I did a very-bad, no-good thing when I first imagined the Keeping Up With The Penguins project. Today, I throw myself at your mercy, and ask for your forgiveness.
Eagle-eyed Keeping Up With The Penguins readers may have noticed something a little funky about my reading list (and, if you haven’t, I’m hoping the title of this post will tip you off). The authorship of the list is 68% male, 82% straight (give or take the 14% that are unconfirmed), and an astounding 92% white.
I am a very vocal champion of diversity in reading lists, diversity in awards season, diversity in publishing, and diversity in literature generally. So, how the heck did I end up with a reading list so skewed?
In my experience, most cock-ups happen when otherwise well-meaning people – feminists, activists, and “SJWs” among them – take their eye off the ball. Losing track of yourself for just a second can lead to something that is Horribly Unwoke(TM). That’s what happened to me here.
One moment, I was having a casual chat with my husband about all the books I’d never read, and absent-mindedly pulling together a list… Next thing I know, I’ve launched a blog where I’m publicly reading and discussing a list of works that doesn’t at all represent the diversity that I believe in.
Where did I go wrong?
I’ll own my fuck-up: I stopped thinking critically about my sources. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my reading list in its current form is a jumbled-up combo plate of the Dymocks 101, the Guardian’s 100 Best Books Written in English, and a handful of recommendations from friends and family. Each of those sources is subject to their own biases, and I didn’t stop to consider that for even a second. D’oh!
On the whole, the community is doing a good job (if a slow one) at reinterpreting the literary canon. Work by queer people, people of colour, women and authors outside the gender binary – it’s all starting to get a look-in. I had an opportunity to ride that tide with this project, and I missed it.
So, what am I going to do about it?
I honestly considered changing my Keeping Up With The Penguins reading list, paring it back and building it up again so that it more accurately represented the diversity of authorship to which I aspire.
But the more I thought about it, the more that seemed to defeat the purpose of this project altogether. The whole point of Keeping Up With The Penguins is to catch up on all those classics that everyone already talks about, to read a steady stream of books that I wouldn’t otherwise consider. I get an opportunity to mull over the relative merits of what we accept as “standard”, and look at the diversity issues within and around the texts that everyone accepts as read.
Plus, in the end, my reading life won’t end with this list. I think the best thing that I can do is make absolutely certain that my subsequent reading choices prioritise diversity, and that I think critically about what books I select and why.
So, there you have it. Put me in the bin, if you must. But don’t think that I’ll be making this mistake again! Live and learn 😉 Let me know what you think in the comments below (or jump onto KUWTP on Facebook!).
February 28, 2018 at 9:11 PM
Hey I can live with it, as a white middle-class, old, male I am in a pariah list myself right now. At least I’m likely to have some commonality with the output. I notice that you are creating images with text over them which reflects the blog item. That seems a great idea, can you give me a pointer as to how you achieved that? Thanks
March 1, 2018 at 3:33 PM
Hey, you’re certainly not old 😉 I’m not one to put all white male writers in the bin, but I do wish in retrospect that The List was more varied. Normally, picking and choosing books according to my own tastes (as opposed to a set-in-stone List from the sources I’ve mentioned) would see me reading a lot more women, and I’m already noticing the difference.
I create the feature images using canva.com and/or Adobe Spark – both free tools available online. They’re pretty self-explanatory to use, but there’s stacks of amazing tutorials on YouTube (of course!) as well. Let me know how you get on with them and if there’s anything I can do to help! Thanks for stopping by, as always 😀
March 1, 2018 at 5:39 PM
Don’t be too hard on yourself. At least you have acknowledged there is an issue. I tend to read mostly female authors – I probably need to read more male authors. But mostly the classics and genres I like the best are written by women. I think mostly I just read whatever sounds like a good book and comes highly recommended from fellow booklovers. Blogging and bookstagramming is definately opening my reading world. I am interested to follow your reading progress.
March 1, 2018 at 5:45 PM
Thank you, Jane <3 I tend to swing more female too, when I'm picking and choosing books on a whim - I'm definitely noticing the difference reading more male authors now (especially in terms of how female characters are written, eeep). I've come across so many amazing book recommendations on bookstagram - my Next List is probably going to have about 500 books, this project will never end! Haha 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by. I look forward to following your reading too, your blog is great!
March 1, 2018 at 5:54 PM
You’re welcome. I will stop by regularly. 😀