Reading Stats, 2016

Not as much progress as I’d like, but progress nonetheless. My proportion of non-white, non-straight authors has gone up to 41%, and for the first time ever, women on my list outnumber men! As usual, I’m grading on a curve that is not in my favor: I don’t do a breakdown of anthologies, so the fact that I read the Big Book of Science Fiction because it had fantastic representation of female and non-white authors doesn’t affect my tallies in any way, and I only count authors once, to encourage myself to try lots of new authors, so the twenty-odd books by CJ Cherryh only count as one entry. That has a huge impact because I’m now at the stage where, having discovered a lot of new authors that I like, there are a lot of instances where I’m reading multiple works by the same author.

My tastes are definitely changing through this process. Some of the books I’ve tried have not been to my taste, but a lot of them have moved me, delighted me, and made me less patient with certain classics that are not only sexist and racist but that revolve around the angst of middle-aged white men and suddenly feel far less “universal” than they claim to be. The process of purging my shelves of books that no longer work for me has been interesting.

This year, I’ve been aided by good recommendation sources, so I’ll pass those on: Well-Read Black Girl has been reccing excellent books on their Twitter feed, including ones by new authors, and the Australian feminist podcast Galactic Suburbia offers wonderful suggestions of SFF books, movies, and TV shows with good representation of non-white, non-straight creators from around the globe. I also made an attempt this year to read all the female Hugo winners–not easy, even for such a short list, because most of them are out of print. Some were not to my taste, but others were freaking amazing.

Some of my favorites from the second half of the year
Victor LaValle, The Ballad of Black Tom
Rebecca Traister, All the Single Ladies
Seanan McGuire, Every Heart a Doorway
Claudia Rankine, Citizen
Vonda McIntyre, Dreamsnake
Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie
Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed
Amir Hussain, Muslims and the Making of America

Final tally for 2016
32 male writers: 45%
37 female writers: 51%
3 mixed/anthologies: 4%

18 writers of color: 26%
10 LGBT writers: 14%
1 disabled writer: 1%
41 white, straight, cis: 59%

Still a ways to go, but getting there. I’d like to get to the point where white, straight, cis authors are half or less of my reading. We’ll see what the new year brings.

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Jewish Intergalactic Princess

(This article first appeared at jwa.org.)

I was five when I saw Star Wars for the first time at my friend Danny’s house. We loved it so much that we spent the next two years playing games where we clambered up on rocks and swung down on tree branches like we were maneuvering through the Death Star together. At age five, I’m sure neither of us could take in all the nuances of a movie plot, but the unspoken rules of those games make it clear to me that even at age five, we both got the most important point: Leia was not the kind of princess who needed to be rescued; she and Luke took turns saving each other. Leia not only shaped the kind of princess I dreamed of being, she helped create a world where the boys around me could understand and even get enthusiastic about a girl who was as fearless as they were.

Princess Leia’s independent streak was largely due to the influence of Carrie Fisher, who kept lobbying George Lucas to make her character stronger. Most actresses on their second gig would just play their part, afraid that if they argued with the director, they’d be replaced by another pretty face and never work again. But as the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher had the confidence that came of being a Hollywood insider and was unafraid to push back.

She brought the same courage to her writing. As one of Hollywood’s most sought-after script doctors, Fisher gave the female characters in dozens of hit films personality and depth, but it was her autobiographical work that she was best known for. While many audience members went to see Postcards from the Edge for the titillating glimpse behind the curtain at Carrie Fisher’s drug addiction and her strained relationship with her larger-than-life mother, what stayed with us was the fierce humor and the powerful vulnerability of talking honestly about personal failure and maintaining relationships with parents who are as imperfect as we are. Wishful Drinking developed those ideas further and also revealed what it was like for Fisher to go from being a Hollywood sex symbol to experiencing the normal aging process that our body-policing culture considers taboo. Over and over again, Carrie Fisher reminded us that the world doesn’t end when our flaws are exposed for all to see. On the contrary, owning our imperfections and being unafraid to talk about our mistakes lets us grow beyond them.

Just last year, Carrie Fisher came full circle, reprising her role in Star Wars as General Leia Organa Solo, an experienced, indomitable woman who looked her age and didn’t need to apologize for it, a princess still quite capable of fighting her own battles. May her memory continue to offer us a model for living courageously.