Saturday, February 28, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Reading Challenge

So if you haven't, go read K. Tempest Bradford's challenge to read no white, straight, cis male (henceforth WSCM) authors for a year. It's a great and inspiring piece about changing how you see the writing (and reading) landscape when you stop focusing on the largest (loudest, most pushed, etc.) section of it. It's about learning about yourself and growing as a reader (and writer). Which is what a lot of people attacking the idea don't seem to get. The challenge is framed in how much it will help the READER. The participant in the challenge. It's not about limiting potential books. It's not about only reading non-WSCM authors FOREVER. It's about challenging yourself to move outside what's most common for a year and then seeing how that year has changed you. It's about opening yourself to the idea that once you see what's out there beyond the seemingly default WSCM perspective, you might find what you really, really, really like and that will make you happier.

Personal story time! So I grew up basically WSCM (I am WCM, but most people could probably have guessed). That was how I thought of myself for a long, long time. When I started reading, it was WSCM authors. And I resisted branching out from there. There were some. Yes, I loved the Dragonriders of Pern (while listening to Queen because obviously...the two are still inextricably linked in my mind). But mostly I read the "big" names from Tor. I read Robert Jordan and L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and Terry Goodkind and Tad Willaims and thought that I was a great reader because everyone was willing to tell me I was. Not that any of those authors are bad, necessarily. I still enjoy many of their works. But I didn't think about what I was reading. So by the time I was in college, I had read something like 500 books that I could remember and probably 90% of them (at least) were by WSCM authors. That this wasn't odd to me was A PROBLEM. It wasn't healthy. I was seeing only one kind of narrative and one where I didn't even exist.

Thank glob for other people and other writers. Because as I read more, as I was exposed to more in college, suddenly I was understanding more things about myself. Suddenly I was understanding more about other people. Suddenly I could empathize and see just how messed up I was. And how did that happen? By reading books I wouldn't have otherwise. By taking classes where we read autobiography and new women writers and non-white writers and non-straight writers. Things started making sense. I started to understand myself. It wasn't even about trying to support diverse writers. It wasn't about making sure my money was going to places I could feel good about. It was entirely selfish, because that's where it had to start. Suddenly I made more sense to me. Because I left my comfort zone. Which, I realized, wasn't very fucking comfortable.

And after that I found myself gravitating to voices that I could feel more comfortable with, could feel better about myself with. That spoke to me. I figured out what my preferences were for books and am much better able now to seek out and find books that stoke a part of me that makes me feel alive and happy. That wake me up. That CHALLENGE me. Because that's what this is all about. It's about CHALLENGE. Mostly it's about personal challenge. If you never challenge your assumptions, especially those you have about yourself and your own preferences, then you might go your entire life never finding those books that will speak to you most. What do you have to lose? A year's worth of reading? If you find that you hated what you read, then feel free to go back to whatever you were doing before.

For me, personally, I think it's a great idea. I have ideas and I want to do this challenge. Because of how I queue up my books and how I review for a few places, it's not something that I'll likely be doing this year, and maybe not next year either. But it sounds like so much fun! It does sound like something that will challenge me, that will help me grow as a reader and a person. It's not limiting. It's not even about supporting diverse fiction (though it does and that's a very good thing). It's not about winning some sort of weird "points" as some people are bound to claim. The way the challenge is framed, this is about being selfish. This is about challenging yourself, challenging your mind and your assumptions, and finding out more about yourself. If you come out the other side unchanged, then fine, no harm, but chances are you'll come out with a more profound understanding of yourself, which is always a good thing.

So make plans. Get a queue of books going. Start a wishlist or figure out alternates in case the library doesn't have a certain book in when you're to it. Let's do this!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

P.S. Some of my recent favorites that would qualify for the list:

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling

To the Resurrection Station by Eleanor Arnason

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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