Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Diversity and Review

As the annual "Year in Books" posts begin to take form in my head, and with it the realization that once again my VIDA score for this year will be rather less than ideal, this conversation about reviewing and gender is of great interest.

I honestly do take into consideration the author's background (gender, mostly, because the issue of pseudonyms aside, it's usually hard to tell sans author pictures and in-depth bios things like race or sexuality) when considering both what books to read and what to review on Bourgeois Book Club. I'm a white male, but by virtue of being gay not quite the "default," as well as being what I hope is a strong feminist and believer in racial justice, I like to think I'm committed to diversity and allowing all people's voices be heard. I'm far, far from perfect, however. We live in the society we live in, and it can't help but influence us, often unconsciously. The fact is that despite being aware of the issue, I continue to read and review male authors to a disproportionate degree.

Because of the usual lack of time resources, I've become incredibly picky in what I buy. Using various "Upcoming Releases" sources, especially that of Tor.com, I go into bookstores with a list of books already filtered and vetted. (Of course, I look at more than just the books on my list, but in general it determines what I'm looking for.) If a book doesn't grab me in the first chapter in the bookstore, it just doesn't get picked up. Is this a problem with my tastes? Am I too narrow in my reading habits and unwilling to range beyond them? Are the compilers of upcoming release posts too narrow in their own reporting? Is it a failure of the book industry that fewer women are published in my favored genres than men? Probably a whole lot of "all of the above," all of which is directly related to the persistence of systemic sexism in our society.

As for reviewing: writing Bourgeois Book Club is an ultimately extremely rewarding, but, frankly, torturous, activity. As I've stressed before, what I write about is not all I read, or even all I read that I enjoy, but only what I, for one reason or another, feel I have something particularly to talk about. Even then it sometimes takes me literal months between reading a book and the review being posted (due to perfectionism, preference to review several books in one post). Therefore, due to the previously mentioned "all of the above" filters that seems to skew my reading towards the male side, my reviews are weighted towards male authors.

This topic has particular resonance for me at the moment because I've recently noticed that  I've grown disenchanted with urban fantasy/paranormal romance, a genre that is actually female author-dominated. The genre has developed various tropes and forms that I simply do not care for, particularly in regards to romance and sex, that I can't help but fear are my gender-biases showing. Writers such as Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, and Karen Chance, who I once enthusiastically read, have fallen by my wayside as their series have continued, and developed in these "womanly" ways. It makes me disappointed in myself.

In the end, I like what I like, and since it's not goat snuff scat porn involving trafficked children, there's nothing "wrong" with it. And I admit I'm weak, and lazy, and shy of venturing from my comfort zones. Therefore, I'm not sure how much, despite all this soul-searching and occasional writing, I'm going to change my reading habits, certainly not to the gender-swapping extreme of those in the Tor post. And that's "fine," but it isn't anything to be proud of, either. When the Revolution comes, I'm not sure how much mercy "But I wrote some blog posts and felt really bad about it!" will get me, but I suppose it's better than nothing. Not very much, though. I can only hope I can somehow at least contribute to the conversation, try to do better, and perhaps spark others to look at and evaluate their own reading habits.

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