"Gender, blah, blah, blah"
February 27, 2015 1:47 AM   Subscribe

It’s happened to me several times at a literary event — sometimes one at which I’m reading or speaking — that a kindly, affable chap, after regaling me with a long account of his next book, smiles generously and asks me what I do at Penguin, or how long I’ve been working for the venue. When I say, Oh, actually I’m a writer, a spasm of embarrassment comes over his face. As it should. Not, of course, because of any career’s merit over another’s, but because he’s revealed his inability to see me as a writer. A flustered flash of insight has taken place.
Katherine Angel on the problems of gender representation in literature.

Writer Shannon Hale noticed a related problem, when doing a school tour:
This was a small-ish school, and I spoke to the 3-8 grades. It wasn’t until I was partway into my presentation that I realized that the back rows of the older grades were all girls.

Later a teacher told me, “The administration only gave permission to the middle school girls to leave class for your assembly. I have a boy student who is a huge fan of SPIRIT ANIMALS. I got special permission for him to come, but he was too embarrassed.”
Of course diversity starts with the reader and K. Tempest Bradford had an interesting challenge:
The “Reading Only X Writers For A Year” a challenge is one every person who loves to read (and who loves to write) should take. You could, like Lilit Marcus, read only books by women or, like Sunili Govinnage, read only books by people of color. Or you could choose a different axis to focus on: books by trans men and women, books by people from outside the U.S. or in translation, books by people with disabilities.
Despite American Gods being used in the accompanying picture as an example of what not to read, Neil Gaiman supported the initiative, though for a great many other sf fans & writers this proposal was a bridge too far. Foz Meadows' took aim at some of the more common objections:
The idea that this approach is somehow inimical to having an interest in the content of a writer’s fiction is the exact opposite of what Bradford and Govinnage are positing: namely, that an author’s real-world identity and experiences are sometimes – though not always – reflected in their works, and that if we’ve defaulted to reading only or predominantly one type of author, then perhaps we’ve defaulted to only or predominantly reading one type of content, too. As such, if we are, as Resnick claims to be, sincerely interested in reading good stories, then ignoring the relationship between author and work – as though every book, like the goddess Athena, is cut fully-formed from the flesh of some oblivious, authorial Zeus – is something we should be wary of doing.
posted by MartinWisse (114 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
 
Great article in the first link, but holy Jesus, the comments. Never ever read the comments.
posted by Dysk at 2:14 AM on February 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've been generally trying to read 3 books by people who aren't cis white men for every 1 that is, and my reading has significantly improved: for one thing, I've gotten a start reading classics, where I mostly just hate the ones written by boring old white dudes. I was sort of vaguely doing it for a year, and I haven't kept strict track-- I probably threw myself way out of whack, as far as book count is concerned, by reading all ninety gagillion Percy Jackson & Friends & Gods & Shit books in one fairly rough week, but I'm balancing it out, I think, with the sheer overwhelming volume of trashy YA fantasy and scifi that I've been popcorn-reading. I don't want to cut out white cis men entirely, since I am pretty sure I will fall over and die if I don't read the next Daniel Abraham and Garth Nix book(s) the moment they come out.

But the concerted effort to seek out more authors who usually get pushed to the sidelines because of racism and sexism has, more than anything, led me to reading much better books, especially since so much of what I read is cheesy, trashy, popcorn-y stuff and male writers tend to fall back on boring sexist character tropes way more often, and with the sheer enormous volume of fiction available in the modern era I really don't need to waste my time on that shit. (I'm going on "as far as I can tell" with most of this, though, since there are a lot of good reasons for writers to not have their racial information or any information about not being cisgender in their Wikipedia entries.) It's a nice get-out-of-guilt-free card for not reading the boring man-classics/books written by assholes of whatever your favorite genre is, too.

I worked a Shannon Hale event a while ago and was surprised by the makeup of the people there; it was a huge range of ages and there were a significant number of men who looked to be around college age who really liked her work. The whole thing about "girl books" and "everyone books" is such a load of unadulterated bullshit and it really pisses me off that fiction for the YA audience in particular is still so relentlessly gendered, especially because there are lots of boys in that demographic who like reading "girl books" but are taught to be embarrassed about it and so don't.

Fiction is a big way to learn a lot about human interaction, to gain empathy, to get inspiration, etc, and it's unsurprising to me that we constantly give our kids male authors and male heroes and then they grow up with sexist bullshit ideas and think that women are mysterious and impossible to relate to or understand. It's one of the reason the Hunger Games makes me happy, because its audience is pretty mixed; I'm also a fan of dual-hero/ensemble cast books that manage to do both genders well. (I'd be thrilled to see ones where I'm using "all" or "multiple" instead of "both", especially if the non-binary characters aren't, like, geographical features that have been granted sentience/AIs/robots/golems/etc. Alas.)
posted by NoraReed at 3:14 AM on February 27, 2015 [24 favorites]


My 12-year-old has reached the point where she can read a YA novel* and say, "I didn't like it" for reasons that amount to its being badly written. I think that means she's ready for more adult fare, and gave her Kage Baker's Garden of Iden to read. We'll see...

Incidentally, I'm an old straight white guy and many of my favorite authors are women. Publishers, take note.


* Messenger of Fear
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:28 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty good at reading female authors (majority), and queer authors, but non-white authors are definitely underrepresented in my habits, and I need to work on that. I'm not going to not read the male authors I enjoy, or the white authors I enjoy, but I will try to at least review all the non-white authors on GR (instead of just rating) and to be sure to read more of them.

Luckily all these people who are promoting this reading challenge are just FULL of suggestions to add to my list.
posted by jeather at 4:46 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


My 12-year-old has reached the point where she can read a YA novel* and say, "I didn't like it" for reasons that amount to its being badly written. I think that means she's ready for more adult fare, and gave her Kage Baker's Garden of Iden to read. We'll see...

I am an... actual adult, and I discovered Kage Baker's Company series a couple years ago. (Garden of Iden is the first book in the series, for those who aren't familiar.) That summer marked the most pleasure I've taken in reading since I was a kid, like seriously just sprawled out on the floor, reading for hours and hours until my vision was going fuzzy, because I just had to know what happened next. I've always been an eclectic and curious reader, but those books reminded me about the fundamental truth I started with, that reading is actually supposed to be really fun. I recommend that series to everyone now. I hope your daughter loves them too.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 5:14 AM on February 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


Also, for those looking for additional reading recommendations, here's a pretty good place to start: 19 Science-Fiction And Fantasy Novels By Women Of Color You Must Read.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 5:17 AM on February 27, 2015 [17 favorites]


I read almost nothing but short horror stories, so I usually resolve my hegemonic guilt by reading a lot of anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow. But if anybody wants to suggest collections or anthologies of short horror fiction that meet the criteria and are available for Kindle, I'm game.

Edit on further thought: Actually, I'll start. Dangerous Red by Mehitobel Wilson is one of the best collections I've read lately. I even sent her a fan email, I enjoyed it so much.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:32 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is fantastic. This trend of highlighting entire swaths of literature has added dozens of books to my reading list. It's like I've discovered a new bookstore with an amazing collection, or like I'm a kid again discovering a new genre, or something.
posted by touchstone033 at 6:08 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not going to avoid any authors based on gender, sexuality or race. This boycott is based not on what you write, but who you are. I'm pretty uncomfortable with that.

Having said that, I've just completed The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and it's plain she has absolutely no clue about what the orphan experience is like in reality. It's a conceit to write from a perspective you understand so little of.

I think it was Martin Amis who said (I paraphrase from memory) 'Most writer's first novel is autobiographical'*. I consider this to mean that you can't really write about others until you write about yourself. Some authors never stop writing about themselves. I think that's where the motive for this boycott is coming from; being white and straight and male, perhaps I should stop reading about myself. But it's a grave mistake (bordering on bigotry!) to presume that there are authors, because of who they are, cannot move past this point in their career and explore other perspectives.

*The quote is cited here. It sticks in my mind because Amis' debut novel, The Rachel Papers, is quite salacious.
posted by adept256 at 6:09 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


(I forgot to mention I refer to this challenge)
posted by adept256 at 6:21 AM on February 27, 2015


I'm not going to avoid any authors based on gender, sexuality or race. This boycott is based not on what you write, but who you are. I'm pretty uncomfortable with that.

In a fair and equal world I would agree with you, but as it stands writers who are straight white cis males enjoy a share of the market that's decidedly disproportionate to their numbers in the greater population. This campaign is nothing but affirmative action for literature, and as such I'm all in favor of it. If you can think of a better (and realistic) way to address the injustice, I'd love to hear it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:25 AM on February 27, 2015 [13 favorites]


I'm not going to avoid any authors based on gender, sexuality or race. This boycott is based not on what you write, but who you are. I'm pretty uncomfortable with that.

It's not a boycott; it's a way of saying basically "stop being so lazy and instead put a little bit more effort into being aware of and selecting authors to read," because the default in many genres can easily be to read mostly books written by white men. That says nothing about people's ability to write from other perspectives, it's just an acknowledgment of how history and bias have worked in the book industry and they are suggesting a way (developing your own targeted reading list) for readers to adjust against that.

Personally I'm not going to follow a rigid path like that because it doesn't interest me, but over the last year or so, after reading a number of these kinds of articles (probably on Metafilter, actually) I've tried first to simply be more aware of the demographics of the authors I am reading, and second to make sure those demographics are more varied than they used to be. For me, that is producing a better reading experience than it was to ignore that issue; I can see how it could be fun and interesting to follow an even more rigorous approach and I'm glad that one of the outcomes of these articles are suggested lists of great books to read, because having great book suggestions is always a good thing.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:34 AM on February 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


I would disagree that the default in many genres are books written by "white men". "White men" is not a culture nor an ethnicity nor is it a singular point of view. Perhaps you mean books written by people from a certain culture and viewpoint?
posted by enamon at 6:39 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most readers are never going to be able to read every book that they'd like to read. There's so much published, and there's so little time to read. I think the "don't read cis, het, white men" challenge isn't saying to boycott anyone. It's saying that you're always going to be selective, and this is a way that you might choose to select books. And if you're not conscious about how you're selective, then it's very likely that you'll read books that get reviews, media attention, buzz, etc., and it is extremely well-documented that those books are disproportionately books by white men who write in English.

Right now, my problem is that I'm not reading a whole lot of books by anyone, though. I really need to think about how to change my life so that I'm wasting less time on the internet and reading more books. I think you lose something when everything you read is short, regardless of what kind of writing it is.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:40 AM on February 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's not a boycott

Look closer at her site.
posted by adept256 at 6:44 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is the argument here that society is improved by adopting challenges like Bradford's, or that the individual reader's experience is enhanced? Both arguments seem to be made at points, but not particularly explicitly.

I'm broadly in sympathy with the societal argument, not enough to follow a hard and fast rule for a year, but I make a bit of an effort.

I have more trouble with the second. Shrinking the pool of books from which I'm choosing doesn't seem likely to improve my reading experience. A smaller pool of choices will have a more or less statistically proportionate number of subjectively great books on the far end of the bell curve that I'll love. An argument that benefit arises from being exposed to the different backgrounds of the authors supposes that the differences between authors of [oppressed category X] and [category Y] is greater than the intracategory variation in [category X] and [category Y], which makes me skeptical.

I'm not particularly novelty seeking though, if there was an infinite supply of Blandings Castle stories, it's very possible I'd never read anything by anyone not a straight white cis male again.
posted by pseudonick at 6:44 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that the argument is that there are probably great books that you aren't reading because books by that kind of author are systematically overlooked. If you make an effort to read outside of your usual preferences, you might be exposed to great books that you would have missed because of the institutionalized biases of the system that makes books visible and available to you.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:47 AM on February 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


I'm not going to avoid any authors based on gender, sexuality or race.

If you don't take into account, gender, race, etc when looking at authors, you already are; you just don't know it or refuse to acknowledge it. It's too easy to slip in the trap of "oh, I don't look at race or gender, I just read good books" and never how limited your reading is; I myself only found out after I did the math that only ten percent of the science fiction and fantasy I'd read in a ten year period was by women, let alone by people of colour.

Setting yourself quotas or challenges like this help a lot in broadening your horizons, because it forces you to seek out new authors, perhaps new genres or subgenres to read. I had to go out and buy more books by female authors because I had so few of them on my shelves. It was only because I forced myself to try out any new to me author I came across that I found Elizabeth Bear, Tanya Huff, Andre Norton, Melissa Scott, M. J. Locke, Brenda Cooper, Nalo Hopkinson, N. K. Jemisin, Kameron Hurley, Tobias Buckell, Linda Nagata, Lauren Beukes, Sofia Samatar or Jacqueline Koyanagi.

You don't need to do it all the time, nor entirely give up white male authors, but a John Scalzi or Charlie Stross I already know I like and finding authors like them isn't the challenge.

Currently I'm also reading my way through Monsieur Caution's list of noticable 2014 short stories which is also doing wonders for my to be read pile; another way to come across new, different authors.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:48 AM on February 27, 2015 [27 favorites]


Look closer at her site.

That's something clickbait-y someone at xoJane presumably put up. If you actually read her piece (which doesn't mention the word boycott in either the headline or the body) there's a lot of "for myself" and "I suggest," yet not once does she ask for a boycott.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:49 AM on February 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


Guys, guys, guys, it's a list. We all make lists. Lists of classics. Lists of SF greats. The canon is a list. Lists of French authors. Lists of Napoleonic War naval fiction writers. We make them. We post them. We argue about them.

She wants to do a list of people who aren't something, that's cool. What's the problem? Leave your identity outside for a second. If "try not reading white men" is a problem, then "try reading the great European classics" (which is pretty much its inverse) is a problem, too, and I sure don't think it is.

There'll be another list along in a minute if you don't like this one!
posted by alasdair at 6:50 AM on February 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think that the argument is that there are probably great books that you aren't reading because books by that kind of author are systematically overlooked.

Systematically overlooked some places maybe, but these days a reasonably large portion of my information about developments in SF/F is from metafilter, and there really isn't a lack of the promotion of their work here.
posted by pseudonick at 6:55 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Avoiding authors on any criteria is the opposite of not taking them into account.
posted by adept256 at 6:55 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


What gets me to buy a book that I haven't set out to buy:

1) eye-catching cover that is backed up by an interesting synopsis.
2) oh, i didn't realize they put out another Bolano novel(la)

The kinds of covers they routinely slap on fiction written by women rarely call out to me. I have some bias there because I don't respond to light peach or soft blue colors or fuzzy/blurry/cloudy background pictures*. That's an issue the publisher needs to work on. But I need to work on it, too, because it's a stupid bias.

That's why I think this is a worthwhile project.

*I mostly read from the capital L Literature section.
posted by GrapeApiary at 6:57 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you don't take into account, gender, race, etc when looking at authors, you already are; you just don't know it or refuse to acknowledge it.

So what you're saying is that we all have magic powers that are able to discern the race, gender, sexuality, etc. of an author just by seeing their name in print?

I don't know about other people but I tend to pick books at random and filter them out by the cover and the little blurb on the backpage.

Perhaps a better idea would be to share reading lists between people whose viewpoints tend to differ (although not necessarily oppose one another)?
posted by enamon at 6:58 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


So what you're saying is that we all have magic powers that are able to discern the race, gender, sexuality, etc. of an author just by seeing their name in print?

I don't know about other people but I tend to pick books at random and filter them out by the cover and the little blurb on the backpage.


Oh for goodness sake, NO, this is not what anyone is saying. If you just read books "at random" and the books available to you and presented most prominently are disproportionately by straight white cis men then even if it's random to you you'll still be reading a disproportionate number of books by straight white cis men. Making a conscious choice to expand the characteristics of authors in the pool of books you are picking is a way to fight against this.

You seem to think that other people deciding that they want to expand their reading choices is political correctness run amok and needs to be argued against. If you don't want to do this, that's fine, no one is forcing you to do anything, but plenty of people want to be more mindful of what they read and recognize that a conscious awareness of the types of authors in their pool of reading options will help this.

Seriously, the objections here are profoundly disingenuous and it seems like the people making them are either not reading properly, not putting any thought into this, or being willfully obtuse. It seems kind of absurd that some people making the choice to change the scope of authors they read and suggesting others do the same is meeting with such hostility. Christ.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:04 AM on February 27, 2015 [69 favorites]


Of course, people choose what to read in all different kinds of ways. But if you're a person who is always looking for suggestions of titles to try, or avenues of literature or experience to explore, what's wrong with a series of articles that exposes you to new voices?

I finally gave in to e-books and have been reading a lot more lately because one-click ordering of Kindle books on Amazon is my downfall (a very entertaining downfall.) I don't use sites like Goodreads or talk to friends much about books, so I'm always happy to get suggestions of what to read beyond the incredibly stupid ones Amazon coughs up.

I haven't had a chance to look at all the links in the FPP, but I'm really excited to try some of the books in the 19 sci-fi and fantasy books by women of color link. I don't have any plans to exclude books by (white men) from my reading (I want to finish Tim Pratt's Marla Mason series!) but I'm also excited to hear about books that might not be the most immediately accessible titles.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:18 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: I was responding to a comment that stated that "If you don't take into account, gender, race, etc when looking at authors, you already are; you just don't know it or refuse to acknowledge it." which is clearly false.

Furthermore, I have an issue with this statement:

...even if it's random to you you'll still be reading a disproportionate number of books by straight white cis men.

I would dispute that. Just going off the New York Times Fiction Bestsellers of 2014 list (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Times_Fiction_Best_Sellers_of_2014), it seems that something like half of them are women.

Why not read books from people from different cultures, viewpoints, and experiences? Eliminating some authors just because they're "white, cis, straight, and male" is short-sighted. For example, the Strugatsky brothers and Mikhail Bulgakov (just off the top of my head) are nothing like American fiction. But they are straight, white, cis, and male.

Why not reach for more point of views from all over?
posted by enamon at 7:22 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, I meant to say that I know the idea of any kind of boycott is a huge button-pusher for some people, although I've never had any insight into why, so if you are finding yourself very resistant to the ideas in these articles, try to not focus on your perception that this is a dreaded boycott, and more on the opportunity to hear about titles to explore that might've slipped by you otherwise.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:22 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]



If you don't want to do this, that's fine, no one is forcing you to do anything...the objections here are profoundly disingenuous and it seems like the people making them are either not reading properly, not putting any thought into this, or being willfully obtuse.


I don't know if you're talking about me, but Bradford says everyone who loves to read should take a variant of her challenge. That's a pretty strong claim, and talking about whether and how that is true is a reasonable discussion to have in this thread.
posted by pseudonick at 7:23 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know if you're talking about me, but Bradford says everyone who loves to read should take a variant of her challenge.
I think that everyone who likes to eat should try roasting brussels sprouts with pancetta, but it's not like anyone is obligated to care what I think. You can ignore her if you'd like! Nobody is going to throw you in book jail!
I don't know about other people but I tend to pick books at random and filter them out by the cover and the little blurb on the backpage.
Once upon a time I worked in marketing for a publisher, so I can tell you that there is nothing at all random about the text on the back of books, cover design, or which books are placed in prominent spaces in bookstores. That stuff is all very carefully planned.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:30 AM on February 27, 2015 [27 favorites]


I did the only-read-books-by-women thing last year, too, and (selfishly, as a way to keep myself on track) started a book club where we read and discuss books written by women. It's wonderful, but the best thing to come out of it was that the membership put together and maintain a spreadsheet with recommendations. As a person more inclined towards reading everything written by one person rather than many books written by different people, the challenge has been tremendous for broadening my own limited horizons. I almost certainly would not have picked up some exceptional books were it not for the challenge. YMMV, but it actually made me a more diverse reader.

I also think something to keep in mind here is that reading more books written by women doesn't mean never touching a man book again. It's only a year. I was bummed that I couldn't read Mark Harris' new book when it came out last year, but so what? It's not like it disappeared.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:34 AM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Why not read books from people from different cultures, viewpoints, and experiences? Eliminating some authors just because they're "white, cis, straight, and male" is short-sighted. For example, the Strugatsky brothers and Mikhail Bulgakov (just off the top of my head) are nothing like American fiction. But they are straight, white, cis, and male.
To me, the point of this is to get out of your general reading patterns, and that's going to look different for different people. I don't need to be encouraged to read books by women. I already do that. I probably do need to be encouraged to read more books by people of color. I definitely need encouragement to read more books in translation and books by people who don't live in the US, the UK, Ireland, Canada and maybe Australia. So for me, a useful challenge would maybe be to read at least one book every month by someone who doesn't live in one of those countries and/or doesn't write in English. (Probably a further qualifier would be that Scandinavian crime fiction doesn't count.) For you, a good challenge would probably be different from that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:35 AM on February 27, 2015 [13 favorites]


Enamon, Bradford also cites the NYT in her article, but by the gender ratio of books reviewed, not those that made the best seller list. From her link:

"Over about two years, from June 29, 2008 to August 27, 2010, the Times reviewed 545 works of fiction—338, or 62 percent, were by men."

A quick count from you wikipedia link does make roughly 50% (some names were of ambiguous gender).

This would suggest that despite reviewing more men, it was women who were selling best.
posted by adept256 at 7:36 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of my methods for finding good books is to read essays and such about literature written decades ago and look for mentions of great authors I've never heard of. Not surprisingly, most of those I don't recognize are women. It's not as though there weren't widely beloved and impressive women writers in days gone by, but when their day passed, those who keep literary talk alive stopped talking about them.

This is what led me to Sylvia Townsend Warner, Mavis Gallant, Elizabeth Taylor (no, not the actress) and other brilliant talents.

Seriously, try it. Find an essay about "great writers of the 20th century" written in, say, 1955. Or "best of" lists from 1922.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 7:37 AM on February 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


So what you're saying is that we all have magic powers that are able to discern the race, gender, sexuality, etc. of an author just by seeing their name in print?

Foz Meadows had this covered:
This is one of the stupidest strawman misdirects I’ve ever fucking seen. Christ on a bicycle, Resnick is literally writing this on the goddamn internet while flapping her hands like the internet doesn’t exist; like there’s just no way to learn anything about an author’s identity beyond what’s contained in a physical fucking paperback; like Bradford is really just asking us to stand in a bookstore and guess.
If you want to read outside your comfort zone, yes, that means you have to put more effort into your reading and browsing, to perhaps spent some time looking up likely authors on the interwebs, or perhaps deliberately look at every female sounding author you come across in that secondhand bookstore, sometimes even taking a punt at a book in a genre or with a plot you'd normally not look at.

This is not hard; it's just retweaking your filters.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:44 AM on February 27, 2015 [13 favorites]


Two years ago, my new years resolution was to try a new-to-me fruit or vegetable every week.

I think if I had posted about that on Metafilter, or wrote a blog article suggesting that other people do the same because it was very eye-opening to me, I don't think that there would be some horrible backlash about how I was boycotting potatoes.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:45 AM on February 27, 2015 [49 favorites]


It's not necessary to push back when someone suggests trying something different. There are so many books published every year, not to mention books that are incredibly worthwhile but which haven't become 'classics' from years past. A lot of them were written by women. Why not search them out? As mentioned above, books don't go away. And also, there's no book reading police monitoring you. Read what you want! Reminding people that there's a plethora of books written by women that deserve attention - what's wrong with that, exactly?
posted by h00py at 7:45 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Books are filtered for you by publishers and booksellers, and if you choose without an eye to race, chances are you will end up with mostly white authors. Gender might be a bit more complicated--the numbers may be more even, but look at the names on that NYT bestseller list: E.L. James. Diana Gabaldon. Emily Giffin. Nora Roberts. All authors who are heavily marketed to women. (There are some books on there of which this is not true; I know everyone read Gone Girl... although I'd bet more women than men.) A lot of the male authors (John Grisham, James Patterson) also have heavily gendered marketing. So by picking what appeals to you, as a man, again, chances are, you'll end up reading less fiction by women than you otherwise might. There's a history of ghettoizing books by women, of shunting them off to the side. (See this excellent comment from Eyebrows McGee about classic novels of girlhood which have never been out of print, yet which most men have not read.)

Also, from the link in the OP, emphasis mine: The "Reading Only X Writers For A Year" a challenge is one every person who loves to read (and who loves to write) should take. You could, like Lilit Marcus, read only books by women or, like Sunili Govinnage, read only books by people of color. Or you could choose a different axis to focus on: books by trans men and women, books by people from outside the U.S. or in translation, books by people with disabilities. She leaves her challenge wide open to interpretation and specifically mentions exactly the challenge that some folks here are arguing would be better. We could all do better to be a little more global in our views, but I'm seriously confused that people are seeing this as some kind of gotcha, or antithetical to the premise of the challenge.
posted by sunset in snow country at 7:45 AM on February 27, 2015 [27 favorites]


[Comment removed. enamon, it feels like you're kind of in this thread for an argument at this point and that's not improving the thread. You've made your position pretty clear, please let it be now.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:55 AM on February 27, 2015 [16 favorites]


In missing the forest because of the trees: The pull quote is about men thinking she isn't an author because she works for a publisher (Penguin). But in the same paragraph she notes she goes on a tour as an author. So where'd the Penguin come from ?

Are authors usually employees of publishers ? I thought they were contractors of a sort (or, are most publisher employees authors ? ). If someone is on a panel/giving a talk, and is bio-ed as "works for Penguin Publishing", it seems a question folks would ask - what do you do there ? (ie agent, exec, publisher, runs a division, editor, marketing, etc) and author wouldn't be on my list of expected responses. (because I'd think folks would want to know so they could solicit the person their manuscript.)
posted by k5.user at 7:58 AM on February 27, 2015


I'd heard of this idea for a reading challenge before, but I didn't plan to try it myself... until reading this thread. Prepare now for my many requests, small-town local library!

This, from Shannon Hale's writeup, stood out to me: (emphasis mine)
I heard in advance that they planned to pull the girls out of class for my assembly but not the boys. I’d dealt with that in the past and didn’t want to be a part of perpetuating the myth that women only have things of interest to say to girls while men’s voices are universally important. ... When I got there, the administration told me with shrugs that they’d heard I didn’t want a segregated audience but that’s just how it was going to be.
posted by f r i e n d b o t at 8:04 AM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


The pull quote is about men thinking she isn't an author because she works for a publisher (Penguin).
Nope. The pull quote is about her chatting with a man at a literary events, such as a reading or maybe a party sponsored by a publisher, and the man assuming that she works for the publisher, rather than that she's there as an author. The men probably assume that she's in the marketing or publicity departments, which are kind of female ghettos in the publishing industry.

I think that what some people (mostly in deleted comments) are missing here is that the people who are talking about this stuff are mostly people who deal in parts of the literary world that aren't reflected on the bestseller lists. Women read a lot more fiction than men do, and a lot of fiction bestsellers are written by women. That's not true of, for instance, literary fiction, especially highbrow literary fiction, or sci-fi. So if you mostly read sci-fi or highbrow literary fiction, you'll be more challenged to find stuff written by women.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:07 AM on February 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Holy Crap. Those Comments on the first link. I never want to leave the house again. That is frightening.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:08 AM on February 27, 2015


Or you could choose a different axis to focus on: books by trans men and women, books by people from outside the U.S. or in translation, books by people with disabilities.

Kind of a tangent, but occasionally I read some translated SF/F, like Angélica Gorodischer*, and I'm both really excited and really frustrated. Excited to discover something new and wonderful, and frustrated that my lack of a Babel Fish means this will always be the tip of a foggy and mysterious iceberg.


*If you haven't read Kalpa Imperial that's a lock for a list concentrating on women authors or non-English authors. Trafalgar is pretty cool too.
posted by selfnoise at 8:19 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Avoiding authors on any criteria is the opposite of not taking them into account.

This is ignoring the second face of power. You are by default avoiding all authors that you dont know of or heard of, its not like you are told of every book written and then pare down that list.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:28 AM on February 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


Kind of a tangent, but occasionally I read some translated SF/F, like Angélica Gorodischer*, and I'm both really excited and really frustrated. Excited to discover something new and wonderful, and frustrated that my lack of a Babel Fish means this will always be the tip of a foggy and mysterious iceberg.

Oh man, Trafalgar is so good. And it was published over 30 years ago, only getting a translation in 2013! Where the hell was this book all my life?! Looking forward to diving into Kalpa Imperial.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 9:04 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know that I'll ever take the challenge to read ONLY [x kind of authors] for a year, but I love the fact that these challenges bring up so many books and authors that I otherwise wouldn't have heard of. If you're totally satisfied with the books and authors you read, and have no desire to explore further, sure, there's no reason to take a challenge like this. But how awesome to explore new books and different perspectives if you're interested in expanding your horizons!
posted by immlass at 9:41 AM on February 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


I just checked my Goodreads lists, and I am shocked and embarrassed to see that in 2014, I only read one female author out of 29 books (Caitlin R. Kiernan's devastating The Drowning Girl), down from 5 out of 28 the previous year (including Marisha Pessl's Night Film, which I am recommending to everyone).

I don't know the race of most of the authors I've read, but I assume most of them are white.

Luckily, I seem to have been subconsciously making up for it this year, as I've already ready three books by female authors out of five -- Emily St. John Mandel's remarkable Station Eleven, Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests (which was so god-awful-boring that I couldn't finish it), and a re-read of Kage Baker's In The Garden of Iden, for which I'd like to nth the recommendations above (the whole Company series is fabulous).

So, a question: My favorite books tend to be heavy mind-f***s - David Mitchell, Neal Stephenson, etc. Any recommendations for female and/or POC authors who do that sort of thing?
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:50 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


BT -- Cait Kiernan's body of work tends to fit the bill mostly, especially if you can procure a copy of Black Helicopters or The Dry Salvages. Glad you liked The Drowning Girl! (The Red Tree is another weird mindfuck of a novel of hers too. I know she loves mysteries that never resolve themselves to the reader, but I still try and make sense of what happened. The human brain does that, I guess.)
posted by Kitteh at 9:53 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


The majority of my bookshelves are filled with white cis men. There are a fair number of black American men, quite a lot of Latin American men, quite a few Japanese men. But mostly it's white, cisgender European and American men.

It's not that my taste just naturally leans that way. I've been sitting here thinking of a few of my favorite writers, and in most cases I can come up with a female writer (or a non-English writer, or whatever, with a little more effort) whose work is similar. William Burroughs? Angela Carter. Neil Gaiman? Dianna Wynn Jones and Susannah Clarke, who arguably expresses the same style considerably better than Gaiman. I can't think of a male counterpart for Ursula LeGuin at all. Maybe if I tried harder, I don't know, or maybe she's just a genius. Peter Watts and Margaret Atwood seem to inhabit the same universe, and even seem interested in the same parts of it, with one going a little bit deeper in Direction A and the other going a little bit farther down Direction B. Currently I'm reading Jeff VanderMeer; of course there's Ann VanderMeer (weird fiction is a particular pet genre of mine, and seems to suffer a sharper gender imbalance; I think part of it is that weird fiction is a somewhat neurotic and manic/depressive style, and neuroses are perhaps more socially acceptable for men to display).

It's not that there are clear binary analogues or anything; I just want to point out that there are a lot of women writers whose work is enjoyable if you like these men writers. You can stretch this along any axis, really. And it feels like LeGuin and Clarke are Respected Major Writers, but I don't really see conversations about them nearly as often as I do, say, George Martin or Neil Gaiman. They just don't get talked about quite as much, and so women authors who aren't Respected Major Writers get a bit crowded out of my bookshelf or languish in obscurity somewhere. Not allowing good writers to languish in obscurity is a good thing. Talking a little bit more about female writers (or black writers, trans writers, Latin American writers, East African writers, whatever) can help with that.

It's also useful for those of us with ever-growing Lists.
posted by byanyothername at 9:57 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, I should have mentioned Caitlyn Kiernan in my weird fiction aside. Seconding her for sure!
posted by byanyothername at 9:58 AM on February 27, 2015


Cait Kiernan is a great example of queer trans writer that is often overlooked by more mainstream fantasy/weird fiction places, but is lauded quite critically. Poppy Z Brite--or Billy, rather, as that is the name he goes by these days--did some wonderful queer foodie crime fiction a few years back.
posted by Kitteh at 10:05 AM on February 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


"How dare you choose to read authors who don't have penises!!!! HOW VERY DARE YOU!!!!" is bald entitlement. It is not a rational, reasonable, or logical argument.

Just because the phrase "boycott" was used on a clickbait article headline doesn't mean that affirmatively choosing to read one book over another book is a boycott. Time is a limited resource. Affirmatively choosing to read female authors, or authors of color, or trans authors, or queer authors, or authors from a different nationality: not a boycott. Even some unreconstructed sexist asshole saying "I don't read books by women" is not a boycott. It says something about that dude that he would consciously choose not to read books by women, but it's still not a boycott. Nor is it a boycott just because a sexist industry and society has essentially conspired to make it so he never has to actively choose not to read books by women, that he "just chooses" "good books" and oh, they just happen* to be all by white straight men.

Any argument about the poor male authors oppressed by someone choosing to only read women authors is pure idiocy, and it's motivated by pure male entitlement and self-justification. Wake me up when you make those arguments to all the people "boycotting" romance novels or cowboy novels or the collected volumes of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

*Of course, many famous "thriller" type authors in the John Grisham/Dan Brown mode are actually women writing under male pseudonyms, just like many romance novels are written by men.

Ben Trismegistus So, a question: My favorite books tend to be heavy mind-f***s - David Mitchell, Neal Stephenson, etc. Any recommendations for female and/or POC authors who do that sort of thing?

Pat Cadigan and Candace Jane Dorsey. Margaret Atwood, sometimes, in a certain light. If you explained what you meant by mindfuck in more detail with specific examples, that might be helpful, because that could cover a lot of ground for both of those two.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 10:13 AM on February 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


My favorite books tend to be heavy mind-f***s - David Mitchell, Neal Stephenson, etc. Any recommendations for female and/or POC authors who do that sort of thing?

Lauren Beukes' Zoo City does a good job of dropping you in a world that is very different from our own and then using that structure. Her follow up Shining Girls has gotten all the press but it a lot less unconventional (though a really neat variation on what Heinlein's All you zombies does). Did you pick up Ancillary Justice?
posted by phearlez at 10:17 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Elisabeth Vonarburg for the mindf*** category as well. Although Pat Cardigan, mentioned above, is best if you want more futuristic technology in there as well.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:21 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thank you Kitteh and The Master and Margarita Mix for your recommendations! I will definitely check out Kiernan's other works, and I will look for Cadigan and Dorsey. I do love Atwood, but only sometimes. I read the first two MaddAddam books and was underwhelmed.

I have difficulty defining what I think of as "mindfuck" books, but in general they tend to be long and depart from traditional narrative tropes in such a way as to keep you constantly guessing about what is going on or if you can even trust your perceptions (or the narrator's perceptions) of what is going on in the book. They also tend to have inventive or unusual narrative styles. Examples would include Stephenson's Anathem, anything by David Mitchell or Haruki Murakami, Steven Hall's Raw Shark Texts, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, some of Matt Ruff's books, etc. I'd definitely include The Drowning Girl in that. Sadly, it tends to be one of those "I know it when I see it" situations. :)
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:22 AM on February 27, 2015


Kiernan LOVES unreliable narrators (and is also a huge of House of Leaves fan, which really comes through in The Red Tree).
posted by Kitteh at 10:24 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, for those looking for additional reading recommendations, here's a pretty good place to start: 19 Science-Fiction And Fantasy Novels By Women Of Color You Must Read.

I'm unlikely to ever use a constraint like a boycott of one author identity class or exclusive focus on another, but more lists and recommendations like this, please.
posted by weston at 10:26 AM on February 27, 2015


Shannon Hale's post reminds me of this, from a few years ago:
A popular exercise among High School creative writing teachers in America is to ask students to imagine they have been transformed, for a day, into someone of the opposite sex, and describe what that day might be like. The results, apparently, are uncannily uniform. The girls all write long and detailed essays that clearly show they have spent a great deal of time thinking about the subject. Half of the boys usually refuse to write the essay entirely. Those who do make it clear they have not the slightest conception what being a teenage girl might be like, and deeply resent having to think about it.
Further analysis from the Tumblr thread, which is absolutely on point:
Girls are taught from a young age that we have to connect to what we read, so when we do exercises in class, everyone talks about how they connect to Huck Finn, or to Jay Gatsby, or to Julius Caesar. We connect to all the characters because we have to, because if we don’t then we won’t survive through the years of school.

Boys don’t deal with this. Practically every book or story they encounter from the time they begin school is full of male characters and written by men. So when confronted with female characters of female authors, they don’t know what to do. They feel as if they can’t connect with these characters because of the gender boundaries. As one woman in my class pointed out, “girls have to connect to male characters, but boys don’t have to connect to female characters.” By the time they’re my age, it’s not even intentional: many honestly think that they won’t understand a female character because they have no shared experiences whatsoever.
This is why projects like this matters. This is why the identity of the author (and the identity of characters) matter, and why representation and diversity matter. We're not just talking about the adult set in their ways (whose literary tastes are apparently fully-formed without ever having been influenced by gendered or racialized marketing decisions). We're also talking about showing young marginalized kids that people like them are heroes, that they can be writers, that their stories are worth telling.

Nothing exists in a vacuum. To pretend as though any media consumption decision can exist independent of the incredibly biased and uneven social context that surround us is sheer arrogance. All this project is asking is for us to be a bit more mindful of that social context and maybe push back against predominant trends. And if you don't want to do that - well, don't, no one is going to throw you into a gulag for it. But I think it's worth examining why there is so much defensiveness and knee-jerk panic at the thought of cis white male authors not being someone else's predominant literary diet.
posted by Phire at 10:26 AM on February 27, 2015 [52 favorites]


I have difficulty defining what I think of as "mindfuck" books, but in general they tend to be long and depart from traditional narrative tropes in such a way as to keep you constantly guessing about what is going on or if you can even trust your perceptions (or the narrator's perceptions) of what is going on in the book. They also tend to have inventive or unusual narrative styles. Examples would include Stephenson's Anathem, anything by David Mitchell or Haruki Murakami, Steven Hall's Raw Shark Texts, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, some of Matt Ruff's books, etc. I'd definitely include The Drowning Girl in that. Sadly, it tends to be one of those "I know it when I see it" situations. :)

Definitely, definitely read Cadigan's Tea From An Empty Cup. Mitchell essentially ripped it off more or less directly for number9dream, and she did it decades earlier and better. I really enjoy and love Mitchell, but that felt like Cadigan + Murakami + videogames.

Liz Williams is another good mindfucker. Not all of her books have that going on but some do; Banner of Souls is my favorite, but Empire of Bones, Ghost Sister, and The Poison Master all have a lot of that quality. Interface Masque by Shariann Lewitt.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 10:29 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


A mentor of mine once gave me a copy of Silences by Tillie Olsen to encourage me. I'm an American male of light skin from South Boston, but she was saying something important to me with that gift.

If you haven't read Olsen's book, I highly recommend it. Although it is now 35 years on, the message about inclusion and art is still important to hear. Thanks for this post.
posted by Cassford at 10:38 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am so delighted by this thread!!

Nicola Griffith's great to read as well. I enjoyed her lesbian crime books more than I feel strictly comfortable with on account of HEY ITS A CRIME ROMP WITH PEOPLE I AM DEMOGRAPHICALLY SIMILAR TOO!!!!! but her other stuff is legitimately brilliant like as "LITERATURE" too.

Erika Lopez's books are goofy and strangely revivifying for me.

Now I want to comb thru my shelves and offer all author crumbs I can to the overmind... and start putting books on hold from this thread

I wonder how many comments I make that are basically "sweet im put this book on hold" ANYWAY
posted by beefetish at 10:57 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have difficulty defining what I think of as "mindfuck" books, but in general they tend to be long and depart from traditional narrative tropes in such a way as to keep you constantly guessing about what is going on or if you can even trust your perceptions (or the narrator's perceptions) of what is going on in the book. They also tend to have inventive or unusual narrative styles.

Connie Willis! Especially The Historians books: Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, and All Clear.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:00 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Right now, my problem is that I'm not reading a whole lot of books by anyone, though. I really need to think about how to change my life so that I'm wasting less time on the internet and reading more books. I think you lose something when everything you read is short, regardless of what kind of writing it is.

I have the same problem! I have taken to bringing a book on my bus commute to work and insisting on reserving that time for reading published stuff, and that has helped. So has getting ebooks and reading them on my laptop in the same way that I would normally read online stuff or papers. But I think all I can do is block off time to read in and then just do it, and maybe also just wave interesting things in front of myself via Goodreads a lot.

I read the OP, thought about it, and looked at the books I had on my to-do list. I'd intended to pick up a nonfiction work written by a white dude, but I had another (fiction) book I'd been starting and getting distracted by, which was written by a woman. I gave that a shot instead this morning, and I've been captivated by the story and the personality coming off the page since! So hey, thanks for the extra incentive to check that book out--it's Out of the Easy, by Ruta Septys, and I'm enjoying the heck out of it. That's important to me right now, because I've found myself totally uninterested in fiction for a while and I'm enjoying coming back to it.

I think I will probably challenge myself to read at least one book by someone who is not a white dude for every book I read by someone who is. That way, I can widen my nets for what I read, while at the same time encouraging my busy, not-reading-enough self to check out new stuff that sounds interesting on the basis of subject.
posted by sciatrix at 11:03 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sooo, some folks seem to think that by seeking out one genre segment, they're destroying another one? Huh.

"I'M GOING TO DESTROY NEAR-FUTURE SF BY SEEKING OUT AND READING ONLY FAR-FUTURE SPACE OPERA FOR THE NEXT 12 MONTHS!"

mwahahahaha.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:17 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


(In reality, I'd love to read more fiction by a more diverse set of authors, particularly POC, but I seem to have stopped reading fiction for a while except for when I'm on vacation. *side-eyes at MeFi and other websites*)
posted by rmd1023 at 11:19 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Any POC/women mindfuck (P.K. Dick, Kobo Abe, Barthelme, Ted Chiang) short stories, especially SF? Because, yeah, I got that stack of Octavia Butler books to work through and I know they'll be great, but I've been having trouble banging through any novels since my train commute ended. (And the end of Maddaddam was a let down.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:29 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just because the phrase "boycott" was used on a clickbait article headline doesn't mean that affirmatively choosing to read one book over another book is a boycott. Time is a limited resource. Affirmatively choosing to read female authors, or authors of color, or trans authors, or queer authors, or authors from a different nationality: not a boycott.

True, let's say, for example, someone were to undertake a survey of Film Noir, or pre-Revolution Russian authors, the literature of post-war Poland, or immerse one's self in American Romantic poets of the 19th century, or the "deviant" art banned by the Nazis. Well, then you would be a dedicated scholar, and not a social-justice wonk.

At least in SF&F people like to complain about how the genre is the same old shit, but are unwilling to touch the current international renaissance of authors getting printed and distributed in the United States for the first time. And it turns out that, gee, authors from around the world have very different perspectives on many of the themes that have been fixtures of soft sci-fi since the Golden Age.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:39 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


hydropsyche, Connie Willis is one of my favorites! I've read everything of hers, and Blackout/All Clear is (are) one of my favorite books for sure. TM&MM, thanks again - Tea from an Empty Cup sounds wonderful!

Phire, excellent point about this mattering more for the next generations. Luckily, the current YA renaissance is making a huge difference. My 11-year-old son is devouring a ton of books by female and POC authors, like Kiera Cass, Ally Condie, Raina Telgemeier, Marissa Meyer, Kerstin Gier, along with the old stand-bys of Rowling and Collins. He just finished and loved a book called Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin. So I think there's hope for the future.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:42 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


[A few comments removed. Please not so much with the belaboring the semantic side-argument thing.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:54 AM on February 27, 2015


Ok, I have to admit I had not read the first link.

....Dear lord. What kind of publication is the LRB that it attracts that kind of comments section? The floor was completely covered with discarded monocles.

**I'm hesistant to hijack a thread mostly devoted to gender diversity, but those of you who are looking for PoC SF/F authors, let me direct you to Samuel R. Delany if you haven't gotten there already. Regardless of gender/racial background he is IMHO one of the two best SF writers ever (the other being LeGuin).**
posted by selfnoise at 11:59 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Having now taken the time to actually count what I have read in the past year, after starting trying to motivate myself to read more, it's kind of heartening--52 books total, which isn't much, but only 11 of them by straight white dudes. I could certainly stand to read way more books by people who aren't white, mind you, but I'm feeling a little better about myself just at the moment.
posted by sciatrix at 12:08 PM on February 27, 2015


My 11-year-old son is devouring a ton of books by female and POC authors

Your son needs to read Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis (and so do you). Dutch writer, who set her novel in the Southwestern US having a Latino-American boy as a protagonist, who seems to suffer from epileptic attacks, but who in reality is disastrously distracted every time he closes his eyes because then he looks out through the eyes of a servant girl to a princess on the run in a different world.

It's both a great adventure fantasy novel and it's also smart about matters of consent and disability: all three main characters have some form of disability due to their powers.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:09 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nicola Griffith's great to read as well. I enjoyed her lesbian crime books more than I feel strictly comfortable with on account of HEY ITS A CRIME ROMP WITH PEOPLE I AM DEMOGRAPHICALLY SIMILAR TOO!!!!!

The brilliant thing about it is that all her novels have lesbian protagonists and she makes no bones nor apologies about it. But oh man, The Blue Place, such a gut punch of a book and then Stay, the best book about mourning and grief I've ever read. I talked to her about it on Twitter and it turned out that it was very much influenced by the death of her sisters.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:17 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ooooh, MartinWisse, Otherbound sounds excellent - I will definitely add it to the list. Thanks!

Tangent: I hadn't realized Samuel R. Delany is a POC - Dhalgren has been on my to-read list forever.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:27 PM on February 27, 2015


Delany is also queer/gay. I'm not sure how precisely he IDs these days, but he has primarily been involved with other men and it comes up in his work.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 12:33 PM on February 27, 2015


I read quite a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, and this is the first time I heard of Connie Willis, an author who "has won eleven Hugo Awards and seven Nebula Awards for particular works—more major awards than any other writer". If anyone wants an example of a person blinded by the systemic bias being discussed, I present myself.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:33 PM on February 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


Klang, it's come up on Mefi before, but The water that falls on you from nowhere is phenomenal. Queer/POC, not sure how you define mindfuck but of the 4 you mention I know and love Dick & Chiang, it feels like a Chiang short story.

And thanks everyone for the recommendations!

Lemurrhea: I love Dick.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:37 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have Dhalgren for hold for a month when I have more brainpower, but a new edition of Babel-17 was released last year, which is like watching Flash Gordon while snorting Ginsburg while taking a hit of Sapir-Worf, with explicitly bisexual and polyamormous characters, and saving the universe through poetry.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:37 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I run a book club for Tweens at my library and I try to cycle through writers from different backgrounds. I try to do this subtly, so the kids aren't like "oh, it's a boy book this month!" (But when we discuss the book, I do bring up the author's background.) Most kids are more in tune with the gender of the protagonist than the author, I've found. So far I haven't had anyone reject a book because of the perceived gender of it. One girl bailed on The Night Gardener because it was too scary, and they ALL hated Larklight!

Also, if I could get anybody to read anything, it would be to get middle grade kids to read middle grade fiction instead of skipping right to YA books. There are such phenomenonal books written for older children and I wish they could spend some time with them before rushing off to Divergent et al.
posted by Biblio at 12:38 PM on February 27, 2015


I always thought, for some weird reason, that Delany was Russian.

Anyways, I love William Gibson and near-future cyberpunky scifi so recommend me stuff! Also, "cyberpunky" doesn't actually mean "dystopian" so preferably only as dystopian as modern day or maybe the 80s or 70s. Oh, and I already know about Pat Cardigan and I read at least one of her short stories (I finally got a copy of Mirrorshades last year) so recommend away!
posted by I-baLL at 12:40 PM on February 27, 2015


I envy anyone who is diving into Dhalgren for the first time... it's really, really great. I want to re-read it this year.

I also really love his Neveryon stories, but the unaware reader should be warned that they are sort of... philosophical essays/stories? Anyway they're cool.
posted by selfnoise at 12:40 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oops! I just realized that I missed recommendations from phearlez and tofu_crouton - Thanks! Just added a bunch of stuff to my TBR list.

Pyrogenesis, Connie Willis is a wonderful author, particularly the four time travel novels mentioned above, and also for Passage. Doomsday Book is an excellent introduction to her work. There are those who complain about her books because of certain historical inaccuracies, but I am not a historian, so take that for what it's worth.

Connie Willis also sadly achieved some notoriety back in 2006 for being manhandled by Harlan Ellison at the Hugo Awards ceremony.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:41 PM on February 27, 2015


I now have the ebook of her Doomsday Book and I'm going to close Metafilter tabs now and get started with it.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:51 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have Dhalgren for hold for a month when I have more brainpower

oh, gee, no - don't try to figure it out, because you won't - just experience it - although it might help to understand that it's sort of a portrayal of some underground 60s scenes
posted by pyramid termite at 12:51 PM on February 27, 2015


I've always thought it was odd that the first edition of Sense and Sensibility was published under the name of a lady.

I was lucky enough to have an older brother very keen on 19th century literature. When the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice began (starring a young Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy), we watched it together, and he gave me his copy of the book.

Once I'd gotten through Jane's body of work, he handed me a copy of Wuthering Heights, and that got me started on the Bronte sisters.

The indisputable genius of Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights dispelled forever any possible notion that women are inferior authors. I heartily recommend them!

At about the same age I chewed through the Dragonlance page-turners by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. I endorse these too.

I learned about Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games right here at metafilter. I remember being disappointed when Jennifer Lawrence was cast as Katniss. Katniss was Hispanic in my mind's eye, which made her an even better role-model for an under-represented group.

I'm sure everyone who loves to read has made that grim calculation, you have X years to live, and read at Y pace. That means ... oh dear.

For this reason I am very selective of what I read, and take my recommendations from a variety of sources. I would never walk into a bookstore and choose books at random based on their blurb or their damn cover art!!!!*

If you are doing this, stop. You are probably the main cause of the problems being discussed above. That is like always listening to the same radio station that only ever plays what the the record companies are pushing, when there is so much more diverse music out there! You have to look for it though. This right here? This webpage? AN EXCELLENT PLACE TO START!

*Unless they were those fantastic Terry Pratchett covers
posted by adept256 at 12:53 PM on February 27, 2015


I love William Gibson and near-future cyberpunky scifi so recommend me stuff!

You want Elizabeth Bear's debut trilogy: Hammered, Scardown and Worldwired. Starts out as street level cyberpunk and each successive book raises the stakes.

The main protagonist, Jenny Casey, is a fiftysomething veteran from various conflicts in which the Canadian army fought under UN flag, one of her arms replaced with a cybernetic one, something that doesn't so much make her a superhero as somebody who has had to learn to live with her arm all over again and who still has problems with it. One of the better depictions of chronic illness/disability in sf.

And of course Melissa Scott's Trouble and her Friends, one of the few realistic cyberpunk novels in that it wasn't street v corp, but smart enough to know the government would stomp down hard on the cyber underground, while the punks themselves would suffer from all the sorts of political infighting and marginalisation of anybody not white, straight and male as well, the net has had in real life.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:55 PM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have Dhalgren for hold for a month when I have more brainpower, but a new edition of Babel-17 was released last year, which is like watching Flash Gordon while snorting Ginsburg while taking a hit of Sapir-Worf, with explicitly bisexual and polyamormous characters, and saving the universe through poetry.

!!! How did I not know this was a thing? BRB, running off to go and check stuff at my local library. Also clearly need to read more Nicola Griffith, I loved Hild except (SPOILER) for the really weird surprise incesty ending (/SPOILER). Is that a Thing in her novels?

One thing I have noticed is that I have loved the novels I've read recently, particularly the Goblin Emperor and literally everything Ursula Vernon writes, where you have.... small acts of kindness, I guess, popping up among the characters. Books that make me feel like people working together can do good things. Does anyone have good recommendations for books like that? Kind of the flip side of the Game-of-Thrones style ethos I've seen in fantasy lately, where blood and rape run rampant in the streets. I want to see stories about what happens during relatively stable regimes, too.

Also, anything with aliens done by someone who has thought in depth about xenobiology. I'd kill for more of that. Recs, Metafilter hivemind? :D
posted by sciatrix at 1:02 PM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Doomsday Book is an excellent introduction to her work. There are those who complain about her books because of certain historical inaccuracies, but I am not a historian, so take that for what it's worth.

I enjoyed aspects of it but I was made nuts by the absence of better communication technology. A lot of Doomsday Book focuses on people being unable to get in contact with each other and it stuck in my craw that they had time travel and not cellphones or communicators. I am not sure if that would have bothered me if I had read it ten years earlier but it was enough then to put me off picking up the subsequent novels.
posted by phearlez at 1:09 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


anything with aliens done by someone who has thought in depth about xenobiology.

Have you read BlindSight by Peter Watts? He's a marine biologist/sci-fi author, so he has, uh, thought about alien biology in depth, you could say.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:11 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed aspects of it but I was made nuts by the absence of better communication technology. A lot of Doomsday Book focuses on people being unable to get in contact with each other and it stuck in my craw that they had time travel and not cellphones or communicators.

I kind of got around that by figuring that, hey, we've got cellphones but no time travel; maybe you only get one or the other. Maybe they were so busy inventing time travel that they didn't have the brainpower to do up cellphones, too.

It worked for me, at any rate.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:14 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Connie Willis is a graduate of the School of Screwball Comedy as it were, so a lot of her plot points come from someone or something being misunderstood, misheard, or otherwise misinterpreted, or people unable to get in touch with other people, very near missed connections, etc. When she wrote her first near future time travel books, cell phones weren't as big as they are now, so she didn't really project them into her new future. Now with the ubiquity of cell phones, the lack of them in her more recent books is a glaring absence. In Blackout/All Clear I believe she kind of handwaves it away by making a reference to how people quit using them because if the radiation, but it's pretty unsatisfactory. I can overlook it because I love her work wholeheartedly aside from that, so I recommend just trying to ignore it.
posted by skycrashesdown at 1:22 PM on February 27, 2015


I enjoyed aspects of it but I was made nuts by the absence of better communication technology. A lot of Doomsday Book focuses on people being unable to get in contact with each other and it stuck in my craw that they had time travel and not cellphones or communicators. I am not sure if that would have bothered me if I had read it ten years earlier but it was enough then to put me off picking up the subsequent novels.

Interesting -- that's actually one of the things I enjoy about her time travel books. The technology is notoriously buggy and problematic. Yes, they have time travel, but it's actually a complete pain in the ass to use and brings a whole bunch of attendant problems. I imagine that's probably how it would be, particular at an underfunded university.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 1:23 PM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


anything with aliens done by someone who has thought in depth about xenobiology.

Octavia Butler's Dawn, the first in the Xenogenesis series.
posted by tofu_crouton at 1:33 PM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Which makes me think of Steven Barnes, who I think a lot of folks are not aware is a PoC. I only became aware when he married Tananarive Due who I know through her work at the Miami Herald.
posted by phearlez at 1:50 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


sciatrix, there is an incesty subplot in Nicola Griffith's awesome Slow River, but it is also explicitly depicted as abuse, so I don't know if it will squick you out in the same way? The book is, as the first review notes, kind of a hot mess, but I am still in the camp of people who love it (although, I am also unreasonably interested in wastewater treatment).
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:55 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Have you read BlindSight by Peter Watts? He's a marine biologist/sci-fi author, so he has, uh, thought about alien biology in depth, you could say.

I'll probably go check it out eventually, but... I am kind of uncomfortable with reccing works by white dudes in this thread of all threads. :/ Could you and others maybe reconsider that? Unless I am missing something huge in my brief search of his profile, anyway.

Re Griffith's stuff, incest doesn't actually squick me that badly--I still love Hild!--I just wanted to know if it was going to keep popping up. It felt more "wait, wtf? why are you choosing to go here of all places?" than anything else.
posted by sciatrix at 2:04 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's no incest in any of her other novels.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:08 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not exclusively authored by women, but the first Terra Nova anthology rocked with both feminist and queer science fiction stories.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:13 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I should add that "Spanish" in the title refers to Spanish-language science fiction rather than fiction from Spain.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:17 PM on February 27, 2015


Unfortunately, all the POC I can think of to recommend off the top of my head are men, make of that what you will.

Mat Johnson is a versatile author, with work ranging from comics (Incognegro, Black Rain) to literary fiction (Drop) to crime (Hunting in Harlem) to comic fantasy (Pym). He's probably written six new things since I last paid attention.

Tobias Buckell, a Grenadian-American author possibly best known for his Halo novelizations, though I'm more familiar with his Crystal Rain series. He presents a multicultural rainbow in his space operas, but reasonably enough, doesn't really want to talk about his own biracial experience just for our amusement.

The anthology series Dark Matter contains stories and essays from the African-descended diaspora, including such notables as W.E.B. Du Bois, Walter Mosley, Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, et alia (this series does include some female authors, but since I haven't finished the first volume yet, my disclaimer above still stands)

finally, Greek-American author Nick Mamatas has an interesting post on his blog about the Bradford challenge. More relevantly, in the comments, there is an interesting discussion about whether it is illuminating enough to read what is basically the mainstream of another language/culture/nation, which is best summarized by the quotation below:
A friend who owns a bookstore proudly showed me a new shelf of "contemporary German" authors and my first reaction was, "Where are the Turks?"
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 2:22 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


So I've mostly devoured books in the fantasy genre, and it hit me like a brick how the majority of things I've read have been by male authors. It was never a cognitive thing and wow. I'm definitely taking this initiative to recalibrate my personal library.

(I've also moved to a new place and had to get a new library card recently, so this is all great timing.)

The one author that does come to mind whose books I remember being my favorite for a while is Sara Douglass, with The Axis Trilogy/Wayfarer Redemption. It's been a long time since I've read them, but I've held onto her books through several moves now while giving away boxes and boxes of others.
posted by erratic meatsack at 2:48 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'll probably go check it out eventually, but... I am kind of uncomfortable with reccing works by white dudes in this thread of all threads.

It completely didn't occur to me, sorry!
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:53 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


A good set of samplers are Women Destroy Science Fiction, Women Destroy Fantasy, and Women Destroy Horror, the results of a successful kickstarter campaign last year. They're doing a "Queers Destroy..." series this year; I think those issues will be published starting in June.
posted by hades at 3:16 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Books that make me feel like people working together can do good things. Does anyone have good recommendations for books like that?

Station Eleven is a post apocalyptic novel where people do NOT lose their humanity. I found it extremely touching.
posted by tofu_crouton at 3:16 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


One thing I have noticed is that I have loved the novels I've read recently, particularly the Goblin Emperor and literally everything Ursula Vernon writes, where you have.... small acts of kindness, I guess, popping up among the characters. Books that make me feel like people working together can do good things. Does anyone have good recommendations for books like that?

You might try Melina Marchetta's books. Jellicoe Road, Saving Francesca, and The Piper's Son are contemporary YA, and feature protagonists going through some hard stuff, but still have a lot of kindness and compassion for those characters. Her fantasy series The Chronicles of Lumatere has more violence (and a fairly prominent sexual assault plotline at one point), but it's not grimdark and has a lot of those small kindnesses.
posted by yasaman at 3:46 PM on February 27, 2015


Connie Willis is a graduate of the School of Screwball Comedy as it were, so a lot of her plot points come from someone or something being misunderstood, misheard, or otherwise misinterpreted, or people unable to get in touch with other people, very near missed connections, etc.

That makes a lot of sense. I got frustrated with Passage because I felt like most of the conflicts could have been avoided by characters saying "Shut up, and listen to me for a second" to chatty or clueless co-characters. I liked the subject of the novel, but this repeated plot technique was distracting.
posted by bibliowench at 6:09 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, anything with aliens done by someone who has thought in depth about xenobiology

I will say this: you should read Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman novels. I cannot/will not say more, but you should read them.
posted by suelac at 7:03 PM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh gods yes, Rosemary Kirstein is amazing, the first three Steerswoman novels were one of the highlights of my reading last year and yes, you do have to go into them cold to get the most out of them.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:19 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Okay, despite having a ridiculous backlog of books to read, I just picked up the first in that series, suelac. Thanks for the recommendation! And thanks to everyone else who has mentioned great books and authors; many I've read, but I'm finding a lot more here to comb through.

In return, I'll mention one maybe slightly obscure book I love from the "weird fiction" / "new weird" genre, since it was mentioned: "The Etched City," by K.J. Bishop. Sadly, she hasn't written a full-length novel since this one from 2004, though I'm always checking. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, for sure, but I loved it.
posted by taz at 2:27 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Station Eleven is a post apocalyptic novel where people do NOT lose their humanity. I found it extremely touching."

My fiancee's parents were just recommending that last night, and in general they are not people whose taste in books match mine (I was a little surprised they recommended anything with any sci-fi to it at all).
posted by klangklangston at 1:48 PM on February 28, 2015


Some authors I like who fit the "not a cis white man" classification (many of whom I discovered via free or very cheap ebooks and who are now on my "purchase upon publication" list): Shelley Adina. Saladin Ahmed. Heather Albano. Lois McMaster Bujold. Gail Carriger. Kady Cross. Suzette Haden Elgin (RIP). Janet Kagan (best known for Uhura's Song but if you haven't read Hellspark you want to). Laurie R. King (not for Sherlock Holmes purists). T. Kingfisher (better known as Ursula Vernon). Jayne Ann Krentz (aka Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle). Ann Leckie (I loved the way Ancillary Justice made my brain work). Daniel José Older. Cindy Spencer Pape. Mary Jo Putney. Susan Kaye Quinn. S. M. Reine (who has a page on her website of "these are my current free ebooks"). Cidney Swanson. Sheri S. Tepper (problematic in some regards, but IMO worth reading). Sarah Zettel.

Also, one of the bloggers at Hoyden About Town has been doing a 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge reading project, and in addition to the "Australian women writers" constraint also set goals of "At least four Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander authors" and "At least two immigrant (or first-generation-Australian) authors".
posted by Lexica at 5:46 PM on February 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thanks to this thread, I read the first Steerswoman novel yesterday and am halfway through the second.

This is an example of a book that gets gender right. In the novels' world, there are some specifically gendered roles (like the steersWOMEN), but these are obviously conscious decisions on Kirstein's part and relevant to the plot. Outside of these roles, the 'NPCs' are pretty mixed in terms of gender. A group of soldiers will have two women and three men, a group of merchants might be two women and one man, etc. There is a diversity of skin tones as well, but a comment towards the end of the first book makes it clear that because there's not that much cultural diversity in this part of the world, people of different skin tones aren't seen as different races.

I'm skeptical about some of the decision (esp. the race part), but I appreciate that the author has clearly thought about these issues instead of resorting to the kind of laziness I see in other books that makes every group of soldiers or scholars accidentally a fraternal order.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:53 AM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


One reason I've started reading romance is that Courtney Milan, a romance writer, is like me (Asian-American with programming experience) and has written a romance novel starring someone like us.

I'm currently reading Toni Morrison's Beloved (which has supernatural/fantasy elements btw) which I either have never read before or I read so long ago that I thoroughly didn't get it. It's a classic, it's superlative, I have nothing new to say about it.

Ben Trismegistus, consider Jo Walton's Lifelode and My Real Children, Justine Larbalestier's Liar, Jennifer Linnea's eerie glimpse "Second-Hand Information", and Ellen Ullman's The Bug.

People seeking recommendations for books by people of color may like the 50books_poc LiveJournal community's archives. I also want to recommend Zen Cho and Lavanya Sankaran, women writers of Asian origin who are in my opinion not as well-known as they ought to be.
posted by brainwane at 5:23 AM on March 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


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