Friday, September 24, 2010

The lists

It's as if I should be reaching for a cigarette and a drink, that's the kind of post- ... no, not that, you big sillies, the kind of post-reading state I'm in. I finished The Warmth of Other Suns yesterday and am still awash in the glow of its depth, its brilliance, its broad perspective, wide range, its compassion, information, importance. I'm not quite in that take-to-my-bed fever that I've experienced a few times in my life upon finishing a great novel. Perhaps only fiction can actually make me ill. But I am a little shaky, a little swoony, off my stride, as all I learned from Isabel Wilkerson's magisterial work settles in. It costs $30 so I can't, but if I could I'd like to buy it and give it to everyone I know, that's how important this book seems to me to be.

As I started a new book this morning, it occurred to me to take a look at my reading this year. It seems I've read 60 books so far in 2010. Thirty-two written by women, 28 by men. This slight skew wasn't by design but it pleases me. It does not please me to see that of the 60 books I've read to date, the majority are by white authors. The author breakdown: 23 people of color, 37 white. I can scrabble to rationalize--a criminally small proportion of English-language U.S.-published books is by authors of color, and my list's proportions are much better than that--but I don't think I should. In a world the vast majority of whose inhabitants are people of color, in a class struggle in which the even vaster majority of our side is people of color, a red reader should be reading the words of the world's people. I am conscious of that--in fact, that is one of the points I make most often on this blog--but clearly I need to step up the effort. The ruling class does everything possible to make this difficult; a class-conscious reader has to overcome those obstacles.

Over the last several weeks, what with the publication of Jonathan Franzen's new novel and its immediate beatification by the literary powers that be, and then the dissent raised on behalf of writers with "lady parts" by Jennifer Weiner and others, and then the Franzen pick as an Oprah Book, there's been a brief upswell in mainstream media attention to the ongoing issue of sexism, and, to a far lesser extent in most of the pieces by various commentators, racism, in publishing. There's been an interesting point or two made. That's about all I can work myself up to say about it, steeped as it all is in bourgeois consciousness.

If you're looking for vital analysis of issues of representation in a very important wing of publishing, head over to Fledgeling. Author Zetta Elliott has studied the figures for Young Adult publication in this country. She finds that less than 2 percent of the YA titles published this year were by Black authors. That's out of about 3,000 books. What an outrage.