LET’S TAKE A SHELFIE!
AMBER LOVE 18-AUG-2016 This site is supported by backers at Patreon.com/amberunmasked. Recently there was a thought-provoking post at Book Riot by Molly Wetta about white librarians who don’t read enough variety in authors, particularly race. The point was that in the position of librarian (or general education), there’s no way you can properly do your job if you aren’t reading a little of everything. Wetta tore down the rebuttal arguments one at a time without holding back.
Argument 1: “But I just don’t notice race.”
Then you have the privilege to not notice race. Do you live in the world? Race exists, and affects people’s lives (like, whether they get to continue living, even), and certainly impacts the stories they tell.
– Molly Wetta, Book Riot
This has been a discussion for the past few years. I think I became aware of it when I saw more and more rightfully angry posts about awards and guest lists that don’t feature women or people of color. Once in a while there’s an obvious breakout hit like the next Toni Morrison, but it’s not common. It’s not “normalized.” What is normalized is the dominance of white, cisgender, heterosexual male voices. That’s how my education was.
When male authors like Jim Hines, Chuck Wendig, or John Scalzi do bring up the subject of recognizing other talented voices, they get hate mail. Why? What’s so painful and threatening about saying, “hey maybe people need to read more of this type of work”? Then we see the pushback in the mainstream essentially saying how wrong everyone is because gosh darnit, they read female authors. By “reading female authors” they mean they’ve read Harry Potter. The pushback still occurring is why industries have “women in ___” awards, panels, and magazine features because otherwise, they’d be ignored. Thank goodness Hidden Figures is coming soon.
It was Joanne Harris’ tweets that got me to write this today:
Thinking back to my high school years, I can only remember three English teachers: two men, one woman; all white. Most of my school was white. At the time, we didn’t have so many strip malls and never heard of Wal-Mart. It was farms and small businesses with forty-five minute drives to get to any malls. The school only got anyone’s radar last year when a football player died and there was, at the time, concern it was concussion syndrome; but it wasn’t.
What I’m saying is that in my whitebread education, we didn’t read female authors either. Not even white women. The only female English teacher made us read The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. It was not exciting.
Even stories about women didn’t paint them in the best light, like The Crucible or The Scarlet Letter. Maybe it’s different now because of the success of Rowling, but the only time I read Agatha Christie back then was when we got to choose what we wanted for book reports. You can’t argue that teachers don’t know who Agatha Christie was. We weren’t even given Frankenstein, the pioneer work of Mary Shelley that created science fiction! But, in college, we sure read Percy B. Shelley, her husband.
I realized I was being lazy too. I love Lilian Jackson Braun and Susan Wittig Albert. I can rattle off a long list of mystery writers I adore and admire. I sat at my desk and entered all the names I could think of into Google and looked for images of the authors. Almost all my mystery consumption was white female authors (with white male authors on occasion). I liked their works because they did usually sound like people I could relate to with the big exception of the windfalls of money protagonists seem to magically acquire in cozy mysteries. Braun’s protagonist is the only one that’s male; all the other white female authors write white female protagonists.
Whether you read 100 books a year or 10 books a year, a dedicated percentage of those (25% is a good place to start) should be written by diverse voices and consist of books outside your comfort zone.
– Molly Wetta, Book Riot
I began a search for PoC authors and tried a couple before finding one I liked, Barbara Neely and her Blanche White cozies. I did try Re Jane by Patricia Park because I saw it on a list of diverse book recommendations. I didn’t get into it, but at least I tried. It’s also not a mystery so maybe that’s what wasn’t holding my interest. I was happy that I got a response when I tweeted I wanted to interview WoC mystery writers and Angela Henry came on board for an episode of Vodka O’Clock. Her Kendra Clayton character is great; she feels so real. I’m only on book one, but I can tell the series will become a favorite of mine.
When The Root asked Empire writer Wendy Calhoun about the reaction to the popular musical TV drama centered on the black entertainment community, she said:
“The best part, of course, is the public reaction. It’s so fun. It’s great. It’s so energizing. … It’s such validation because we rarely in television get to hear the audience reaction to our work, and Twitter and Instagram have filled in a kind of vacuum that we as TV writers exist in when we create, so it gives you that much more energy and inspiration to keep telling more stories, to keep wanting to invest in these characters.
In the black community, the discussions up until Empire were a lot about Ferguson[, Mo.,] and all of these sort of very painful things that we needed to galvanize ourselves over to express and work toward finding some justice and peace, and that is very important. However, I think it is equally important that we have touchstones in pop culture in entertainment and music to talk about, too. We can have positive things and fun things and things that are somewhat controversial, but the more important thing to me is that we’re talking about it.” – The Root interview with Wendy Calhoun
Some readers give themselves challenges: only read female/POC/queer authors for a year; only read comics with at least one female or POC creator for a year. Some challenges may be harder than others if you’re consumerism is specific to a local shop. Indie creators often have their own ways to purchase their works through their sites and at conventions.
WHAT’S ON YOUR SHELF?
- Do you read only authors that reflect your experiences?
- What were your reading assignments like in school?
- Do you recommend authors and work that you like?