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.

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.

A Trip into Our Past, Via the Future

I was over at Book View Cafe blog reading one of Sherwood Smith‘s posts when I realized she had written a whole slew of books I’d never heard of, including some collaborations with Andre Norton. Since I’ve been having trouble finding anything to read (I hate when this happens, argh) I thought I’d give it a try. I found Derelict for Trade (1997ish) at my local library and it was entertaining. But it was also clearly not the first in the series as I had thought. Investigation led to the fact that Andre Norton had first written several books in the series way back in 1955 and my library had an omnibus version of the first two on the shelf — not even in storage, which is where I had found the later volume. Sargasso of Space.

I haven’t read much classic sci fi since I was a kid reading some Heinlein, and I thought it might suit my hard-to-satisfy reading appetite (I’ve been in a reading funk). This is one of the first books Andre Norton published. I think she was still writing under the name Andrew Norton at the time, and clearly her gender was under wraps. And 1955 was a long time ago, but, aside from the very datedness of the technology, what has struck me is how much the story reveals about our current-time cultural assumptions.

(I know that this was probably a light-hearted adventure story targeted to adolescent males when it was first written, however, even a similar story written now would not share the same cultural assumptions — it would have very different cultural assumptions — that’s my point.)

Forex

Diversity:

The diversity of the cast of characters was probably surprising back then, and it is still surprising now: although the POV character is a young white male  (of Scandinavian descent), his peers are a black man (a negro in the terms of the day) and young man with a name that identifies him as either Middle Eastern or an Arab or North African or from Western Asia, at least two Asians (Oriental, back then) — which includes one man specifically identified as of Japanese descent and another man I thought was Asian based on his name.  The diversity in this book is another example of how much things have not changed and how earlier books/TV shows sometimes did much better than we manage to do now (21 Jumpstreet anyone?)

Women:

The gender side of this is the absolute assumption that all of this is a man’s world: trading, space travel, business, danger, making a living. There isn’t even a need to explain why there aren’t any women, because of course it was perfectly natural that there wouldn’t be any women doing these kinds of things. This is not a criticism of Andre Norton, but it is a spotlight on how much our society has changed in the last 56 years so that this glimpse of a past/future era is incomprehensible for our present North American minds to accept: What do you mean there are no women? Why wouldn’t there be any women? Of course there would be women!

Colonialism/exploitation of aboriginal cultures/peoples:

In this 1955 book there is no concern about the exploitation of non-space faring peoples/aliens — their worlds are wide open to traders who can go in with the kind of trinkets given to American Indians in the US’s colonial history (beads, shiny things, low-value crafts) to get goods that can then be sold at profit among the other worlds. Most sci fi books today have some kind of post-colonial take on trying to protect/failing to protect “pre-contact” peoples. Not so here.

Concern about invasive species/epidemics:

I know from reading the later book first that at some point there is a plague and that plague is a serious concern for space traders. However in this first book, you wouldn’t know it from the lack of precautionary measures: they’re not even as careful as I am going to Mexico –i.e., don’t drink the water, and they’re not even as worried as the border authorities between Costa Rica and Nicaragua — where your bus (but thankfully not you) is sprayed down with pesticides on the border. (Update: I just traveled between Europe and Africa and they do sanitize the inside of the plane! They tell you to cover your eyes and nose if you are pregnant or concerned about chemicals — the mind boggles attempting to determine if the chemical is so ineffectual that covering your nose will protect you or if they are so blase about spraying dangerous chemicals on people).

In Sargasso of Space they blast off from one world to another with no more concern about microbes or invasive animals, insects or plants as I have getting on the subway between Brooklyn and Manhattan (or in this bed bug age, actually, less). In fact — and I can’t quite decide what I think about this — they do mention the kinds of beasties that hitch rides in (interstellar) cargo, and their solution? Cats! Now that’s either endearingly “think local act global of them” — non-tech, low impact response — or, from our “all technology is good and can solve all of humankind’s problems” viewpoint, endearingly naive. The cats themselves might be an invasive species!

These days, SARS, multi-drug resistant TB and invasive plants and animals are a fact of life, and all our best efforts don’t seem enough to contain any one of them to one continent or city, never mind one planet.

The Sargasso Sea was a fun trip, more into our own current attitudes than into the wild of outer space. Derelict for Trade was an easier read because I wasn’t as constantly coming smack up against my own expectations and even confusion about this world that I didn’t understand. Though I have to say, the inclusion of a token woman made the absence of other women even more noticeable; and without having read the prequels the subtext of reactions to her presence were pretty bewildering. That can only be a good thing.

Diversity in YA, Take 2

I can’t read fiction right now. (I hate when this happens, but it usually means my brain is working on my own creative projects, which is a good thing.) I can barely read non-fiction, which makes my hour-long commute bo-ring.

So instead I’ve been pondering.

And one of the things I’ve been pondering is why I liked the Diversity in YA panel so much.

First, it’s a subject near and dear to my heart: diversity among the authors of fiction (especially YA and scifi/fantasy, the genre I read the most) and diversity among the characters in fiction. And the diverse panelists were there to talk about this very subject to a sympathetic audience. I say sympathetic because this topic can become very fraught with accusations of white-washing or intolerance and racism. Because of the nature of the panel and the questions asked by audience members, the audience was filled with fans, people of color and allies; sympathetic.

Many of the panels of authors I’ve been to have had one or two people of color, or none at all. Ditto on the gay or queer, or gay or queer friendly authors. So to have a whole panel that was diverse was a joy, a validation, and an exciting mirror and window, as someone said. As best I remember, three of the panelists identified themselves as Asian Americans (one South Asian and two South-East Asian), three as black and one as Latino. Among them, three said they identified as biracial as well, one as a lesbian and one as queer.

Second, they were all awesome authors. Ok, I admit, I have only read the books of two of the seven, but they sure came across as awesome.

Third, the moderator, Cheryl Klein, from Arthur A. Levine Books, who is white (I assume, although you know what happens when you assume. However, since she didn’t say, I have to), was everything you want a moderator to be:  prepared, a good speaker, a good timekeeper, had excellent questions and of course knew her stuff.

Fourth, I think everyone is curious about race, ethnicity and sexual diversity. Oftentimes that curiosity gets constricted by notions of what it is acceptable to speak about, discomfort with the topic, racism, lack of ways to express it, etc. So to have a panel on the topic — and one where, at least to me, it didn’t seem like the authors were being asked to or expected to represent for their entire group —  was fun. More, it satisfied a deep seated need to think about and explore these topics with like-minded people in a very specific context: the YA reading and writing context.