The OF Blog: Towards a greater catholicity in my reading

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Towards a greater catholicity in my reading

I have been rather quiet the past week, mostly due to increased work demands and a lack of energy.  However, I have been following with some interest a few online discussions/arguments the past few weeks that deal with the issue of female SF writers.  It started (as so many of these cyclical discussions do, it seems) with an article from the online version of the venerable UK paper, The Guardian, on favorite SF works.  This led to some number crunching that produced a very low number of female writers having works mentioned in that reader-produced list.  This in turn lead to SF writer Nicola Griffith producing "The Joanna Russ Pledge," exhorting readers to make a greater attempt to promote female writers in order to combat any conscious or subconscious bias against female SF writers.

Of course, such a request is going to generate some discussion, much of it heated.  Over at SF Signal, there was a Mind Meld post devoted to the Russ Pledge.  Note the responses, their tones, and the probable sexes of those responding.  Contrast that with another SF Signal post made this past Friday by Judith Tarr on "Girl Cooties."  Food for thought on how easily things can be twisted to suit the desires/fears of certain readers.  Sadly, I am not surprised to see the vehement defensiveness of certain male SF readers (perhaps authors as well in other corners?) when it comes to any request to change their reading, or rather to open themselves up for new experiences.

It is easy to bemoan this fact and demonize those reluctant, while overlooking one's own reading.  It was with some consternation that I noticed a greater homogeneity in my own reading over the past year or so.  Much of this was due to a conscious decision to revisit certain "canonical" works of Western literature, which by its very nature is going to exclude large swathes of humanity.  But could there be other factors at play?  Perhaps.

I do not aim to achieve certain percentage numbers for reading X number of female authors, Y number of other ethnic groups, or Z number of non-English language works.  That would be counteractive toward any attempt to become more catholic in my reading, as it would reduce works and their authors to ciphers.  No, I will not do this.  Rather, I will attempt to read just a bit more here and there to discover new works, new authors, not because I find the same old to be limiting, but rather because I want to expand my reading horizons even more in order to understand others and myself more.

This means a continued diffusion of reading various genres and subgenres of literature (excluding those subgenres that I have tried reading several examples, only to discover I did not find the narratives to be for me), from authors of all walks of life.  I will not pledge to talk more about just female SF writers, because that would be too limiting.  Rather, I shall try to talk about, for example, a SF novel like M.J. Engh's Arslan, but also Stuart Nadler's The Book of Life or the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Ninth Letter, or perhaps Minister Faust's just-released e-books Journey to Mecha and The Alchemists of Kush.  There are several Library of America editions I want to read and perhaps discuss as well, ranging from Eudora Welty to H.L. Mencken.  I have some Brazilian, Portuguese, and Spanish works still to read and there will be more discussions of poetry, plays, and short fiction in addition to novels in the near future.

I cannot say what the percentages of all these will be; it is irrelevant as long as there is some attempt at reading something new that is not merely a reiteration of the old.  It takes commitment to increase the catholicity of one's reading, so what better time than now to recommit to it?  After all, this blog has not been a strict genre one for a long time...

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