Overheard at Starbucks:
(Male) Barista: Dude, what happened to your HAIR?
Guy: I lost a bet.
Barista: Yeah, but what happened?
Guy: My wife was sick of me looking like a mug shot, so she sent me to her hairdresser. Not even a barber. A hairdresser.
Barista: Okay, but what was the bet?
Guy: (beat) Actually, there was no bet. I just say that because it sounds more manly.
Did a few different analyses of my reading habits over the weekend (by genre and by gender), and found a lot of data went against my perceptions: although I think of myself as reading a ton of plays and poetry in the last couple of years, it’s a drop in the bucket next to the massive quantities of fiction and graphic novels I read. And despite thinking of myself as a genre nerd, my literary fiction collection is about the size of all my genre reading combined (SF, fantasy, and mystery).
I also discovered that if I go by books I keep rather than just books I read, I have way more male authors than female on my shelves: 95 men, 66 women, 4 books by male-female teams, not counting anthologies. And while I think of myself as reading authors from all backgrounds, my list of gay, transgender, and non-white authors is painfully short: 14 out of 165, or 8%.
The first two realizations are more funny than anything else: it’s interesting to realize my self-perceptions are so warped. And not sure there’s anything I can do about that third one: we like whom we like, and 58% to 40% isn’t such a terrible split.
That last one, though, really bothers me. It probably says more about the publishing industry as a whole (minority authors having a harder time getting published, books by minorities getting shunted to specialty sections rather than the regular fiction and nonfiction aisles), but it may also mean that when I see an author from a really different background, my instinct is that they’re not speaking to me. And that’s something I can only fix by trying new writers. So I’m adding a bunch to my Goodreads list, but if you have amazing writers you think I should add, please let me know.
Conversation with a friend yesterday about culling books got me wondering how many I actually own right now. I generally trade in about half the books I buy in a year, plus older books I’ve outgrown, but apparently right now I have 614 books, not counting the five in my “to read” pile.
And I’m fine with this. Yes, it’s a pain to pack whenever I move apartments, but the books I own are all either great reads or reminders of important moments in my life (or both). And considering that my parents’ house is floor-to-ceiling books from the basement to the attic, I think I’ve always understood “home” to mean being surrounded by well-loved books, lovingly arranged.
I still remember the discomfort I felt, seeing the homes of two of my professors in the MFA program and realizing that they each had one scant shelf of books. These were writers who also taught literature. Even if they had books in their offices, it felt like this lack in their homes was a symptom of what was fundamentally wrong with the MFA program. How could they not love books and want to surround themselves with the things they loved?