Thursday, March 05, 2015

Reading for reasons

Reading this blog post (and the original article mentioned) about diversity in reading material recently got me thinking about how my choices away from the straight/white/cis/male author arena stack up.  And as I have the last few years-worth of reading handily listed in posts here it is clear I’m not doing very well!  It does get a bit better when you throw in the Selected Shorts podcasts as I have been downloading and listening to them for a couple of years, and they do cover a good spectrum of gender, ethnicity and (presumably) sexuality of authors in the stories they present.  But then, this is not something I have ever really thought about before and has certainly never been a factor in choosing what to buy and read for me.

I’m not sure why though.  When it comes to non-fiction I guess there aren’t that many women writing about the history of bus services or fighter planes or some of the other subjects that fascinate me but that doesn’t mean I won’t be looking out for them from now on.  Of course in some areas it is going to be decidedly tricky to be more diverse -  the fact that nobody other than straight white men went to the moon makes it hard to read an autobiography outside that category and I’ve not seen any books about them from the female perspective either.  But there have been female and coloured astronauts since then so one of those must have a book out there.  And I have got Lilly Koppel’s “The Astronaut’s Wives Club” sat on the shelf waiting for me to pick it up.  Indeed I have actually done two ladies in my non-fiction this year already (Amanda Palmer – The Art Of Asking and Harriet Tuckey – Everest) and have a couple more in the waiting pile.

However, one thing I don’t often do in non-fiction reading is seek out other books by the same author unless they are on similar subjects or again look interesting.  For a (s/w/c/m) example – Charlie Connolly has written about the shipping forecast, Elvis and walking in three books I really enjoyed, but also about football in which I have no interest so will never delve into.  But I am going to be more pro-active here in future, especially when I find a non-fiction writer of the gay/coloured/female/trans (not necessarily all at once!) persuasion I enjoy the works of.

Fiction-wise I guess I have done better over the years, as I do enjoy female writers.  Anne McCaffrey, Jean M. Auel, Julian May and Katherine Kerr are particular favourites in the fantasy/sci-fi field, and as the basic unit of book there is the fat trilogy (often with many more than three books) there have been years they have dominated.  But when it comes to different ethnicities etc. I again admit to falling flat.  Mind you, I’d read two or three of his books before I discovered Mike Gayle was black, so there may be other surprises on my shelves.  But, despite listening to the short stories from Selected Shorts, I have not dashed out to buy anything from any of the authors featured other than those I was already a fan of.  Some of this must be from wanting the written equivalent of comfort food from my fiction.  I have heard tales of growing up black in the south, or as an oriental woman transformed into a mutant silkworm or whatever, but haven’t always found them enjoyable.  I think this is partly linked to my depression in that I see racial or religious strife on the news, and don’t want that when I’m trying to escape for a few pages.  In the same way that I know enough of the history of domestic service in the UK to never want to watch Downton Abbey, I am OK with a chapter or undercurrent about it in a history of country houses but wouldn’t want a story set amongst the occupants of such a home.  (Heck, I struggle with servants being abused in fantasyland castles, but then I’m already accepting dragons and wizards so I know it is not real people suffering).

So the question is, am I going to challenge myself to only read books by non-white/straight/cis males for a year?  Answer, no.  But I am going to attempt to mix things up more.  The main reason for this being that I have already set myself the challenge of not buying any more books until I’ve got through a significant percentage of my unread collection.  And I know most of that will not pass.  But then I don’t have the same issues with books by w/s/c/m authors that others do so avoiding them is not a way of improving my life or avoiding uncomfortable things.  But who knows, when I do let myself start buying books again, perhaps things will be over a much wider spectrum…