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.

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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%

 

Reading Diversely–Update

I thought I was doing well. It’s shocking how not well I’m doing at being thoughtful in my reading choices. It’s been a month and a half, more or less, since my last post. Here are my numbers:

48 books read (I’m on drugs after minor surgery. I’m aware my numbers don’t add up, but I can’t make them and I give up)

32 by white authors

14 by authors of color (that’s less than half! better than 20% in Februrary, but I still have a lot of catching up to do)

42 by women

5 by men

If you count the books I have started but not finished but mean to go back to, it’s even worse: 10 books (really?? Who is the midst of 10 books? 3 are poetry collections, if that helps)

All of them are by women.

One will probably be DNF.

4 are by women of color.

6 are by white women.

This is me trying and still reading mostly white women. This is my library not having any poetry collections (on the shelves in front of me the day I went) by any of the black women I looked for (Gwendolyn Brooks, Marilyn Nelson or Maya Angelou). This is all of our book club books this year have been by white people. This is also me deciding to try to read all of Margo Lanagan’s books.

Amazing books by authors of color I’ve read so: Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brisset, Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon, and Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (which is going on my best reads of 2015 list)

Reading Challenge–Reading Diversely

I tried not to look at the other results when I was searching for K.T. Bradford’s article on xojane I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year, but unsurprisingly, it looks pretty bad. Mostly I wanted to do this for my own information, but now I don’t mind adding my noise against the ignorant, the racists and the sexists.

Last year, I recorded reading 76 books. I know I read more like 120 books, but I get lazy and I read fast and I forget what I read. Which is why I want to write down what I’ve been reading in the first place. Anyway. Since high school or college I’ve consistently read many more women than men, so that’s a given.

2014

Women authors (presumed to be white): 63 out of 76

Women authors of color: 5 out of 76 (yeesh)

Men authors of color: 6 (ditto)

Men (presumed to be white): 7

Look at that. Even given my bias against men, I still managed to read more white men than either women or men of color. That’s bad.

As for content:

6 books had a character with some kind of disability or disability was important to the narrative (the wording here because of a memoir)

22 books had characters of color

4 books had a LGBTQ character

66 books had a woman main character or focused on women

Those numbers are a little soft since I read a number of books about writing (by women) and a bunch of SFF that had non-humans as the main characters.

I was already doing better in 2015 before the challenge:

31 books read

7 written by people of color (6 women, 1 man)

28 written by women

That’s still 24 books by white women.

Rose Under Fire meets Scatter, Adapt, and Remember

A few things came into my head tonight that I thought might be interesting to others.

First, I recently read the Book Smugglers’ review of Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein because Code Name Verity was so good and because I have no intention of reading her new book, but at the same time I also wanted to know more about it and readers’ reactions to it. (I don’t read Holocaust fiction. If I read about the Holocaust, my preference is non-fiction because the actual events are so horrific I cannot immerse myself in fiction without thinking about the real people who survived or did not survive what other people did to them. Actually, I generally can’t read fiction about war, US slavery, genocide, ethnic cleansing, famines or rape for the same reasons. I read non-fiction on these topics judiciously and sparingly and only when I have enough spoons.) This is what Thea of the Book Smugglers had to say at the end of her review (bold mine):

Rose Under Fire is one hell of a book. It’s a powerful, emotionally resonant historical novel about remembering and about surviving, and I truly appreciate and value that. That said, it’s also a story about a war that ended nearly 70 years ago. It’s also a story narrated by a beautiful, young, privileged, white girl who literally flies into a terrible situation. Please understand that I am not disparaging or arguing against the value of the rich canon of literature about the Holocaust, or the set of circumstances facing heroine Rose. I am simply saying this: there are so many wars, atrocities, even genocides that have happened in the last 70 years, and that are still happening now. Those truths and those stories are hardly represented today – much less in YA literature. And perhaps this doesn’t belong here in this review, but it’s something I am acutely conscious of, and I vow to do as much as I can to change this. Because I am inspired by Rose’s story and by this book, because I think it’s important to talk, to remember, and to experience that truth through storytelling, I vow to read and review books from other, more contemporary wars, from characters and authors other than that of the white, the privileged, the American and Western European. (I think I’ll start with Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick, or A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah…)

So, there’s that, which I totally agree with.

I’m also reading Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz. I’m up to the section on famines. The author brings up the Irish Potato Famine, the famine of the Great Leap Forward in China, and the famine in Greece during Nazi occupation in WWII. And I’m conflicted. Why those three famines? One very well known to Western readers, one less well known (to me, China) and one slightly obscure (again to me, Greece), and all also 70 years behind us. What about the North Korean famine and the ongoing food aid the country receives to this day? Or Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia? (Like Thea, I feel I have to make the disclaimer. Just apply hers here, too.) The author does not tell us the reason she picked those three famines to discuss.

She goes on to say that mobility, food aid and sustainable use of agricultural land are essential to preventing famines and that “Famines and their accompanying pandemics are problems that we’ve been trying desperately to solve for hundreds of years.” (p 113). And that last part is where I disagree, where I think she dodged her own thesis. Famines are created. They are created by political will, either as the intended objective (as I understand it: North Korea, Stalin’s Great Famine, the Greek famine mentioned in the book) or as the unintended but acceptable (as collateral damage) effect of a different objective (The Great Leap Forward, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Irish Potato Famine). Some people may have been trying desperately to solve the problem of famine; others have deliberately pursued famine as a means to an end.

These two reading experiences came together for me and reminded me, once again, that it is SO hard for us to confront the atrocities that are happening right now, in our lifetimes, and it is especially easy when the people suffering Don’t Look Like Us, for a value of “us” that is the dominant one.

How many movies and books have been made in the US about the Holocaust? Compare that to how many books and movies, with the same popular appeal and reach, have been made about US slavery? We in the US live with the after-effects of slavery every day. It is inherent in our gun laws, in who can easily vote, in whose bodies are a battleground, who has access to education and health care, in every aspect of our laws and social institutions. The Holocaust was a terrible thing. Many people continue to live with its after-effects. But it is easier to say it’s over, the Nazis lost, besides, they were German anyway and that’s far away and long ago. If we looked, really looked at the legacy of slavery in this country, we would have to admit it’s not over and it’s not long ago.

I don’t have answers. I have questions. I struggle almost every day with the knowledge that my electronics, clothing and food were produced by slave labor–much of it the labor of children. I struggle with sexism and racism and so many more issues.

Like Thea I want there to be more books about all these things. Even if I personally am not going to read them, because at least they’d be part of our world view, part of the discourse, part of what’s in the public eye.

Three Posts About Gender

 

Age-of-Brass Triumph-of-Womans-Rights 1869

Image via Wikipedia

Malinda Lo on her blog:

But when I began writing a book set in the contemporary USA (Adaptation), I promptly fell into the passive trap. I had never written a novel set in the “real world,” and suddenly I was dealing with all sorts of expectations and traditions about the way girls behave, how they dress, what they do. It was … truly weird. Yes, I found it much weirder to write about contemporary teen girls than magically gifted sages or tomboyish heroines who like to go hunting.

Inspired by this post by Kate Elliott:

I try very hard to write stories in which there are as many female characters as male characters, with as much agency and importance in the plot. Yet I often have consciously to go back through later drafts to make sure that my female leads aren’t being more passive than I actually want them to be, aren’t letting others make decisions for them or devise all the cunning plans (unless there is a specific reason because of experience, competencies, or social roles), are showing leadership, and are present as confident individuals with a strong sense of themselves (as long as that is within character).

Oh, yes! I do that too. (And get really mad at myself in real life when I think I’ve acted too passively, before I shake it off and resolve to do better next time.)

And unrelated except in topic choice, Martha Wells on Laura Anne Gilman’s blog:

One of the elements about Raksuran society that was different, and also fun to write, was the gender role reversal.  The queens are the leaders of the Raksuran courts, and also the most physically powerful.  Female warriors are also bigger and stronger than male warriors. It was very interesting for me to write, because I had to check all my assumptions about physical power and sexual politics at the door, to stay in the viewpoint of my non-human characters.

And one the things that makes the series so fun to read.

Lathe operator machining parts for transport p...

Image via Wikipedia

Reading Links

It’s crazy times at work, so I haven’t had much energy to write or blog, but here’s a roundup of the many things I’ve read in the last two weeks or so:

The Yes Gay YA discussion still raging across the internet:
The original post: Say Yes To Gay YA
The baffling response: On Being Used, the Lack of LGBTQ Characters in YA, and Why It’s Important to Work Together
The roundup: What’s going on with #yesGayYA
Some responses worth reading:
Marie Brennan: Swan Tower – Followup on “Say Yes to Gay YA”
Steve Dos Santos: Ixnay on the Gay: The Gay YA Controversy: A View from the Trenches!
Scott Tracey: YesGayYA
Malinda Lo: I have numbers! Stats on LGBT Young Adult Books Published in the U.S.

In the movies and TV:
‘Thelma & Louise’: The Last Great Film About Women on The Atlantic. It’s true. There’s lots to choose from for male buddy movies, but movies that look at women’s friendships? Not so much.

John Scalzi explains why Ellen Ripley Is Clearly the Best Female Character in Scifi Film, and That’s a Problem on Film Critic

How To Discover Classic Doctor Who In 3 Easy Steps on io9 (The real doctor is always the one you watched first)

Race:

Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did by Hamden Rice on Daily Kos. I’ve mentioned a lot of links in this post, but if you read just one, read this one. Mind rattling if you’re from a privileged group in any way… He makes the connection between racism and living in a terrorist State.

Writing:

Writing Muscles by Shannon Donnelly on BVC blog. Exercises to train yourself to write more. I particularly like the directive Plan Your Training. This is something I don’t do. This is something I should do.

Malinda Lo on Authenticity. What does “authentic” mean, anyway?

Kate Elliott continues the discussion with her post Authenticity and Authority

She also tackles beginnings: Empty Space: Some thoughts on openings in novels

New York Times The Children’s Authors Who Broke the Rules

YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominations

I haven’t had a chance to watch this video yet, Comforting Words on the Creative Process from Ira Glass

Science:

The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect: When Intense Belief Kills

Pictures of dinosaur feathers!

My new favorite blog TalkToYoUniverse by Juliette Wade (Where I talk to you about linguistics and anthropology, science fiction and fantasy, point of view, grammar geekiness, and all of the fascinating permutations thereof…) prompted by this post Why Nouns Matter, part 1: Proper Names

And here’s the comment I couldn’t get to post

Yes! And it’s so fun to break down character names within a story to subtly show cultural, ethical, religious, racial differences by using different “families” of names. A not subtle example is George Chester Wallace III and Agamemnon – already you’re clued in to two wildly divergent histories. When you’re writing speculative fiction you can make up the names whole cloth to get a similar effect.