“Why You Should Read Books from Other Countries” by Natasha Lioe was originally published on capsulebooks.com on September 16, 2019
Without even realizing it, 95 percent of the books sitting on my shelves at home were written by a white male, 3 percent by a white female, and 1 percent Haruki Murakami books (I can’t resist …). How did this happen? I was born in the United States, raised in an area that actually has a large minority population, and taught “freedom” and “equality” as if they were things that every American had. I don’t mean to make books political … but I was unwittingly supporting the idea that white male authors were the only ones who were worth reading. And when I realized this, I knew I had to make a change.
This was around five years ago, and it was something that didn’t sit well with me as I was going through the transition phase. I have always considered myself a “champion” of people of color, someone who breaks stereotypes, is an Asian girl who pursued a humanities degree, and I could go on and on about my self-righteous pedestal and the ridiculous leaden chip on my shoulder. That’s who I was in college, when I realized that I had unknowingly perpetuated a stereotype that worked against myself, an aspiring writer who wanted to make it on a bestseller’s list.
But this is always a marker of change, and growth. An uncomfortable feeling that follows you in everything you do, read, watch, and consume. Since then, I’ve read so many more books written by people of color, both in the US and outside. I was previously uninterested, thinking that I only wanted to read books that could “relate” to me. I used to refuse to read books by Chinese women, because I didn’t want to be identified as an Asian that read Asian stuff. I felt like all Asian books were just about war, or about immigration, and I didn’t want to read it. I knew, already. I rolled my eyes whenever my family would talk about it. I refused to learn my mother’s language. But I was wrong.
Books, written by people who are different than me in some ways, could resonate so deeply with my own experiences and feelings in a way I had never thought possible. It opened my mind to the possibility of more. It made me realize the privileges, the disadvantages, the differences in the way we all experience life, based on our family lives, our cultures in which we grew up, our relationships with others, and relationships with ourselves. It’s something that has affected my everyday life, in the way I go about and relate to the people around me. In having a less heavy chip on my shoulder. In letting others stand on the pedestal. In my more realistic view of white males, not as more intelligent, more eloquent, or more worthy, but just as more privileged.
This experience is why every autumn, Capsule Books released capsules that were usually geographically themed. We included capsules that had books written from Russia, France, and Japan, and our fall 2019 season had books from Spain and Korea. It’s so important to see, and besides important for understanding your place in society, it’s so interesting. I love reading books that have been translated from another language. The rhythm is different because of the linguistic differences, the flow of the words and the words used are slightly different, less American. Even though you’re reading in English, the communication styles are vastly different. And this is something I’ve always been intrigued by. How can we all learn the same language, and yet communicate with each other so differently?
If you want to branch out beyond your usual reading comfort zone, I highly encourage it.
Want to read more about this? I was inspired by this Washington Post article, which is a bit more ethnocentric than mine, and this Literary Hub article about our very “un-globalized” view on literature.