renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
[personal profile] renay posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
Ah, the familiar tones of the gender debate coming again from SF fandom. Recently, I wrote about the cultural pressure to read white men. In the midst of this, two white men were proving my point about how this cycle continues. They're rolling in dollars so they probably don't care much that they've done so. Money must be so freeing.

Then Liz Bourke burst onto the scene with Conversations Founded On False Assumptions. It's insightful and notes how the conversation keeps being turned to "where are the women writers?" when they've been here the whole time. This goes back to that cultural pressure to read men I mentioned which can come in the form of other fans, aggressive marketing, inequality in publicity, and as always, the problematic construction of a thing the Internet loves: a rec list.

The comments on Liz's article are predictable in their content. The general gist is "I don't make reading decisions based on gender! ONLY THE WORDS MATTER." They don't see gender. They don't see race, either! They don't see anything but the purity of the written word, pressed into pages by a wholly unbiased, diverse, and uncomplicated publishing industry/self-publication machine!

We've reached a point where book lists, whether they're recommendation lists, best of lists, upcoming lists, or even themed lists, should not be 100% white men. If a list has more than 70% white men on it that list is dubious no matter who it's from. If there's a list of recommendations without at least 30% women or people of color, seek other tastemakers immediately. Even lists of all women should be carefully examined because it's probably going to have terrible racial intersections.

Some would love to cling to a simple world in which systemic issues don't influence their choices, where they're immune to marketing, and quality rises to the top for them to partake of guilt-free. The best we can do is be patient and forgiving, casually slip recs for books by women and POC into conversations, and maybe they'll come around. However, there are people out there who, emerging from this stage of denial as beautiful, impressionable butterflies, may want to know more if they haven't been hammered by, well, people like me beating the drum of the benefits of reading widely (I'm trying to be Less Intense these days; it's a work in progress). So here are five ways I used to start reading more diverse writers in the not so distant past.

The Quota Conundrum

I used to be this person, bleating about quotas. The temptation to use quotas to push back against movements to read diversely is understandable. For example, I imagine how the reading conversation might feel like to a person new to the game as if it were someone telling me for every book by a woman I wanted try I had to read an entire Piers Anthony novel whether I liked it or not.

That helps with the compassion, you see. What a nightmare scenario.

I solved this issue by starting small. I didn't change my reading habits at all. Instead, for every white man I added to my reading list I also added a woman or person of color. This expanded the options I could look at when choosing my next book. I used Amazon for this back then, and their algorithm was always shoving recs at me, so it wasn't too difficult to find another book to add by scrolling through the options. Any reading service or book retailer would work for this. Then, when shopping or at the library, out comes the list full of a wide array of different authors! Profit!

Twitter: Recommendation Engine

There are tons of book bloggers out there pushing out their reviews and favorite lists already on Twitter. However, many book bloggers tend to skew white and male unless you're following a blog by a woman or non-binary writer (some men who blog about books have gotten better so be sure to check archives). If you're already following specific book blogs and know you and the reviewers have the same taste, all the better. If you're like me, shy and nervous about asking for recs, hang out on hashtags like #FridayReads, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, or #bookrecs.

Best Of Lists

Large Hearted Boy collects these every year; here's the 2014 version. There are hundreds of recommendation lists in all types of categories and genres. Go through the lists, note the books that sound interesting by diverse writers, write 'em down or save them to your reading service of choice.

I've also become fond of the lists on Goodreads in the past few years as the site continues to grow. This gets a little hairy because depending on the genre you're in, white dudes can dominate. Look past the first twenty books/the first page of selections.

Reading Challenges

Once you have a collection of books, you can start reading. But how not to fall into the same bad habits? I used reading challenges. The latest one is the Bradford Challenge, launched by K. Tempest Bradford earlier this year. Hers is great because it's intersectional, but doesn't require you to drop men completely if that's the demographic and perspective you're most comfortable reading. It's absolutely possible to focus on men of color, queer men, and trans men. This could be a great first step to add some diversity.

You can roll your own challenge, too. For every white author read a person of color. For every two books by a man read a woman. If you read multiple genres, choose one genre to be full of diverse authors for a year. Read nothing but women/POC/queer authors for six months. Do a library challenge of reading diverse authors from the shelves for three months. The possibilities are endless.


It's a noisy world out there. There's a lot of media vying for our attention and taking the time required to break out of the homogenous cycle that we all inevitably get trapped in takes effort and energy. When I first noticed my reading stats, I am pretty sure my numbers were like 45/1 in favor of men. Forget about race; I was 100% White People. First, I was mad about it. Then it was embarrassing. Every time I saw someone say something about it online I felt uncomfortable and defensive. I wanted to take their words and stomp them hard, light them on fire, and also probably launch the ashes into the sun. No one likes feeling humiliated or left out or defensive.

The bonus of not doing that to people pointing our measurable biases within certain areas of publishing is that the Internet can be safe for improving the perspectives we listen to and experience. Self-improvement can be done quietly, privately, and no one needs to know what's going on unless they're told. I highly recommend it from personal experience. And listening has a benefit, too, because when listening, this can result in more recommendations, more context, and understanding in whatever genres you read in more deeply. It's a win/win. Listening is how you learn.

Obligatory Disclaimer

Perhaps you feel like you have all the knowledge inside of you and understand the complexity of people and the world! But it's a lie. No one knows the whole of human experience, especially since so many perspectives have been ground into the dirt, devalued, and erased. Compassion and empathy are fostered by the stories built by people, whether fictional or not. Representation in both who tells the stories and who the stories are about matters.

Be real with yourself the next time you're tempted to tell someone you don't "see" gender or race when diversity of lists, reading more diverse books, or conversations about diverse writers comes up. Ask yourself who it benefits to make that argument to someone who you will not convince (we've heard it 10,000 times; we're over it). It's okay not to want to read anything but people who mirror your life experience as long as you own it for what it is. But don't pretend some sort of illusionary moral high ground via the erasure of lived experience and diverse voices sold to you by systems that benefit from your continued investment in the lie of cultural equality. It doesn't exist, friends, and until you see the systems you're perpetuating, you will only continue participating in them as a tool.

Good luck out there.

Date: 2015-07-24 01:32 am (UTC)
adraekh: (Default)
From: [personal profile] adraekh
This post actually inspired me to go through the list of books I've read so far in 2014-2015, and I'm surprised to note that I've actually read more female-authored books than male-authored SFF books during that period. Granted, a lot of those books are by Robin Hobb (*g*), but even excluding her books, many of the female-authored novels are novels I picked up on peoples' recommendations or seen on awards lists. I kind of want to be optimistic and take that as a good sign that more women are making waves in the fantasy genre lately.

That said, my list is certainly dominated by white people, so I'll keep an eye on that in the future. Thanks for the post!

(Oh man, but speaking about race: One thing that has always bugged me for the longest time is the near-complete lack of Asian fantasy authors. Even when I go out to look for them, I basically just find Murakami, and Murakami's more surrealist fiction than fantasy. This past year has seen the publication of Ken Liu's debut The Grace of Kings and Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant, so I'm hopeful for the future. Come, come, we need more diversity in the fantasy genre!

Not to mention, it's just struck me as a tad odd and sad that the most recommended Asian-fantasies are all written by white men. I mean, I love Barry Hughart and Guy Gavriel Kay, but ...???)

Asian Fantasy Authors

Date: 2015-07-24 01:44 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
There's Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon, who both write YA fantasy.

Aliette de Bodard is a half Vietamese author who writes both science fiction and fantasy.

Dragon and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara and Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi are both Japanese fantasy novels that have English translations. I haven't read either one yet.

There's also Benjanun Sriduangkaew, but FYI she's notorious for harassing people online.

Re: Asian Fantasy Authors

Date: 2015-07-24 05:46 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Colleen looking at something she likes, hands on her cheeks. a little heart in the air. (Marvel: Heart)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
There is so much good fantasy in Japan. That I mostly haven't read. But I would very much rec Takashi Matsuoka, whose stuff is translated into English, and uses fantasy elements sparingly but really effectively.

Re: Asian Fantasy Authors

Date: 2015-07-24 05:53 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Dragon and Wind Child is a lovely fantasy book. It reads almost like a Miyazaki film. Highly recommended!

Re: Asian Fantasy Authors

Date: 2015-07-24 07:15 pm (UTC)
adraekh: (Default)
From: [personal profile] adraekh
Thanks for the recs! Dragon and Wind Child actually looks right down my alley. So does de Bodard; I've been on a short story kick lately, so that should do nicely!

I hadn't known Moribito had been translated into English, otherwise I'd have gone looking earlier. D:

Date: 2015-07-24 06:18 am (UTC)
aliettedb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aliettedb
I can add a few names I believe...
Zen Cho (Sorcerer to the Crown), Hoa Pham (Vixen), J Damask (Wolf at the Door and sequels, Rider and sequels), Rin Chupeco (Girl in the Well), Kai-cheung Dung (Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City), Mo Yan (The Republic of Wine), Yangsze Choo (The Ghost Bride). And a lot of the Haikasoru catalogue, definitely!
In short fiction, Yukimi Ogawa, Isabel Yap, Alyssa Wong, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Nghi Vo, J Yang, Xia Jia, Chen Qiufan ...
Victor Ocampo has a list of SEA writers here

And if we extend to the Indian subcontinent I can think of a fair few...

Date: 2015-07-24 07:18 pm (UTC)
adraekh: (Default)
From: [personal profile] adraekh
Thank you! My Goodreads to-read list has now exploded, thanks to all the wonderful recs. :)

> And if we extend to the Indian subcontinent I can think of a fair few...

Feel free, if it's not too much trouble! Most of the Indian authors I've read are either fiction or non-fiction, none in SFF that I can recall.

Date: 2015-07-25 03:10 pm (UTC)
aliettedb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aliettedb
Off the top of my head: Indra Das (The Devourers forthcoming from Penguin in 2016 I think? and a lot of short fiction published under Indrapramit Das), Vandana Singh (The Woman who Thought she was a Planet and Other Stories), Anil Menon (The Beast with Nine Billion Feet), Samit Basu (Gameworld trilogy which starts with the Simoqin Prophecies and is available on Kindle), Usman Malik (lots of short fiction), Kuzhali Manickavel, Vajra Chandrasekera. I'm sure there's a lot more (and a lot of it, as with the other places in Asia, isn't published and marketed as genre specifically but has a lot of genre elements? Definitions are... different there, if it makes sense?).

You can also check out Lavie Tidhar's Book of World SF series which has a lot of short fiction (it focuses on authors outside the Anglophone world, and there's a fair bit of Asians in there).

Date: 2015-07-25 03:13 pm (UTC)
aliettedb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aliettedb
Oh, and this is a bit odd but it's wonderful (at least what I've read so far):
It's a series of fables with genre elements, by turns wise and witty and funny.

ETA: And it was published as mainstream here, but Taichi Yamada's "Strangers"?
(sorry, I keep remembering stuff right after I post ^^)
Edited Date: 2015-07-25 03:15 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-07-24 07:02 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
'One thing that has always bugged me for the longest time is the near-complete lack of Asian fantasy authors.'

While there absolutely are less Asian fantasy authors (for the sake of this comment let's say novelists) published each year than white fantasy authors I think this comment is kind of an off-shoot of what Renay is talking about in this post. These authors are out there as the comments show. And all the names people have listed already are names I've seen well circulated in my particular internet or real life tide pools. A bit like with women in SFF, we can kind of end up falling back on default 'where are they' assumptions and conversations about Asian (and other chromatic) authors in SFF when really the authors are there it's just that we're not seeing them.

And now to add more names of Asian fantasy authors you could check out :) Some of these I love, some aren't for me but might be just your thing:

Julie Kagawa
Larisa Lai
Andrew Fukada
Hiromi Goto
Gene Luen Yang
Kimberley Pauley
Natasha Ngan
Karen Mahoney

Also, Su Tong wrote an entry in the Canongate myths series but is mostly a realistic novelist I think.

Happy investigating :)

Date: 2015-07-24 07:39 pm (UTC)
adraekh: (Default)
From: [personal profile] adraekh
I'm glad I made the comment, ignorant though it was, as it has landed me numerous recs to check out. :D

One of the issues I've had in the past with finding Asian fantasy novelists has actually been the conflation (justified or not) of fantasy and sci-fi in rec lists. It occurred to me last night that even as a general non-reader of sci-fi, I somehow know a hell of a lot more Asian sci-fi novelists than Asian fantasy novelists. As you point out, however, it's not that they're not there, it's just that they're not visible. It does, however, make me wonder at the different levels of visibility and diversity in the two genres, but seeing as how I'm completely unconnected with the SFF publishing industry, I have little to contribute other than some personal observations on the topic. :/

A More Diverse Universe

Date: 2015-07-24 01:37 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Have you heard of the A More Diverse Universe book blog event? It's run by Aarti on It's about getting book blogs to read and review people of color for a few weeks in September. I participated last year, and it was a ton of fun. It also helped me find new books to add to my TBR list by nonwhite authors.

I think my gender statistics are probably about fifty-fifty, but skewed slightly female. Racial statistics? Not so good, but they have improved from last year (granted, that's not a high bar). I've also discovered that a lot of the books by diverse authors I'd like to read can't be found in the local Barnes and Noble, so I often have to find other ways of acquiring them. It really shows how the the publishing system's set up.

Date: 2015-07-24 01:40 am (UTC)
muccamukk: Gamora surrounded by bits of glowing pollen. (GotG: Space Lady)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I always thought that the key to balanced rec lists was balanced reading. I bet if you (general you) read a wide variety of books, you'd rec the same. So I do feel like challenges and quotes are useful. It doesn't mean you can never read Neil Gaiman (or whoever) again, but if you just tried to more diverse writers than usual, you'd probably find all kinds of new people you'd love.

However, when I've tried to discuss this with others, people take it very personally. And/or demand to know what I think is wrong with the default dude writers they enjoy. I haven't really had many productive conversations in this area that weren't of the preaching to the chior variety.

(I have personally given up reading Neil Gaiman forever, and am currently slogging though Andy Weir's damned Mars book, so looking elsewhere isn't really a great hardship.)

Date: 2015-07-24 07:13 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] bookpunks
"I always thought that the key to balanced rec lists was balanced reading."

Agree 100%.

Unless you are making the lists based on research of course, in which case it won't matter what you read, but those lists tend to be a bit too sterile to really move me to read things. Still, can be good for exposure of titles you aren't hearing about elsewhere.


Date: 2015-07-24 07:11 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] bookpunks
Go Renay go! Great post. Many things I think about all the time, well said.

I have been finding this year that my problem with reaching my personal goals for diverse reading has been thwarted by the buying habits of pre-conscious-about-this-stuff Nikki. My to-be-read shelf is probably 90% white males because when I didn't think about this shit all the time, my book lists reflect the publishing biases etc etc. So I have been doing a little of what you mentioned: adding books to my want to read list very consciously so that I have a ton of awesome choices when it comes time to decide on a purchase, and then most importantly buying 90% books by female authors or authors of color or female authors of color or authors who don't identify on the binary, etc, etc when I do buy books. That has made it easier...

But I have to admit, I reached some sort of critical mass of "had enough of this bullshit" with those lists you refered to at the beginning of your post and then thinking about all this again and again and again and again as more and more essays (yours, Nina Allan's, Liz B's) came up on my screen. White male authors who write lists like that are just so...oblivious!...and if I expect one thing from authors it is that they are observant. That they notice things about the world that other people don't and bring those observations to light in their work. Acting like an all-dude all-white book rec list made by a person with a voice that is going to be heard and then acting like "but those are just my favorite books this ahs nothing to do with systematic discrimination in the industry" basically says to me: I am not at all observant, so you can just stop reading my work now.

This shit has been annoying me as long as I've been thinking about it, but like I said, critical mass this month. I've reached a point where I don't even want to touch the books on my shelves by dudes and I've only been reading female authors since. Every time I touch one it makes me feel like I am giving the people who already have the majority of the power even fucking more of it. Of course, I can and will still read dudes (because pod damn it I need to decimate the to be read shelf and I dont like getting rid of books) but I will also continue to make a point of writing about them less than about the other authors I read.

Ramble ramble. Thanks again for the great post. Keep up the awesome.

Re: Yey!

Date: 2015-07-24 09:27 pm (UTC)
dhampyresa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dhampyresa
Can I ask you for recs for authors from outside the binary?

Re: Yey!

Date: 2015-07-25 01:43 am (UTC)
badgerbag: (Default)
From: [personal profile] badgerbag
How about Raphael Carter, Fortunate Fall. An excellent book.

Re: Yey!

Date: 2015-07-25 08:51 pm (UTC)
dhampyresa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dhampyresa
Ooh, that sounds great. *adds to to-read list*

Re: Yey!

Date: 2015-07-25 04:50 pm (UTC)
muccamukk: Lt Bush looking through his spy glass, which reflects back stars. (HH: I See Stars)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
Don't know any novelists, but I have enjoyed short stories by A. Merc Rustad.

Re: Yey!

Date: 2015-07-25 09:11 pm (UTC)
dhampyresa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dhampyresa
Thanks for the rec.

Date: 2015-07-26 07:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love that the book blogging community has gotten so passionate about reading diversely in the last few years -- it's made it easier for me to make sure that my TBR list stays diverse, which is awesome. I don't have anything really to add about what you've said, only a big cheer for the lovely book blogosphere and its bottomless well of recommendations. :D


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