Updates on a year without SWM authors.

At nearly half way through my year of reading only non straight white male able-bodied authors (otherwise known as SWM), it is likely time for an update.  Check the link in the first line to get the background info on my personal challenge if needed, because these reflections will make more sense in context I think.

Personal insights:

  • Finding works by people of color is much more difficult than works by women.  Hence I have been reading quite a bit by straight white women, which doesn’t entirely get at  my original point for the challenge.
  • Comic books/graphic novels by non-SWM are almost impossible to find when just browsing at the library.  This is the main source of my ‘cheating’ this year (poetry being the other).  However, I have come across several great lists of female comic comic creators, including a twoparter at Jezebel.
  • It’s kind of nice to have a filter for my library browsing, because it’s easy for me to get overexcited/overwhelmed by the sheer amount of reading that is out there.
  • Works by women written from a male point of view are unsettling to me in a way that works by men written from a female point of view rarely are.  I’m still deconstructing this particular response.

Publishing industry/philosophical insights:

  • The publishing industry not only publishes an incredibly skewed percentage of works by SWM, it is staffed and supported by the same individuals (and some SWW as well).  However, a few amazing projects are working very intentionally to subvert this, namely the St. Paul Almanac, a collection of works that are written and edited by St. Paul’s diverse community.
  • As I said in my first reflection on this challenge, books reviewed in mainstream publications are primarily by SWM.  I have since noticed that most lists in general (ie People Who Did ____ This Year) have a disproportionate number of SWM.  Generally when a list has a reasonable number of non-SWM it is specifically mentioned as being inclusive/women specific/people of color specific.

So what am I reading right now, you might ask?  I’m a bit over halfway through Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, stuck in the middle of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, and have The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang waiting in the wings.  As I said above I cheated a bit to check out a graphic novel called Fray by none other than Joss Whedon of Firefly fame because I couldn’t resist and still majorly bemoan the early ending of Firefly.

What are you reading?  How is it challenging (or not challenging) your worldview?



8 thoughts on “Updates on a year without SWM authors.

  1. I love this!! How did I not discover you had a blog before? This is amazing. Do you have a list listed of non-SWM books you’ve read in total?? I would love to see it.

  2. Orlando is one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITE BOOKS. I want to know what you think of it. If you like it, try reading the the letters between Virginia Woolf and her lover (and the model for the character of Orland0) Vita Sackville-West. They would run away and galavant around the country-side dressed as men together. It’s delightful.

    More suggestions: anything by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez (who’s straight and male, but Columbian, if that helps), essays by bell hooks, Barbara Kingsolver (have your read Prodigal Summer? You have to!) Salman Rushdie (try Haroon and the Sea of Stories. Like Doctor Suess for grown-ups.) Props to you, lovely lady! I hope you’re well!

    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Bethany!

      I have read (and re-read) Prodigal Summer and loved it immensely, and read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children a couple of years ago- all very good stuff. Gabriel Garcia-Marquez has been on my to-read list for quite some time though…maybe now is the time to actually pick him up.

  3. Cheers, to your year of non-SWM reading. You ever read Their Eyes Were Watching God? I just did, and I enjoyed reading it the way I enjoy readin Mark Twain, the language is just too beautiful and comfortable to not peruse. Don’t know much about the Oprahtized version – but the book really, really makes me appreciate all that Hurston did to study and immortalize southern/black speech and culture.

    If you need any additions to your list, I’d suggest Russell Mean’s autobio – just because he’s too important not to know nothing about, and yet so many people know nothing about him. The sketchy US govt. vs the American Indian Movement drama is fascinating/crazy. Also, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin is a concise glimpse of a good non-SWM writer. He’s like a delayed American expatriate writer, talented and trapped between the ways in which he was not a SWM. Also, I remember reading a biography on Mao Tse-Tung…for me, it tangibly transformed the ‘communism is bad’ archetype the West places on the people’s republic into the much more complex role it played in Chinese history, if that interests you at all.

    1. These sounds great, Donovan. I particularly appreciate the history recommendations, because I am woefully limited in my history knowledge and am often thwarted by the sheer density of most history tomes. I’ll have to add these to my library list when the queue gets a bit shorter and I actually have time to read them!

  4. I don’t think I’ll be much help… I don’t read much, unfortunately, but I’m working on it. My organic chemistry textbook is written by a woman, which I think is pretty neat. I just finished reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro who is a Japanese-born British author… not too far off SWM but a little. It’s an interesting read, narrated by a woman. It has discussion questions in the back; it’s that kind of book. Good luck with your project and I look forward to your recommendations.

    1. I’m impressed on the textbook front- science textbooks and ‘popular’ books are another genre that seems to be almost wholly taken over by SWM. There was an excellent article on women in science in a past issue of Bust magazine that might intrigue you (and I think the magazine is wonderful in general, the perfect blend of feminism and pop culture).

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