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August 20th, 2009


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12:26 pm - Books and Social Groups
Around six months ago, shortly after the first round of the recent fandom racial discussions, teaotter started reading the 50books_poc community and began reading more books (almost all SF&F) by authors of color. I've been doing a bit of that myself, reading a few anthologies Becca has recommended, devouring Michelle Sagara's "Cast In" series (and eagerly awaiting the next book coming to our local library), and reading Reginald Hudlin's run of the Black Panther comic. That's all been both interesting and fun, but I still remember when Becca first started looking for books by authors of color.

She naturally asked me, since I have somewhat more than 3,000 SF&F books. I pulled out Charles R. Saunders' Imaro, S. P. Somtow's gloriously decadent Inquestor series, I tried to find the one novel each that I have by Samuel Delany (I vastly prefer his essays to his novels) and Kōbō Abe, and was dismayed to discover that Linda Nagata was white. I then checked all of the authors whose race I had no idea about – all of them turned out to be white. Then I stopped and thought about my book collection.

I own more than 3,000 SF&F novels. At least 40% (and perhaps more than 50%) are by women, a fair number of authors are GLBT (I recently discovered that one well known fantasy author and editor that I read is MtF), but I own a statistically insignificant number of novels by authors who aren't white. The books that I have unpacked (which is most) fill a total of more than 40 shelves (counting shelves that have two rows of books on them as two shelves), and I couldn't fill a single shelf with books by authors of color. That surprised me and got me thinking (and reading).

Then, last week, I was talking to Aaron and he mentioned that one of the problems he had realized was that his success as an author was inherently limited because most people read books by people who are mostly similar to them, which makes a disturbingly vast amount of sense and also fits with my own experience. I spend time with progressive white geeks, many of whom are GLBT. I also read novels by progressive white geeks, many of whom are GLBT. Some of this is deliberate – the only fiction I read is SF&F, and so I read fiction written by geeks, just like I avoid novels where the author clearly has a right-wing (often libertarian) axe to grind. However, I do not in any way seek out novels by white people, and yet that's what I read.

I know some people who read well beyond the reaches of the social group, subculture, or other niche that they belong to, but they seem to be fairly rare – a disturbingly large number of people don't even read many novels by authors of a different sex than they are. Once again I see how race and other divisions separate us, and also how what must be an unconscious awareness of difference (combined with some degree of active discrimination in the publishing industry) cause authors of color to typically make less money and reach fewer reader than white authors.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(10 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:alobar
Date:August 21st, 2009 12:08 am (UTC)
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When I started reading Samuel Delany, I had no idea he was not white. He surprised me when I met him at a SF con. It also surprised me that he was only a little older than I was.

The first SF author I read knowing she was black was Octavia Butler.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:August 21st, 2009 12:13 am (UTC)
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Other than not having met Delaney at a con, I also had both of those experiences. However, I stopped reading books by Octavia Butler when I realized exactly how much all of her novels were based on the idea that humanity was completely and totally loathsome. Her work is simply too unpleasant for me to read.
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From:alobar
Date:August 21st, 2009 12:18 am (UTC)
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Octavia Butler prepared me for the reality of living shoulder to shoulder with a homeless population.
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From:heron61
Date:August 24th, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)
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What I meant wasn't that I found her work to be loathsome - I mean that it seemed to me that her books reflected a viewpoint that humanity was loathsome & I found that fairly unpleasant to read. The last book of hers that I read was Clay's Ark, which was the single most misanthropic work that I've ever read. OTOH, I can see how white privilege could easily give me a far more positive view of humanity.
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From:kiplet
Date:August 22nd, 2009 05:22 pm (UTC)
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I forget—did you ever read the Nevèrÿon books?
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From:heron61
Date:August 22nd, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
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Nope, I've never tried Delany's S&S work. Is is good?
[User Picture]
From:kiplet
Date:August 22nd, 2009 07:39 pm (UTC)
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It's very good and it quite a lot of things like his essays is why I was thinking of it. Also from a critique and reimagining of the whole prehistorical dawn of civilization lost-world S&S setting.

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