Reading Diversely: My reading year so far

Hello again! I’ve been delinquent about blogging, but I have been reading, and the mid-year point seems like a good time to take stock of my reading to date.

Reading diverse books and diverse authors (in terms of non-white and non-straight authors) has been a goal of quite a few online readers, in romanceland, SFF, and mainstream fiction more generally. There have been articles about reading only women authors, and the #weneeddiversebooks hashtag and its offshoots continue to flourish. When one of the major book conventions managed to pick 30 panelists and the only “diverse” member was Grumpy Cat, it’s hard to argue against that kind of initiative. I’ve tried to review more diverse books at Dear Author over the last two or three years, and for the most part I’ve succeeded, although obviously I could do more.

My reviews haven’t been universally appreciated (although whose are?). There have been authors who said flat out that they thought I was being harder on them (and more unfair) than I was to white authors. Which brings up another aspect of the “read more diversely” effort: are we supposed to review the books the same way we review non-diverse books? Are we supposed to give authors points for trying and go easier on their books’ flaws so that more people will take a chance on them? Or is our main job as readers to buy them?

I recently read a post about supporting diverse books, which talked about buying, promoting, and marketing, but said nothing at all about reading. I not only find that vaguely insulting (I’m not your publicist or your mother, thanks), I think it’s counter-productive in the long run. I remember buying romance novels by African-American authors years and years ago, when they were justifiably complaining that the big review sites didn’t review them. This was before I was a reviewer, but I could still buy the books and I intended to read them. But I never did. I bought them, announced via blog comments that I bought them, and then they went into the TBR. So the authors got a sale, but that was it.

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This week, we have a little more on the Hugos and a lot more on reading and writing. First up, Gili Bar-Hillel, an Israeli translator and editor, talks about another way in which the Hugos are narrow in scope. The rest of the world snickers when we call the US baseball championships the World Series, but we call the Hugo con the WorldCon even though it’s overwhelmingly North American and UK oriented:

So what am I saying here? I am saying that OF COURSE the Hugos are dominated by Americans. This should be of no surprise to anyone. I am also saying that if you truly want more world in your WorldCon, it will require conscious effort, not only to attract and encourage fans and writers from other countries to attend, but to actually listen to them on their own terms when they arrive. Stop with the tokenism and the pigeonholing. Don’t cram all of your foreigners onto special panels for and about foreigners – just as you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) relegate women only to panels about gender, and POCs only to panels about race. Not only does it rub our noses in the fact of our being outsiders, it makes it far too easy for the insiders to skip our panels for lack of interest, and not really expose themselves to us at all…

People like me, who are comfortable in more than one culture, can serve as bridges and connectors. We bring a different perspective just by being who we are. But not if we’re cordoned off and observed from a distance as alien objects. Non-Americans who come to WorldCons do so because we love science fiction and fantasy just as much as Americans do. We want to participate, not to be held up as examples of difference. I’m afraid that too often, the programming, while well intentioned, is inadvertently alienating – the opposite of what it purports to achieve.

This is the same kind of essentializing that we do when we talk about “people of color,” as if their color is their defining characteristic. Sometimes it is, of course, especially in terms of how they’re treated in society. But sometimes it’s not, and we do the US/UK-centric thing there too. (This topic is too big for a links post, but I’m working on something longer.)

The author Aminatta Forma strikes a similar chord when talking about the way she and her book have been received and categorized by the UK and US literary communities:

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This week’s links lean heavily toward the Hugo awards. I’m sure most of you have read plenty about them; Robin has been providing links in several DA news posts, and Natalie has done an excellent, comprehensive job in rounding up a wide variety of reactions and canine defensive maneuvers. I’m linking to a handful of pieces that I don’t think are in either of those locations and which you may not have seen.

First up, Pep at Two Dudes in an Attic talks about the Puppies from the perspective of a white, male, Mormon reader of SFF. I found the Two Dudes blog a few months ago because Pep (I think it’s mostly Pep) wrote three great reviews of Aliette de Bodard’s fantasy trilogy. And he’s a political scientist, so his reviews sound the way I think. It’s not at all because the Dudes’ pseudonyms are Pep and Jose and the early ratings are in terms of football teams. Nope. Anyway, his take on the Hugopocalypse is pretty unambiguous:

Brad’s religion expressly forbids any sort of diversity-motivated hatred, and I have no doubt that Brad himself is a decent guy. Unfortunately, Mormons have a checkered history of racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and there is a deeply rooted strain of benevolent bigotry in Mormonism. (Full disclosure: I am Mormon myself, for those who are new to the party here, and I am allowed to say things like this. Anti-Mormon spittle flinging from anyone, no matter the political or religious affiliation, will be squashed like a loathsome cockroach.) I fear that Brad, no matter how well meaning, has a blind spot right where all the non-white, female, and/or LGBT people are, a blind spot endemic to his native culture that I am not immune to either. I don’t think he sees the full implications of what is going on here.

Worse, he refuses to repudiate the spiritual leader of Puppy-dom, the singularly distasteful Vox Day. (Speaking of loathsome cockroaches.) If the gentle reader is not acquainted with dear Vox, count your blessings. Anyone looking to be outraged is welcome to Google the man, just be ready for a shower afterwards. Possibly in hydrochloric acid.

I encourage you to read the whole thing, and to bookmark the blog. The posting schedule is erratic but the content is worth waiting for.

The second post is one Athena Andreadis linked to in one of her great posts on the Hugos. You should follow Athena’s blog too, if you aren’t. She writes about science, gender, and SFF, and she writes stories and edits SFF anthologies in her spare time (I guess days on the East Coast are longer, because that’s the only explanation). Joshua Herring takes apart Abigail Nussbaum’s troubling and confusing post about why she is going to vote No Award rather than vote for Laura Mixon. I don’t know Herring, but this is an excellent demolition of an argument that should have collapsed of its own weight:

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