On White Guys Talking About Reading Women


I’m a white guy, and prone to getting unfortunately navel-gazey and introspective. I heard about this piece from Jezebel on the 3% Podcast (books in translation, check it out) and spent some time thinking about how it applied to me and my project of reading 50 books by female authors this year.

Jia Tolentino seems to be calling out the self-aggrandizing kind of “look at how progressive I am for not reading straight white dudes” posts and proclamation, posts and proclamations that tend to shift the focus onto the readers of women, marginalizing them women themselves. I certainly hope I’m not coming across that way -this reading project was born out of the unpleasant realization that my own reading habits had been skewing excessively toward male authors, and the realization that institutional pressures had been pushing me that way. An active choice seemed necessary to rectify that. But this isn’t an example of Hetero-CIS-white-male-me championing The Other. I felt fucking embarrassed by the lack of diversity in my 2015 reading, and I set some concrete guidelines for myself. This isn’t a “year of reading women” or anything like that -it’s part of a transition into a more balanced reading life, one that includes more poetry, more works in translation, and more nonfiction, as well as less gender bias.

I want to read things outside of my own personal experience. This is one of the pleasures of reading. But I don’t want to come across as a self-righteous ass about my reading choices. The reason I’m being public about my reading is that, in the process of keeping a public reading log, I became aware of the rather insidious preponderance of 20th century straight white American male authors whose books I selected when left to my own devices. I honestly didn’t realize how bad it was, and would have self-reported my reading habits to have been far more diverse than they actually were. My goal in sharing this realization was not self-aggrandizement, but an admission of failure, and a call for self-examination. It’s too damn easy to lie to yourself about this shit.



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