My Year of Reading Diversely

We’ve Been Talking About Gender:

In the circle of librarian blogs that I sometimes inhabit we are currently talking about gender. More specifically, people have been writing about bad behavior, institutionalized biases, and the caustic results of these things. I’m also working (struggling) to write a post for the ACRL Tech Connect blog about diversity in the technology community. More specifically,I’m trying to acknowledge that the smooth path I followed into tech fields may present barriers to others that I never experienced. How we can open new doors, widen existing ones, or do something that makes more people experience the empowering joy of technology in place of walls, barriers, and exclusion? I’d love to be an unreserved and enthusiastic proponent of self-empowerment through learning technology, but my enthusiasm is tempered by reservations stemming from disempowering experiences with technology reported by others.

So I’ve been reading a little about the experiences and perspectives of a broader range of people in technological fields. I’ve been focusing on blogs and personal accounts in library, technology, and video game circles. These are the circles I inhabit. I’ve been looking at things like Joseph Reagle’s Free as in Sexist: Free Culture and the Gender Gap, at groups like The Ada Initiative, and at Gabriella Coleman’s anthropology of hacker communities. In the midst of this, I stumbled across a Post titled Dear Male Allies: Your sexism looks like my racism at The Geek Feminism Blog, that seemed perfectly framed for my purposes. Yatima, the author of the piece, writes this gem:

It’s relatively easy for me to advocate for feminist change because I can – in Ursula Le Guin’s words – offer up my experience as my wisdom. My testimony is relevant, because I am a woman. It turns out to be much harder for me to advocate for race or ability or class issues, because oftentimes I just don’t know what these issues are. My racism, and my other *isms, are a function of (among other things) my ignorance. Privilege conceals from me the experiences of not-having-privilege.

This perfectly outlines the problem for someone struggling to be a clued-in, white, hetero, educated, middle-class, cisgendered dude. I want to live in a world where we can all experience the unfamiliar without feeling at-risk or threatened by the other. I want to work in places where “fit” is never considered as something to look for in a new hire. I want to hire new colleagues who don’t fit the status quo and can fill in our gaps and weaknesses with previously unconsidered perspectives. But I am unable to “offer up my experiences as wisdom” because I don’t have direct experience of most of these issues. At best I can say that working in organizations with gender balance and working for women running IT departments has been a wonderful experience. Gender diversity in the workplace has made my life better than it otherwise would have been. This is a perhaps a better way of phrasing my previous post. I’d like to make this about something more important than making my already privileged life better, but I can’t find a way to make a grand claim that doesn’t falsely assert control over a situation that is not mine to control. A central problem is people like me trying to control too many things and I don’t want to perpetuate that chain of stupid. There are few things less worthy of respect than a white dude mansplaining to others what it is like to experience oppression. I’m not going to do that, but I do want to do my part to improve things.

The Problems are Acknowledged, What do I do About Them?

So now what? Now that I’ve recognized that there are issues that I’d like to see solved. I’ve acknowledged that I lack perspective and experience to be a leader. There are better equipped, more highly skilled people for the task, so I should listen to them and follow their vision. Does this mean my response to diversity issues should be passive? I don’t think it has to be. I think I can find a middle ground between taking control (the stereotypical role for white, straight, cisgendered males) and passively accepting injustice. It is especially important to find this balance when the entrenched system of  injustice works to my advantage.

For now, I think this middle ground is learning. I want to fill in the gaps I have and gain more understanding. So I’m going to follow Yatima’s advice and read fifty works by people from backgrounds different from my experience. Yatima suggested the 50 works by people of color livejournal group, but I think I need to include gender, ability, and sexual diversity as well as ethnic diversity in my reading project. So, I’m going to tag books with #diversity-50 in my LibraryThing and Goodreads streams and set a goal to read or listen to fifty works by people with perspectives significantly different from my own. I’m a fan of new media, so this isn’t a book-exclusive project. Games, comics, video, and other creative media are all fair game. Recently my pleasure reading has been mostly speculative fiction, but I’m open to other genres.

Will you join me? Will you help me?

A Year of Reading Diversely: #diversity-50

Disclaimer: this is not my idea, it is not a new idea. I take no credit for this idea, but I think it is a good one and I’d like to invite others to join me. In 2013 I’m setting myself the goal of reading 50 works by writers of color and other creators who have a cultural perspective different than my own. I think I have a lot to learn and this is a great way to start to fill in some gaps. I’d love it if other librarians and friends joined in. If you don’t share my need for an influx of new perspectives, will you share reading suggestions from your experience on great work that has been overlooked? Will you share this project with your followers on Twitter, Facebook LibraryThing, or Goodreads? Collective readers’ advisory is a great thing and I’m eager to discover new things to read. I read a lot of fiction, but as a librarian it has never been something I’ve worked with directly. So I’m hoping to get suggestions and opinions from the experts. There is a wealth and a huge body of great material out there already, gathered and curated by librarians who are much better at this sort of thing than I am. As you will note, my pleasure reading is mostly fantasy and science fiction. I’m open to other things, after all that’s one of the points of the whole exercise.

Sacrifice

Since I have limited reading time, this means some things I’ve been looking forward to reading are going to have to wait a bit. So, Douglas Coupland’s J-Pod, Robert Harris’ Conspirata (I’m sad to delay reading his 2nd novel of Cicero and Roman politics), The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, and Ian MacDonald’s The Dervish House are going to gather a bit of dust before I can get to them. I’m sure the authors will understand. I’m also not going to include my professional and technical reading in the program. I’m still going to read, of course, but I’m not going to count professional reading toward my #diversity-50 list. While I have a lot to learn from women in my field, I would be reading them anyway and it seems a dodge to include them in the project. So while I’ll still be reading Kathleen FitzpatrickSherry TurkleCathy Davidson, and Jane McGonigal, I think I share a disciplinary and academic framework with these thinkers that my #diversity-50 project is attempting to pierce.

Starting Out

The first of my fifty books is going to be The Summer Prince, a new release YA novel by Alaya Dawn Johnson that sounds perfect. It comes recommend by two authors I adore, Ellen Kushner and John Scalzi. After that, I may try to revisit Cities of Salt by Abelrahman Mufif. I started reading this years ago in the middle of  a Paul Bowles phase, but I put it down halfway through. I’m going to read Alice Walker, because she’s amazing and I won’t be ALA to see her in person. I’m going to FINALLY read Octavia Butler I’m ashamed of this gap in my education. Which of her books should I start with? Colson Whitehead’s Zone One is definitely on the list.  If any of my readers are looking for suggestions, ask your public librarian. Really, they will be more widely read than I. My suggestions include two of the absolute best things I read last year: Dr. Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death and Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon. Also, Naghib Mahfouz’ Children of the Alley is the only Arab novel to win a Nobel Prize for literature. It’s worth all the acclaim and more.

I’m not going to include books by white dudes writing about issues of diversity, but I’m open to having my mind changed by compelling arguments. I’ve had a copy of Craig Thompson’s Habibi on my to read pile for a year. It may be an excellent comic, but I’m looking for new perspectives, not familiar perspectives on diverse subject matter. I’m on the fence as to whether Brian Selznik’s Wonderstruck should count. I’m voting no, but I’m open to having my mind changed. My goal here is to open myself to perspectives that are foreign to me, and so worthy books written by people like me don’t seem to count.

If you can think of great material for my #diversity-50, please let me know in the comments. You can connect with me at Librarything and Goodreads.

24 thoughts on “My Year of Reading Diversely

  1. Really appreciate so much about this post. So much to talk about w/ regards to diversity in library world, but often “other” kinds of diversity are left out of conversation. An amen esp. to the “fit” issue. I’ve felt well qualified for positions I’ve applied for (this is not just a library thing) yet I get the sense I’m often passed over because in person I don’t “fit” the mold that people are used to (and “comfortable” with).

    If you haven’t already, read the Love and Rockets graphic novels. Also, maybe root around in this blog:http://caribbeanwriters.tumblr.com

    There is so much out there. Have fun finding.

  2. Hi Nick! Somebody on Tumblr pointed me to your blog post. I think you have a pretty good start, but I want to throw out a few more titles/authors. I’d be happy to elaborate on the why’s if you’re curious.

    G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen (like if American Gods and Snow Crash had an Arab baby) and her memoir The Butterfly Mosque
    Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January historical mysteries (about a free man of color in post-Louisiana Purchase New Orleans)
    Ysabeau Wilce’s Flora Segunda series
    Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
    Junot Diaz’s Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (actually anything by Diaz is amazing)
    Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese

  3. So glad to discover your blog through the discussions on gender. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and candor. I have been serving on the nascent South Asia Book Awards committee for youth sponsored by SANOC http://southasiabookaward.org/. It has been an incredible privilege to read the authors I have met through my service there.

    Just a few other great youth resources from my feeds to link to for dialog and content are Mitali Perkins FIre Escape: http://www.mitaliblog.com/; the Cooperative Children’s Book Center http://www.education.wisc.edu/ccbc/default.asp for recommended multicultural literature; Brown Book Shelf http://thebrownbookshelf.com/; Open Book from Lee and Low publishers http://blog.leeandlow.com/ and Paper Tigers http://www.papertigers.org/wordpress/

  4. For a first Octavia Butler read, I would suggest either Kindred or Parable of the Sower. And as ridiculous as it sounds, Baratunde Thurston’s How to Be Black is actually pretty insightful for all the ridiculousness the title implies.

    I wish you all the best in this endeavor! As a person of color, I’m not sure I’ve come even close to fifty works written by people of color in any year. I hope to see your thoughts on some of these titles!

  5. Dear Nicholas

    I really admire and concur with your want to read more diversely and I heartily recommend Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, a book published in 1952, it is a really inspiring work and raises a lot of questions over the issue of race and is a throughly enjoyable read

    Yours Sincerely
    Pair of Gills

  6. Great idea! You should join fiftyfifty.me and declare this your major – it’s a community of bloggers dedicated to reading 50 books and watching 50 movies in a year. I also heartily co-recommend everything that Marge suggested, though I think there are some problems with CBC. You should also look at diversityinya.com, which is no more, and diversityinya.tumblr.com, which just started as a new version. I would also add this collection of things I’ve curated that you might find interesting and that might lead you to more reading ideas: http://bitly.com/bundles/o_4qrl3vt7de/2

    Also, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self is an excellent collection of short stories, both on a literary level and on a so-this-is-what-it’s-like-to-be-a-black-woman-in-case-you-were-wondering level.

    Happy reading!

  7. I was about to suggest Ellen Kushner, then read that you already love her. Yay!

    A couple more recommendations, both science fiction: Samuel Delany (Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand has an information Sciencey bent to it that you might enjoy!), and Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl In The Ring was my favorite).

    And, since you’re including games, here is a short flash game about the experience of a transgendered person: Dys4ia.

    1. Kushner is a great example of what I’m trying to find. The journey that I had to take to see Alec in his full context and appreciate him caused me to tread new ground. That’s what I’m hoping / trying to discover: new kinds of empathy for more kinds of human perspective.

  8. Oreo by Fran Ross (http://uwashington.worldcat.org/oclc/44461973) There was a bit about it on NPR last year (http://www.npr.org/2011/03/09/134204725/in-oreo-a-taste-of-life-between-two-identities).
    Also, try looking for something from Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” written 120 years ago is a classic piece that was both of its time and ahead of its time.
    Some may steer you to Zadie Smith. Down that path do not go. I find her writing sloppy and there’s much better uses of your time.

    1. Thanks Corey. I have to admit that I REALLY LIKED White Teeth, but I haven’t read any of Smith’s later work. I’m a sucker for that kind of mess, I also love the work of others who write in that vein like Jeanette Winterson, David Foster Wallace, Kundera, et. al. Yellow Wallpaper is deservedly a classic, and I promise I’ll read Oreo, it is now #6 on the list. (Corey is an IRL friend, so his recs get special consideration.)

  9. Hi,

    This is a great goal to become more educated. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan just had its 50 year anniversary.

    1. I’m shamed to admit that I haven’t read Friedan. My intro to feminism started w/ Naomi Wolff’s The Beauty Myth and I never went back to the classics. This seems like an excellent opportunity to remedy this gap in my education.

  10. So I saw this on tumblr and the ALA Think Tank. But since I’m not joining the Think Tank I figured I would post it here.

    http://zahrawithaz.livejournal.com/12471.html

    That is literally a list of books written by Queer People of Color. I’ve read a lot of them being a QPOC myself and they’re quite good.

    http://hamburgerjack.tumblr.com/post/32874801520/here-are-books-for-you-to-be-a-decent-person

    This is another good list of books about perspectives that do not fit the hegemony.

    And I’m not sure if it’s on those lists but Racism Without Racists is a must read.

    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_9G4-vscSI1TmQ4Rm5FM19UUDA/edit

    That is the link to the pdf online.

    Enjoy!

  11. So many great choices already in this thread! Again, I can’t express how much you doing this, like, renewed my faith in humanity. (Which is such a silly thing but, there you go! That’s how burned out the attitude/response in the TT left me.) So, here are some of my favorite suggestions:

    1. Yes, a thousand times, to Octavia Butler, *especially* if you’re already a sci-fi fan. And, imo, you really need to start with KINDRED – which was a book that changed the way I thought about speculative fiction and what it could mean and do and say about our world and which remains, to me, a genre-defining book. (and a personal favorite!)

    2. Check out the Tiptree winners: http://tiptree.org/ which are basically one of the best indexes you can find about gender in sci-fi/speculative fiction. I’m challenging myself to read all the winners and, let me tell you, I’ve discovered SO MANY amazing books.

    3. If you’re looking to expand into young adult/children’s literature, you could do worse than read some winners from the ALA awards that single out sexuality, race, and disability. Even the picture books could apply to your challenge and give you a chance to really read new genres:

    http://www.ala.org/news/mediapresscenter/presskits/youthmediaawards/schneiderfamilybookaward
    http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/belpremedal http://www.ala.org/emiert/cskbookawards
    http://www.ala.org/glbtrt/award/honored (this list has great adult titles too, fiction and non-fiction. I’ve found a lot of favorites, especially NF, using this resource).

    I’ll continue to be thinking and I’ll be checking back to see what you’re reading/loving. Really great, Nicholas, really great!

    1. Thanks Angie, I look forward to checking out the tiptree list and the awards lists.

      Here’s my list to date: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4811358?shelf=diversity-50 I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, trapped into numbers or focused on ticking items off of lists instead of just enjoying fabulous books. So far The Summer Prince has been good. I was slow to become immersed in it, but I’m starting to get a feel for the author’s choices and I’m enjoying it. The setting is perfect and the characters are excellent. It took me a while to empathize w/ them, but I respect what the author is doing. Of course, when my first thoughts are of structure and whatnot, that’s a clue the book hasn’t swallowed me whole, but I have no complaints.

      Second book (audio version) has been started. It’s the Murakami, which I already know I’m going to love, because I’m a big fan of his style. No disappointments four hours in and I have a house and kitchen to clean today, so I’ll get further into it.

      Cheers and thank you,

      nicholas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *