Reading Authors Not Like Me
Posted on February 25, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 214 Comments
I’ve been getting emails from folks asking me what I thought about and/or to comment on this article from K.T Bradford*, the headline of which is “I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year.” As with many headlines, it’s an unnuanced take of what the article actually is about, which is, as I saw it, to have readers challenge themselves by mindfully reading within a group of authors they may not been reading much of before, to experience different writing and to gain perspective on defaults in the publishing world. That said, part of doing that is moving away from a default set of authors, i.e., straight white male authors (Tempest also includes “cis,” in that formulation, meaning in this case males whose gender identity conforms to general social expectations of maleness).
As I am generally accepted to be straight and white and male and cis, I think people are interested in whether I see this as a broadside against my identity and livelihood as a writer, and whether I myself would cut out straight white cis male writers from my reading diet for a year.
Let me answer the second part first: No, I won’t be cutting straight white cis males out of my reading, for two reasons:
1. As a straight white cis male professional writer, it’s literally impossible for me not to read in that category, unless I decide not to write for a year, which I won’t be doing, because I need to eat. Note that this is a highly specific reason for not participating that applies only to a very specific subset, of which I am a member.
2. I grok that the article is not aimed at me, who already and mindfully reads a widely varied diet of authors as a matter of course. I flatter myself (erroneously or otherwise) to think I’ve always done this, primarily because as a reader I think it’s interesting to get inside of the head of someone who is not like you; also I’ll admit when I was (much) younger I would walk around ostentatiously with books by unexpected authors because I wanted credit for being that kind of reader. I got over that part of it by my late 20s, mostly, even as I kept reading the books themselves.
It also helped that when I entered into the SF/F community I fell in with a pretty diverse crowd of writers and fans, which a) meant that when I was reading my friends I was reading all sorts, b) when they raved about the writers they loved, they tended to be a diverse group as well. Having diverse, literate peers is a pretty good shortcut to diverse reading.
And yes, I am also mindful if I’m reading too much of the same old, same old, because like anyone I can lapse into it if I’m not careful. When I’m aware of doing that, I mix it up (mind you, this awareness is key, too, and needs to be cultivated). Doing so doesn’t require that much effort, and I find that it doesn’t limit the amount of interesting reading I can find out there, because why would it.
(Note well that in my particular case I get sent literally dozens of books on a weekly basis, from publishers and authors, so I don’t find it difficult to find books by diverse authors I might be interested in — they come to my door unbidden. I recognize that this is also an advantage I have others don’t. I am in many ways a not especially useful case for Tempest’s point.)
So that’s why I won’t be cutting straight white cis male authors from my reading diet – or, more accurately, reading only from a specific group of authors, the demographics of which by practical necessity would exclude straight white cis male authors.
But if someone else does, for a year? Well, you know. I generally support reading more and different authors. If digging down specifically into a group of authors you’ve previously neglected or who were swamped out by other authors means you leave other writing aside for a while, I think that’s fine. Readers don’t owe any particular author a sale or even a read; they also don’t owe that author a sale or a read at a particular time.
Also, some things to be made clear:
1. Tempest here isn’t saying never read another book by a straight white cis male ever again in this life or any other, which is a thing that seems to be strangely overlooked, with regard to this suggestion of hers.
2. She’s also not saying The Official Year of Not Reading Straight White Cis Male Authors begins March 1 at which point no one will read anything by these dudes. She’s suggesting a general idea which may be done — or not! — at the individual reader’s convenience. Even if a large number of people endeavor to read diversely, it will be on their own schedule.
3. Are any of us under the illusion that Tempest’s suggestion will galvanize the entire reading population of the world?
So simply as a practical matter, if the article convinces some people to read outside their usual habits for a year, then what that means is that someone like me won’t make a sale from that one person for a particular timeframe, but might possibly at some other point. Meanwhile, other people will still be available for potential sales.
Which already happens. I’m very sad to say that not everyone in the world buys the hardcover edition of my books when they come out. Some people don’t know I and/or my book exist; some people do know but don’t like me/my writing; some people like me/my writing but can’t afford the book in hardcover; some people can afford it in hardcover but choose to spend their money on something else; and so on.
Over time, some of those people who don’t buy my book when it comes out might buy it later. Which, again, already happens. It’s why I have a backlist. I like backlist sales. So does my publisher; they don’t have to spend a lot of time or money promoting my backlist, so the profit margins are nice. Honestly, spend money on me now, spend money on me later: It’s all good from my point of view. I’ll have use for that money whenever it gets to me, I assure you.
But — cutting out straight white male authors for a year is bigotry! Eh. Again, speaking as the proverbial straight white cis male author, I’m not feeling it, for the reasons noted above. Or at the very least I see no reason to feel threatened; maybe it’s because I believe that even if the advantage of a reader’s implicit default to authors like me is challenged or taken away, what I write will still be able to compete in both the stream of commerce and the marketplace of ideas. I don’t fear competition, and philosophically speaking, I would rather have readers who range far and wide and still choose my work, then ones who pick my work because they just don’t know any better. I’m not afraid to be set aside for a bit, while a reader explores works by other authors, and by other authors who are not like me. I figure they’ll be back, in which case our author-reader bond is even tighter. Hooray! If they don’t come back, it’s probably for a good reason. In which case: Too bad for me, but there are lots of other potential readers about there.
What if someone only or primarily reads from [Insert whatever combination of not white and/or straight and/or male and/or cis] authors? Would you have them set those authors aside to read only white straight cis male authors for a year? If that’s what they wanted to try, sure. Get out of whatever reading rut you’re in, I say! But note that (at least as I see it), Tempest’s formulation of reading is highly intersectional; someone who only reading [whatever combination of not white and/or straight and/or male and/or cis] doesn’t have to go all the way to “white straight cis male” to shake up their reading lists. And also, and again as a practical matter, the number of people only or primarily reading [whatever combination of not white and/or straight and/or male and/or cis] is likely relatively small compared to those reading only/primarily straight white cis males, which is to the point about bias in the system, and is worth thinking about, rather than sort of eliding in a rush to get to another point entirely.
Speaking personally, I think one can build more diversity into one’s reading without entirely dropping straight white cis males from one’s reading diet for a year, if that strikes one as simply too harsh to folks like me; make a “buddy system,” for example, in which every book you read by a straight white cis male is followed up by one written by someone who is not. Being mindful of your reading biases, and the practice of reading widely, are things that are beneficial however you do it.
But however you do it, at the end of the day, if you find more writers who speak to you, move you and make you think more widely, your life is going to be better. Find a way to bring in a wider set of authors to your reading diet, in a way that works for you. If it means taking a year off from me and writers like me, then good luck, have fun and remember we’ll be here when you get back. We’ll have stories to tell you when you do.
*Disclosure: I know K.T. Bradford (“Tempest”) and have for years, and consider her a friend. Note she calls me out from time to time, and we occasionally disagree on things, sometimes very widely. You can do that with your friends.
Pretty sure I don’t need to tell people that the Mallet is out for this particular thread. Play nice and be kind to each other.
Also: Tempest is a friend of mine and as you know I take very poorly to my friends being crapped upon, so any personal attacks against her will be Malleted as soon as I see them. You are free to argue with her point or her manner of addressing it, but stick to ideas, not the person.
Yeah, I am gobsmacked at the vehemence in the reaction…and not just from the Sad Puppies crowd, who have taken this suggestion as being equivalent to book burning. A fair number of more reasonably minded white male writers seem to suggest this is a direct attack on their livelihood.
Yeah, I read the piece yesterday, and immediately went to the to-read shelf to make sure I was being a good boy. As it happens, I was, though I suspect I occasionally might fall short.
On the other hand, I had some serious issues with the articles framing, because I suspect that I will never be comfortable with exclusion, mostly exclusion of me (by association in this case, not an author), but also exclusion of others, because empathy is a thing. And exclusion of a privileged class is still that, and still dicey, because not all members of that class are necessarily advantaged: while you can comfortably weather a marginal hit to your readership, someone else might not have be in as comfortable a position.
I also am not sure that the sort of binary polarization this framing can cause is a good thing in practical terms – defining some authors as outside the frame creates *two* exclusive classes, and some portion of the readership on both sides will just be reinforced in their prejudices – and one of those classes is just a much larger group to start with.
Challenging people to get out of their reading rut is a good thing. There’s a challenge out there to read books in 24 categories that many folks may be neglecting. I may be able to dig up the link later. Categories include “written about a GLBTQ main character or written by a GLBTQ author” and “written by someone living in Africa.”
I have purchased books in at least 18 of the 24 categories since the beginning of 2012, so that challenge will be a relative cakewalk for me in terms of my having access to the books, and provide more motivation to get them read.
I like that you’re reasonable about people mixing it up and taking challenges like the one you’re blogging about today.
Just on general principles, I’d prefer to see a positive commitment to read N books by non-white-cis-male authors, but I really don’t see Tempest’s suggestion as being even slightly outrageous in its current form. I likewise won’t be committing to it, but it offends me not in the slightest.
I agree that people miss the point on what she is trying to say. I don’t know her or claim to be in her head, but by take away is “think about the background of who you are reading.” Given the volume that I read and the diversity of what I read (from the classics to Chinese history to SciFi) I don’t plan on placing any limits on what authors I read anytime soon. That being said I always consider background when reading an author. A good author at least attempts to control of bias. A good example of this is Appomattox by Elizabeth Varon (A white woman as far as I know) when discussing post slavery life for southern blacks – not only did she review period documents and literature, she directly quotes interviews with freed slaves themselves made in the 1930s. Most freed slaves were not literate, but she manages to give them a voice.
Are any of us under the illusion that Tempest’s suggestion will galvanize the entire reading population of the world?
It already has, Scalzi – the Sad Puppies/DudeBros/Whinily Privileged White Males are out in force as we speak, SQUALLING like the immature brats they are!
I think it’s striking how many comments on Facebook, at least, seem to be written solely in reaction to the title. The actual article just advocates challenging yourself to read books by X type of authors for a year, where X is not the most common demographic (white straight cis male).
The title has done a great job of grabbing interest, but seems to have rather failed in getting (most) people to read the article itself…
When I read a book review I don’t care, and skip over labels pertaining to the author. When I read a book, same thing. I don’t care about that stuff, only what is written on the page, between the covers or on the screen, as the case may be. It often seems to me that labeling is most used by people who are kinda looking for an adversarial discussion…
I’d been thinking along these lines, having heard about the challenges. So, while I haven’t entirely stopped buying/reading straight white cis males, I am making an effort for wider reading, and being well-rewarded for the effort.
Recent books I’ve bought are
-Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear
-The Just City, Jo Walton
-The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu
– Half-Resurrection Blues, and Salsa Nocturna, Daniel Jose Older
– Spirits Abroad, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, Zen Cho
-Signal to Noise, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
-Skin Folk, Nalo Hopkinson
-UnExpected Stories, Octavia Butler
I like this challenge. For the second half of last year, a couple of friends and I did a challenge to only read books by female authors (though we gave ourselves exemptions for male authors we were already fans of). This year I’m doing a book bingo challenge where some of the squares specifically call out things such as “book by a POC” or “book in translation” or “Bailey’s Prize winner” (an award for books by female authors that I didn’t even know existed before this challenge). I think specifically challenging yourself to look at how diverse your reading list is or isn’t is helpful. Just now I’m realizing that when I was reading female authors, by far the majority of the books I read were by white women. I’m a white woman, so it was easy for me to forget about the other axes of diversity I was neglecting.
Most of what I read may happen to be by white, straight, cis male (WSCM) authors. If they keep writing good stuff, I’m not going to stop reading it (there’s a few I’ve dropped because their output doesn’t make it into my must-read list anymore).
For me, SF has always been best when it gets in the head of something/someone not-me.
Stories like Tiptree’s “Your Haploid Heart,” Cherryh’s “Serpent’s Reach” are great examples of trying to understand the alien, the not-quite-human. Those two authors happen to be women, but it’s not the point. If you’re reading SF, you should already be comfortable with reading what makes you uncomfortable.
I have a better challenge for Ms. Bradford.
Read good books regardless of the author, dongles, ports, and personal perspectives on either.
Judge the story based on whether it is told well rather than how many check-offs made in character development. The “check-off” approach almost uniformly accompanies a lesser quality story, in my experience.
What’s her stand on female to male or male to female transgender writers.
The overlap between the people flipping out and the Gamergate/”Anti-SJW”/MRA crowd is about a 1:1 ratio.
People read (or don’t) for a variety of reasons, sometimes setting off on expeditions or explorations, or reading for a specific theme, etc. e.g. “this year I’m going to read all those classic novels I only did Cliff’s Notes for in school” or “this year I’m going to finally try to figure out what people are getting out of paranormal romance” or “this year I’m going to climb Mt. David Foster Wallace” etc. Saying “this year I’m going to read all of David Foster Wallace and I challenge you to do the same” doesn’t make that reader anti-every-other-author-not-named-DFW forever.
That said, proooobably fewer people would have their britches in a bunch if she’d challenged people to read *more* non-XYZ authors in the next month, instead of *only* non-XYZ authors for a year, but if people can’t take or leave what’s basically a dare about reading, meh. (As for me I think her piece can easily be read as a challenge to read *more* cis-white-male authors if you’ve been reading almost exclusively black authors or gay author or women authors or whatever. Stretch your brains. It’s one of the things that sf — or heck, reading in general — is about and good for. On that note! Herein I pledge to finally read (well, listen to Bronson Pinchot read) Hard Magic by Larry Correia. Because while my main focus on reading this year is reading more authors of color — last year it was on reading more books by women — I look through my reading history of the past 5 years and I’m really not reading that many books by authors of his political persuasion, and I know my empathy there has suffered for it. I think I can handle more than one challenge at a time.)
On “challenges” — they don’t work for me without concrete goals. I spent a few years not actually making progress on my goals because they were vague: “read more books by women this year” doesn’t apparently work as well for me as: “read at least as many books by women as by men this year”. I suppose that’s kind of like the “buddy system” but more reviewing on a month to month basis my progress, and tacking back towards the true line, rather than one for one like a hostage trade. By the end of a couple of years of that, I think I’ve fundamentally changed as a reader. More things are interesting to me, I’m excited about literature in a way that I haven’t been in several years of more narrow reading.
My favorite part of her article was the suggested reading list (I love reading lists). My second favorite part was the opening photograph (nice sense of humor!).
Speculative fiction (and good literary fiction) is always about expanding experience for me, so I want to seek out storytellers who have a different perspective than mine.
@PedroDias, I don’t find the proposal exclusionary, because even if I don’t read another cis-straight-white-man this year, I find their perspective rather everywhere, whereas it’s a lot harder to find the perspective of, for example a trans-black-differently-abled person. So it’s about the general suggestion to seek a different narrative.
I made the commitment last year to read, bare minimum, 24 books written by Women of Color this year. I read a lot in the romance genre, and it’s been a fascinating experience so far, the small details I’d never noticed before of perspective changes.
I made a deliberate choice at the beginning of this year to try and read more books that fell outside of the straight/white/cis/male author category. It’s not been too much of a hardship so far given that a lot of the authors that I was reading were already outside of at least one of those categories.
Substituting “female” for “male” was pretty easy for me (thanks, awesome female authors!); easy enough that now I’m actively trying to seek out more authors of color (or protagonists of color) to make the reading challenge more interesting. The problem I’m having there is finding them, so if anyone has a recommendation, or two (and our host deems such a topic as not too far adrift of the general conversation), I’d appreciate them.
As for the “labeling is most used by people who are kinda looking for an adversarial discussion” comment, I think Jay Smooth’s latest sums up my reaction to this nicely. If we aren’t actively looking for things outside of our comfortable norm, we will default to the comfortable norm. By not caring about the labels pertaining to an author, readers will, almost certainly, read a lot more s/w/c/m authors than they will anything else because that’s what is generally out there and prominent.
I suppose I understand her point, but with very few exceptions, I don’t really know if the authors of the books I pick are white, or straight, or even male. I’m also not very inclined to research every author of the armload of books I tend to pick up. I read so much that I usually buy stacks of paperbacks with little author information, unlike hardcovers. My local library is so small that my only criteria is “Have I read it already?” LOL
Dann, do you think these two challenges are mutually exclusive?
There are more ‘good’ books out in one year than most people can read. One could easily read good, highly-recommended books all year and never read a book by a white man. I see Ms. Bradford’s challenge pointing out that humans tend to default to certain things, and by asking you to consider how easy/hard this challenge would be, you can realize whether your demographics of ‘favorite authors’ are biased in some way.
In my experience, authors don’t include diversity because they are playing Character Type Bingo, but because they have observed a world where diversity exists and write to reflect that world. Readers who read diversely are doing so because they want novel things, which means reading authors who don’t share their life experiences. (Well, that and they live in the same diverse world and reading worlds where that doesn’t exist by accident* feels off.)
* Like, there’s a difference when you read a book like Ethan of Athos where a single-sex society exists and realizing that there are only one or two women in a cast of 10-12.
I read books from a pretty wide variety of writers, it’s not that much of a conscious decision for me, but I did read the article and I think it’s a good suggestion. Tempest is not waving pitchforks from the ramparts saying “No white males can cross” but is making an argument for diversity. I’m not sure how you can actually read the article and find it objectionable, to be honest, unless you see everything in either/or terms. I read SF/F to be challenged, not as a security blanket, and the best/most interesting stories involve “other”, and (although it’s not a given) non-male non-white writers typically have a different perspective on life than I do, which makes the work more interesting.
If you go around clinging to your rayguns and square-jawed heroes with supplicant sexually-available female characters, then you can keep them. I’m always in favor of something different. Preferably involving talking squid. (See Pat Cadigan for examples)
This was already my 2015 resolution. To me, it seems perfectly reasonable. If I pull up a list of the books I’ve read in previous years, it’s perhaps 90-95% white straight male. I love you guys. I love your stories. But I want to hear some different stories for a while. That’s all it means. So far this year, I’ve read stories from Nigeria, Afghanistan, India, and Japan – mostly outside my comfort genre of SFF. And it’s been wonderful. Not every book. Some of the books I’ve hated. But I’ve seen the world through different eyes.
Huh – just checked my Audible list. 2 of my last 5 have been… is there a concise way to say “written by someone who does not belong to one or more of: white/male/cis/straight”? How about “on the Tempest list”? That’s what I’m going to use.
Anyway, 2 of my last 5 books have been on the Tempest list (hi Ann Leckie!), but as I scroll farther and farther back through my hundreds of titles, I’m seeing at least 80% not on the Tempest list.
It’s not deliberate, by any means, but now that I’ve noticed it, I am going to make a deliberate effort to add more Tempest list titles.
I am at once both gladdened and vexed by K.T’s article and by your response. Mostly because I don’t want “what kind of person wrote this book” to even be a thing. But of course it *is* a thing, here in the not-so-shiny futureland of 2015, and I suppose that her article and your response are necessary steps (and therefore, to be welcomed) on the path towards the world people just write books, and people just read books, and the whole “what kind of person” question simply doesn’t factor into any part of the process anymore. Thus, gladdened that these steps are being taken, while vexed that we still have to take them at all.
From the linked article: “Essentially: no straight, cis, white males. Cutting that one demographic out of my reading list greatly improved my enjoyment of reading short stories.”
Good for her finding what worked for her reading enjoyment.
I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t do the same for me.
Wow. As a young African Caribbean woman living in Jamaica I find it bewildering to an immeasurable degree that “white male cis” authors could feel at all threatened by some online reading challenge. This group has influenced my entire reading life since birth in the Anglophone Caribbean — something applicable to rest of the former and current Commonwealth . It dominates the American and British publishing industry. There is not one popular literary periodical of any kind that is not awash with white male authors. Every other group, as writers and readers, lives with the fact that we reside on the periphery of this landscape for the most part, not for a year, not for a decade, but for our lifetimes. I, as an African Caribbean woman, have to work against serious conditioning to pick books outside of the dominant. The books are out there but my lit journal/blog diet is primarily comprised of Literary Saloon, LRB, TLS, Quarterly Conversation, Open Letters, TNI etc so I bookmark like a crazy person whenever I come across anything Afro-. If I look for simple “book review sites” I get the former; I have to add a descriptive to get anything about the latter. I have to work against my *own* reluctance to privilege writers *like me*, *of similar background*, because it feels unfair somehow. I am so relieved, at this point, to actually feel eager about looking for black male/female writers (from whichever country). How crazy does that sound?
It is wondrous how some of us can evince such concern for the less fortunate in a privileged group with the same (or deeper) intensity as whole other less privileged groups put together. Bloody as.tounding. Because of an online reading challenge :-S. Huh???
Thanks, Scalzi, for blogging about it so I could vent here. I read your blog looooong before I read any of your books, as I had little interest in science fiction lit at the time. I think I read Old Man’s War in a free book offer from Tor years ago. Enjoyed your work, for the most part, ever since. Hope my comment didn’t earn a mallet — I usually lurk :D.
I certainly agree that there are other, less extreme ways to ensure that less privileged voices show up in your reading list. And the actual backlash is, well, the less said the better.
One more middle-ground argument that some people have responded with, “I just pick books I want to read, I don’t see race/gender/etc.”, seems like it’s missing the point a fair bit, though. People started talking about things like this because they realized that that was what they were already doing, and as women / people of color / etc. who were inherently very open to reading books by diverse authors, they found that their reading lists ended up centered on cishet white dudes anyway.
The best book I read last year hands down was Nevada, by Imogen Binnie, possibly the first novel to ever really capture the experience of being a trans woman effectively and without resorting to familiar transition cliches — it was genuinely a breakthrough book. I know about it because of other trans women and trans-friendly folks that I hang with regularly. But how many cisgender straight people would ever encounter even the suggestion to read this book organically? Answer: pretty much only the ones who hang with a fair number of trans women.
Books that are by and for white guys, books that are by and for straight people — these books naturally have a larger audience and they are the ones most likely to get promotion behind them. That makes these books the ones most likely to come to any particular person’s notice. Other books often require more work to seek out, often even if the community you hang out with is already quite diverse.
I find this interesting as, while I read very little fiction I just can’t get into it any more (My problem not the authors I would add) this does apply to areas of my non fiction reading. My non fiction reading ranges from Science to History and on to Philosophy and Politics. The two areas that have expanded over the last year are History where I have become interested in Art History and Philosophy which is continually expanding with each work I read. The one area that Tempest’s implied criticism holds is my political reading, which tends to be self reinforcing(I am on the far left), I am aware of this and realise it is something to address…but time is short.
I have also found that wandering through a Lending Library and picking books nearly at random is a way to find new fields or authors without costing anything other than some time to decide whether or not I find it interesting.
So commenters, help a reader out.
I tend to shop by genre, though I shop a lot of different genres, mostly because I get into certain moods that are best (or only) satisfied by a particular kind of fare. None of my favorite authors are prolific enough to keep up with my appetite for any one genre, so I’m always good to branch out.
Is anyone curating a list of diverse authors by specific genre and sub-genre?
I’m intrigued to take on this challenge, particularly because few of my favorite authors that fall into the filtered category have books pending! The source article lists some authors and interesting books, but they’re sorted by their diversity particulars (Women writers, Writers of Color), not by what actually matters to me.
I’m down to do some searching on my own, but if there was a list of non-white/straight/cis/male authors or books broken into even small handfuls of the biggish commercial categories (spy/intrigue/urban fantasy/hard SF/alt-history/whatever) it would help guide my choices.
A couple of thoughts on the widespread “I don’t care about the author, just the writing” reaction:
1) As I think Bradford and others who write about this have tried to make clear, the publishing/bookselling/reviewing industry overwhelmingly defaults to one kind of author. If you don’t pay any attention to the authors you’re reading—if you just read what comes to your attention naturally—you are almost certainly going to end up reading just that one kind of author. If you agree with the broader point that reading a wide variety of things is good, or fun, or edifying, or whatever, well, the only way to accomplish that really is to start paying attention to authorship and actively seeking out some books that won’t come your way “naturally.” Choosing to ignore author demographics isn’t a neutral position; it’s a choice to let your reading be directed for you, usually to one narrow area.
2) The idea that the author’s demographic details don’t matter, only the contents of the book do, kind of overlooks or obscures the fact that things like gender, skin color, and sexuality have a huge impact on a person’s life and perspective and, therefore, on their writing. And so, again, to the extent that you agree that reading different perspectives is a good thing, you kind of have to pay attention to this demographic stuff if you want to enrich your own reading diet.
@Rebecca Croteau: if you don’t read a book, you don’t read a book, so that book is excluded from your reading. A given author is a more specific, and much larger, thing than a set of categorical attributes. In fact, that particular reduction is very much what I feel is the problem.
Reading widely is a good principle, I think. I read Granta magazine (http://www.granta.com/) and a couple of years ago was able to complete the entire run which I am now happily working my way through. So I get quite a range of writers that way. Currently, I am reading them, Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace), various sf/f short story magazines, and Georgette Heyer :).
I’ll admit, my knee-jerk reaction was to roll my eyes and mutter to myself but you’re right; that headline is unnuanced–to say the least. My first thought was –Seriously? I don’t have the inclination to research some writer’s personal life. It made it her article sound totally stupid and probably sent some of the people she’s aiming for on their way past it.
Reading the article, I get what she’s saying but it’s not something I feel is necessary for me at this time. Currently, my method is to wander the stacks of the library and browse; checking the flyleaf for a synopsis and then looking at who blurbed it. (Sometimes who blurbed it will make me put it back, but that’s something else). I usually don’t look at author information until I’m finished and maybe want to know more about them.
Since her focus was on eliminating straight, cis, white males, I would be interested in what her method was for determining who met that criteria and how it evolved.
Also, tried reading the comments to see what books others would recommend and they certainly are rowdy over there. I ended up in a website I’ve never come across “http://yourfaveisproblematic.tumblr.com” and got sucked into a major time-waster laughing at the hysteria.
Chris, Varon’s footnotes indicate one of her sources was the interviews made by authors and researchers from the Federal Writers Project, which was part of the New Deal’s Works Projects Administration. This is a very well known archive; I would have been very surprised had she not used it.
The interivews are held at the American Folk Life Center (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/) and the Library of Congress.
Gutenburg has copies of the interview collections (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/3906) and most of the audio interviews are here (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/voices/index.html)
And there is the new EJI report on lynching practices (http://www.eji.org/lynchinginamerica/).
Anyway, should anyone be interested….
“When I write, I have no desire to plumb my characters’ angst about being brown; I want their skin color to be taken for granted while they go on fantastical adventures. If those adventures can include Hindu and Buddhist mythology and folklore, so much the better. We need those. But I’m not sure why I need to keep explaining that such a book would not be niche—that in fact, I am not niche?”
Read more at http://the-toast.net/2015/02/25/thorns-throat-writing-scars/#ArZtJ9EhJ8BYFQc3.99
Writers on the Tempest spectrum routinely report that editors, publishers, review publications, booksellers all tell them that “nobody wants to read,” books about brown people, or books where the girl is the hero, or books with too many weird names, or books… That they are pressured to downplay the ethnicity of their characters and whitewash their covers and make their characters more gender conforming so that their books will be “marketable” I see absolutely no reason to doubt their reporting of their experience. Since I am one of the unicorns – one of those readers who actually wants the books that “nobody wants” I keep throwing my money at these books nobody likes in the hopes that someone will notice that actually, that’s not true.
I’ve watched the reactions to this article ripple through my tiny section of the blogosphere. I saw one person repost it, filling their comment with F-bombs and screaming, “How /dare/ you accuse me of being a racist!!!”
Another immediately railed against the article as an attempt to seize dictatorial control over their reading lists, decrying the political correct SJW police and their attempt to destroy free speech.
One would think Ms. Bradford had either called them personally to decry their reading choices as racist, or was ready to lead an armed raid on their home – complete with flamethrower wielding firemen ready to burn down their “to read” pile.
Suggestion has become conflated with “unspoken threat” when sensitive matters are included. I don’t see anyone reacting this way to articles on gardening.
“This year, why not try planting semi-shade succulents instead of your normal array of plants.”
“How DARE you call me prejudiced against succulents! Keep your jack-booted thugs OUT OF MY GARDEN! I’ll see you and your family dead before I change my plant preferences. DEAD!!!”
The most amusing reaction I’ve seen so far on Twitter is from the eedjit who accuses Bradford of anti-semitism because in one pic illustrating the challenge, she’s holding up a book by Neil Gaiman. FFS. I’m not doing the challenge either (for many of the same reasons Mr. Scalzi mentions), but sometimes I can’t help but throw my support behind someone I might not otherwise because of the general fuckwittedness of their opponents.
“If we aren’t actively looking for things outside of our comfortable norm, we will default to the comfortable norm.”
It’s funny that people are taking this approach with regards to Parker’s article, because the main reason she gave for not reading stories by WSCM authors was to increase her comfort level. It’s not a bad reason for the switch, but it’s interesting that parker (and Scalzi) have repurposed her avoiding offensive content as a call for exploring new horizons.
@jdrhoades: yeah, that. I hate how impossible to have a rational conversation because one side starts out so extreme, so angry, and so damn loud that the debate is immediately reduced to screaming screeds.
Though I do wish that Tempest had made it clearer that the fundamental project is one of addition, not subtraction. That bit of rhetorical muddling is what I think has triggered all the manchild tantrums.
Or not. They often seem to need very little cause.
I wrote about this on my blog, and am happily taking the challenge, starting today. My immediate thought was, what a great excuse to re-read some great books I already own, and read some new authors I have never read before! I don’t see it as exclusionary, and I really, really, really cannot comprehend the spectacular level of butthurt emanating from the banshees screeching at Tempest about this. As I noted in my blog post, the sheer amount of pearl-clutching per square inch required to launch to some of these conclusions could fuel several manned missions to Mars, if only we could harness it.
Proud to stand with Tempest on this. I look forward to the coming year of reading.
Other than sex, which I can usually deduce from the author’s name, how am I supposed to know all that other stuff? Even if I thought this was a good idea I’d find it difficult to do, especially with Kindle; author photographs on Kindle are few and far between. I’ll continue to read what interests me and not worry about all that other stuff.
Pedro, I thought the “addition, not subtraction” notion was implicit in the article, honestly. I was surprised when so many didn’t see it.
I started making a conscious effort to diversify the types of stories I read a couple of years ago, when I realized how much of what I understand about the world comes from reading, and therefore how limited my understanding would be if I didn’t start reading more broadly. I’ve diversified along several different axes (I’ve even found some romance books I’ve liked, which is a genre I had previously written off entirely), but by far the most important thing has been to diversify the types of authors. When good authors write stories, they often show us a slice of reality that we may miss without the help of fiction. The reality people see and can convey is necessarily shaped by their experiences. If I’m only reading stories by one type of author, I’m missing out on the chance to see and understand more of reality. Why would I do that to myself?
That said, I find it frustratingly hard to find diverse things to read for my short ebook blog. Granted, I’m posting a book a week, so that’s quite a lot of short ebooks I need to find. But I’ve yet to find a good way to go out and specifically look for diversity in that particular subset of my reading. (I find it easier in novels- there are lists I can work from, and I read fewer of them.)
I generally read books based on the reviews… if it sounds like a good book *to me* I’m inclined to read it. In many cases, I have no idea what the author’s gender, ethnic heritage, or sexual preferences are… and I really don’t care. I’ve already read some of the books K.T. Bradford suggested but the author’s gender, ethnic heritage, or sexual preferences had absolutely nothing to do with why I chose to read them.
One thing I have done for the last five years is to join a book club for the express purpose of reading some books that are good books but outside my normal preferences and outside my comfort zone. Of the dozen or so members of the book club, two of us are white, male, straight, and cis… the rest are white females but I have no clue as to what their sexual orientation is nor do I care. I think the vast majority of books we’ve read have been by female authors, some of whom have been persons of color. I have no idea what the sexual identities or preferences are and again, I don’t care… they’ve written good books that I mostly enjoyed.
I’m sorry, but do people saying it’s too hard to find out about an author not have access to the internet? How are they posting these comments?
I’ve been making an effort over the last year to read more books by different kinds of people. I’m still reading Gaiman and Mieville and Gibson, but Leckie and Lord and Okorafor have been wonderful discoveries that I might have missed if I hadn’t been paying attention. ‘The Other Half of the Sky’ (Andreadis, ed.) and ‘AfroSF’ (Hartmann, ed.) are among the best story collections I’ve ever read, and I wouldn’t have found them if I hadn’t been looking.
It’s easy to stick with the default demographic by accident; to really read widely, you have to try.
The short answer is that I do not see the two as mutually exclusive. There are good stories about non-s/w/m/cis characters. There are good stories told by non-s/w/m/cis authors. There are even good stories about non-s/w/m/cis characters told by non-s/w/m/cis authors.
My most recent experiences suggest to me that there are authors that appear to play Character Type Bingo. Their work suffers as a result. Perhaps their writing would suffer either way. Character Type Bingo might slightly increase the sales of a marginal work given the current climate.
My most recent experiences also suggest that there are authors that can make a diverse cast feel a natural part of their fictional world.
The difference is subtle and nuanced and done poorly certainly results is a book that feels “off”.
I greatly prefer the Heinlein-esque practice of not providing a detailed description of such things up front so that the reader is largely left to their own devices. One example being the character Juan “John” Rico being revealed as a Filipino late the in the “Starship Troopers”. Another potential example being the subtle implication that the character Eunice Branca from “I Will Fear No Evil” was black. (Of course IWFNE featured any number of scenes where everyone was sexually engaged with everyone else. RAH was just a bit hedonistic.)
IME, initiatives that seek to motivate people to “read more A and less B” invariably elevate marginal works that exist within the larger group of A for reasons that have little to do with good story-telling.
I’m far more willing to read something if I get a recommendation that compares an author’s skill with other known authors. A favorable comparison with McCaffery, Tolkein, Heinlein, Cherryah, Lackey, Silverberg, Hambly, etc. will do far more to motivate me to read something than the observation that the author is/writes from/for a non-s/w/m/cis perspective. (or from a s/w/m/cis perspective for that matter…but as noted elsewhere, there are plenty of works of that type out there)
FTR, I can’t recall reading anything by Larry Correia. I know that I haven’t read anything by Vox Day. I read SF/F that presents an interesting perspective and is well told. I don’t pay much attention to author names. If the premise sounds good, then I’m liable to give it a try. “Challenging” narratives don’t bother me. I find stilted, preachy prose to be off-putting.
I find the Sad Puppies thing to be a disappointing response to the deplorable SJW promotion trend. I don’t have a better response to that trend except to largely ignore both.
Take a look at my Goodreads “to read” list. Let me know if you know of something better than my current top 11. I might take a shot at it.
I’m always open for a story that is told well.
I think I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the “objectors” here simply don’t want to think about fiction in terms of perspective – what informs it, what the background of the reader brings to it, anything like that. It’s uncritical, and perfectly safe. There’s no challenge.
I’ve been readying F/SF since I was literate. At this point, I eagerly seek out new and authentic viewpoints because Fantasy-McEurope or Skiffy-White-McMillfic is such a vast part of the genre that it’s stale. I want a challenge sometimes.
jbwhelan, I thought the piece wavered quite a bit between modes – she starts out by telling us about how angry some writing makes her. There is quite a lot of ambiguity about whether the project she envisions is intended to *add* congenial writing to the world (a notion I would wholeheartedly support) or merely intended to remove unpleasantness from her reading list (something she is fully entitled to do, but to which I am otherwise indifferent). And there are moments when the suggestion is that there ought to be a collective effort among kindred spirits to remove some writing from at least their own reading experience, if not the wider world. And at that point I become uneasy, because while we all curate our own reading, this somehow seems like an especially bad place to indulge in ideological groupthink.
She doesn’t seem entirely sure which is the preferred outcome, and because of that I’m not sure how I feel about the piece.
I get the point she was trying to make, but I just don’t think the sexual orientation, race, etc. should *matter*. Last time I checked they don’t have a way to filter for that in a search on Amazon. In fact, a lot of time you have to go out of your way to look for that information because it’s not something listed on the cover. A lot of books don’t even include a photo of the author anymore. I read lots of stuff from lots of authors because I read what I find interesting. Their age, race, sexual orientation, religion, whether they’re a dog or cat person- whatever doesn’t factor into it at all. What factors into my selection is the genre, the plot, the writing style, the quality of said writing style, and most importantly- am I *enjoying* reading this? I can go for years reading stuff from an author and not knowing much about him or her other than the name they choose to write under. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of their work, not their personal lives.
I also have a quibble with the framing; better to be inclusive than restrictive I think.
OTOH if I am reading white, straight, cis male writers, then aren’t I already reading outside my background? (I suspect I am probably not the main target of a lot of this).
OTOOH, even if a writer presents as white, straight, cis male, they may not actually be white, straight, cis male. And if they are not it’s none of my damn business anyway.
Instead of “Stop reading X”, why not say, “Read more YZABC…”? I guess that doesn’t make for quite as sensational a headline.
Chalk me into the group that just doesn’t know or care about author’s identity. It may be wrong to admit, but I just pick a book by the cover.
In discussions like this, I always wonder whether the people who proudly proclaim that they neither know nor care about the race and gender of the authors they read are so proud of their ignorance and apathy in other aspects of their lives as well. If you don’t pay attention, you’re going to end up reading a majority of the majority. So if you’re reading in English, you’re going to read a lot of books by white people. If you’re reading SF, you’re going to read a lot of books by men. There’s nothing wrong with reading books by white men – a lot of my favorite books are. But a steady diet is just boring. I’m doing a scaled-down version of this challenge myself – trying to read no more than one book by a white guy for every two books I read by someone not fitting that description. (Sexual orientation is more difficult to easily learn, so I’m not considering that. I’m also gay myself and thus don’t have a lack of LGBT voices in my life in general.)
I really don’t know about this. I appreciate that people should be encouraged to read outside their comfort zones, but I suspect that a lot of the people complaining could quite easily find !UsualAuthors that write closely enough to their usual reads without trying too hard. A different persepective or life experience might clue them in a bit, but maybe reading, say, some non-fiction or contemporary fiction might work even better. But I suppose it depends on what you define as your comfort zone – I think at the moment I read too much (narrative) history and would be better served in shaking it up reading more actual fiction rather than reading similar sorts of books written by a different type of person.
What you are saying here is that straight white guys can only write from one perspective. I’ll leave you to consider the implications of that when it comes to broadening perspectives.
Larry Wall wrote brilliantly from the perspective of a woman. Kim Stanley Robinson wrote an entire novel based on the premise that there were no white people in the world. Scalzi’s latest novel made no mention of the protagonist’s gender.
The broader point here is writing from another perspective is what good writers do for a living. So if you genuinely want more perspective, eliminating good writers because they are WSCM isn’t going to help you, it’s going to hurt you.
If I want cultural expansion in my reading (and I do) I can find it Colson Whitehead and Cecil Brown are African American writers that write from the heart about the black experience. Amy Tan can bring you right into Chinese-American family life. They can do these things not because their cultural background is relevant to the topic, *but because they are great writers.*
Hi Soon Lee,
Well said. Dittos. Me too. Etc.
The largest problem with the SJW approach to literature is that it is most frequently framed in an exclusionary manner. At least, most of the arguments from that perspective that I have read seem to invariably end up being exclusionary.
Flies….honey…vinegar….apply as necessary.
I have found that I prefer to read a certain type of SF, not a particular subset of authors. I am attracted to a story by the blurbs in front and on the back cover, not necessarily by who wrote it. That said, I will admit that certain authors have a greater appeal to me, but I don’t limit myself exclusively to them.
@lorax: I don’t read for political or social issues. My reading is just for entertainment and brief escapism from reality. I don’t care about minority rights, class issues, economic policies, or political stances when I choose I book, I just want a compelling story and a character or two that I care about for the 15-30 minutes a day I get to read for entertainment.
That sounds like an interesting idea, but, due to various reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions, etc, I am committed to mainly reading various technical manuals for the next six months, probably. Most of these things don’t have an author listed, and I imagine HR would look somewhat askance at my inquiries as to the sexual preferences of the tech writers.
Maybe next year.
@Jerome I’m not saying that at all. Good authors can certainly write from perspectives other than their own. But like I said in my second point, I think it’s wrong to pretend that an author’s background has no impact at all on their writing.
When an author makes an effort and writes from someone else’s perspective, that’s a good thing and a lot of good books have come out of that. But it’s never going to be the same as a book written by somebody who actually lives that perspective.
I’ve been thinking about how one might apply this to interactions between a librarian and and a library patron.
A librarian — in their role as a professional, to be clear — promoting a suggestion to not read a set of books, even for a limited period of time, and even for the best purposes in the world, would be diving into ethically murky waters.
But what about book recommendations and reader’s advisory? I think there very much would be a place for librarians to make a point of making sure to include non-cishet white male authors when answering the question “I liked X — what else might I like?”.
One of the reasons this is on my mind is because of the read-alike list that a library put together recently whose starting point is books by our esteemed host. To its credit, it includes a lot of non-white male authors — but I’d be curious to see a version that included no cishet WM at all.
I am a WSCM of a certain age, but I’m also a bibliovore.
I read ALL THE TIME. I read for work, I read walking to and from work. i read at home. I read on public transport. If I restricted my intake to WSCM authors, or some narrowly defined comfort zone, I might run out, but since I never started selecting FOR WSCM authors to begin with, I don’t think this challenge is for me.
I will cop to avoiding literary fiction in favor of genre writing, and this challenge will not drive me to that sink of despair. I want stories, and litfic has failed to give me good stories TOO MANY TIMES. If non-WSCM authors can’t write genre fiction, they can join the host of WSCM litfic authors I avoid. I’m okay with that.
But that is precisely what you did say. To wit:
I will state categorically that you are incorrect here. The only way to accomplish that is to stop reading bad writers.
I’ve found that I tend to prefer female writers (not exclusively or anything, but just looking at what I tend to read and based on names), but beyond that I don’t tend to give it much thought. I do wonder if, when people feel like an author is playing what I think someone termed as ‘character bingo’, what seems like a ‘forced’ inclusion of a character of another gender/color/etc sometimes only feels that way to that reader because it *is* outside their rut or experience or usual bailiwick.
I do find the reactions to these reading challenges sad but not unexpected. They match up with the growing feeling of reverse discrimination & white males are under attack just for existing. We also like to think we are colorblind and meritocracy is perfect.
There are tons of lists out there for finding diverse books. Goodreads has many. Amazon frequently has pictures and short author bios. Unusual names can give you a clue. Google and you’ll find more. A number of popular POC writers have lists or links to lists on their websites. Same for LGBTI and women.
I do a reading challenge on Goodreads every year. Last year it showed I read mostly white women. This year I’m trying to add more POC. I know I own books on kindle written by POC I just have to remember to read those rather than others. It takes a concerted effort to make sure I grab a book which may be hard to read rather than “eye candy”.
I’ve stopped reading most white cis males as too many don’t include women with agency and many also use abuse/rape/refrigerator tropes and I got tired of either being invisible or seeing women and children abused. Unfortunately I’m finding similar problems in many white women’s writing. I’m an eclectic genre reader so this isn’t limited to a single genre. We have a long way to still as a culture. :(
I read widely. The joy of reading is to go and live in as many worlds as you can manage.
On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of being managed.
I actually like broccoli but part of me rebels when anyone tells me I should eat it because it’s good for me.
I realise that this is a childish reaction. (On the other hand, part of growing up is to realise it is an illusion to assume we can leave childish things behind us.)
@Jerome I suspect we’ll have to agree to disagree, but since you brought up KSR I’m curious: do you think The Years of Rice & Salt would have been any different if it had been written by an author who was a Muslim, or African, or female? Do you think KSR was 100% disregarding his own personal experiences and writing totally from another perspective, or did his own life have any influence?
To be clear, I think it was a great book, and I’m not criticizing it. But I stand by my point that if you only read authors from a certain demographic, however talented they are, you are still missing out on a whole lot of other perspectives.
I noticed the “read only women authors for a year” challenge on some of the blogs I read. Being kind of lazy by nature, and not wanting to give up favorite male authors for a year, I just tried *seeking out* books by women.
As a result I have some additional new favorite authors: Katherine Eliska Kimbriel, Rosemary Kirsten, Ann Leckie, Tamora Pierce, and Helene Wecker, for example.
I don’t get why someone would be shrieking about that, unless he is afraid he can’t compete, which come to think about it, might be a reasonable fear in the case of some screamers.
And “I don’t care about the author’s personal life when I choose a book” ends up meaning “I have decided to read mostly straight white male authors because that is easier.” Maybe it isn’t intended that way, but it works out like that because, for whatever reason, books by straight white males get more attention, and more reviews. If you take what the conveyor belt of the mass market brings to your doorstep, that is what you are going to get.
If I had done that, I’d have missed out on the writers above. So it’s probably time I made an effort to seek out books by writers of color too. Jemisin is great, and I like Barnes but it’s time to look farther. Because there are probably some more great authors out there.
I didn’t like Bradford’s article but I like the idea behind it. I found her premise confusing (was the content of the stories making her angry or some sort of monolithic white viewpoint of the authors?) and her conclusions simplistic (yes, the “privileged view is everywhere and pervasive” – that’s how privilege works). But I love the idea that you can and should make the effort to examine what you’re reading.
Why not examine how your choices might – might! – mean you are missing out on exciting and informative voices that have lived cultural experiences different from your own? It will only add to your reading enjoyment.
And of course you should only read good books. Who exactly is forcing you to read a BAD book just because of the author’s identity? It’s really not that hard to find good books by non-white, non-straight, non-male authors, though it does take a modicum of effort (hence the word “challenge”…)
To give you an example, in the course of a conversation on diversity in genre fiction with a friend whose tastes in books I trust, I said: “How come Muslims never write sci-fi or fantasy?”
Friend: “They do. Check out ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ by Saladin Ahmed.”
Me: “Is it any good?”
Friend: “Yes, it’s awesome.”
And it was.
I love the “run out of books” argument. Friends and family sometimes worry I’ll run out of books to read as I add another author to my “don’t read list”. I’m always puzzled. I have over 5k books on my kindle, our physical library has another 3k+, the local libraries with inter-library loans have 10s of thousands of books, there are millions of books in existence, and several hundred thousand published a year. Are all the books fantastic and perfect for everyone? No but there should be plenty to keep anyone busy for life even if you choose to limit who you read – either by saying no to certain authors or by choosing to only read books by x intersectional authors for a bit.
-Tasha who has read 200+ books a year since she was 12ish – turns 49 in March
I’ll pick up the next Big Idea that doesn’t feature a white dude.
For me, I only really notice who the author is if it is Scalzi or Hiaasen. Other than that, I’m reading books based on recommendations, or series, or if I read an interesting blurb about it (the big idea thread here for example). I don’t hardly ever really acknowledge the author’s identity or background until I really want to know more about that author or read other works by them.
So I guess it is never a factor. Especially if they’re gay/trans/female/whatever… I don’t ask for that much info about an author because I don’t care. I’m just looking for a good read.
I love Rosemary Kirsten!
Oh for fuck sake, why is it such an ingrained social instinct to deny marginalization and to put forth the fear that if we actually acknowledge marginalization in anything, we are somehow creating “groupthink” and destruction, yadda, yadda. We could have a fiction market twice the size of what we have now if not for the defensive bigotry we’ve had.
The book publishing industry, the self-pub industry, the bookselling industry and general retail selling industry are all enormously and deliberately bigoted. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not going to pretend it’s not there, that whitewashed YA covers and sexy boob shot covers for female authors don’t exist. They are bought and published/stocked less often, they are given damaging or less marketing support than comparable authors, they run into countless problems with book vendors, they get fewer reviews and media coverage, they are believed, firmly and completely, with no real evidence and many examples to the contrary, to sell less because of what they are.
And that doesn’t go on because the books by non-SWM’s are on average not as good as the ones by SWM authors, let’s not be delusional. It goes on because the book industry is a largely white industry that firmly believes most of its readers are bigots who won’t buy the non-SWM books as often. So while they’ll stock non-SWM stuff to get enough variety to maximize the market, they deliberately and stupidly minimize parts of the market out of that empty prejudice. (And this is not limited to SFFH.)
Consequently, readers don’t read those books not because of no interest but because they don’t know they are there. Because they aren’t being talked about, marketed, they’re just thrown into a bin. And consequently, a lot of other folks who might read SFFH if they didn’t think it was just a SWM sausage fest don’t read SFFH and we loose them too. If you see a SFF novel with a hyper-feminized lacy cover or a hyper-sexualized cover, which they give a lot of women authors, are you going to pick it up or download it? If you might have heard some good word of mouth, you might hold your nose and do it. But otherwise you dismiss it and others don’t spread word of mouth because they don’t know the book is there. If a SFFH book has been shoved into the African American section instead of the SFFH section, are you going to find it? That’s marginalization and it puts non-SWM authors at a severe and unnecessary disadvantage in the market.
So going out and finding the books you might not otherwise find — a handful of folk doing that has great results for the whole market. Because they’ll read the books and they’ll pass word of mouth to other readers and also people who aren’t readers or SFFH readers. And if those new readers come in, they browse outward to SWM authors as well as others. And if those non-SWM titles do well, they bring in more readers and money for all, and that success undercuts the bigoted belief that they are somehow different from SWM titles and can’t sell as well because of that, which means more titles, more readers, more money for all — and a better future for the fiction market.
It’s not divisive. It’s shining a spotlight on an area of fiction that is very deliberately being lit by dimmer lightbulbs otherwise in the marketplace. Bradford’s finding a lot of work by SWM authors inaccurate, hateful or boring to her, and she’s working on finding authors she finds more value in and encouraging others to look for authors they might otherwise miss, because they’re fed a steady marketing and review diet of largely SWM authors. And more than getting people to do it, it’s getting people to realize that marginalization by the suggestion, getting people to talk about it, be more aware and maybe counter it.
But let’s say that she somehow gets 100,000 readers to never read a white man again (which will never happen.) Out of millions of readers who receive constant more favorable marketing and media coverage of SWM author titles and who quite often read nothing but SWM titles in a year. Oh please.
And the idea that SWM titles are so bad that if they aren’t propped up by major artificial discriminatory marketing favoritism, sales for them will collapse? I don’t think that’s really the case. If you are fearful that even the suggestion that some of the institutionalized bigotry in the publishing industry be countered, if individuals so choose, will cause massive unrest and psychological disaster, or massive loss of sales for SWM authors, well then we kind of know where you stand on bigotry, don’t we?
SWM authors do not have to be included in everything, all the time, at the top of the heap, nor without a whisper of criticism ever. And pretending that bigotry in the industry isn’t having a marginalizing effect on non-SWM authors in the marketplace is a big old lie. But we have to go through this every time marginalization is brought up, because deny, deny, deny is the name of the game.
I started mindfully seeking out books by women and POC authors a couple years ago, mostly from a desire to put my money where my mouth is, and I was rewarded by stumbling on the best book I had read that year, The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, which took me back to why I fell in love with SFF in the first place. There are still a lot of WMSC authors on my list, but I would never have found that treasure without intentionally seeking out voices different from the norm.
I disagree that going out of one’s comfort zone when selecting authors is necessarily the same as reading outside one’s comfort zone. When my reading material search criteria changed (outside my easy reach comfort zone), my reading list became more in line with my beliefs.
Studies have proven that starting comments with “for fucks sake” lends additional credibility to the comment and is more likely to convince neutral readers. Can I sign up for your news letter?
““I don’t care about the author’s personal life when I choose a book” ends up meaning “I have decided to read mostly straight white male authors because that is easier.”
Well, I don’t care about it and my kindle contains 71 books that are not by white men. Of the 36 others on there I’m not sure how cis and het the authors are, nor do I care.
I’ve been reading this kind of mix since I was a child. If there’s a white male monolith of SF literature out there, it apparently never reached rural Pennsylvania.
It seems to me that the article is about subtraction, not addition, and it’s not just a problem with an unnuanced headline.
She also writes:
She finds reading straight, white, cis, men to be stressful.
Thank you for this. I really appreciated Tempest’s starting lists, as I keep a list of Books To Read gleaned from various sources (including The Big Idea!) and this was a great addition. Definitely looking at this as an opportunity to expand my reading.
Also, thank you to you commenters listing books! More to add to my list!
Actually Mike, what she said was that she has less stress when she reads a story by a SWCM in an author or magazine she trusts. But please feel free to go on with your misrepresentation of her statement and your cherrypicking of the article if it makes you feel better. I’ll be over here reading new things.
Have a nice day!
Some people have asked about reading lists of non-whilte-male SF authors. Rachel Manja has a list at this post http://rachelmanija.dreamwidth.org/1179802.html. The post begins with discussion of the Requires Hate affair, so you will have to scroll down to get to the list of authors.
Those of you who don’t care about author demographic, including those who go out of their way to not let it inform your reading of the book: have you ever gone back over your past reading to see what the impact was? Did you find more/fewer women writers, writers of color, etc than you predicted going in?
I definitely skew high on the white women writers side of things, so I’m adding Justine Larbalestier and Sofia Samatar to my list for my next library visit. I really liked Samatar’s story when I was Hugo-reading last year.
I didn’t read all the comments as they did get a bit repetitive, but from my take, all that is being said is “Please, expand your horizons, folks!” Nobody is dissing anyone.
I travel a lot, so tend to pick up 2nd hand or paperback books in other countries which is a good start as you then get local authors and books from other travellers from their own country or those they have passed through. I’ve come across some amazing authors that way.
One woman decided to read a book from a different country each time for a while and that way read her way around the world : http://ayearofreadingtheworld.com/thelist/ That’s a good start.
I currently have books on the go from mwm (mainstream white male) authors, but also from England, France and Argentina. I read lots of books from both white and black authors from African countries since I travel there a lot.
St Augustine’s quote also applies: “The World Is a Book and Those Who Do Not Travel Read Only One Page”
I would hope that most readers would try and read as many pages of the book as possible, both with their eyes and with their feet.
About 25 years ago I was similarly challenged and discovered that most of my SF on the shelf was by the usual suspects, all white males (mostly deceased or soon to be) with the usual exception of Le Guin. I soon discovered the likes of Russ, Sargent, Delany and others while on my own journey of coming out and quickly discovered far more than I ever would had I not challenged myself. The major publishers aren’t producing much that this gay white male (who everyone thinks is straight) would prefer to read, so I feel that for this “challenge” I am almost required to read something published by Baen.
I would also challenge those in my own LGBT community to A) stop assuming that I am straight and hostile (and treating me as such) and b) that anything written by the much maligned straight white males is misogynist and unworthy. Some small press LGBT work is absolute garbage, and some, like what Lethe Press publishes, is gold.
Life is short. I am almost 45 and still discovering new authors of all sorts. I don’t want to read the same stuff as back in the last century so this sort of challenge is refreshing and appreciated.
K. Tempest Bradford also mentions other identities people could look for and use to broaden their reading horizons, such as non-Christian religions/faiths and working-class or poor. That’s an interesting idea (because I know I read books by women, by people of color and by LGBTI writers already), but I don’t know I could recognize writers who are dirt-poor, for example.
GIve what being a writer generally pays, that would be most of them, alas.
I find that the more I know about an author the less I tend to enjoy their SF/F writing. It’s kind of like knowing how special effects in movies are done – the more you know the more you see the things that aren’t quite right. The more I know about the author the more I see their world-view sneaking into their writing. Sometimes it’s obvious anyway, like how GRRM can’t write believable female characters, but sometimes I don’t see it until it’s pointed out – like when I was told that Tracy Hickman is an LDS member. Now I see it all over his writing, and can actually pick out which parts of the Dragonlance canon he wrote and which parts Weis wrote by the extra religious undertones in his writing.
I also don’t buy the ‘publishers are racist/sexist’ argument. Not saying they aren’t, but this is a profession where you send a submission by mail, not in person. If you’re worried the publisher will reject you for having a name like Joyce Oates, Charles Dodgson, or Jill Emerson maybe it’s worth your while to pick a pen name you think they would like.
There are two kinds of books I tend to read in F&SF: those that simply entertain me and help me forget myself for while, and those that blow my mind into a new perspective. An example of simple entertainment for me would be something like Leiber’s Fafhred and the Grey Mouser or a Star Wars book; an example of the latter would be LeGuin’s the Left Hand of Darkness (which totally blew my mind when I read it in high school) or Delaney’s Babel 17. And I am frankly omnivorous with this: I read one or two books a week sometimes (more when on vacation :) ) and I never really stop to consider whether I am reading male or female, gay or straight: I either want to be entertained or made to think (or sometimes, rarely, both!). I want good books and I don’t care who writes them, and when I find someone who writes good ones (like Delaney or Leguin) I go on to read everything they ever wrote. For me, these are people, fellow humans, delighting me with what they do. The proposal to restrict the type of books I read seems so strange to me, like taking time to have theory of who I will fall in love with before I go out to meet people. I went and looked at the the last ten books I read and I now realize that 7 of them were by women. But that’s not why I picked up their books. I picked up their books because they are awesome writers and artists, some whom help me lose myself in stories, some of whom help me think about life (and one I won’t read again because it bored the hell out of me). But they might as well have been gay men. Or some of the CIS folk. The one’s I appreciated lit me up in some way, and I hope they write more stuff, because I plan on reading everything they will write :)
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with giving weight to the trustworthiness of an editor or a magazine in assessing whether to read a work by a new author, but the implication of that paragraph is that she less likely to rely on this trustworthiness if the author isn’t a SWCM.
Cherry picking? A fair fraction of the article is her tale of how she quit rage-quitting magazines when she stopped reading SWCM authors.
Why? Are you planning to tone police it too? :) My credibility is in the facts of actual things that go on in the publishing marketplace that are readily visible to everyone. And simple math. If non-neutral readers — because they aren’t neutral because discrimination isn’t neutral — want to pretend to ignore that situation, that’s their problem. I’m tired of the hand wringing of those who would like to see not only a disastrous problem continue, but angrily condemn anyone who brings it up as a problem for themselves and others to look at honestly.
Thomas M. Hewlett:
And this is exactly the issue with the marketing problems. You didn’t know the books are there. Luckily, you had a friend who knew a book was there. Which is why encouraging people to seek out and check out books by the undersold and overlooked non-SWM authors helps the market, brings in more readers and more interest in SFFH fiction. Whereas the bigotry in the industry marketing that crops up does not.
I read KT’s article when it originally posted and was completely engaged with her reasoning, but unfortunately when some commenters began to dialogue (politely, respectfully) about how that exact challenge didn’t work for them, KT’s repeated, condescending responses of “*just stares at you*” were extremely effective at shutting down absolutely any positive conversation.
Apparently, if one does not fight tooth-and-nail against Bradford’s challenge, a year from now the streets will be littered with the skeletal remains of white, straight, male writers who have starved and perished from lack of sales.
I took a look at my Kindle library and realize it might not be a bad idea for me to attempt this challenge. There are some women authors, but less than a handful of color. And my genre choices are pretty narrow too: fantasy, sci fi, murder mysteries, and the occasional popular history.
But I have to be honest. I read strictly for pleasure these days, and probably won’t stray far from my comfort zone. Though I could live happily on a year’s supply of Tara French and Saladin Ahmed novels.
Tim, if you think that, you need to read this: http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/genreville/?p=1519
Read the comments, too.
I love how white privilege means people can just dismiss the discussion of trying to increase diversity altogether. “Well, I don’t care about what my bookshelf looks like! I don’t care who I read! And if you tell me you’ve suffered prejudice when you try to have your work published or seen, I’ll just tell you you’re wrong, because clearly I know better than you do!”
I think I am missing something that I gather must be otherwise obvious, but I do not understand why not reading white/cis/male authors makes it impossible for you to write during that time period?
From reading “whatever”, your books, and meeting you in person I have no doubts that there is a very good reason for it, I am just clueless to it and am curious to know.
All the best,
I’m guessing that it’s because to write he needs to read what he’s written.
D. Paul Angel:
What Cally said.
I happen to have kept track of all the books I’ve read this year so far: a total of 44, by 27 different authors (I’ve been binge-reading series). And I thought I was a diverse reader, but…I googled each of them. All 27 authors are white. To the best I can tell, all but 4 are straight. There are 16 men and 11 women. 20 Americans, 7 other countries (3 UK, 1 Australian, 1 Czech, 1 German, 1 French). These two months aren’t exactly representative of everything I ever read, but this really is what tends to happen when I pick books by ‘what looks interesting in the library’s new books list’ and/or ‘authors someone mentioned recently’. Finding diverse authors often requires extra effort.
I am eager to read some of the books mentioned here, and in the various reading lists that have been pointed to.
I am glad to be seeing more F/SF in translation from languages other than English. This particular aspect of publishing takes a different commitment from the publisher than finding authors of diverse background in the country where the publisher is based. It may even be more difficult financially and logistically.
Sigh, I don’t mean to dismiss the discussion at all. It is important. I wish I could promise I will do better. But I have to admit I probably won’t.
Since this meme started going around a bit, I’ve noticed I don’t have a very strong bias towards white/male/cis stuff. Actually, two of my reasons are similar to John’s. I enjoy diversity and difference, and my very good library in a very multicultural area creates opportunity.
Other reasons might include genre – I like literary magical realism which is quite diverse; that linking stuff sites do these days, where once you’re embarked on a path, they feed you similar books; my travel bug, which makes me seek out books from places I’ve been to or want to go to.
If I hadn’t already been in that situation, I think I’d be intrigued by the principle behind the challenge, although I’m a bit averse to hard rules in my recreational activities.
John and Cally,
Perhaps it is just my ignorance of these these things, but I would consider you reading your own works as part of the writing process, and the challenge is about reading. I understand you already read a wide variety of authors, and are self aware of your reading choices, so I don’t think you are the target audience to begin with, but I do think it wholly misses the spirit and point of the challenge to say it is an impossibility for you. If you have x number of books you have discretion to choose in a year, surely those choices could abide by the challenge without precluding your writing?
All the best,
This is close to a lent violation. The blog entry attacking the article you reference had your name. You could argue its not since you likely didnt google yourself to find it. Just doing my best to help John through lent… Not meant to be mean.
I encourage people to read the full article it came off as fairly obnoxious to me. There is a difference between trying to read people different fron you and going out of your way to exclude.
For most people who post here, its likely conservative authors are farther from your world view than simply excluding straight white males. I challenge most of you to try genre books by conservatives. They are quite different from you. John.. I know you read all kinds of stuff.
Uhh… How would I possibly tell your sexual orientation from your author blurb? I just grab books I find interesting. Most books dont even have a photo so I have no idea what your skin color is. I am reading the goblin emperor now. Pretty sure the author is female based on name. No idea what her skin color or sexual orientation is and why should I care?
I read a number of books by Stephen Saylor. He mainly writes novels set in ancient Rome. I can tell from his website and the stories that he is a history buff. I like well researched historical fiction. I coyld have this wrong, but I think some time after I started reading him I found out he was gay. I dont feel particularly multicultural after learning that. He does good work.
I have no idea what might or might not have happened in a fictional universe. We could speculate, though, so lets do that. We might speculate that an African or Muslim author may have focused a lot more on their own culture to the detriment of the remaining cultures in the story. Do you suppose an African author would have dedicated entire plot lines to North American aboriginal people? Or Chinese exploration of the Pacific? We might further speculate that KSR, being a SWM, is the only “type” capable of writing a story like that *specifically because he took himself out of it.*
But like I said, that is all speculation about what might happen in an alternate universe. What happened in *this* universe is that a straight white guy wrote a brilliant book of speculative fiction about what the world might look like if white guys weren’t in it.
So let me ask you this question, since you seem to think KSR’s biases are reflected in a story with no one that looks like him in it: Lets suppose an African or Muslim had written Years of Rice and Salt. How would it differ?
D. Paul Angel:
It’s your ignorance of these things, yes (note “ignorance” does not imply you are stupid, I hope that is clear). I have to read my own writing to write it; that reading it is part of the writing process doesn’t make it any less reading. It’s also part of the editing process, but again, not any less of a reading for that fact. Nor do I think it wholly misses the spirit of the thing to acknowledge that as a working writer, I have to read my own work, and that I am a straight white cis male. I do note it’s a highly specific issue, which it is.
If you’re asking, if I said “Aside from my own work, I won’t read straight white cis male writers,” whether it would be effectively the same as not reading any straight white cis male writers at all, the answer is: I don’t know. It depends on how much reading my own writing has a cognitive and qualitative effect on how I think about other writers’ work. You may wish to argue that this effect might be trivial; I’m not sure I would agree.
“The blog entry attacking the article you reference had your name.”
I’m not sure how being told people are talking about me violates my Lenten plan not to ego-search, especially if I’m not asking to be told when someone is talking about me on the Internets (I’m not asking, to be clear. Feel free not to tell me when other people are talking about me online). With that said, I’m sure I’m being invoked in some way, somewhere, in relation to this discussion. I’d be vaguely surprised if I were not.
I having been reading through this list: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/11/139085843/your-picks-top-100-science-fiction-fantasy-books which is mostly cis, white, dudes, I’m kind of relishing the idea of reading anything but them once I’ve finished (18 to go…)
It’s depressing the amount of sexism in them (mostly the pre-1990s books) but it’s incredibly disheartening that there’s almost a complete absence of any diversity. Also, the same tropes get used OVER AND OVER in some of them, it gets really dull. I imagine a lot of people who do take up the challenge are going to review their previous reading fodder in a new light.
@Jerome I have no idea how it would differ, and I didn’t expect you to say specifically how it would either. I was just trying to get a yes or no answer about whether you think a writer’s background influences their writing at all. Obviously I think it does, and I think that to get a truly diverse reading experience I need to read books by authors with different backgrounds. I think, based on your comments, that you are saying that an author’s background has no influence on the book and the only thing that matters is if they are a good writer, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth.
Elizabeth Bear did an interview with Locus a few years ago, when she was writing about “a mythic, precolonial-era Asia.” She talked about “insider” vs. “outsider” stories and how they are different but can both be good. She said, “I cannot write a story from the perspective of somebody who was living that.” That didn’t mean she shouldn’t write it, but that it would be different from a book written by an “insider,” someone writing from within e.g. the Mongolian culture.
The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism. –Helen Lewis
I am… not impressed with the sad puppies’ collective reaction to this.
However, I do think that at least some of the anger is understandable. To start with, the headline was bad, and of course a nontrivial percentage of the haters likely didn’t read the article at all. I also think the piece probably could have done without an accompanying photo of a book with the “universal no” symbol over it; the negative connotations are pretty strong there. The article itself was also framed in the language of exclusion, and while I don’t think that’s the message KBT meant to send, intent isn’t magic. Finally, this line of discussion has been going on in the sf/f community for quite a while now, and frankly I think that some people are simply sick of perceiving themselves as being shit on (note that this perception may or may not actually map to reality, but that’s not the point).
Personally, my reading habits are already fairly diverse in terms of gender and race; however, I think her larger point is simply that we should actively identify perspectives that we have neglected, and stop neglecting them. A quick look at my goodreads indicates to me that the majority of the authors I read are either left-wing or apolitical – so if I were to take what I see as the spirit of KTB’s challenge, I would probably have to read more open conservatives and reactionaries. But of course, those writers probably wouldn’t want me to take her challenge in the first place. Right?
I’ve found that the reactions to this article, when posted on various social networks, have turned out to almost be a Voight-Kampff test for detecting !@#$heads.
I don’t even mean that snidely. I’m just… amazed at the (over)reactions I’ve seen from people I thought were otherwise sane.
How big is the pool of readers picking up books and then flipping to the back page hoping for a picture of the author so they can make a decision about whether or not they should buy the book?
Of all the reasons to buy (or not buy) a book gender, age, race or sexual preference shouldn’t carry the day.
To the people who are upset by the article or its suggestions, I can only encourage you to please, try and get out of your own way. I KNOW it’s tempting to nit-pick at it, and I know how fun it must be to come up with your own indignation and rationale for why it’s not “right” or practical or fair. Or whatever. I’ve been there.
But I implore you to let it go. Those impulses are only holding you back from being awesome. Truly.
Be a bigger person than that and answer the call to try something new or different. You will discover more about yourself and the world around you. You will find new things you enjoy! You will find new ways to appreciate the things you already like! Have new experiences! Have a more fun and enriching life! Be a better YOU! And why would you not want that?
Now you might not like everything new you read. That’s OK. You probably don’t like everything you read currently. But your universe of available options will be greatly expanded. And the things you do find you like may lead you to find other new things you like. It’s an adventure, and it’s available to you–RIGHT NOW!–and all you have to do is get out of your own damn way and try it out.
“BUT! BUT! BUT!…” you’re thinking. And to that I say, stop. Get out of your own way. “But what SHE SAID was…”. Again. Let it go. That’s your uncle talking.
SF/F is built on exploring new ideas and new worlds. Would Star Trek have been as groundbreaking if the Enterprise’s mission was to “routinely go where they’ve comfortably gone before”? Would “Lord of the Rings” be an epic if the hobbits never leave the Shire? Would we even be on this site if the only thing John Perry did on this 75th birthday was visit his wife’s grave?
So, again, do yourself a favor. Stop getting in your own way, and take a step into a larger world.
I’ve already found a couple of suggestions I haven’t already read for broadening my horizons in this thread; anyone have more?
Renleigh, could you possibly post a link to that bingo? Sounds like something I could do with.
Does anybody have recommendations for *light* fiction by authors of color?
Most of the stuff I have by authors of color is very high quality (I imagine it has to be in order to get published!) but difficult for me to read during the school year when my brain is mostly fried from work.
TheMadLibrarian, depends a lot on what you like to read. If you can point at authors you like now, it’s easier to suggest “oh, then try…”. Happy to help. :)
Nicole: Tobias Buckell has done some great, exciting, fun adventures. Steven Barnes’ Lion’s Blood is a good pulpy alternate-history tale. Malinda Lo’s Huntress was really engaging fantasy that scratched the same kind of itch for me as, say, some of Raymond Feist’s work. Tananarive Due’s The Good House is an awesome haunted-house story that works much the same way for me as Stephen King or Peter Straub. Charles Saunders’ Imaro is the pure-strain swords-and-sorcery, if that’s your thing.
My take on this is complex. On the one hand, I will tend to pick new books to read according to the blurb on the back, rather than the author’s name, gender, ethnic identity and so on – I pick books to read according to whether the book looks like something I’d like to read, in other words. That said, if I find an author I like, I will tend to stick with them and look for their work preferentially, because I know I like their stuff. Still, I take Ms Bradford’s point – there’s a lot out there, if you have the time (and more importantly, the money) to find it, and challenging yourself to read outside your normal comfort zone is often an interesting experience.
(Or, as she did, choosing to read more diversely because that was *inside* her comfort zone and less likely to result in the Parker-esque “throwing with great force” style of response to an author’s words. I do something similar when I have periods where I actually just mark my news feeds – as in mass-media style “news” – as read to start with, rather than even reading the headlines. Given my partner refers to one of these sites as “ThingsThatAnnoyMeg.com”, it can be a good move during one of my depressive periods).
At present, I’m not likely to be undertaking it, mostly because at present I’m not reading much new formally published fiction at all (most of the new fiction I read is fanfic). Being on a low income will do that to a person’s reading list. In addition, at present I’m busy dealing with culling and re-packing most of my existing book collection (moving things from cardboard boxes into plastic tubs, to facilitate better long-term storage) and getting rid of the culls (at a rate of one large bag of culled books to the Salvos per week, it takes a fair old whack of time to get rid of ’em). So most of what I’m reading at present is stuff I’ve read before (giving it a final “farewell” re-read before I drop it off).
(One of the things I’m planning to add to my list of “habits to encourage” over the long term is heading down to the local library to borrow books, on the twin grounds that I need to do something about my near-agoraphobia and reluctance to leave the house, and also I need to diversify my reading beyond my favourite few blogs and fanfic authors. At that point, I’ll probably start asking the librarians whether there are any good Australian female non-white authors they can recommend in SFFH, if only to watch the tumbleweeds amble past).
So. Since several people mentioned the poopstorm around this article, and Mr. Scalzi Tweeted about some that might center on himself, I sent myself out for some lite-apocalypse rubbernecking.
I started with the comments on the article proper, but that got very boring very fast, since my tolerance for aggravated dumbth is low. Then I went to Beale’s site, because I know he has a fixation on all things Scalzi. He doesn’t mention this (though some posts he did have up had me going “Oh jaybus nonono!” over and over after just a couple of sample paragraphs).
So this is the question: is there a place to spectate from, as it were, a little distance? So your brain doesn’t get totally stupid-splattered?
@Bruce… thank you for the recommendations, but I think you and I have different definitions of “light” (Stephen King is never light! And Raymond Feist really isn’t either.) A. Lee Martinez is light. Marta Acosta or Justina Chen or Lisa Yee are light. Or to put in white guy terms, Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt, Craig Shaw Gardener. White women: Esther Friesner, Carrie Vaughn, Lisa Sherin, some Seanen McGuire, some Mary Robinette Kowal. To Say Nothing of the Dog is light but the rest of the books in that series by Connie Willis are not.
I heart you, Jonathan. Also, would Star Trek have been as groundbreaking if everyone in the main cast was white and male? No, because white and male aren’t marginalized in television and so it’s not unusual to put them there.
But the “fear” is that if you do put non-SWM there — the fear that Star Trek had to combat — than the SWM will no longer be primary. The fear is a fear of equality, real life diverse representation, of letting go of the fantasy of SWM’s as masters of the universe and the barometer by which we always chart our stars, and the benefits that automatically go to them from that fantasy. It doesn’t wipe them out; it just makes them another person on the bridge, another book among many, rather than top boss nearly every time. And that’s what people are freaking out about as an idea.
There’s nothing wrong with the headline xojane slapped on that article. The only reason that it’s a “controversial” headline is that anything that dares to imply that white straight male creation may not always be desirable or shouldn’t always be thought of as primary and dominant, that non-SWM stuff is marginalized, is considered a threat. Because our society is institutionally bigoted to protect the high status of SWMs and deny any marginalization as much as possible for as long as possible. So how dare they. But why shouldn’t they? If they don’t dare, nobody talks about the bigotry in the book industry and the media, and SFF stays 80% white (unlike the real world) and shrunken from what it could be if it at all reflected the real world.
If someone says that they don’t like to read fiction by women because they think it’s all gushy romance or they don’t often read fiction by black people because they can’t “relate” to the characters — which these authors hear all the time — we’re all supposed to not say anything critical and be okay with those authors being told that not only are they unwanted but that they are outsiders of “normal” life, their work fits into some sort of stereotype that the person has about the group they belong in, and their stuff is therefore not to be looked at by most people who count.
But should the “angry black woman” declare that she’s frustrated with most SWM fiction she’s reading and she’s taking a break from it and challenges others to consider trying that too, it’s exclusionary, irritating, problematic and every other word used as a euphemism for you made me uncomfortable so now comfort me, preferably by shutting up about inequalities in books.
That’s why Bradford is staring down clueless pleas that she continue to pretend everything is fine and the problem should never be mentioned or in a way that makes the primary groups uncomfortable. Because a black woman hears this shit all the time. It’s not a constructive discussion. It’s a bunch of folk spewing institutionalized fear about her reading choices as if it somehow has something to do with them. It’s a bunch of tone policing that a black woman didn’t speak respectfully enough about marginalization, the way that society demands she speak to control that speech and keep it low as much as possible.
That doesn’t make marginalization and bigotry in the book industry go away. It doesn’t make it more palatable. Those are the real controversies. Those are the real gates that are being kept firmly closed.
Thank you very much for your reply, I now understand what I was missing. My own writing is still a hobby, and I am no where near ready to make a jump towards any flavor of professional writing. If you consider our respective days as pie charts of time, I knew yours would have a significantly larger chunk attributed to writing than mine. I underestimated, however, just how large of a chunk that is. It is a stark reminder of how much of a commitment professional writing is compared to my amateur status.
Finally, I fully understood my ignorance, so your pointing it out was simply accurate. I have been reading you long enough to know that I was very much missing something, and I am grateful to now understand it.
All the best,
I just looked up the ten books I’ve finished this so far this year, and only one is by a swcm author. However, most of them are by white women. I’m assuming straight and cis, but, I admit, I rarely think about these criteria when I try to diversify my reading.
While I don’t think I’ll be doing this challenge for a year, I’m considering do this for the summer. (Memorial day to Labor day.) For the last couple of years I’ve been doing themed reading during this period to try to make a dent in my tbr pile and I’m pretty sure I have enough books that fit. (Though I’ll need to actively avoid making it mostly swcw to keep the spirit of the challenge.)
1. All headlines suck, so anyone reacting only to it is, de facto, an idiot.
2. SP/GG boys think EVERYTHING is an attack on them. Sigh.
3. In some universe, Tempest is The Czar Of All Publishing/Reading. This is not that universe. Cis-SWM will still be published and read amply.
4. E-books. Yes, many of them suck, but many of them do not. They’re often cheaper than paper books and you don’t have to leave home to get them. I’ve found many a good free (for a limited time or always) self-published ebook, and the nature of the thing means that many more non-CSWM stories get told. What was it like to be a fat gay man drafted into the Army during Vietnam? I read a semi-autobiographical wonderful novel about that, free. What’s it like to be a Mormon husband who realizes he’s a woman and transitions? I read that memoir. The black experience during the Civil Rights movement in Chicago? Read those essays free. FREE and GOOD and non-CSWM.
5. I’m not giving up all CSWM for a year, but this has prompted me to be more mindful of my reading. I’m real good on reading books by women, but could do better on the PoC and QUILTBAG front.
Putting in a plug for Maurice Broaddus. He’s black, Jamaican-American (I think cis and straight), and his urban fantasy is astounding. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be interested in a retelling of the Arthurian mythos among black gangs and drug dealers in Indianapolis, but it is SO GOOD. But I only heard about him b/c Mary Robinette Kowal vouched for his awesomeness. I don’t read his horror only b/c I’m not a horror person. I think “Pimp My Airship” is online for free. @Imani check him out.
And finally: since Neil Gaiman isn’t insulted by Tempest’s opening picture, probably everyone else should STFU about that, at least.
To clarify a thing about my reading choices during that one year:
I didn’t spend more time reading within my comfort zone. Because reading works that actively offended me was not about discomfort, it was about having to deal with racist, sexist, homophobic nonsense in my reading material as well as my day to day life.
I feel like if you, for example, spend all day standing in the middle of a McDonald’s PlayPlace watching over two dozen kindergartners on a sugar high, you earn the right to not have to listen to a Ska album that’s made up of nothing but samples of screaming children on top of shredding guitar.
Not every story written by a schm had offensive stuff in it. A percentage of them were just badly written. But there was always a higher chance of me running into something really upsetting to me as a queer black woman in an issue of a magazine where 90 – 100% of the contributors were men and who were almost invariably white. Straight and cis I couldn’t attest to.
So I shifted to folks outside of the schm category but that didn’t mean I stayed inside my comfort zone. Heck no. Not even talking about the occasional offensive stuff and some stories I didn’t care for. In fact, the stories I read then challenged me a lot more and took me out of my comfort zone. Because very many of the stories were written without an attempt to be palatable to the mainstream. And some challenged my idea of what a full and complete story is, or what a character arc has to look like, or how plots must be constructed, among other things.
Ever since I was in the 10th grade and read an excerpt from Kindred I have never felt that fiction needed to make me comfortable or stay within a comfort zone for it to be good. Kindred made me *profoundly* uncomfortable and upset in a way fiction never had before that point. That was an awesome thing to me.
There is a difference between wanting to avoid being hurt and offended and made to feel Lesser Than and wanting to stay within some imaginary “comfort zone”. If you have never had to worry about whether the fiction you read for pleasure will, without warning, smack you in the face and remind you that there are people who think that you belong in a kitchen or making babies or in a ghetto or dead in a ditch, then I am really jealous of you.
@lilisonna February 25, 2015 at 12:09 pm: now I’m actively trying to seek out more authors of color (or protagonists of color) to make the reading challenge more interesting.
Consider A Free Man of Color, by Barbara Hambly? Protagonist of color (author is not), historical mystery genre. There’s a series.
I assume N.K. Jemisin has shown up on your radar as well. *grin*
Just one observation. The tone of the title, or even the entire article, does not matter. It would not make any difference to the objectors. Every time, and I do mean EVERY time, it is suggested, even in the mildest language, that something should be read, or said, or understood in a manner that gives preference to other than SWCM’s the Loyal Opposition goes bugfuck crazy and blows it up into something far more sweeping and draconian than what was said.
Tempest could’ve proffered this as the most gentile and diffidently ladylike (ahem) of hesitant suggestions, and it would not make one shitbit of difference. The antagonism would have been just as vehement.
pax / Ctein
Laz: “How big is the pool of readers picking up books and then flipping to the back page hoping for a picture of the author so they can make a decision about whether or not they should buy the book?”
I think I’ve seen several variations of this trope in this thread alone. It took me a while to realize why I think it’s so funny. Part of the point of this challenge, after all, is that people have other ways of avoiding books by the “wrong” kind of authors. Another part is that if you don’t want to broaden the range of writers that you’re reading, then you needn’t.
But here’s why it’s funny to me: it’s the implication that, having decided that you might like to read more books by women, non-whites, non-heterosexuals, non-cisgendered, you then decide not to because it’s so much *work* and takes so much *time* to flip to the back page or the back cover or inside flap to find out which category the author fits into. (I won’t even *consider* the exhaustion that results from going to the Web for information.) First World Problems! No wonder many readers don’t venture outside a very narrow range of authors or stories; it just takes too long to look at the back cover, read reviews, ads, blurbs, which might perhaps give you some hints about the sex, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity or nationality, of the author.
I’m skeptical of the “I don’t care about these things, I just want a good story” line too. How do you know whether it’s a good story until you’ve read it? Maybe you’ll find reviewers with very similar tastes, whose recommendations you can trust absolutely. And again, if you look back and realize that in your reading, all the protagonists are straight white males, but that’s fine with you, well, carry on. (Notice too that people who read only work by straight white males and think that girl writers have cooties, and as for non-white writers of either sex, do they even exist? — such people never think of themselves as exclusionary. A story with all male characters is normal; a story with all female characters is at best ‘chick lit,’ at worst androcidal. If you don’t know anything about the history of racism and sexism in US sf, think about broadening your reading just enough to look at some of the histories that have been written of those problems. Justine Larbalestier’s “The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction” was fascinating to me.)
I noticed a few years ago that in one online forum, those sf/fantasy fans who dismissed concerns about this kind of narrowness, nevertheless imagined that they were bold, independent thinkers, unlike the ignorant masses who don’t read sf/fantasy, because they read almost nothing but sf/fantasy with white protagonists, and (for fantasy) in Tolkien-inspired northern European imaginary worlds. When I asked about imaginary worlds set in, say, Asian-based imaginary worlds, you’d have thought I’d suggested killing babies. It fits with some ‘extreme cinema’ boys I’ve conversed with, who fancied themselves to be bold breakers of taboos. Except for gay stuff. That was *too* taboo, inherently and absolutely disgusting, not what they meant at all, not it at all.
If you want to broaden your horizons, explore beyond the well-beaten path you’re used to, some thought and conscious effort may be required. You may have to turn to the back of the book to look for an author photo or some hints in the blurbs, a process that may take you all of five seconds. I can see why that would be daunting.
I basically took K.T. Bradford’s call as an “I’m giving this up for Lent” kind of post. It made perfect sense to me when I thought of it that way: For a limited time period, you make a decision to give up something of value so as to focus on other things you want to give more attention to. (Meanwhile, other people might decide to give up the same thing, or something different, depending on what they think would do them good.)
But somehow, when someone announces that they’re giving up, say, desserts for Lent, no one jumps down their throat about how they’re discriminating against sweets-makers and want to drive them all out of business. Go figure.
Incidentally, folks who are taking in part in the challenge, or who are generally interested in reading more early science fiction by women, might want to check out a list my wife Mary is compiling of pre-1950 SF and utopian works by women that can be read online:
@KatG: Yes, every comment she’s *staring* at is because they’re either worried about the tiny little things and have missed her overall point, or they’re more microaggressions along the lines of tone policing, mansplaining, “what about the menz?” “all lives matter!” “it’s about journalism ethics!”. Either simple ignorance (in which case the stare should prompt them to think again/learn something) or complete fearful/hateful bullshit (in which case they’re not worth wasting words on). She does not have time and energy for any of that.
If we’re suggesting protagonists of color, by a white writer but still awesome, Peter Grant in the Midnight Riot/Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich is great. It’s CSI meets Harry Potter, only in this case, the junior wizard is just a bloke who became a London police officer instead of going to college, and finds out on what seems an ordinary case that he has a bit of magical ability. He doesn’t go to Hogwarts, he learns from the last working wizard in the Met Police, around his regular duties. His father’s a Cockney (mostly-) reformed heroin addict jazz musician, and his mother and her infinite relatives are from Sierra Leone. He’d rather be down the pub watching footy, but duty calls. (His pal the medical examiner is a six-foot ginger Scotsman who converted to Islam but goes home every Christmas.) He’s fine with gay people, though dubious about Americans.
BTW, I humbly submit that the SP/GG types should always be referred to as “boys”. Regardless of their chronological age, their emotional age is that of a child. They have too much fear and need too much external validation to be men. It’s also a nice parallel about how often they refer to women as “girls”.
Closing up the comment thread for the night because this is the sort of thread that sprouts trolls when I’m asleep. See you in the morning!
Update: Comments back on.
I read books for the story, not politics. My favorite author is male, as it happens, not because he is male but because he is John Scalzi. My second favorite is female, not so that I could balance things out but because I like the stuff Mercedes Lackey writes.
I think it would be more productive to encourage people to read categories you want them to read rather than to limit choices so there is nothing to read except what you are encouraging.
Diversity of experience is valuable.
Consider one of the whitest, manliest of authors: Ernest Hemingway. His novel A Farewell to Arms is closely based on his experiences as an ambulance driver in Italy in the First World War. I think it’s a great book, and a lot of critics and scholars agree with me.
If I tried to write a novel set in Italy in 1916, and I thoroughly researched the setting, it might be a perfectly good book. But it would not have the benefit of Hemingway’s direct experience. His knowledge adds something to the story which I couldn’t. When I read A Farewell to Arms, I get to travel to a distant time and place which I could not possibly have experienced in person.
I think you can see where I’m going with this. The experience of being female/black/gay/etc gives a perspective which myself, John Scalzi, and Ernest Hemingway can’t possibly have.
As for those who say it’s too much trouble to Google an author before reading the book: To read a novel, you’re committing at least a couple of evenings’ worth of your free time, and probably some money as well. Committing 2 minutes and no money to consult Google doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me.
Interesting exercise. I’m not sure it’s for me (mostly for selfish reasons), but it’s interesting.
I read books for the story, not politics.
Story >IS< politics. It can't help but be shaped by the author and their viewpoint on society (which IS politics). Similarly, a reader can't help but choose books for their politics.
(Though, admittedly, it's like asking fish to analyze the water they're swimming in…but it can be done.)
I tend to research creators after my first interaction with their work. If I like what they’ve done then I usually want to find out more about them and their body of work.
The idea that I need to vet my authors before reading their work is really unappealing to me. If the blurb on the book is compelling enough that I want to read what someone has written, why throw up potential roadblocks to that process?
Hell, even if I didn’t like or hate the book I’ll still usually look them up to see if they may have done something else that appeals to me.
I like the idea behind the article, although I do think it could have been stated a bit more tactfully. However, there are times when tact can and should be put aside. Whether this was one of them was up to the author to decide.
I’ve actually undertaken a similar mission with my reading for 2015. Aside from books I already own, I’m reading only books written by writers who aren’t American or Western European. I have a list of about 40 books so far, both classics and contemporary fiction, from China, Japan, Africa, India, the Middle East and S. America that I intend to work through this year. My reading over the last couple of years has been almost exclusively American/UK Sci/Fi and/or Fantasy, but as much as I enjoy that particular genre, I can’t help but feel is is rather limiting.
@Iain Roberts – to be honest, I wouldn’t automatically Google an author if I wasn’t doing some kind of challenge not because I find it too much ‘hard work’ but because I would find it creepy (and potentially self-defeating if in your two minutes you e.g. find outraged news stories about the one time they said something stupid and hurtful and so decide to give them a miss even though).
I was going to add this would possibly be like meeting someone at a party and chatting a bit and then checking their Facebook page while they were getting a drink to find out more about them before spending/wasting any more time talking to them, but then maybe people do actually do that and don’t have a problem with it?
However I would, and do, read a few reviews of a book. They sometimes tell me about the author, and that sometimes adds and rarely subtract to my desire to read the book. I’m not sure that’s the same thing however.
I am going to add that I think this is an exercise that is useful as a check on your own internal guidelines and if there are any unconscious biases in them (I look askance at people who deny even the possibility of bias in their thinking—that just doesn’t jibe with the real world).
The only thing that upset me about this post was a then/than grammatical error! :)
@ CS Clark: I agree it’s unnecessary to always Google a new author before reading, and I usually don’t do it myself.
The point is, if one decided to do this challenge (or a variation, like Scalzi’s buddy system), the additional effort of Googling a few authors is pretty trivial. That’s the idea of doing the challenge in the first place — making a small effort to try something different
I read Scalzi and Jim Butcher. Only current SWCMs I can think of right now. I read Cherryh and Bujold (non-male) and Delany (non-white, non-straight) and I read Charlie Jane Anders (non-cis) whenever I see a story of hers.
I have a sub to the New Yorker, though, so I probably read some SWCMs there…when I get around to reading it at all. I can tell male writers sometimes, but I can’t tell their race or cisness (or usually their orientation), and any of them could be doing a Tiptree or reverse-Tiptree. I do NOT have the energy to hunt down the names and find out.
All that said, I stand with Tempest. Especially since she’s being dogpiled by the usual gang of fucking useless morons. And this is NOT AT ALL because I’m a white, male, cis, non-straight writer. I haven’t published anything anyway.
As for “tact”—I’m not sure I’d’ve heard about this at all if it hadn’t caused a furor. It spread the message much further and got people talking about it.
General comment on the comments: I wish I had a filter that would automatically just not show me comments that contain the letters “SJW” not in quotes.
So that would be GO TEMPEST GO, right? I love to hear the lamentations of their men! I bathe in straight white male tears!
I was punished for being a bibliovore. I was told chewing paper wasn’t good for me, and it certainly wasn’t good for the books.
Kilroy: FFS, are you just here to put your name on things so we’ll know you were…oh, I get it now.
Don’t you see? THAT’S THE PLAN. Ordinary paving materials are getting too expensive; white straight male bones stand up very well to most weather. (Just in case it wasn’t clear, I’m joining your sarcasm, not missing it.)
WELL PUT. Also straight privilege, male privilege, and cis privilege. I challenge anyone saying that to count up their books (stories are too hard, as mentioned above) and characterize them as SWCM, non-SWCM, and Don’t Know. Then look up some of the Don’t Knows. Are a disproportionate number of your books written by SWCMs? Why do you suppose that is?
Thank you Tasha Turner and Kat Goodwin for your doses of reality! We don’t live in a color-blind utopian meritocracy and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. It’s time for some healthy anger and uncomfortable conversations. Saying “the only thing that matters is a good story” while pointing to a bookstore shelf full of white male writers is disingenuous and kills progress. I’m going to make more of an effort to read mindfully and skillfully.
To clarify something in my earlier comment: when I said that the anger was “understandable”, I didn’t mean that it was justified. I think it was predictable, and I think KTB could have defused much of it with some minor changes to the article, and without sacrificing her larger point. If that makes me a “tone troll”, then fine, but I don’t see it that way.
@urdith Long after the original comment, but I’m very sorry to say that yes, there are flame wars in gardening too, and I wish there weren’t.
Try telling someone that a beloved plant their grandmother grew in their garden is an invasive species that chokes waterways…but have a fire extinguisher ready. People get very, very protective of their plants and very very angry when it is suggested that maybe those plants are not the best thing for the habitat. (And if you’re into native plants, you will be accused of being a Nazi faster than you can say “Godwin.”) Nobody wants to hear that the gorgeous thing on their fence is the next kudzu.
There’s just fewer of us, and given that we do not buy ink by the barrelful, they are harder to find than SF flame wars.
The best thing about these kurfuffles are the lists they generate. How I found Tananarive Due, and Nalo Hopkinson, among others.
Here’s a list I came across for 7 black women in science fiction to read http://www.forharriet.com/2014/08/7-black-women-science-fiction-writers.html
Remember, “Scalzi” is now its own gender. The MRAs said so! Therefore, your books count for inclusion on the list!
Nice theory you’ve got there, but…
You’d be wrong. It’s been done. The Loyal Opposition still goes ballistic. Every flippin’ time.
Data trumps theory.
pax / Ctein
It’s not just fiction, by the way. A few years ago the Atlantic Monthly ran an article about people in Japan, South Korea and China (!) running banned literature and information past the censors in North Korea. Everyone discussed and interviewed was Asian, and the article is great. As I read it, I couldn’t believe they had the courage to eliminate the white American male who would usually be the focus of the story so that American readers would be comfortable. If you’d like to read it too, here’s the link:
That is unfair to boys, I think. The mindset that goes with these positions is a full adult political ideological mindset. It’s not a game of kids but a deliberate maneuver. But that’s not the main issue for me. The main issue is still rank and file SFF fans who aren’t interested in repression or fantasies of white male disappearance, but nonetheless instantly try to minimize or ignore marginalization problems in the industry, dismiss authors’ concerns and move the conversation away from the actual issue of discrimination to a full out defensive posture towards those who bring up the subject (tone policing, et. al.)
You can point out the effects of that discrimination and the damage it causes to SWCM SFF authors too, that it hampers the market, that it has nothing to do with the real world, and regular fans of SFFH will not only stick their fingers in their ears and sing “la la la, I don’t want to hear this,” but object to the fact that the topic was brought up at all, by anyone, in a conversation not even addressed to them, without even asking their pardon for doing so first. It’s an automatic lord of the manor position.
And so that bigotry in the book industry goes largely unchanged, and we have a ridiculous lack of diversity that costs us readers and reinforces society’s idea that only SWCMs form mainstream society and art and must be supreme as much as possible or it’s culturally dangerous. A lot of SFF fans fight vigorously to keep marginalization in place even though they don’t like marginalization. Because it looks different from what they are used to, and they don’t like having it pointed out that they help keep marginalization in place.
Since Star Trek keeps coming up lately, when Star Trek had a black station commander in Deep Space 9, that upset a lot of people. There was no reason for that upset. When Star Trek had a female captain for a spaceship in Enterprise, that upset a lot of people. There was no reason for that upset. Unless you want to keep marginalization in place.
And I don’t think most people do. I think they want a big, diverse, fun market of SFF. But a lot of people in the book industry think that we don’t. And unless we talk about it, complain about it, talk up marginalized authors, work to deal with stupid cover problems, etc., the industry will keep operating on that premise and the marginalization will remain.
So what would I think if someone said that they would only read white people, etc. for a year? I would be unsurprised because it happens all the time. Entire school curriculums are composed of just white writers or white males or straights, in fact. And when nobody says anything about how weird and limiting that is, nobody blinks an eye about it.
But the minute somebody does point this fact out, especially say a black, queer woman author? Well, jump on that like a pile of bricks. Go into endless minutia about how she brought it up instead of what she’s bringing up, so that what she’s bringing up can be ignored or minimized. Declare her understandable anger at repression to be not legitimate and her advocating for other authors to be “unfair”. Say that we should read “everybody” to keep in place a system where we are steered away from reading everybody to mainly the SWCM group. The Sad Puppies and such do that for a political agenda aimed at keeping repression in place. The rest of us do it out of habit, and that makes marginalization way more powerful.
I was going to add this would possibly be like meeting someone at a party and chatting a bit and then checking their Facebook page while they were getting a drink to find out more about them before spending/wasting any more time talking to them, but then maybe people do actually do that and don’t have a problem with it?
I do that.
Or I would if I had a smartphone. Back in my OKC days, I would absolutely run the names through Google before meeting up with anyone: if it turned out that the dude was an antivaxxer/Libertarian/etc, I would come down with a sudden and virulent case of the nopes.
Life’s too short, you know?
In re: the actual subject of the post, two thoughts:
1) Oh my God, whiny-ass people, it is a *challenge*. Other Internet challenges have included “do thirty squats a day for thirty days,” “drink Mentos and Diet Coke,” and “dump ice water over your head.” I have done none of the above, and the stormtroopers still are far from my door.
Which isn’t to say that this challenge is silly or unimportant, but that “challenge” means “Hey, here’s a thing you could try doing!” and not DO THIS OR ELSE. Do it, don’t do it, but stop clutching your damn pearls over it either way.
2) I read a lot of female authors, but I would love to read more books by people who aren’t straight, white, or cis. My tastes are pretty specific, so this is me begging for recs:
* Fantasy. Maaaybe soft-sf, but with apologies to our host, I don’t do anything that’s too hard to have Force ghosts.
* Ideally epic fantasy–good v. evil, happy endings, and so forth. I like urban or historical fantasy too, but I don’t dig the Martinesque grimdark thing.
The original article features a couple that look awesome, so I’ll start there, but any further hints would be excellent.
If you have never had to worry about whether the fiction you read for pleasure will, without warning, smack you in the face and remind you that there are people who think that you belong in a kitchen or making babies or in a ghetto or dead in a ditch, then I am really jealous of you.
Oh yes. Word. Right on, sister. THIS. Etc. I’m straight white cis, but the “kitchen, babies, raped, fridged” part smacks me in the face all the time. The “ghetto/dead” part goes past me personally but affects my friends and thus I am pulled out of the story by being creeped out. I invite anyone who’s dubious about Tempest’s choice in reading material to sit with that a minute or ten and really ponder it. The SP’s get upset that Seanan McGuire is nominated for All The Things, but I like that even when the end of the world is nigh, her books are going to be a safe place for me. Men seem to like ’em too and don’t think they suffer from the lack of those tropes.
@ctein: Yep. She could have phrased it in the sweetest, most deferential way possible and they still would have gone Defcon Ballistic Batshit. Scalzi the SWM says not-very-wild things in a calm, rational way and they immediately hit D.B.B. and declare whim a whole new gender. Which whee have joined. Scalzine, y’all: it’s the funnest gender.
@KatG: fair point. Can I still call ’em that b/c it parallels their use of “girls” when talking about adult women? (“Uhura’s the only girl on the bridge. Have you seen the new Batgirl?”) And just to annoy them further?
FWIW, I didn’t dislike VOY because it had a female captain, I disliked it b/c it was kinda boring and stupid. Sisko on DS9, however, is one of the truly great performances on a swell show. He was a true leader. All hail the Emissary.
Bringing it up, I think, chips away at “the way it’s always been” a little each time. A few more minds get opened, a few more people try something new. It shouldn’t be this hard, but it takes a lot of force to break through something this entrenched. So if that requires a few impolite words and a less-than-deferent tone, so be it. Sometimes you gotta use the dynamite (LOL, can you tell from this metaphor that I went to a mining engineering school?). Tempest is this week’s dynamite.
Maybe someday, with enough dynamite and a few pneumatic drills and a bit of hammer and chisel, the mighty edifice of cisSWM supremacy will be reduced to just be big enough to hold a few SP’s. Give it 500-1000 years or so and then they can complain about oppression and being marginalized. Maybe by then we’ll be able to give them their own planet.
It isn’t just books, of course, it’s all popular culture. Are there any TV shows currently on the air that aren’t SWM-focused and aren’t (dear sweet baby Jesus no) Tyler Perry and/or overly religious? I’m not a sitcom person usually, but that’s where you often find non-WM.
As for diversity in dramatic casting, see the opening credits of “Hawaii 5-0”. Yep, that show your mom and grandma watch. It’s true that it’s overly male and all cis-het, but the names during the opening credits are (checks IMDB): two white men, two Asian men, one Asian woman, one Hispanic man, and one black man. A procedural reboot is a surprising place to find that much racial diversity. (Myself, I enjoy Daniel Dae Kim in a swimsuit. Pecs know no race boundaries. Hubba.)
Thanks for all the interesting links, esp. Magda. Reading that one, I came across this one: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/02/white-privilege-quantified/386102/
@isabelcooper have you tried Michelle Sagara/ Michelle West (non-white)?
Also Tanya Huff (definitely not straight) is fantastic.
Although it doesn’t seem to be attracting much attention, Bradford actually posted a list of suggested books. I’ve read four of the books (Samuel Delany, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cixin Liu and Umberto Eco) and they were all really good. So, based at least on my sampling, her suggestions are worth considering.
It is a mixed blessing to see so many comments on this challenge. Happily, It means that there are still a number of people who actually read, and care about what they read. Unhappily, it means there are some who think it is a good idea to stovepipe their reading with the goal, however, salutary, of gaining a better experience of the diverse viewpoints in authors’ works. I recently completely coursework and field assignments to teach high school English, Spanish, and Social Studies. What I found was that few of today’s students read if not forced to do so. (And yes, I observed many students from different gender, ethnic, and religious backgrounds). To reduce the scope of reading as a means of raising consciousness is an unwise solution to a perceived problem. Better to breathlessly sell the life-changing works of diverse authors than encourage potential readers to set any single type of author aside. We already have the challenge of moving millions of potential readers out of the Slough of the Unlettered. Why place obstacles to their Progress?
About 18 months ago, I decided I was only going to read female authors. I’m an old white guy, and I don’t suppose my motives were particularly pure. I’m sure I did it for the smug self-satisfaction as much as anything else, but I also did do it to broaden my reading. I wanted to read a whole lot less military SF by authors whose first name is David, for example.
It’s been an interesting experiment. I’ve read wonderful books that I would have read anyway (anything by Elizabeth Bear and Kameron Hurley) and wonderful books that I would have discovered anyway (Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series, because Hurley recommended it on her blog). I’ve read a bit of urban fantasy that, to put it mildly, I didn’t care for, but I also read the whole wonderful Vorkosigan series (by Lois McMaster Bujold). I’ve also read well-regarded books that I couldn’t get into, but I don’t think the ratio of hits to misses is any different than before.
I understand this is a little nuts — I could have limited myself to one male-authored book to every two (three? five?) female-authored books and achieved a similar effect — but I haven’t really felt limited in my reading.
While I was developing a list of books by female authors that I wanted to read, I did notice one side effect that will surprise no one other than old white guys: whenever I saw a list of books (“ten SF/F books you should read over summer”; “the best books of 2014”, etc.), I swore softly and thought to myself, “probably another $%#*! list of male authors”. On the other hand, it’s not such a chore to figure out the gender of most authors and select appropriately. I can only imagine that it’s a whole lot harder for smaller groups, like women of color.
I guess it doesn’t make sense to continue this specific experiment forever, but I intend to keep going for the time being. I’ve started the “Exiles” series by Melanie Rawn, and Lagoon (by Nnedi Okorafor) has a warm place on my TBR pile.
Mark T. has a really important point. Why, I just handed my 7-year-old Umberto Eco’s “Name of the Rose”, lest he fall into the Slough of the Unlettered. He just cried and cried and says he hates reading and hates me. When I suggested “Love in the Time of Cholera,” he called me a stinkyhead. Yes, the goal of Raising Consciousness is no excuse for providing this as a potential list for beginning and reluctant readers!
Oh, wait, I actually read the article and know it’s not that. Nevermind.
Hey, Mark, I understand it’s good practice for teachers to actually read the things they’re teaching about. You might want to ask for your money back on that “coursework”.
I hesitate just a bit to comment here, because while I am a member of one of the marginalized groups in Tempest’s challenge, I don’t consider that gives me the right to comment on behalf of all of them. Frankly, I am still pretty damned privileged, and I know it. So please filter the following through that awareness.
I’ve read a few – ok, more than a few – comments both here and elsewhere that basically said “well, the premise is an interesting one, but geez, you don’t have to be so rude about it.” And I would like to make an observation about tone.
I was born and raised in the Midwest. I am in my late 50s. I am female.
And while I can under certain very specific circumstances act like a gold-plated cast-iron bitch, the vast majority of my interactions with others are characterized by being nice, smiling, being cooperative, saying please and thank you, and generally acting like everyone’s archetypal Midwestern Nice Older Lady.
It is an understatement to say that I found Tempest’s essay difficult to read for that reason. The tone of her piece is hard for me to handle, and that Midwestern Nice Older Lady keeps saying “can’t we just please all get along nicely together?”
But you know, if I had spent the past six decades or so dealing with a constant barrage of overt racism, I wouldn’t be nice about it. If every book I read eliminated people like me as characters entirely, I wouldn’t be smiling about it. If my kind was perpetually cast as the uneducated ghetto-dwelling drug dealer in every essay, I wouldn’t feel at all cooperative about it.
No, if I were in Tempest’s shoes, there’d be no damned Midwestern Nice Older Lady in my nature at all. In fact, she is probably more diplomatic in her essay than I would be in that position.
So, yup, the tone in Tempest’s essay is pretty strident, pretty aggressive, pretty pushy. And it makes uncomfortable reading as a result.
Exactly as it should.
Mark T, possibly if kids were reading more diverse books in school getting them to like reading would be easier? Many parents have found comics, graphic novels, and books which feature THEM (people like them), and stories they can relate to, increases their interest in reading.
My husband is frequently asked for reading suggestions because he is widely read and doesn’t restrict his reading. Friends kids ask him for recommendations when previously they didn’t like to read.
I hated most books I read in school. Thankfully my parents were big on frequent library trips and not on censoring what I read.
@brucebaugh – for the record, although Tobias Buckell is of Grenadan birth, he’s considerably more leucistic than melanistic.
I love all the posts about how difficult it is to vet authors before you buy books. Here’s a hint: The barriers you build are much higher than the barriers that actually exist.
You can, in most cases, judge a book by its cover, at least on these terms.
If a book has an author with an obviously feminine name, it’s probably written by a women. Rarely* do men in F&SF take feminine pen names. You might miss women with ambiguous names. You might miss women who have taken masculine pseudonyms. But you’re still going to find work that’s by women.
If a book has an author with an obviously “ethnic” name, it’s probably written by someone from that racial/cultural/religious group. Christians rarely take pen names from non-Christian cultures and racial backgrounds. White writers rarely* take Asian or African pen names (except Japan-fetishists, go fig). Sure, you might miss someone who took a pen name because an agent or editor said “you won’t sell under your real name, you need something more mainstream.” But you’re still likely to find work by people outside the American mainstream.
It’s not “research.” It’s just “shopping.”
* trigger countdown to singular examples being trotted out in an attempt to invalidate the premise, and demonstrate that shopping is more difficult than math.
I can’t figure out if you’re joking or not. Problem with the interwebz, I guess. But Tobias B. has described himself in the past as “light, bright but not quite white” due to his heritage. I’m married to someone of similar background and skin color and I can tell you that she’d take real offense at being seen as having a condition resulting in “partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes.” (per wikipedia). I don’t know if Mr. Buckell would be bothered or not.
I have read the article again. tempest had inspired me. I am only going to read the ultimate minority in genre writing. Authors with healthy BMIs. I need to read authors who look like me and I can identify with. I may cut the yo yo dieters some slack as long as most of the book was written on the down cycle.
The privileged class in SFF just doesnt speak to me anymore. Please post some SAFE authors.
Tongue in cheek guys…
The whole “Reading books by non-s/w/c/m authors will mean I have to read terrible books!” argument seems to me to be a cousin of an argument that often comes up about affirmative action: “We’re going to have to hire less qualified people just so we have someone who’s [female/black/gay/etc.]!” Which is ridiculous, because it makes the assumption that there just aren’t enough qualified people out there in the world who aren’t s/w/c/m, so hiring a woman, or a POC, or some other type of non-s/w/c/m person would automatically mean lowering your standards. There are plenty of qualified job candidates who are non-s/w/c/m. There are plenty of excellent books written by non-s/w/c/m authors. Will you have to hunt a little more to find them? Maybe. That’s what makes it a *challenge*.
Also, to the “It takes too much effort to find out all the gory details of an author’s life before I read their book!” crowd, unless someone is writing under a deliberately ambiguous pseudonym, it’s likely you’ll be able to figure out if they’re s/w/c/m or not with a minute or so on Teh Googlez. You wouldn’t be looking for their social security number or their cousin’s stepdaughter’s dog’s favorite color; the categories we’re looking at are fairly broad, often surface-level things. Is the pronoun “she” used in most writing about the author? Excellent, you’re done. A brief search will also bring you to entire lists of authors who are women and/or POC and/or LGBTQ, and you can then look into authors from those lists. You’ll still have to decide which of their books are books you want to read, but you’d have to do that for any list of recommended authors.
@ Danny & Pixlaw: Here you can find Tobias Buckell’s thoughts on his Caribbean heritage and writing. He’s not really white… just pale. I highly recommend his stuff. Crystal Rain especially reflects his growing up on boats and islands in the Caribbean and it’s about 10 pounds of action and fun in a 5 pound bag. Its sequels are better.
I attempted something like this challenge last year.* Largely it was inspired by the dudebro reaction to the gender thing in Ancillary Justice. I thought “Screw those guys if they think they can tell what’s good by counting characters with cocks. Did they even read the STORY.” Then I looked at my bookshelves and what I had been reading and thought “Maybe they’re wrong… but I sure haven’t been acting like they are.” My shelves and ereader were mostly full of the usual suspects.
So I tried to spend 2014 reading only women writers. I binged a bit heavily on Lois McMaster Bujold (but who hasn’t?). I chased down short stories by Charlie Jane Anders wherever I could find them. Lauren Beukes really impressed too.
Then I found Kameron Hurley. I don’t think anyone has ever gone from first sampling to MUST BUY NOW!!! faster than her. I used to think I couldn’t read novels on long flights but I finished God’s War at 40,000 feet in cattle class surrounded by noisy children and wanted more straight away.**
I did stumble a few times thanks to Charlie Stross, Peter Watts and our host, so maybe I should go another 6 months. I never did get to Nnedi Okorafor or Nalo Hopkinson and I’ve been hearing very good things about both.
In all that time reading all those awesome women, the world failed to end. The culture I was born into remained dominant across most of the globe. No-one forced me to adopt customs or beliefs abhorrent to me. My penis never did shrivel up and drop off (or whatever it is that happens that makes the puppies sad). And I was thoroughly entertained by everything I tried.
* Straight white cis dude claims he thought of it first. Rolls eyes. :-)
** More Kameron Hurley novels, not being crammed in an airtight tube with noisy children and no possibility of escape for 13 straight hours. I never want that again.
As it happens, for my own reasons I did something very like KT Bradford’s challenge last year. For those as are interested, I wrote about it at:
I think that the idea of being a bit more reflective about what backgrounds inform the stories we read and seeking out extra diversity to be a good one. However I feel like the people who find the idea of vetting an author before buying/borrowing their book to be bizarre have a pretty good point too. I certainly am not going to limit my browsing pickups from what looks and sounds interesting based on the authors identity and the idea that you can identify ‘ethnic’ authors just from the name (while true in some cases) seems to imply that non-white authors with names that are also shared by euro’s are somehow less authentic.
Personally my mix of reading is fairly varied though I don’t tend to read much written by authors outside of the North America or Europe, simply because those are the publishers who stock the shelves of my local bookstore. However, I think it is a worthwhile endevour to seek out some more books written by authors from other areas of the world and hopefully I can find some lists of excellent fiction from other regions to help me out with that.
Sounds like an interesting challenge to take. I guess I’ve already been doing this, since this year the last three books I read were by Michelle Zink, and before that, Karen Traviss, and I’m planning to read a couple of books by Cherie Priest after this.
Still, it’s titled and phrased pretty awkwardly, and might turn off alot of people who *do* care about civil rights, equality, and social justice but are also kind of tired of being told that everything they like is “problematic” or other tumblr-tastic adjectives.
Why not just encourage people to read more female authors? That’s nice and simple, and given that they’re chronically and institutionally ignored, underpaid, and under-represented, they could use more attention and more readership and patronage.
In other words, rather than phrasing the objective of this challenge in a negative context (“No straight white male cis authors”) phrase it as a positive statement like “Read more/only female authors” or “Read more/only latin authors”.
Usually if you want to effect change, it’s easier to get people to do something if you ask them to try something new, rather than asked them to *not* do something that they’re used to doing.
I did the challenge in 2014, as in reading only SF by women (the reason why I didn’t read Lock In the minute it was published. ;) ) and it has been an extremely rewarding experience.
There were already a couple of writers like Kameron Hurley, Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire and Ann Aguirre I absolutely adored, but I finally managed to read Octavia Butler, Rosemary Kirstein (she is the best!) and discovered wonderful authors like Rachel Bach or rediscovered Tanya Huff whose Military SF “Confederation” pushes all the right buttons.
This kind of challange is in a way exclusion, but to be honest, there are too many books out there, I’ll never keep up with my to-read list and so be it.
Plus I would have never read Mary Gentle or at least not at that time and wow has “Ash” been a mindblowing read.
The same with Sheri Tepper
Books/series I’d recommend from this experiment (in no particular order):
Touchstone by Andrea K.Höst
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Warchild by Karin Lowachee
The Tribe by Ambelin Kwaymullina
Earth Girl by Janet Edwards
After the End by Amy Plum
Kindred by Octavia Butler
The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein
Paradox by Rachel Bach
Ash by Mary Gentle
Vatta’s War by Elizabeth Moon
Confederation by Tanya Huff
The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker
Grass by Sheri S. Tepper
All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge
The funny thing is, after 2014 had passed I didn’t immediately pull out all the books by white male writers, so far I have yet to read one. The main reason is that I’m in the middle of rereading a couple of books from 2013 and it’s really a coincidence that all those were written by women (or is it? I don’t know, the subconscious is a weird place).
This year I won’t put any restrictions on my reading habits, but I’m already positive that 2014 has changed the way I choose my SF books.
I’m quite happy about that.
If you “care about civil rights, equality, and social justice” unless non-privileged people don’t express themselves gently and positively all the time, then…you don’t actually care about those things, really. You like saying you do, and you may make vague hand-flappy gestures in the direction of actually caring, but no.
“I care about X until someone says something that could theoretically be read as negative or confrontational,” is a shitty way to approach a personal relationship, a hobby, a job, or a social issue.
And speaking only for myself, I don’t need or want those people on my side. If I wanted to spend time managing the delicate little feelings of straight white men, I’d date more.
Her idea is fantastic. As John has noted before, the straight white cis male is playing on the easiest setting. Most authors are not even considered simply because they can’t play the game at the easiest setting, in this sense their sales are being stolen by swcms. I would encourage everyone to take up her challenge, let’s show those sad puppies that they are on the losing end.
@A. Beth: Thanks for the rec! I’ve already torn through N. K. Jemisin’s work and will happily read anything else she puts out. I’m currently in the middle of The Three Body Problem which is excellent and highly recommended. (It’s a little denser than I need right now which is why I haven’t finished it yet.)
It also helps that I read romance novels almost as voraciously as I read SFF. That’s a genre that slants decidedly female-author, and my favorite author on that side of the fence (Courtney Milan who is awesome) is non-white. I’ve also anecdotally discovered that if I pick up a book by an author who only uses first initials, it’s most likely to be a book written by a woman than not. I’d be super-curious as to the data there.
” it’s the implication that, having decided that you might like to read more books by women, non-whites, non-heterosexuals, non-cisgendered, you then decide not to because it’s so much *work* and takes so much *time* to flip to the back page or the back cover or inside flap to find out which category the author fits into.”
If someone’s reading habits are such that they have only read s/w/c/m books in the past, there is probably a small outlay of effort required in the beginning to retrain Amazon’s recommendation algorithm. Beyond that, I don’t understand the “I just read what I like” to me crowd either. There are so very very many books out there that I have to filter what I read. I filter by cover image, by recommendations, by back cover blurb, and now by author categories (usually easily determined by opening the book and taking a quick look at the author photo. Most books have one.). This has only really helped my book-reading experience.
As mentioned in the original article, filtering authors more closely has cut down on the number of times I’ve said “Oh for the love of little green apples, REALLY?” by an enormous factor. I suppose for readers who have never had those moments, it might not be worth the few moments that it takes to check the author categories, but I really do think you’ll read better books if you do.
“let’s show those sad puppies that they are on the losing end”
There is no “losing end,” as this particular challenge of Tempest’s does not suggest permananently banning any author or group of authors; merely it suggests focusing on one group for a limited time. Again, backlist is a thing.
Blackadder, the more I read of your tweets, the more it seems like you’re just attempting to troll the threads you’re on with a parody of certain sensibilities and catchphrases, and I have other suspicions about your comments. So I’m gonna put you into the moderation queue for a bit.
Oh, okay, thanks for telling me that I really don’t actually care about things, but just like saying I do. So glad you could clear that up for me. Great to know that a complete stranger on the internet knows me better than I know myself.
Also, thanks for letting me know that the only way to show you really care about stuff is to be negative and confrontational about it. Glad you cleared that up too.
Shitty, condescending bullshit is definitely the way to go. It’s totally working for you.
I still plan on reading Cherie Priest and probably finally that Caitlin Kiernan book that my roomate got me. All the while not actually caring, but just saying that I do, of course. Because that’s how I roll.
Let’s all take deep breaths, please, and remember that politeness is a thing.
Two points, and I’ll try and be polite here (thanks, John):
1) There’s a qualitative difference between taking a positive, hand-holding approach *yourself*, which is great if that’s your thing, and demanding that everyone do so lest you (or mysterious “lots of people” because you’re totally not speaking for yourself here, just saying academically, la la), take your ball and go home.
Some people are Nice Midwestern Ladies, and that’s awesome. Some people are kindergarten teachers, and that’s both awesome and necessary for society. But not everyone is, or should be.
If you want more positivity? Great. *Put it out there yourself.* Start the Read One POC Author a Month Challenge. Nobody’s stopping you.
2) Nobody, as far as I’m aware, is telepathic. Certainly nobody has telepathy over the Internet. All we have to go on is what you do and what you say. When what you do contradicts what you say, or when the second thing you say contradicts the first, yeah, I’m gonna go with thinking you’re deceiving yourself at best.
For me, at least, “but non-privileged people should stop being so mean and negative because it might hurt privileged people’s feelings” is a flat contradiction of “I really care about equality.”
So…okay, we can get all Philosophy 101 about how what “caring” really means and nobody knows your feelings except you and blah blah, but it’s been a long time since I was stoned in a dorm room. Let’s just say that people who say they care about equality and then tone-police aren’t really *acting* like they care.
K Tempest Bradford: Just to let you know that this cis/het/white male thought it perfectly clear from your original post that it was not about retreating into comfort reading, or even about entirely eliminating offensiveness from your reading. I don’t know why so many others didn’t pick that up. I read it as John Mark Ockerbloom does: “giving it up for Lent.” (Brilliant analogy, John Mark.)
Just wanted to say that I appreciate the discussion here, and am also a big fan — your books are outstanding! — I also get why folks find this challenge off-putting, but have decided to give it a shot, to push myself to be more mindful of my reading (and I have to say it was weird googling lots of different authors whose books are on my kindle and seeing what they looked like, something I don’t typically think about, or generally have imagined totally incorrectly). I feel like I am pretty mindful of my reading choices, but am less of when I’m reading science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries than more “literary” fiction.
As you pointed out in your post, I’ll have to table some books I would have otherwise read this year, but I’ll get back to them next year.
If anyone is interested, I’ll be blogging about taking this challenge here:
Keep up the great writing!
The “giving it up for Lent” analogy doesn’t work for me, because to me it implies that books by SWCM are inherently more desirable than those that aren’t, and thus that to avoid them for a period of time is a penance. I’m doing a version of this challenge myself (only for fiction, and doing a “no more than 1 book by SWCM for every two that aren’t” rather than “absolutely none”, the idea being that much like allowing yourself “cheat days” on a diet this means that reading a new book by a favorite author who happens to be SWCM doesn’t constitute a total failure in the challenge). But I’m excited about it, and viewing it as an excuse to read a bunch of books that have been on my radar screen anyway and I just haven’t gotten to yet, not viewing it as giving anything up.
I’m in the middle of reading a book called “Our Black Year,” where the authors commit to only frequenting Black-owned businesses for a year, to try to keep more money within Black communities, and it’s amazing, the amount of vitriol they got for it. I think reading all types of authors is crucial to expanding your horizons, so I think this project is aces.
I do try my best to seek out female authors. They only need one criteria, they have to be good. I can’t skip male writers for a year because I’m in graduate school.
I’ve been a professional reader (lit teacher, then reviewer) for 49 years, and as a result am arguably a reasonably widely-read person.* Teaching put some restraints on my pro reading (the canon, required texts, and all that), but otherwise I have followed my nose since age eight. I’ve always found recommendations useful, but advice about what kind of reading will make me a better person (at my advanced age, anyway) I find perhaps a bit presumptuous. If someone else’s nose is offended or put out of joint by a particular book or even a whole category of books, that’s the way noses and their attached personalities work.
By the time I was 25, my nose (with the help of paying attention to what a range of other people’s noses had sniffed out) led me to Dante, Ralph Ellison, Chip Delany, William Faulkner, Shakespeare, Flannery O’Connor, Alfred Bester, Jane Austen, George Eliot, James Baldwin, Joanna Russ, Margaret St. Clair, Gore Vidal, C. L. Moore, and dozens of others, and an even longer list of writers now vanished from general literary awareness (Frank Yerby or Kenneth Roberts, anyone? Anyone?) In my innocence, I did not vet any of these for gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or political position–though, to be sure, I noticed when those matters mattered to the book, and sometimes one or another of those matters were part of what made a book visible. (Certainly Invisible Man, and perhaps Giovanni’s Room.)** But finally (outside the classroom anyway), the nose that mattered was mine.
Literature is a major means of understanding our humanity, but it also needs reinforcement from history, anthropology, and journalism (among other disciplines). When I want to become fully informed about the variety and strangeness of the world beyond my front door, those are the books I turn to. Art is not solely an instrument of moral education. In fact, I would argue that by itself it is quite insufficient.
* I lost my amateur status at 21. And I am, I regret to say, functionally limited to English. If I could re-engineer my life, acquiring college-level reading and speaking skills in multiple languages would be high on the list of desiderata, perhaps just below reading music and learning piano or violin.
** I am aware of arguments about systemic biases of various kinds and how they have formed the canon and the marketplace, but I am describing what conditioned my reading choices within the actual cultural/commercial environment of 1945-1970, not what they might have been in a better world.
lorax: while the things people give up for Lent do tend to be guilty pleasures, they don’t have to be. It can be anything you do too much of. KTB’s point was that, if you don’t pay conscious attention to it, a disproportionate share of your SF reading is likely to be the white males that she wrote of. Can’t argue with that; it’s true of me too. A Lenten restriction gives you a different outlook on how you conduct your life. So does this.
This is your board and of course you can do that, no argument here.
That said we have but one point of disagreement, there is indeed a losing side here, and it is the people who are ignored simply by being born in the wrong group, and as I see it, the sad puppies would like to keep it that way.
From the comments I see that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” seems to be true for a number of the straight white males.
Studies of how to avoid many brain problems in old age include trying new things throughout your life. Challenging yourself is a recommendation you’ll get if you talk to neurologist or read articles on how to keep your brain sharp as you age.
No one is insisting you change what you do. But why do you feel the need to defend being so set in your ways?
I’m 49. I try new things. I read different genres because it keeps tropes from getting boring. I read books by people of different backgrounds because they keep reading from being stale and predictable. I also do these things because after I was hit by an 18-wheel truck my various cognitive therapist suggested it would help get my reading, writing, memory, and speech back faster and continuing with it would help for life.
As when I started reading SFF again after a long break I found I like many things I didn’t know I did simply because I’d limited my reading by being lazy in what I picked up. It really isn’t as scary as it seems to move outside your comfort level whether your in your 20s, 40s, or 70s. I know people in their 70s trying new authors/genres/non-white/non-western books for the 1st time in their lives and its opening up their world.
Tasha Turner: I respond to you because of the direct address in your post and its proximity to mine. I invite you to examine the implied “you” of your post, to inventory the traits and attitudes and life-conditions it presumes to address. (Of course, you might have been responding to the post of some other old straight white man, in which case I apologize for my own presumption. One tires of being offered egg-sucking lessons and sometimes sees them where they are not intended.)
That is a matter separate from the non-personal issue of the assumptions about the roles and functions of reading and, by extension, art in general. I keep thinking of the exhorations to eat kale or take up particular exercise regimens–there are many paths to health, and not all of them suit everyone. Those who feel hemmed in or limited by their particular reading choices can do whatever scratches that itch. But a *challenge* to read or not not read X or Y category, for whatever reason, is challenge that can be declined without shame or guilt or anxiety about the opinions of those who differ on the subject.
One name I unfortunately haven’t seen mentioned in this discussion is Martha Wells, which is all too typical. AFAIC, she’s one of the mostly criminally under-rated SFF writers going right now. She may not be as prolific as Ms. Bujold, but she’s just as good as either her or Connie Willis (both of whose work I adore, BTW). One of her novels, Wheel of the Infinite, was set in a world seemingly inspired what you’d get if Tibetan Buddhism was the main religion of Venice. Kind of. Angkor Wat, maybe? And its protagonist is an Older Woman (old enough to have a fully grown son), who is powerful, sensual, and still human enough to be subject to lapses in judgement. And for added interest, notwithstanding the fact that her protagonist is described as dark-skinned, there was some cover whitewashing going on when it was first published. I’m not much into movie/TV tie-ins, but every one of her non-tie-in books is well worth tracking down.
Sold! I just put “Wheel of the Infinite” on hold at my library.
Thank you for the Martha Wells recommendation I will definitely check that out. Books with protagonists who are middle aged or older women is one type of book a I’m always on the hunt for.
Try Jo Walton’s My Real Children, starring a woman who we first meet in a nursing home as a very old woman. Actually, try any Jo Walton!
Also, for a shorter work, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut of Mars.
Russell maybe you haven’t read the entire comment thread to see how many men respond in a similar vein to you? I was responding to the straight, white, male commenters who have felt a need to explain why the challenge was offensive or why they aren’t going to ever consider doing it not singling you specifically out. Sorry if you felt I was singling you out or attacking you in any way.
I think Jo Walton’s ‘My Real Children’ might not be an ideal choice for most SF&F fans as an introduction to her rather than her Small Change series or her most recent ‘The Just City’ simply because it lacks a huge amount of what we take for granted in novels in terms of structure and focus. I really struggled with it at first, and while I think I benefited from challenging my preconceptions and expectations of what a novel looks like, I’m not sure it is a great choice as a first read by her.
Here is another person jumping up and down and waving Rosemary Kirstein books. I LOVE her books!
Heather Rose Jones
H. L. Huan
For those who would like assistance in developing SFF reading lists outside their usual preferences, this non-profit, fan-run website contains a huge database of author bios and books (including award nominations and wins), provides the capability to track one’s reading on “read” and “to-be-read” lists and to create a reading challenge of any theme (or to join in someone else’s challenge), and includes a forum for discussion of books and authors with other fans.
Worlds Without End – Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror books
Pam Adams, I adore Jo Walton and own everything she has written. Lifelode would be my top pick for a Walton with adult female protagonists, although I certainly liked My Real Children very much too.
And hooray for Rosemary Kirstein jumping!
Also a plug for Daniel Jose Older’s Half Resurrection Blues which I read earlier this month and enjoyed a lot.
I remain disappointed at the utter lack of self awareness on the part of those that decry exclusionist and eliminationist rhetoric and then use exclusionist and eliminationist rhetoric in offering their preferences. Hypocrisy writ large.
However, I do appreciate many of the reading suggestions. A couple of which I already own, a couple more I already planned on reading courtesy of The Big Idea series. Some, such as Love In the Time Of Cholera I will steadfastly ignore; supporting a communist/socialist state ought to remain a legitimate reason to avoid an author’s work.
“supporting a communist/socialist state ought to remain a legitimate reason to avoid an author’s work”
No more Orwell for you, then?
It’s worse than that Doug – no more Star Trek.
Technically, Orwell supported some sort of anarchist/socialist state that preferred a ;minimal level of government that left people free to otherwise conduct their affairs. He remained steadfastly opposed to the oppression of both the Nazi and the Soviet socialist governments.
He was one of those unique “socialists” that was able to swallow such absurdities on one particular subject while remaining sane on others. Perhaps, not unlike Oscar Wilde, if he had spent a little more time reading books (*cough*Adam Smith*cough*) he would have known better.
Just trying it out.
Poor Dann, so much to avoid in SFF. Mary Shelley, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ursula LeGuin, Jonathan Swift, China Mieville, Michael Moorcock, Michael Swanwick, Tolstoy, Normal Spinrad, HG Wells, Oscar Wilde, Gene Wolfe, pretty much all the feminist SFF writers ever, Isaac Asimov, Heinlein… Maybe if he read more, he would know better.
Sad emoti is sad.
@KatGoodwin–I was thinking either #4 or #7.
I must say – not a fan of the tone policing I keep seeing, even, and perhaps especially, among those who are saying they don’t disagree with the idea of reading more widely.
It really reads like in order to still feel ok about life, they needed to find at least one thing to criticize – “I mean she should really have phrased it so people like me wouldn’t have a knee jerk defensive reaction because we really don’t like that and it makes us feel uncomfortable.”
Also, re: saying that you just like to read “good stories”- it’s like conversation in that if you’re only involved with one type of person, you’re going to develop blind spots that can, quite without you realizing it, become empathy gaps or even knowledge gaps.
I can attest as well that unless you make a deliberate effort to be sure you’re reading diverse literature, you’ll overestimate your habits. When I counted, I realized that authors of color made up roughly half the percentage of my to-read pile I’d estimated they did.
I don’t see it as all that different from participating in any reading challenge, except that it triggers the delicate feels of SWMs.
After reading the article, I turned to my nightstand. Here’s what I saw: Leo Tolstoy, George R.R. Martin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William Faulkner, and Joseph Campbell. So I grabbed this YA book called “Hero”, which is about a gay teen superhero or something, and put it on there. It’s a start.
@lilisonna: I had assumed Courtney Milan was white. I’m glad I’ve been corrected, and I also went to her website while I was thinking of her and slipped and fell on the “buy now” link for Trade Me. whoops!
Seconding the Martha Wells recommendation. Her Stories of the Raksura series is one of my favorite series ever.
I’m starting to call it the demon ghoul in a tuxedo phenomena. We have these illogical discriminations against authors in repressed groups that affects their careers and limits the overall market. And these sorts of systemic discriminations are like a demon ghoul trying to eat people. And when someone who is in the repressed group tries to talk about the demon ghoul of repression gnawing on their leg and doing something about it, there are many folks who agree that the demon ghoul is a not good thing and that inequality for no reason is no good for anyone. But they would like the repressed person to dress the demon ghoul gnawing on their leg up in a tuxedo so that it is not so awful and horrible to look at all the time.
And sometimes, due to circumstances or forced circumstances, repressed people do that. But social change and improving equality mostly come from those people picking up the demon ghoul in all its naked awfulness and shoving it in their face, shoving it down their throats, protesting in the street, filing lawsuits, screeching in anger that there is a demon ghoul eating people and we have to do something about it. And if that demon ghoul starts to get dismantled, they grab the next demon ghoul and do it again, and again, because there are a lot of them. And they have to get past the next wave of folk going, “Again? Can’t you put a tuxedo on this one?”
And the answer is nope, the demon ghoul does not need a top hat and tails, and history has shown that it’s better if it doesn’t have one if we don’t want it ignored and continuing to kill people.
Dominant group literature is forced, sometimes almost exclusively, on everybody throughout their schooling in the English speaking world and beyond because our society is biased. Taking a break from that to support and explore repressed authors is standing up to repression of writers forced from and facing difficulties in the market from unneeded barriers, not excluding the dominant group from the market. It’s the equivalent, again, of taking a specialized literature course, and has no more effect on the careers of writers in the dominant group than a gnat. It helps with the demon ghoul, which helps the market and thus helps dominant group authors too.
Okay, Martha Wells added to the list. There’s a dark-skinned woman on the cover of “Wheel of the Infinite” on Amazon right now, ICYMI.
@Harold Osler: 3, 7 and just a skosh of 9 and 11. And all of 12.
@mintwitch: Was that off the top of your head? I bet it was. Awesome. I give you the opposite of 1. (Is that -1?) And all the emoji.
I didn’t know that about Courtney Milan– she’s one of those who got me hooked with a free kindle book on Amazon (which is still going for people who want a taste… the first book is always free…) Any other non-white romance novelists people want to recommend?… Specifically the kind of romance where everybody ends up with the right people in the end (and nobody gets raped), not the “worthy” kind with pathos?
Another vote for Martha Wells. I’ve loved her for at least two decades–I may have married my husband because he introduced her to me with his copy of the Element of Fire back in high school. I should reread all her stuff over again. (She’s another one of those authors where I’ve had a chance to get her signatures on my books but wimped out because she’s so amazing. I suck.)
And in this context I have come across the following book: Reading the World, by Anne Morgan, the account of a woman who pretty much did just that. Her blog of the task she set herself: http://ayearofreadingtheworld.com/ .
I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to put together a list of authors like I hoped, but here are some relevant links I had lying around with useful lists. The Internet makes this challenge extremely easy, folks. One little search. Take you two seconds. Like using a travel site.