How End-of-Year Book Lists Prove We Lack Diversity

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

book stackIt’s the time of the year when everyone’s coming up with Book Lists. Best ofs and Favorites and Most-Anticipated in 2015. Most of the time, I love them. I usually use them to add books to my TBR list and inevitably only get around to reading a select few.

The rest of the time, they become itemized proof of what our reading culture lacks. Book lists are supposed to call attention to works we might’ve otherwise missed, but lately I’m caught off guard by how much they make the list-maker’s homogenous worldview glaringly obvious.

Like Graywolf Press’s “Looking Ahead” to 2015 made up solely of 11 men. Or this list of 60 Books Everyone Should Read Before They Turn 30 that left me wondering: where are the Latino voices, the Asian or Pacific Islander voices, the African or Native American voices or Middle Eastern voices or LGBT voices or anything outside of mainstream American or British voices?

I read these lists and I think, Wow, they’re really missing out. It makes me sad—not just for writers who are constantly overlooked, but for readers whose stacks and stacks of books they’ve read are lacking in ways that are completely invisible to them.

It’s not about broadening our perspectives; this implies these writers and voices are somewhere out of reach, when in fact they’re everywhere. It’s not even about diversity; we are not here to add flavor or color to any list—we are here because we are here, too. 

This is supposed to be a time of year where we reflect and look ahead. Why not let our lists do that? They’re not just suggesting to us what to read. They’re showing us what we haven’t.

So here’s my end-of-year challenge to you: Make a list of all the books you read in 2014. What are you not seeing? What voices are missing? Start there in 2015.

 

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14 Things I Learned in 2014

Monday, December 8th, 2014

In no particular order…

1. How to use a table saw and miter saw.

2. That I’m allergic to saw dust.

3. Numbers can be manipulated; story wins every time.

4. Sometimes, the people you least expect are paying attention do.

5. On perception in social media: those outside of us see only the best, while (inside) we dwell on only the worst. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.

6. If you want it done right…find someone who does it every day for a living and pay them.

7. But if you want it done meaningfully—complete with mistakes and lessons and moments of “look how far we’ve come”—do it yourself. (The tricky part is knowing the difference.)

8. All the Harry Potter books, totally worth the hype.

9. Just because you haven’t experienced something doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

10. Happiness does not mean a lack of sorrow. Sorrow does not mean a lack of happiness.

11. From a reading with Maaza Mengiste: “We connect the dots and find the gaps, the lacks in the story. That’s where fiction starts.”

12. The best part was not the book that launched; it was the people who celebrated it with me.

13. That my very first memory is the same, yet completely different from what I’ve always thought it was. That they call memories recollections because they change as we remember.

14. Ignore the signs: jump in the bounce house anyways. Grown-ups, especially, need this.

Where I’m at Right Now: Middleland & Poetry

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

A few things that have resonated with me in a big way lately, that I thought I’d share with you.

I’m in the middle of the first draft of a new book. I’ve been saying I’m only just starting it for so long now—almost a year, really, until this month I gained some serious momentum—that I hadn’t realized until this week that I’d crossed over into the middle.

I know not just because of word count. It’s in the way I can’t step away from it, even on days when writing’s the most difficult thing I do (note: this is most days). It’s in the way bits of dialogue come to me as I’m brushing my teeth or shredding junk mail, and that one line opens up a new scene. When my curiosity in how a story will take shape becomes a faith that it’s already become something and now I just have to write it (small detail, yes?) I begin to feel safe. Not safe in a comfortable, predictable way. Safe in that I know I can trust this.

A few days ago on Instagram, my friend Julia Munroe Martin shared a quote from Zadie Smith about this part of the process. She and I are usually on similar wavelengths, so I wasn’t surprised by how much I could relate:

A few days after that, I was texting my sister. I meant to type, That’s close to where I live. But auto-correct changed this to That’s close to where I love. I thought about this and tweeted:

To which my friend, Andrea Beltran, responded:

And so I read this poem and watched the poet, Jamaal May, perform it, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

So that’s where I’m at right now, loving/living in the writing.

The Masculine & the Feminine & the Power of our Words

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

There’s this joke among Spanish-speaking women. I remember my mom laughing as she said it when I was young, in that “it’s-funny-but-what-it-really-is-is-ridiculous” kind of way.

She’d say, “Stand in a room full of 99 women and we say nosotras. But in walks one man and it’s nosotros.”

Because in Spanish, the pronouns are either masculine or feminine. And the masculine, by the presence of even one male, is the default.

I used to not think of it much, or I’d laugh it off in the same way my mom used to. But recently, I actually experienced it. I attended a meeting of what must’ve been at least 40 Latina women gathered in a room, and one man. And throughout the presentation, when a speaker referred to the group as “todas” (everyone: feminine) this person would laugh and correct herself to say “todos” (everyone: masculine) and gesture with a wave of the arm to the one man in the room, as if to say, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you.

And I remember thinking how nice it must be to experience such consideration. To be worthy of acknowledgment in a crowded room full of dozens of accomplished human beings simply because of your presence and gender. To be the default and the universal. To be not just included, but to have your inclusion change the dynamics of how everyone refers to themselves.

I remember thinking it wasn’t funny. I remember feeling sad as I already heard people telling me, they’re just words. It’s just a joke. Don’t be so sensitive.

It’s not just in Spanish. Privilege has its own language and it spans cultures and tongues. Even the word causes outrage because no likes to be told they’re privileged, even though we all are, in ways that would surprise us, in ways that we may be blind to but which are glaring to those on the other side of it. Before any of us get defensive, consider that you are reading this on a computer or a mobile device, with access to the internet, which is already more than a huge portion of the human race can count on.

It is all relative, and when things are relative it means we need to step outside of our own perspective to truly understand what’s in front of us.

Nosotras, nosotros. All of us: feminine, all of us: masculine.

All of us: all of us.

Words have power. I wouldn’t be writing, and you wouldn’t be commenting, FBing, tweeting, communicating with them if they didn’t. We say things and the words we choose speak for us, for our culture and our time. To whoever might say I’m being too sensitive, I’d argue we’re not being sensitive enough. How sad that we take for granted the impact of something as powerful as words.

 

Sometimes Writing is Like Dreaming

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

My forest dream is still a dream...A quick post as I slowly ease back into what I hope is a more regular blogging routine.

As I dive back into my next WIP, I keep drawing from the most unexpected places.

Yesterday, I was reading an article that contained an infographic recounting a text conversation between several parties.

A few days before, I was talking to a group of writers about how the cutting boards in my father’s kitchen had caused me to reflect on how signs of our past relationships linger.

Last night, as I brushed my teeth before bed, I had an epiphany about whose point of view parts of the story should be told from.

Of course the work happens on the page, but in moments like these, writing reminds me of dreams. The way they’re random, the way they pluck images and people from the oddest depths of our memories, from thoughts we never paid much attention to. The way we can never predict where they’ll take us.

I finished brushing my teeth, so elated that I ran out to the living room and told my husband who this new narrator is. And then, cheesy as it sounds, I did a happy dance and said, “Storytelling is magical.”

 

 

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