Nonfiction November: on diversity


Diversity and Nonfiction: What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for? What kind of books besides different countries/cultures do you think of as books of diversity?

Such good questions! I participated recently in Aarti’s Diversiverse, where the challenge was to read books by authors of colour. I ended up posting about 6 books, but these were all works of fiction. And I didn’t give a thought to reading works of nonfiction at all. In other words, I’ve not really given much thought to reading diversely when it comes to nonfiction.

Diverse to me means a variety of things – authors of colour, and international are the first things that come to mind. But it could also mean gender, class, and different life experiences, such as the disabled, different religions, different generations. It is a very tricky thing to discuss, this diversity. I considered giving this week a miss, but it is an important topic, and as I mentioned earlier, I don’t push myself to read diversely when it comes to nonfiction.

So what does diversity mean? Does it mean reading about people different from me? I am from Singapore, my great-grandparents were from China, but I have never been to China nor do I know what it’s like to be Chinese in China.

Or does it mean reading books that are not written by white men? Because it seems that many books are. Of course there is nothing wrong reading books written by white men. As a reader, you are entitled to read whatever you want to! But I guess the point is that as a reader, I want to be reading more widely, to be gaining a different perspective.

Hmm I don’t know whether I’m being coherent….

Perhaps I should just figure out what I am interested in reading!

Here’s one. Southeast Asia.

It might not sound ‘diverse’ – a Southeast Asian reading about Southeast Asia. But it is a very diverse region, of which Singapore is just one very tiny dot and a rather atypical dot at that. And I feel like it’s a part of the world that doesn’t get read about very much. These books have been on my Southeast Asian reading list for a while. And it is time I begin reading some of them.

When broken glass floats : growing up under the Khmer Rouge : a memoir – Chanrithy Him (Cambodia)
First they killed my father : a daughter of Cambodia remembers – Loung Ung (Cambodia)
The Mute’s soliloquy : a memoir – Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Indonesia)
The river of lost footsteps : histories of Burma – Thant Myint-U
From the land of green ghosts : a Burmese odyssey – Pascal Khoo Thwe (Burma)
The unwanted : a memoir – Kien Nguyen (Vietnam)
Catfish and Mandala – Andrew X. Pham (Vietnam)

Another part of the world that I would like to read more about is South America. But I have no idea where to begin. I do realize that saying “South America” is very vague. But I’ll be happy to read about any part of it! I was browsing Goodreads and found some books:


The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba – Julia Cooke
Waiting for Snow in Havana – Carlos Eire
Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border – Luis Alberto Urrea
My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile – Isabel Allende

Of course there are plenty more out there. And if you have any recommendations please let me know!




  1. I have First They Killed My Father waiting for me. But I think I have to be in the right frame of mind for that one. I’m also looking for recommendations for non-fiction that takes place in South America, so I’ll check back to see if anyone is posting a suggestion. I hadn’t even thought of Allende… shame on me. I think I even own My Invented Country.


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