#Diversebookbloggers Feature: The Reading Desk

diversebookbloggers (2)

Back with another #diversebookbloggers feature, this time with Vijayalakshmi from The Reading Desk! She’s one of my favorite bloggers to interact with on social media, and I can’t recommend her enough. Check out her answers to a couple of my questions down here, and read all the way to the end. There is so much discussion that could come from her last response. 

  1. Tell us a bit about your blog! The Reading Desk 2
    There is no defined focus for my blog, The Reading Desk. Blogging is something that I started for fun and to fill time and it is only recently that I’ve started taking it seriously. I try to read and review a lot of different books –anything that catches my attention. When it comes to genre, I prefer mysteries and science fiction. I do read a lot of Indian authors and books about/set in India. I’m not sure to what extent these preferences help to define how my blog has turned out. My blog, like myself, is a work in progress.
  2. What book(s) helped shape you into the person you are today?
    Too many! I am a voracious reader and even more so as a child. I think my love for reading (and writing, by extension) first developed because of Indian children’s magazines and comic books like Gokulam, Chandamama, Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle. My curiosity found focus with encyclopedias like The World Book, the Tell Me Why series etc. These encyclopedias were my most prized possessions as a child and a life saver in a pre-Internet India. I still have those. My love for mysteries and detective stories are thanks to the Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan Doyle and The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. There are many more that I could list, but these are what started me off on my reading journey and life journey.
  3. Which character have you identified with the most? What was it about that character that made it so well done?
    The character I’ve most identified with is Jo from Little Women. I was a lot like Jo as a child –with a love of books and writing and a bit “unladylike”. That streak of individuality and refusal to let her personality be softened is what made this character very real (and dear) to me. I realize now that the book as a whole isn’t very feminist but as a young girl it was nice to see a girl like me in a book (even though of a different nationality and race).
  4. Have there been any characters that you think really missed the mark, and seemed inauthentic?
    The only ones that come to mind at the moment are the Indians from The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I really like the book, but couldn’t get over how badly they are represented. I’m pretty sure there are other characters I don’t like too, but I can’t recall them at the moment. I tend to forget everything about a book or character I don’t like! In general terms, these would be characters that are misrepresented.
  5. Do you think that misrepresented characters are more damaging than the absence of diverse characters altogether?
    Absolutely yes! We don’t just need diverse characters in fiction or TV; we need accurately represented diverse characters. For people who are unfamiliar with the group being represented, this character is their representative of the group. It is easy to assume what is depicted is the truth and that every real person belonging to that group is like the character. This creates bias and prejudice. To those who are already biased, this just becomes further “proof.” Ignorance breeds ignorance, but sometimes ignorance is better than half-knowledge, or incorrect knowledge which can be dangerous. This is what makes #ownvoices so very important. I am always wary of books that are not #ownvoices.
  6. Overall, can you tell us what some of your best reads of 2016 have been? Which books are you looking forward to reading?
    So many great reads this year! I think I most enjoyed reading The Devourers by Indra Das. It is such a high point in Indian fantasy. The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan is another fantastic must read. Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni is another brilliant book. Looking forward, I don’t really keep track of which books are releasing when. My strategy to find new reads is suggestions from #DiverseBookBloggers and aimless browsing in the library. I have a pile of books that I own waiting to be read too! Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Juliet Takes A Breath by Gabby Rivera, Chain of Custody and Alphabet Soup for Lovers by Anita Nair, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley, The Masked City and The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman, The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam, The Wall of Storms (sequel to The Grace of Kings) by Ken Liu –these are just some of the books I am looking forward to reading.
  7. Who are some of your favorite bloggers?
    I love all the #DiverseBookBloggers –they all do such a great job! Naz and Bina especially are so passionate and vocal about reading diversely—they are an inspiration! Rowena always posts some brilliant stuff, and so do you! Vicky and Susan not only write great reviews but also create some amazing bookstagrams. Melanie and Margot have some great tips for bloggers. Chelsea, Nicole, Amal and Janani are awesome too! I could just go on and on. Like I said, all the #DiverseBookBloggers are so great—it’s difficult to choose!
  8. Where can readers find you online? 
    Well, there is my blog The Reading Desk, of course. And I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @GranthaMaven.
  9. Put your best foot forward! What’s your best post thus far?
    I’m not sure it is my best post really, but the post I would like most people to read and discuss is my post on diverse reading in the Indian context. I say this not because I think it’s a particularly brilliant post, but because I don’t see this conversation happening in India and I really think it should be something that people think and talk about.
  10. Anything else you want to say? Take a sentence or two and do it here!
    The Reading Desk 1Thank you for having me as your Diverse Book Blogger Feature! Just one thing I would like to say before I wrap up is to ask everyone who is reading this to take some time to evaluate their reading habits and preferences. I have taken a good, long look at my own reading and have realized that a lot of books and authors I have loved such as Sherlock Holmes, books by Wilkie Collins, R. K. Narayan, Little Women etc., have their flaws. For example, Holmes is racist and women are conspicuously absent from Narayan’s work. I still enjoy reading these books, and they are landmarks of a sort, but I am also aware of where they fall short. It has prompted me to read better and read more diversely. Reading should not be a passive experience; it is a way to engage with the world. Even fiction should teach one something new, and help one develop empathy.

And so concludes another #DiverseBookBlogger feature! I love these because I get such great insight from the bloggers I highlight– this interview was no different in that regard. If you’d like to chat with Vijayalakshmi further, send her a tweet or comment below. Also feel free to drop some other questions you’d like to see other book bloggers answer!

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  1. Fantastic feature! And Vijayalakshmi, your Diverse Indian lit post was totally brilliant! Like you I basically started with detective and adventure stories, with the Famous Five and later Christie. I think your point is essential, so much lit we read was and remains racist and sexist and all the -isms. Somehow I can still read some of Christie’s mysteries. At least there’s tons of used copies around but it’s difficult and I’m working on this. Also, this nostalgia is exactly why in German children’s lit we recently had a huge outcry over blackface and the N word and of course people were arguing about PC ruining everything vs tradition. It’s horrible and really shows you gotta get kids diverse lit or they’ll turn into these horrid adults!


  2. Your questions are so thoughtful and interesting. Another great interview. And I totally dig Vijayalakshmi’s blog.


    1. I’m glad you like them! And she’s absolutely fantastic.


  3. Fantastic interview. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I have definitely run into the same situation… becoming aware of my reading habits and how some of my favorite books growing up are highly problematic or the author has bigoted views towards certain communities. One prime example for me is Orson Scott Card and Ender’s Game. But I agree, we cannot be passive in how we approach these novels and we must be vocal and critical when we cross something problematic. In one of the comments, you mention The Ballad of Black Tom and I really enjoyed the subversion of a story rooted in racism. I still feel in the middle about novels I like but have issues. On one hand the story was gripping and engaging, on the other hand it’s racist, homophobic, and sexist. I don’t think ‘gripping and engaging’ need to be mutually exclusive from ‘inclusion and diversity’ but it seems that way sometimes… We are all on this journey together 🙂 Thank you again!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great interview, and thanks for the mention! I agree that misrepresented characters are more damaging than the absence of POC in literature. It reinforces the stereotypes people already have, making it so much harder to eradicate the bias that causes it and flows from it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for another great interview Whitney! I look forward to reading Vijayalakshmi’s blog. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She’s so great! Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Another wonderful feature blogger! Anyone you feature on BB&GT is an automatic follow for me 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad you like it! Hopefully I keep finding great people to feature!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I loved reading this feature! Thank you for introducing me to a great new blog to follow. (Hi Vijayalakshmi!)

    I have also recently been trying to look critically at some authors that I have always enjoyed. Along with Doyle/Holmes, I’ve discovered that (gasp!) I find Agatha Christie to be a bit of a racist as well. It’s a little disappointing when some of your childhood idols don’t live up to your adult expectations. How do you deal with these discrepancies? Do we say, okay, Doyle was writing almost 100 years ago so we should cut him some slack? Do we boycott his works?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Vijayalakshmi Harish

      Hi Jessica 😊
      It is a terrible disappointment to discover that one’s childhood favourites are less than perfect! I personally expect writers to rise above popular opinion and have a clearer view and so I don’t feel comfortable letting them off the hook just because they wrote in a different time and place. At the same time I’m not in favour of banning books (because that’s a slippery slope and can easily go wrong). There are two ways I can think of to deal with the discrepancies. One is open and honest discussion–not deifying these authors or characters and criticizing them as required. Parents can (and should,imo) discuss the books that their children read with them and take the opportunity to discuss racism, privilege, patriarchy etc. Basically, turn it into a teaching opportunity. The second way is to rewrite these stories while keeping the spirit of the story, but ridding it of the offensive bits–much like The Ballad of Black Tom which is a reworking of one of Lovecraft’s most racist stories. it was a recent read of the #DSFFBookClub and a real eye opener. And not only popular authors, but also fan fiction can play a huge, positive role in this rewriting. That’s my two cents, but I’m sure there are other great ways to manage these discrepancies. I’m willing to learn 😊

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Agatha Christie is totally racist. If you look into the history of And Then There Were None and the different titles, well. That’s all I’ll say about that.


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