Counting only the books that were new to me in that year, I read 54 books by 46ish writers. That’s counting the two sets of co-authors equally to individual authors, and does not count the story collection at all. These things are often iffy, but let’s call it 46 writers. Of those, 21 writers were, I believe, new to me in the last year (as writers, I mean).
Let’s start with the breakdown of repeats—these are all writers that I knew well enough to pick up another book by them (with a couple of exceptions, where I didn’t realize I had read a previous book). It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that this group of 24 writers were mostly male and mostly white, because for most of my life I have been mostly reading books by white men. The reasons for this are manifold, of course, but as a simple fact: for most of my life, I have been mostly reading books by white men. So, among the 24 repeat writers, it didn’t surprise me to discover that 10 are white men, 12 white women, with the remaining being a man and a woman of color. It’s depressing, but not surprising.
But now I’m going to look at the writers who are new to me—and I’m keeping in mind that I have put a conscious bias in my head to not read books by white men I haven’t read before. I wrote about this a year ago: while I wasn’t actually instituting a ban of any kind, when deciding whether to pick up a book that looked possibly enjoyable, I was considering an author from any other demographic to be something weighed on the positive side. Right? So out of those 21 writers who were new to me, how many do you think were white men?
I am startled and honestly enormously defensive about this. I mean, hey, there are extenuating whatsits, right? Sure there are. Still, there it is.
How did that happen? Mostly, it’s because I live in a nation and culture overshadowed by white supremacy. That’s number one. Number two is that while I did that weighing-the-demographic thing on novels (of the eight specfic novels by authors new to me, only two were by white men) I did not do it on other forms of reading. So the plays I read—were mostly by white men. The non-fiction books—were mostly by white men. Of the writers of non-specfic novels, there were two white men and two white women.
And the really embarrassing thing is the race stuff, because of the 46 writers of the 54 books, there were 21 white men and 22 white women. Yep. It turns out, not through deliberate acts of my own whiteness but through passive and unthinking acceptance of the world around me, I read only three new books by people of color this year. Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), by Suzan-Lori Parks; The Lifecycle of Software Objects, by Ted Chiang; and Check, Please!, by Ngozi Ukazu, each of which authors I was familiar with before 2018. That means that I added no new writers of color this year. That’s just terrible.
(Those extenuating whatsits—I don’t actually know how all those people identify, or what their families are like. Even when I’ve seen pictures, I don’t know. Race is a social thing, not a biology thing. I would not be shocked to discover that some of the 43 people I have identified as white are in some sense not white, although I would be surprised if it’s more than a few of them. Also: many of the white writers are LGBT+ or in religious minorities or in other historically underprivileged demographic groups. Also also: I am mostly saying this so nobody else feels the need to—whatever defensive disclaimers may be in effect, my reading was overwhelmingly white this year.)
And what’s worse is that I can’t confidently claim that I will read more widely this year. I might! I intend to! But over the course of the year, will I put in the effort? It would take more than just picking up books that look good and looking at the author photo. It would take picking out books that don’t look good on first glance. It would take getting recommendations and seeking out titles that aren’t already sitting on the shelf. It would require action on my part, in fact and not to put too fine a point on it, affirmative action.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,