Books, Gender, Life Update

Reading Challenges in 2014

Welcome to 2014! The thing about Drunk Movie Mondays is that they prevent me from posting about anything other than movies to watch while wasted at the beginning of the month/year. I maybe did not think that through as much as I should have, but we’re stuck with it now, so we’re just going to talk about the new year now. Actually we’re going to talk about books. Well, I’m going to talk about books. You’re going to read about them, because for some reason you read the things that I write. Thanks for that. Now back to books.

In 2013, I read 45 books. That is maybe the most books I have ever read in a single year, and it exceeded my goal for the year by 5 books, which is pretty great. I was super proud of myself, and congratulated myself accordingly. Yay reading!

It recently occurred to me that having tracked all the books I read last year on Goodreads, for the first time ever I now have the ability to analyze my own reading habits and see what kinds of stories I’m reading, and where my biases are. Here’s what I found:

Genres (overlapping):
9 YA
8 Scifi
8 Fantasy
7 Fairytale/mythology retellings
3 Horror
2 Non-fiction
1 Romance
4 Translated books (2 from Russian, 1 each from Romanian & French)

Authors with more than one book:
Victor Pelevin: 2
Malinda Lo: 2
Mervyn Peake: 3 (series)
Kurt Vonnegut: 2

Well. We can certainly see where my loyalties lie, can’t we? Pretty much where I expected, though I didn’t realize translations were a thing I tended toward. But all is not well in the world of my reading habits–here’re the depressing statistics:

Author race:
43 White
2 Asian (same author for both)

Author gender:
Books by men: 32
Books by women: 12
Co-written: 1

…yup. In 2013, I read 45 books, clearing out most of my to-read shelf, and only 28% of them were written by women, with only 2 written by not white people. Shameful, I know. You are perfectly justified in judging me. Let all the judging happen. I deserve it.

The thing is, I don’t think my reading habits are unique to me. Literary biases toward men and white people abound, and have been written about by many, many people much better versed than I on the topic, so I’m not going to go into it here. Suffice it to say that, in general, if you don’t make a concerted effort to read books by people other than white dudes, it is really easy to end up reading only books by white dudes, because that’s the only kind of author that popular culture talks about with any regularity. You will only read books that you know about, and white men have the advertising market cornered. Clearly, I have fallen victim to this, as evidenced by my reading in 2013, and I am upset about it.

But the thing about reading habits is that they can be changed. Thus, rather than beating myself up too much for this frankly dire lack of diversity in my reading choices, I’m going to try to fix it in 2014, starting with the gender issue. Last week, I ordered eight books from Powell’s, all written by women. I chose the books I did by surfing ‘best women authors’ lists and polling my friends on Twitter, then compiling a list of ladies whose work looks interesting. From that list, I picked eight books that were on cheap sale and eligible for free shipping. They are:

  1. The Red Tent – Anita Diamant
  2. There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories – Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
  3. The Blue Mirror – Kathe Koja
  4. Piratica: Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl’s Adventure Upon the High Seas – Tanith Lee
  5. The Haunting of House Hill – Shirley Jackson
  6. The Cleft: A Novel – Doris Lessing
  7. Pretty Monsters – Kelly Link
  8. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories – Angela Carter

Pretty decent start, I think, but not perfect. If you are a book nerd and familiar with these ladies, you may have noticed that all of them are white, which is because I hadn’t yet considered counting my race reading stats when I bought them. The next round of books, therefore, will all be by people of color, preferably women (I am coming for you, Octavia Butler–as soon as I find a copy of The Wild Seed that isn’t outrageously expensive). I will probably seek out more translations, too, just for good measure. My goal is for my 2014 reading choices to leave white dudes firmly in the minority for once.  Reading suggestions more than welcome.

But enough about me. How has your reading choice diversity been doing lately?

Homogeneously yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“Read. Read. Read. Just don’t read one type of book. Read different books by various authors so that you develop different style.” -R.L. Stein

P.S. The book I am reading at the moment–my first book of 2014, which I started reading in 2013–is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman. Already this year is more diverse than the last. Incidentally, I may have to write a post about this book when I am finished with it, because it is, frankly, absurd–in all the best possible ways.

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13 thoughts on “Reading Challenges in 2014”

  1. Did Goodreads tell you this or did you work it out yourself? I can’t get it to show me any useful information! But having looked through my list 6 of the 52 I read last year were by people of colour and 4 were translations (from the originals in Spanish, Swedish, Dutch and Hungarian) which is reasonable I suppose. My gender split was pretty much 50:50 which wasn’t intentional but makes me very proud! I don’t think much about the author when I chose a book but I do intend to try and read more translated literature this year.

    I read Love in the Time of Cholera last year and I hated it. Or at least I hated Florentino Ariza and his ridiculous attitude towards women, life and everything! I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

    1. I worked it out myself. I wish goodreads did it for me, because that would have been way easier. XD

      I quite liked Love in the Time of Cholera, but mostly because I regarded Florentino Ariza as something of a comedic figure and spent most of his chapters laughing in his face. Seriously, he’s a moron. I also like how a solid half of the ladies he hooks up with don’t give two shits about him–especially the one who literally told him he was nobody. It’s almost farcical. The rest of the characters were delightful enough to make up for his stupidity, in my opinion.

      1. So do I, their ‘stats’ page is just a big tease, making you think they’re going to tell you something helpful!

        He wound me up from the minute he turned up at the funeral and then it just got worse. I quite liked Juvenal Urbino and I was sad that he died such a ridiculous death early on so I guess that didn’t help… You’re right about everyone else making up for him but sadly it wasn’t quite enough for me.

        1. Understandable. Florentino might be the best example I’ve come across so far of the author clearly intending for a character to come off as lovable and sympathetic when in fact he is pitiful and kind of an asshole. I felt like Marquez was constantly telling me, “He’s a man of LOVE” and all I could think was “you spelled ‘desperation and delusion’ wrong.” I kind of want to re-write my own ending where Fermina Daza doesn’t suddenly change her whole personality and life view to fall in love with him, and instead hands him his ass on a silver platter.

          Also I’m mad about America Vicuna. There is no excuse for the existence of her plotline.

          1. He certainly is a good example of that. I was hoping for that ending all the way through but I knew I was likely to be disappointed. At least she turned him away at first though otherwise I wouldn’t have got through the first couple of chapters.

            Her story was awful, the only purpose it served was to reinforce what a truly despicable character Florentino is. As if that was needed.

  2. Nice analysis, definitely worth doing even just for the “huh, so that’s what I read” factor. The fact that even a global citizen like you only read 4/45 books in translation probably says something. About things.

    I imagine my 2013 reading — and reading overall — would be pretty DWM heavy (it’s a source of slight guilt to me how few female authors make my absolute-favourites-ever shortlist: basically Woolf, plus K J Parker if s/he happens to be female). But there’s a serendipitious eclecticism to my books read so far in 2014:

    The Daylight Gate – Jeanette Winterson – Living white female
    Hangover Square – Patrick Hamilton – Dead white male
    King of the Flies: Hallorave – Mezzo and Pirus – Living white males (in translation)
    Days of the Bagnold Summer – Living white male
    The Heat of the Day – Elizabeth Bowen – Dead white female
    (currently reading) Beloved – Toni Morrison – Living black female

    So a nice gender split, with at least some early showings for the non-white and translated. That said, it’s January 13th, and the William Golding and Eric Frank Russell novels sitting waiting on my bedside table suggest that the DWM statistical resurgence won’t take long…

      1. Oh man, Jeanette Winterson. I like her. I know because I own four books by her, with another borrowed from my housemate, and they aren’t in a series. The only author who beats her in that regard is Kurt Vonnegut, and I think you know how I feel about Kurt Vonnegut. I haven’t read The Daylight Gate, though–would you recommend it?

        I need to read some Toni Morrison. So many books, so little lifespan. This is a perpetual problem.

        1. Wouldn’t especially recommend it, no — it had quite a unique, somehow confrontational writing voice, which I liked, but I didn’t feel it did anything particularly special with it. It’s a tiny little book that you could read in a couple of sittings, though, so no harm in trying it. Which of her books that you’ve read would you say are worth a go?

          1. “Unique, somehow confrontational writing voice” basically sums up Jeanette Winterson. I really like her narrative style and the way she weaves fairytale-like vignettes into longer stories, but her books also all feel a bit unintentionally autobiographical, like her narrators are actually thinly veiled mouthpieces for her personal philosophy rather than actual people. For that reason, I prefer her more obviously autobiographical work–Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit being her first novel, and the most clearly drawn from her own life of the ones I’ve read (though it’s not a true story, exactly; eh, grey areas).

            I also really liked Weight, but that’s at least partially because I’m a sucker for fairytale/mythology re-tellings in all forms, even if they’re a bit heavy-handed, which Weight absolutely is. The fact that her books are all so short is her saving grace, I think; if they were longer I would be a lot less willing to overlook her occasional proselytizing.

  3. I just looked through my Goodreads challenges of the last couple years, and they are OVERWHELMINGLY women. Haven’t done race or genre stats, but my guess is mostly urban fantasy and white women. But at least I’m reading female authors? I think genre also enters into it heavily. For example, in my experience there are FAR more female urban fantasy authors than there are male UF authors, and that’s the genre I tend to gravitate towards. But then, I also feel like women authors in the UF genre get way more attention and publicity than the men do. Probably I should branch out more and read more genres, but if I have to force myself to read a book, it feels like homework.

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