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A Year of Reading Diversely: Final Tally

One year ago, according to Facebook, my friends Jéhan and Heather challenged me to take the Tempest Bradford Challenge: for one year, stop reading stories by straight white cis male authors, and read only stories by people who identify as female/queer/POC/trans/disabled. I blogged about some of this under the tag “year of reading diversely“. So how’d we do?

Books Read

This is a mostly complete list; I wasn’t smart enough to start Goodreads page or anything because I figured I’d be blogging about each book, more fool me. Starred books are books I did not finish. ♥’d books are books I had read before.

  1. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
  2. Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson
  3. Fledgling, Octavia Butler*
  4. His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik
  5. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N. K. Jemisin*
  6. Under the Poppy, Kathe Koja*
  7. Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
  8. The Twilight Series, Stephenie Meyer*†
  9. The Vampire Diaries, L. J. Smith*†
  10. Dreamsnake, Vonda N. McIntyre ♥
  11. Collected Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges
  12. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Garbiel García Márquez*
  13. The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Richard Zimler
  14. Hurt Go Happy, Ginny Rorby
  15. Whose Body?, Dorothy Sayers
  16. Wind/Pinball, Haruki Murakami*
  17. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
  18. So You Want to Be a Wizard, Diane Duane* ♥
  19. Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers
  20. Strong Poison, Dorothy Sayers
  21. The Grown-Up, Gillian Flynn
  22. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
  23. The Door Into Fire, Diane Duane ♥
  24. Chalice, Robin McKinley ♥

†I include these for completeness’ sake and so you don’t get an idea that I was always terribly high-brow in my quest for authors. Also I read them for a job. No fooling.

Did I learn anything?

A few things about myself: I learned that audiobooks are awesome when you have long walking commutes, and that I read printed books a lot more when I have long transit commutes. I rediscovered a love of physical books that had waned for a while with the advent of smartphones. I learned that when left to my own devices, I reread favorite books a lot more than I seek out new stuff. I confirmed that I have almost zero interest in literary fiction, unless it’s genre fiction in literary drag, and even then it’s a tough sell. (Lookin’ at you, Borges and Márquez and Murakami. You too, Zimler.)

I learned a few things about access, too. I mentioned this in an earlier blog post, but one thing that happened was that I often had trouble getting copies of the books I wanted to read. I can get a copy of the latest James Patterson in any format I want with no waiting, but when I tried to get a copy of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in e-book format (twice), I had to get on a waiting list. Ditto Ann Leckie; ditto Naomi Novik. It seems like there’s a high demand for genre books by women, but the supply doesn’t necessarily keep up. (To counterpoint, though, I also had to get on the waitlist to get a copy of The Brothers K by David James Duncan — a straight white male author if ever there was one — but that probably had a lot to do with the fact that Book-It Repertory was producing a theatrical version of it (which was also why I broke the “no SWM author” rule to read it, because I was working on the play (which was also why I read Raymond Carver who is even more of a straight white male author than David James Duncan))).

It was also, generally speaking, easier for me to grab a book by a female author than by a male author of color. If I had nothing to go on besides a title and the name of an author I’d never heard of, I was more likely to go for a visibly female name than to try and figure out if a male author was not white or not straight. (Though I did try. Often that information is not easily available, for understandable reasons.) I don’t remember exactly how I got turned onto Richard Zimler, but I think it must have been a happy accident that I discovered he’s an openly gay Jewish author — otherwise it’s very likely I would have passed him by. As a result, I’m not totally satisfied with myself in that aspect of this challenge. My list of authors read is heavily skewed towards (presenting as straight and cis) white women. I’d like to read more genre fiction by men and women of color.

Reading so many female authors did throw two aspects of the male authors’ style into sharp relief, though: the writing of female characters and the writing of sex. In some cases — Borges — the women were non-existent. In some cases — Zimler, Murakami — they were written competently but with broader, less interesting strokes than the male characters. And in most of the books I read this year by male authors, I found the discussion of (always heterosexual) sex boring as hell.

[Computer shenanigans ate the final paragraphs here, which is okay because I wanted to edit in something anyway.]

But did you enjoy it?

I did, for lots of reasons! I read a lot of books that became new favorites: the Imperial Radch series, Binti, the Borges stories, and the Lord Peter Wimsey books feature high on that list. I read some books that I enjoyed while also having some problems with them: I liked the mystery and history in Last Kabbalist while finding the sex scenes off-putting, I liked the imagery and poetry of One Hundred Years of Solitude while finding the pace too slow for my taste, I liked the world-building of Left Hand of Darkness while also wanting to throw the book across a train at that one death. I read some books that I liked fine, but doubt I’ll reread.

Some books I bounced off of pretty hard. I didn’t enjoy Fledgling, despite enjoying Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis books a great deal. I know I need to give Murakami a second chance with something that’s not his first novel, because while I didn’t connect with Wind/Pinball, I found his foreword to the collection engaging and inspiring.

But I read so much more in the last year than I’ve read . . . honestly for years, maybe since my freshman year of college. I finished fifteen books! Eleven of them new to me! At some point I fell out of the habit of carrying a book with me everywhere, and in the past year I’ve gotten back into it. My library card has gotten a fantastic workout, and given SPL’s extensive audiobook collection on Overdrive and their Your Next 5 Books service, I expect to keep patronizing them.

So what’s next?

I’ll be honest, I’m looking forward to reading Stephen King again, especially with the Dark Tower movie slated for next year. I also want to give some of the books I didn’t finish another chance, and read some different stuff from the authors I didn’t quite connect with. And even as I pick up some of my favorite books up again, I want to keep this awareness of a wider range of voices in mind as I read more new-to-me stuff. Moreover, I want to carry it into the other stuff I read, not just fiction. Comics, plays, even research materials — I want to keep looking for the female, queer, non-white, disabled, non-Christian authors first.

I always say the solution to most problems is not to solely take away a bad thing: it’s to add more good things. It’s to tell more and more and more stories, not fewer — and it’s to hear more and more and more stories, too.

Profiles Theatre, rape culture, and abuse onstage and off

Content warning: Discussions of sexual harassment, abuse, rape, and violence against women.


survival

“survival,” keon loo.

It’s been quite a week to be female.

I thought I was going to come back to this blog to write something about how joyful I feel about Hillary Clinton becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, because I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about her, and about representation, and about strong women I have known. I can’t even pick an article to sum up what I’m feeling so I can cheat and not write a whole post — there are just too many interesting pieces being written and published right now.

At the same time as my Facebook feed has been flooded with a head-spinning combination of joy and outrage over Clinton’s nomination, it has also been chock full of commentary about the Stanford rapist. (Warning: link has an autoplay video of the survivor’s letter to Turner.) Again, there are so many blog posts and articles and videos being made about this case that I don’t even know where to start linking.

And, among these, my community — the theatre community — is abuzz with Aimee Levitt and Christopher Piatt’s in-depth investigation of abuse at Chicago’s Profiles Theatre: Continue reading

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Senbazuru

I have this nervous tic where I fold cranes. Any suitable piece of paper — paper napkin rings, foil candy wrappers — I’ll trim and tear it down to a square and start folding. Corner to corner, corner to corner, flatten, open, mountain fold, valley fold. I think I got into the habit around high school, when I stage managed a show set in a circus: huge inch-and-a-half wide confetti pieces were scattered all over the set, and I’d sit backstage sweeping them up, fidgeting and folding.

Right now I’m stage managing again, assisting on Book-It’s The Brothers K. Any rehearsal process has a certain amount of hurry-up-and-wait to it, whether it’s waiting to finish table work or waiting for the next scene transition. And when I’m waiting I either fidget or I get distracted by something with a screen. So a few weeks ago, I dug out a pack of small origami paper my mother gave me a while back, and I started making cranes.

 

First I finished up that pack — a little less than half the paper had already been folded and the cranes probably given away to someone or other. It didn’t take me nearly as long as I might have hoped to get through all the paper, and then to string the finished cranes together. And since it had taken so little time, I decided hell, I may as well make a thousand.

A group of one thousand paper cranes is called a senbazuru. They’re considered good luck symbols, and according to some sources, if a person folds a thousand cranes in a year, they are granted one wish. Famously, a young survivor of Hiroshima named Sadako Sasaki folded a thousand cranes after she was diagnosed with radiation-induced leukemia. Sadako and her cranes have become a symbol of a global longing for peace. I used to walk past the statue of her in the University District on a regular basis. She’s always draped with strings of cranes of every size — paper wishes, bright in Seattle’s rain and mist.

I’m superstitious enough to feel like most wishes are best kept to the wisher’s self. But it does seem appropriate, while working on an anti-war play, to fold these cranes with an anti-war intention. Or, more positively, a peaceful intention.

The prismatic string on the left here, hanging on our callboard, that’s the leftover paper I started with — probably a hundred or a hundred and fifty cranes. The string on the right is 272 cranes, the first pack of paper I finished and strung yesterday.

Just 728 to go.IMG_20160402_141807

Now I am that funky soldier and I shall be free

(I love this Shawshank Redemption fanvid.)

I guess it’s time for a link round-up because I’m mad and sad and confused about a bunch of things and I don’t want to spam Facebook.

  1. To get it out of the way: 2016 has kicked off with some shitty, shitty losses.

    I’m just — sad. Death sucks. 69 feels very young. 69 feels like Rickman and Bowie still had decades of art to create. 69 feels unfinished.

    I take comfort in the fact that I got to share the world with artists like this, even if they died before our spheres had a chance to intersect. And I take them as inspiration. Alan Rickman especially. I often feel, at the ripe old age of 27 when tons of my friends are already walking red carpets and living their dreams as actors, that I’ve missed the boat, that it is now and always will be too late for me to get back into acting. If I haven’t made it by now, I’m never going to make it. And Alan Rickman’s acting success later in life gives me comfort. Meanwhile, David Bowie’s ability to do a little bit of everything reassures me that I can play around and experiment as an artist.

  2. David Bowie: Time to mourn or call out?, Aida Manduley
    Relatedly, this is a very good piece on grieving and yet not whitewashing a figure like David Bowie. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life trying to figure out how to reconcile the fact that someone you know — personally or otherwise — can give you many good things and also cause harm, to you or to others. (I don’t think you can reconcile it, precisely, but you can learn to live with the cognitive dissonance.) Highly recommended reading.
  3. The white man pathology, Stephen Marche
    So this article has been making the rounds of some of my friends, and it seems to be resonating deeply with them. And I … confess myself confused, because I bounced off it. I’d like to hear what people think of it, and why. What’s resonating for you? Did parts of it surprise you or what?
  4. Why Are SO Many Millennials SO Uncool?, POWERevolution
    I’m so mad about this essay. SO MAD. I lost an hour and a half of sleep to being mad at this cooler-than-thou hipster nonsense.duty_callsSO MAD. So of course I’m going to link to it. Well done hitting my anger buttons, POWERevolution, and enjoy your hits.
  5. The Dark Tower Officially Casts Idris Elba as Roland Deschain

    pdc_idriselba5

    No, Idris! He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father!

    So at least there’s that.

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Just because it’s hard, that’s no excuse not to try.

I had just slightly too many thoughts on President Obama’s remarks today on reducing gun violence to fit into a Facebook post. The short version: if you have the time, you should watch the full video below, not just the clip shows that are already circulating social media.

Read a transcript here.

Continue reading

happiness at the fortunes of others

aveq

Not pictured.

Schadenfreude, as everyone knows, is German for “happiness at the misfortune of others.” (I know some puppets and a super who would be happy to tell you more.) As I see it, there are three antonyms for this: the pain you feel at the joy of others (envy) and the pain you feel at the pain of others (empathy).

But the third is the best one. I found a few different terms when I googled for “happiness at the joy of others.” Wikipedia suggests the Sanskrit term mudita, a state of joy emblemized by the joy a parent feels in their child’s accomplishments. A few other sites suggest the term compersion, although that appears to be a fairly specific word for the joy at a loved one’s loving relationship with someone else; it’s used in the polyamory community.

Personally, I like mitfreude best. It literally translates to “with-joy,” and it makes the connection to the better-known term schadenfreude immediately obvious. It’s not to be confused with the feeling of pride, which is joy in the success of something you had something to do with, though I think the feelings frequently overlap. Mitfreude is joy in someone else’s success where your interests don’t enter into it. It’s something I’ve been feeling a lot recently.

It’s Thanksgiving. It’s my one day off this week. I’m really stressed out about a few creative things I’m working on. I’m drinking coffee and psyching myself up for a day of putting in work on the arts that I love, which is still work and therefore hard even though I know the end result will be worth it. I have never cooked a Thanksgiving meal in my life, but I imagine people who do have a similar feeling about the work they do to put together a spread for their family and friends.

But I wanted to take a few minutes here in the morning, still cozy in my blankets, to think about thankfulness and mitfreude. To think about how thankful I am for my friends and family, near and far. How happy I am to see friends posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram of the pies they’re baking and the turkeys they’re roasting. Social media haters to the left — I like seeing the pride and pleasure on the faces of my friends across the country as they display their accomplishments with a carefully chosen filter and a #blessed in the caption.

How thankful I am for this last year, where I was challenged creatively and given some dream opportunities — all of which contributed in one way or another to the current opportunities that I’m working on, so, you know, bless this stress. And how happy I am to see my friends, new and old, pursuing their own amazingly cool opportunities. Folks on stage, on screens big and small, on the page, on the web, behind the scenes, behind the desk, making the world better and brighter and more beautiful in ways big and small.

How thankful I am for my health. (Tuesday I scheduled an appointment to get braces — for the third time — to fix some messed-up teeth, and I was pretty overjoyed because I was fully expecting to be told I’d need surgery. If you’d told twelve-year-old me I’d be thankful for braces, I’d have told you you were nuts.)

How happy I am in the happiness of others today, and how thankful I am to be able to share it. How thankful I am for the people who have shown me respect and patience and kindness and generosity. How thankful and hopeful I am that I can extend those same things to others, albeit imperfectly.

I know holidays are hard for a lot of people, this year or every year, and I hope that no matter how you’re celebrating or not celebrating today, that you are warm and well-fed and relaxed. I’m thankful for you.

Be Well

 

sister-mine

A Year of Reading Diversely: Sister Mine

Previously on A Year of Reading Diversely.

sister-mineSister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson

Check it out if you enjoy: Someplace to Be Flying, Anansi Boys, urban fantasy that’s not about vampires

Buy it here!

Guys, I really like audiobooks. I got on the bandwagon kind of late, but since I’ve been doing most of my commuting on foot this summer, I’ve found they’re a great way to consume fiction on-the-go. (And considerably safer than my usual method of gluing my eyes to my phone while navigating Denny Way. Nothing has really changed since I was a kid, when my mom constantly told me to stop reading while I’m walking — only the medium.) But they do present a couple of challenge when it comes to reviewing. It’s harder to go back and reference stuff, for one thing; I don’t have spellings of names and places easily available, for another. Most of all, though, listening to someone read the book adds another layer of interpretation between me and the author’s words, and I have to take that into account when talking about my impressions of the book. So reviewing a novel I consumed on audiobook is a little more like reviewing a play or a movie: there are the author’s words, and there’s the performance and interpretation of the reader.

And but so anyway. Sister Mine is a 2013 urban fantasy novel by Jamaican author Nalo Hopkinson. The story centers around Makeda Joli and her sister, Abby. Abby and Makeda are formerly-conjoined twins with a fraught relationship, and they’re biracial — in that they’re half human and half god. Their father, Boysie, is Papa Bois, the Trinidadian god of living things; their mother, Cora, is a human woman. Well, was a human woman. She’s a lake monster now. It’s complicated. You know how gods are.

Continue reading