. Even now, I'm hesitant to say anything at all, for fear it might be misconstrued by either side. This is a difficult time - for everyone.

You might have noticed that I haven't been as active on this blog in the last month or so... Given the state of current events, I felt like a hypocrite writing about crafts or books or music or ANYTHING. Trust me, I tried. I opened a blank word document three or four times, wanting to write something - ANYTHING - to release the emotional pressure that has built up over the last few weeks, only to delete my lousy attempts.

Ironically, the one thing I didn't want to write about was the election. I don't want to tell you who I voted for. And I don't want to discuss policy or partisan ideals. 

Here's why:

I 100% believe in the power of free speech. But... I also believe in respect for others. In empathy. And compassion. As an artist, musician, writer, and - most importantly - a professor, I have an ethical obligation to maintain a strict sense of professionalism in all aspects of my life. What kind of example would I set for my students if I refused to abide by the same set of principles I required in my classrooms? 

So instead... I stayed silent. Waiting until the proverbial dust had settled. Or at least enough for me to feel comfortable publishing this article.

Today's post does cover a popular topic from this year's election - but in a very nerdy, bookish way.

Which, in my opinion, is the very best way of all. ;-)

Diversity in Literature

Diversity has been a key contention in this year's presidential election, all forms of media exploiting candidates' views on gay rights, women's reproductive rights, immigration, foreign policy, religious freedoms, etc.. And as I reviewed the last few months, I realized that my opinions on these issues were surprisingly decided. I had been walking through life as a no-longer-young adult - trust me, it's still an odd feeling - with firm beliefs in race, gender, equality, etc. without really realizing how I'd gotten there. 

All of us have normal factors that shape our world views: upbringing, regional ideals, geographical location, experiential elements, religion, etc. 

But thinking back to some of the books I read as a child - and some as an adult - it became obvious that much of what I read had snippets of diversity smattered throughout - ideas on religion, gender roles, race, LGBT, socioeconomic division of class... 

So... I wanted to share this list with you!

 Hopefully you've read or heard of these titles. If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts!


1. A Time to Kill by John Grisham


Summary: The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young men. The mostly white town reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle and takes matters into his hands.

For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client's life...and then his own

*Adult content - caution for younger readers!

2. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Summary: Set during an 1832 transatlantic crossing, Charlotte begins her trip a prim schoolgirl returning home to her American family from England. From the start, there is something wrong with the Seahawk : the families that were to serve as Charlotte's chaperones do not arrive, and the unsavory crew warns her not to make the trip. When the crew rebels, Charlotte first sides with the civilized Captain Jaggerty, but before long she realizes that he is a sadist and-- despite being the only female aboard--she joins the crew as a seaman.

*Great read for young girls - introduction of stereotypical gender roles

3. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Summary: In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building.  In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.

*Memoir: prejudice, anti-semetic themes

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Summary: Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up.

*Fiction: race, socioeconomic class

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Summary: Charlie is a freshman. And while's he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. He's a wallflower--shy and introspective, and intelligent beyond his years, if not very savvy in the social arts. We learn about Charlie through the letters he writes to someone of undisclosed name, age, and gender, a stylistic technique that adds to the heart-wrenching earnestness saturating this teen's story. Charlie encounters the same struggles that many kids face in high school--how to make friends, the intensity of a crush, family tensions, a first relationship, exploring sexuality, experimenting with drugs--but he must also deal with his best friend's recent suicide.

*Young Adult novel - read last year, themes of LGBT & gender

6. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Summary: The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it -- from garden seeds to Scripture -- is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

*FAVORITE BOOK! Explores themes of race, cultural prejudice, politics and religious freedom

7. The Help by Kathryn Stockett


Summary: Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who's always taken orders quietly, but lately she's unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She's full of ambition, but without a husband, she's considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town...

*Fiction: race, gender roles, socioeconomic division of class

8. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Summary: In a matter of moments, Etta, a talented teenage violinist in New York City, goes from making her concert soloist debut to finding herself prisoner aboard a ship in the distant past. It turns out she is descended from one of a dwindling number of time-traveling families who manipulate history in an ongoing fight for power and influence. The captain of the ship, Nicholas Carter, was hired to retrieve Etta and bring her to the head of the most powerful family. Together they must travel across the globe and through different time periods in search of the long missing astrolabe. 

*YA novel, more recent read for me - time travel explores concepts of race and gender

9. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare


Summary: This novel tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin—a fierce, hotheaded young man bent on revenging his father’s death by forcing the Romans from his land of Israel. Daniel’s palpable hatred for Romans wanes only when he starts to hear the gentle lessons of the traveling carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. A fast-paced, suspenseful, vividly wrought tale of friendship, loyalty, the idea of home, community . . . and ultimately, as Jesus says to Daniel on page 224: “Can’t you see, Daniel, it is hate that is the enemy? Not men. Hate does not die with killing. It only springs up a hundredfold. The only thing stronger than hate is love.” A powerful, relevant read in turbulent times.

*Excellent read for younger readers - religious freedom, prejudice, and social bias