Reading Diversely 2016 Check-in

I’ve read 43 books so far in 2016.

23 books by white women

4 by white men

9 by women of color

7 by men of color

That’s about 37% authors of color. And 63% white authors.

Better.

If I look at new books only, that’s 15 books by white women, 2 by white men, and still 9 by women of color and 7 by men of color. So I’m almost 50-50 in the the new-to-me books but when I’m re-reading (for comfort and/or writing books) most of those are by white authors.

Distpatches from Abroad: Mansplaining

“Do you know about mansplaining?” asked the man I was sharing a cab with.

I wondered if the cab was moving too fast to jump out of. But then I’d be stuck in the middle of 6 lanes of Bangkok traffic in 110 degree heat. That was probably worse than a stranger mansplaining mansplaining to me. Probably. “Yes,” I said cautiously.

“I was just about to lecture you on American politics,” (we had been talking politics; he was British, I’m American) “but I thought of the article I just read and I thought I shouldn’t.”

“Um.” It’s a toss up what I hate more: talking about American politics and Trump or the American obsession with guns to non-Americans.

“It would have been so fun. I wish I had never read the article.”

“Is that the attraction of it, do you think?” I asked, somewhat recklessly. Yes, he had resisted mansplaining once and didn’t seem too upset, but I didn’t know him, and who knows what kind of abusive garbage he might spew? But here was a chance to get it from the horse’s mouth, from a man who had brought it up and didn’t seem hostile.

“It’s great to have a captive audience. And women are so polite, they always look interested and it’s a great way to pass the time,” he said cheerfully.

I changed my assessment of his hostility. (My British coworker, when I told her this story, said she thought there might have been a cultural misunderstanding there, that he was probably saying it tongue in cheek. I maintain that even if it was, it was still a hostile thing to say.)

“Hmm.” I sort of desperately tried to make small talk (the code in sharing cabs with strangers seems to be either you talk or you don’t talk. The lapsed conversation feels much more awkward) until I realized was doing the gendered task of keeping the conversation going. I stopped. The conversation lapsed.

I guess he wasn’t very good at conversation now that the crutch of mansplaining had been taken away from him.

 

Terry Gross on the Longest Shortest Time

I thought this interview was kind of boring, in spite of my interest in women’s decisions to not have kids. There were two things that stood out to me, before I shut it off.

Terry Gross says she never felt called to have children. I think that’s a great phrase and I’m going to borrow it because that’s exactly how I feel. Not called. There are things I feel called to do in my life, but have children is not one of them. It’s an interestingly old fashioned way to say something that we think of as very modern.

The other is not so positive. She spoke about being a trailblazer, about being among the first generation of [white] women entering the workforce and having to prove to men that women could hack it. That they could play the man’s game.  I kept thinking about the Audre Lorde quote “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” I can’t help wondering if that’s partly why we’re all still playing the men’s game, men included: expensive child care, very little family leave and what we do have is often unpaid, a lack of flexible work spaces and hours, children still seen as women’s work and not that important work either, etc. etc. The list goes on. That’s just off the top of my head.

I wonder if they [white women] had been a different kind of trailblazers and refused to play the game on men’s terms, where we would be now. If, instead of fitting the mold of the workplace that denies the reality of so many people’s lives outside of it, they had demanded the workplace fit them instead.

Hindsight is always 20/20 of course, but many women of color were advocating for those kind of changes at the time and were ignored by “mainstream” feminism.

It’s possible we’d be worse off. It’s possible we’d be better off. We can never know.

You don’t even have to know how or in what way, but if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.

Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott on lighthouses

Reading Diversely 2015 Summary

My last few posts before my inadvertent blog hiatus were about K.T. Bradford’s article on xojane I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year. My version was to be more aware of what I was reading and to consciously chose to read more writers of color.

I did … not do great in 2015. It would be really easy to kind of slink my way out of saying so and just drop the topic (as with so many intentions when it comes to blogging that kind of disappear). But, I think it’s important to not do that. I consider myself one of those thoughtful, anti-racist white people, and I’m still not doing so great. It takes effort for me to not read just white women with a smattering of white men. I’m not saying it’s hard. This is not rocket science. But it does take change. It does take listening to voices I didn’t realize I wasn’t listening to, just to find the kinds of books that I want to read written by people of color. And sometimes it means reading books that I’m not sure I want to read but trying anyway.

And while I didn’t do great numbers-wise, I noticed that by the end of the year my tastes had changed (not all because of this challenge, but it was one strand in it.) A lot of books felt too much the same to others or too flat. And too improbably white. I also read a lot of fantastic books, the most I’ve ever posted on my my About me page, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many were authors of color.

To the numbers:

According to Goodreads, I read 117 books in 2015.

73 were by white women, and an additional 3 DNF

9 were by white men

25 were by women of color, and an additional 1 DNF

5 were by men of color, and an additional 1 DNF

That’s 85 books by white people or 73%

And 32 books by people of color or 27%

 

Flailing at a blank page

There is something fundamentally wrong with the book writing process. You go from finishing a book, which is at it’s most book-like stage, where you are worrying about commas and word choice, to starting a book, and you’re still thinking of commas and word choice, but you have this big blank page to flail around with and you need to be thinking in a completely different manner than you have been for the last 6 months.

I need a reset button.

Every Heart A Doorway

Given my abiding love for portal fantasy (the first thing I can remember writing is a Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe knock-off, at about the age of 7), I had to read Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire.

I love the concept: a school for children (mostly girls) who have been somewhere else and come back, usually not because they wanted to; a school that helps them cope with having found the place they belong and having had it taken away; a school that gives them someplace to escape the families that want to help them.

I love the inversion of the trope of the portal fantasy. Here is this school full of people who have ALL been somewhere else and come back. It’s not a secret, it’s not a mystery (except in the sense that they don’t know why people travel and how it works). The beginning part was fun-bittersweet for me, a kind of guided tour of what that would look like, of the flip side that CS Lewis and Lewis Carroll never thought of and the sadness and dislocation the Pevensies and Alice must have felt. (I think L. Frank Baum might have done better with Dorothy, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read an Oz book and not just seen a movie.)

But (you knew there was a but coming, right?) this book was so close to being for me and then it wasn’t for me. I could still appreciate it, but I didn’t love it.

It’s too creepy.

A kind of creeping creepiness like spiders crawling on my skin.

I had my doubts about Nancy (the protagonist’s) world, the way you might side-eye the boyfriend of a good friend. “No, he’s great,” she insists but he seems kind of cruel to her and he doesn’t like any of her friends and you wonder if everything is ok behind closed doors. That’s how I felt about Nancy’s world. Maybe it’s ok for her and she really does like that stuff but I don’t and I’m not sure I can trust her judgement.

Jack and Jill and their world are even creepier… and you begin to see my problem.

Kade was a delight though and (minor spoiler) I was happy to see McGuire’s matter of fact portrayal of a boy born in a girl’s body (I don’t think he labels himself specifically in the book).

So this book is perfect for someone else, but not for me.