K. Tempest Bradford, asking you not to read a book I really enjoyed.
Is it time to put a little voluntary "affirmative action" into your reading habits?
A writer named K. Tempest Bradford has suggested that readers accept a challenge: Stop reading white, heterosexual cis male authors for a year. (A "cis" male is one who has ALWAYS been a male, as opposed to a transgendered person who now identifies as male. I suppose most of y'all already knew that, but the term was new to me until recently.)
If readers took up the challenge, the result would be more attention for writers who typically get less attention, Bradford points out. Bradford says there are other ways you could challenge yourself to read neglected authors. You could read only books by women, or 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 writes.
I particularly like the idea of focusing on books by people outside of the U.S.; that would likely be a rich reading experience. Reading only trans authors strikes me as limiting. The only trans author I could think of I've been meaning to try is Deidre McCloskey.
Bradford writes that she adopted her advice and tried to read only stories by women, people of color, gay people and transgendered people, she found that it was less likely she would "rage-quit" the science fiction magazine she was attempting to consume.
Her advice reminded me a bit of the advice once offered by Robert Anton Wilson. He told an interviewer, "I also read at least one periodical every month by a political group I dislike -- to keep some sense of balance. The overwhelming stupidity of political movements is caused by the fact that political types never read anything but their own gang's agit-prop." In other words, it reduces your chance of being a cosmic schmuck.
I can't help noting that in one respect, Bradford's advice turns Wilson's on its head. Whereas Wilson wants you to read outside of your comfort zone, Bradford wants you to go outside of YOUR comfort zone into HER bubble. She's challenging herself less these days while demanding that everyone else challenge themselves more. In any event, the point that writers that are privileged by the system tend to be neglected is (probably) a good one.
I'm not going to take her advice. Two of my favorite writers, John Higgs and Neal Stephenson, are about to come out with new books. I'm not going to shun them just because the authors are white males.
But I will try this: For a few months at least, maybe for a year, for every book I read by a white male Anglo-Saxon (i.e., British or American), I will read a book by someone who isn't in that category. (This is similar to a suggestion John Scalzi made, but I'm not stealing Scalzi's idea -- I came up with a similar idea in a blog comment before I read Scalzi's article.) Will see how that goes.
One other point: In her article, Bradford lists 18 books that she recommends by women writers, writers of color and books in translation. The four books I've read that are on her list, by Samuel Delany, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cixin Liu and Umberto Eco, are all quite good, so I'm inclined to try some of her suggestions.
Addendum: Her credo for reviewing stories seems relevant here: "I’ll also say this plainly: A reviewer who makes the choice to focus exclusively on marginalized voices is making a good choice. There are plenty of places for the privileged to get and gain attention. Making a space for everyone else is not bias, it’s a step towards balance."
UPDATE: Bradford has posted a "clarification," responding to me and others.