All and Sundry

I did a little math at the end of 2016--not something I do all that frequently, at least not in a voluntary fashion--and discovered something about my recent reading habits. I finished 62 books last year, some new (I finally got around to reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X) and some familiar (the first five books of Roger Zelazny's beloved Chronicles of Amber), some long (Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton) and some very brief (Kelly Luce's 132-page short story collection Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail), some illustrated (the final volumes of Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke & Key) and some not (Terry Pratchett's final Discworld novel, The Shepherd's Crown). But all were dutifully recorded in my reading list, allowing me to examine the data and reach a conclusion:

I read a lot of books by white guys.

This isn't shocking, really. As a white guy myself, I find it very easy to look at the books written by my brethren and see my own interests and concerns reflected in the topics they address. At the same time, I am very aware, particularly in light of the events of November 8th, that the interests and concerns of non-white/non-guy people aren't always given much consideration. When I add to that the amount of pleasure I've gotten out of the work of female writers (Ursula K. Le Guin, Edith Wharton, Octavia Butler, A.S. Byatt, etc.) and male writers of color (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Salman Rushdie, Alex Haley, Ralph Wiley), I found it hard to justify the reading choices I made in 2016. 

Of the 62 books I finished, over 67 percent--a full 42 books--were the work of white guys. And on the other 20 books, white guys were often collaborators, either in the role of artist or writer for a comics narrative, such as Brian K. Vaughan, Joe Hill, John Layman, etc. Let's be clear: I have no desire to give up reading writers I like just because they're white guys--I enjoy Neil Gaiman and James Hynes and Mike Carey just fine, thanks--but there's no question that I can do a better job of reading the work of other people.

So that's been my challenge to myself this year: make sure at least 50 percent of the books I read are written by women or men of color.

How am I doing? So far, not too badly. Though I started 2017 with Both Flesh and Not, an essay collection by one of the whitest guys in the white-guy world, David Foster Wallace, most of the new full-length books I've read this year have been by women. I finally located and put into the proper order the last three volumes of Kage Baker's novels of The Company (whose chronology the publishers have unconscionably left very unclear to her readers) and plowed through them back to back to back. I also recently finished Helene Wecker's debut, The Golem and the Jinni, which began as a deliberate but vivid set of scenes in 1899 New York City and gradually picked up steam before closing with a rush. The only other new book by a white guy that I've read was Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke, which I tucked into my pocket for the bus ride up to DC and back on the day of the Women's March on Washington; given the circumstances, I don't feel too chauvinistic about that particular option.

Graphic novels have been fairly evenly split; I've read comics where the artist was female (Fiona Staples on Saga, Tess Fowler on Rat Queens) and where the writer was (Kelly Sue DeConnick on Bitch Planet), and where one woman did both the script and the art (Liz Prince's Tomboy).

It's really only the re-reading where the white guys keep cropping up; as I sometimes do during the school year, I found an old favorite to keep me going without forcing me to think too hard, and in this case it was all seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia. You're not going to find a writer with more Female Issues than C.S. Lewis, but I can't ignore Narnia's impact on my reading habits or my childhood, so there you have it.

As of today, I've finished 23 books in 2017, and 13 were solely the work of white guys. I can do better, clearly, but I'm a lot closer to fifty-fifty than I was last year. And if I can get myself to that perfectly balanced state by December 31st, I'll feel as though I've done something to broaden my horizons. And who knows, I might just discover something new and exciting. It's happened before, after all.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on April 17, 2017 5:05 PM.

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