It took me a while to decide whether or not to post this. Not because I’m afraid of skirting politics or controversy, but because I really, truly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. To that end, I’m sorry in advance to anyone whom I unknowingly offend with this post. I’m a nice person—really I am. I like most people —in fact, I have a friend group of enormous diversity. But I should add that my friend group is not diverse because I cultivate diversity; it’s diverse because I genuinely click with each and every person I call friend.
I love wildly divergent points of view, even when they collide with my own. How else can we learn new things, explore radical solutions to problems large and small, and grow personally and intellectually? But I also tend to judge things on their intrinsic value, not on their outward appearance.
What I’m saying is: I love my friends for who they are inside, not for their sexual orientation, skin color, religion or political philosophy. I apply the same test to everything I value, including good writing.
I recently came across a slew of articles by people who had decided to not read literature written by certain people (mostly white males or straight white males) any longer. Some set time limits; others did not. I read each article to understand the opinion of the writer and to determine the lesson to be learned by reading only authors with particular attributes.
After much thought, I decided to pass on reading this way. While I understand and appreciate that some of the article writers found benefit in their “Reading Only” experiments (as in “I’m reading only Women, People of Color, or Queer authors, etc.) I found the overall tone of the articles to be, honestly, kinda braggy and self-righteous, akin to saying, “Oh, look at me, I have a ton of gay (or African-American or female or transgender, etc.) friends”.
To me, reading is personal, not political. If you want to explore books written by women of color or by gay men, fantastic. If you’re doing it simply to explore life from their viewpoint, do it because you want the experience for yourself, to stretch your own mind and boundaries, not because you want others to know what an open-minded, wonderful person you are or to be impressed by your politics. If you’re doing it to discover a new author with an awesome writing style, then shout it out. When you find a great book written by an atheist or by a transgender woman, pass it on to friends, talk it up in chat threads and suggest it for your book club. Not because of who wrote it, but how it was written.
Interestingly, this article points out the JBGTQIA authors are pigeonholed in the LGBT section of bookstores because of their sexuality. Wouldn’t it be better for them as writers and us as readers if they were simply authors and not LGBTQIA authors (unless, of course, they are writing specifically about the LGBTQIA experience)?
To me, a book is a book. It is either good or it is not, and that has nothing to do with the author’s skin color, sex, politics, or any variety of other attributes. It has more to do with whether or not the author is a good writer and whether the storytelling style, subject matter, and tone appeals to you. So I have to ask:
Can’t we just be writers?
I’m interested in reading material from all perspectives and orientations, but not just because they’re from that perspective or orientation. I want damn good writing. I don’t care if the person who writes it is gay or straight or transgender; I don’t care if they are African American or Asian or white; I don’t care if they are Democrat, Republican, Communist or Libertarian; Catholic, Hindu or Agnostic. Just give me a good read.
I find myself wishing that we could put brown paper covers on all books and assign authors a number as a nom de plume so we can be judged on our writing alone and not all the peripheral garbage.
Yes, I know writing is influenced by personal experiences that are often predicated by socio-economic status, sexual orientation, religion, politics, philosophy, and even skin color.
But what if we embraced this?
This means each writer brings all these experiences to the writing table and flavors their prose with the piquancy of their diverse background. And I can learn from that experience. I can learn how difficult it might be for gay parents to operate in a school system dominated by straight couples. I can learn how a Muslim woman finds comfort in her faith in a strange land. And maybe I can even learn how a straight white male feels when he finds himself on the receiving end of discrimination.
But unless I’m reading a book or article for the purpose of learning those things, I don’t want that to be the reason I buy a book. I want to buy a book because it’s a genre I love, a voice that resonates with me and a story that’s going to kick ass. And if it teaches me something and helps me grow in addition, then that’s just icing on the cake.
See you on the next page!