Who Are You Reading? Paying Attention to Race & Gender

Who Are You Reading? Paying Attention to Race & Gender July 9, 2015

booksTo some fanfare, Mark Zuckerberg announced in January that in 2015 he was going to read 26 books. I admit that this news elicited some snark in our house, because we read a lot. And, it didn’t seem to me that 26 books was a lot to read in twelve months.

But, I actually don’t know how many books I do read in a year, so my husband and I decided to keep a list of every book we read in 2015. I decided not to include in my list books that I re-read as I taught them this past spring, but I did include new books that I read for future course preparation or reviewer work, alongside the things I read for fun and for my own edification.

Here’s where we are at six months in: As of June 30, my husband has started 23 books and finished 16 of them. I have started 25 books and finished 21 of them. See, Zuckerberg has nothing on us … but then again, he’s busy running a zillion-dollar global tech company, so I’ll let that go and dig a little deeper into who I’m reading.

I did a little audit of my list on the basis of authors’ race and gender. When it comes to gender, I read mostly women; only three and two halves of the books I have read are authored by men. (The two halves are co-authored with women.) When it comes to race, I decided that I need to change my pattern: I read mostly white women. Only two books I have read are authored by women of color.

Why does this matter? Why am I glad that I read mostly women authors? And why am I going to be more intentional about reading authors of color for the remainder of the year? I did promptly pick up Zadie Smith’s White Teeth from my ongoing “to-read” pile on July 1.

In both cases, it’s because I try to read against the norm. Because unless you pay attention, you might not realize how white- and male- dominated much of publishing is. I notice this nearly every semester when I select books for classes with an ongoing commitment to always include at least one woman author and at least one person of color author on every syllabus. It’s hard … even in some gender-focused courses. If I didn’t think about it, many times women and people of color simply wouldn’t be on my students’ reading lists.

Unless we call attention to it, we surround ourselves with people who look like us. And by “we” here, I mean people who have some measure of social privilege. Specifically, white privilege and male privilege. We do this in where we live, where we work, where we go to school, where we worship, who we hang out with, and yes, who we read.

So … who are you reading?

Here are some previous posts I’ve shared with many great things to add to your reading list.

And, here are just a few of the books I’ve read so far this year which I recommend for various reasons:

Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, by Joy Ladin

A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan

Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family, by Najla Said

God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine, by Victoria Sweet

The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff

The Haunting, by Shirley Jackson

On Immunity: An Inoculation, by Eula Biss

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, by Debora Spar

Happy reading!

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