Sunday, March 29, 2015

Reading and Reading Challenges

At the end of February, on the website XO Jen, a challenge was mentioned on the website: http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/reading-challenge-stop-reading-white-straight-cis-male-authors-for-one-year
One of the reasons she states that she started it, is that she needed to read more. Stephen King, in his excellent book, On Writing, discusses the need to read. That if you don’t read, you can’t write. You won’t have the tools for it.
In her readings, she found “I would come across stories that I didn't enjoy or that I actively hated or that offended me so much I rage-quit the issue. Go through enough of that, and you start to resist the idea of reading at all.”
I’m curious what she was reading that would cause such a misfiring of enjoyment of reading.
Her solution? “Instead of reading everything, I would only look at stories by women or people of color or LGBT writers. Essentially: no straight, cis, white males.” I am so unhip that I had to look up what a cis was and well, it’s apparently some weird code for “man.” As opposed to identifying as transgender male? I apologize for being so unhip.
The good news? For her, this worked. Again, without having any background of WHAT she was finding so bad and WHAT she was reading, hard to say where the actual change came into place. I know that when I read the dreaded generic fantasy, there are often times I'm like, “No, not another farm boy destined to save the world…”
The article discusses some more points, such as another author taking a similar challenge, reading only novels written by writers of color. That must have been a great delve in many ways because there are so often different realities then a “straight cis white male” goes through.
She does provide a nice list of books. This is handy because too often, I see a ‘challenge’, a call to arms if you will but it’s just some generic anger directed into the void to call for action as opposed to “and as a way to start, let’s look at this specific authors.”
But I don't find myself rising directly to the challenge.
Part of that is I already read a variety of authors. I'm not saying that it’s probably not slanted towards the dreaded cis white male but Lindsey Davis is not a man. Charles Saunders is not a white dude.
But somewhere in my brain, I’m trying to get to saying something intelligent and I think I’m failing.
Why do we read?
The author notes “If the majority of books being held up and pronounced Good and Worthy are by white, straight, cis men, it's easy to slip into thinking that most good and worthy books are by authors that fit that description.” But here’s the thing… if you read my blog, you'll probably spot some top ten movies, but top ten books? I'm unmoved by popularity. I still haven't read the novels of Stephen King’s the Dark Tower. I’m one of those weird people who owns more than they read due to yard sales, store closings, friend’s moving, etc…
But then there’s the whole why do we read thing?
Remember, her article initially starts off with the purpose of reading to fuel her writing.
I’m not that guy.
I think that the larger problem is that there’s literally too much to read.
Again I’m trying to make a point here but flailing about.
I have friends who are writers. They write to eat. They write to pay their bills. If all of the sudden everyone said, “Yeah, all of you independent writers who aren't on the best sellers list, well, you’re still white and straight and we're not reading you”, what happens to them?
Do you read to support a favorite writer?
I will to a point but that has to be earned. For example, as much as I enjoyed the first few books of The Wheel of Time and A Game of Thrones, I stopped reading when it became clear that the audience didn’t necessarily matter to the established writer, in a way that say, to a new writer, a hungry writer, one that was very actively involved with his fan base, matters.
This isn't some weird era where there needs to be barriers between the audience and the creator and if the creator isn't putting out the material the audience wants, but at the same time doesn’t need the financial support of the audience, let’s call it “I'll get around to it one day.” Much like Stephen King’s Dark Tower or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I'll get around to it one day.
Do you read to understand the genre better?
I ask this one because one of the reasons I read Lindsey Davis is she’s writing mysteries set in Ancient Rome. As someone who enjoys ancient history, I’m fascinated by how she portrays this ancient time. And how she mixes the historical with the detective side of things.
But…there is a collection of stories by author Manly Wade Wellamn, Who Fears The Devil. If you’re someone who enjoys role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, it’s good to know who Manly Wade Wellamn is because he’s one of the cornerstones or one of the ‘inspirations’ to the original game.
The same could be said of C. L. Moore Jirelof Joiry. I've read the stories of Jirel several times. I find them terrible.
But they are foundation stories. They set the steps for things that come after. They are important because they are some of the first stories by a woman fantasy writer.
I could say similar things about the ‘grand dame’ of Science Fiction, Anne McCaffrey, whose works my opinion varies tremendously on because some I enjoy and some bore me. Or C J Cherryh who’s Gate of Ivrel, for me, easily stands the test of time.
These are stories that are important because the help everything that comes after.
But do they?
Do you read to learn a new skill? I recently bought two books on painting miniatures. One written by a Angel, a Spaniard, the other by aJBT, Frenchman. Are they ‘semi-white’?
If Jen Haley came out with a book on painting miniatures, just as I have done with her instructional video, I’d buy that in a heart beat. Appreciate technical skill where you find it.
Part of my wonder at some of the ‘anger’ I get from here comes from looking at the following, and maybe I’m reading it wrong, “After a year of that, the next challenge would be to seek out books about or with characters that represent a marginalized identity or experience by any author. In addition to the identities listed above, I suggest: non-Christian religions or faiths, working class or poor, and asexual (as a start).”
Maybe one of the reasons that best selling lists are topped by white csi males is that they are a good portion of the consumers? And that they don't feel the need to challenge and marginalize themselves when others are already calling them out for it?
I think there is an immense arrogance that white people throughout all of time are the same. I think that even now people think that white people in Britain and America are the same. Perhaps to a certain point we are.
But here’s one thing I'm trying to flounder out, trying to throw the idea on the table. Reading Shakespear is reading a white guy. It’s not the same thing as reading early Michael Moorcock despite the fact that again, it’s a white guy from England.
Reading C J Sansom and David Liss, both of who do historical. The former British, the later American. Their work has oceans between them in style, tone, tonality, and methodology.  
There are so many stories that I think sometimes there is a panic that those who want to write and have a working job with those slivers, are worried that they’ll be outshone. Just as many others, regardless of what their writing, are outshone.
So what’s my point?
Read more. This is probably the biggest thing. Having any conversation about reading challenges and reading lists and things to read in a year, can be downright silly if you buy twenty books a year and read two. There’s no conversation about expanding your reading horizon because you don’t have one.
Know why you’re reading. If you’re reading to support an author, do so. See if they are active on twitter. See if they have a forum. See if they have a facebook fan page. Keep up to date with their works. Promote them.
Be open to reading a variety of material. Someone may wonder what my point was if I was going to come back around to this. I've been trying to mention it before, but I read a lot. I’m not as well read as many. Let there be no illusions that I read everything and anything under the sun. A lot of what I read is indeed garbage fit for popcorn enjoyment levels.
But if someone says, “Charles Saunders new book is even better than Imaro!”, I'm on that. The thing is, I have the frame of reference that I know who Imaro is as a fictional character, and who Charles Saunders is as an author.
If you don't know who an author is that’s recommended, ask for more details. Explain who you currently read. Explain what you currently enjoy. Explain why you like it.
Promote! After expanding your horizons, tell others. Share your reactions. Expanded other people’s reading circles.
I’m sure I have failed to make a coherent point but I’m trying folks. Help me out here. Share the post, +1 the post, get some discussion going on. Help me flesh out what I'm trying to say in a manner that doesn't' sound crazy.