As I read Prisoner’s Dilemma last month, while also two-thirds of the way through the Southern Reach trilogy, I thought of how I couldn’t remember the last time I read a book by either a woman or a person of color. Specifically, I recall seeing the small stacks of books on the two nightstands in the bedroom, with mine bearing all men’s names and that of my partner (enjoying an extended jaunt through urban fantasy) showing only women’s, and how this observation frustrated me.
I resolved then to put more diversity of authorship into my reading list. I can cast this desire in a selfish light, if it helps: outside of physical travel, nothing expands my mental horizons like reading. Therefore, it stands to reason that reading books by people less like me will exercise and extend my perceptions more efficiently than otherwise. So went my theory, at least; with a personal favorite-author shortlist comprising almost entirely white guys, I had little idea how I’d make it happen.
Imagine my delight, then, when I realized this weekend that my reading list for the rest of this dreary winter fell into this target state more or less by complete accident. As best I can tell, when I recently resolved to simply start reading more long-form work, I found myself choosing to sample a wider range of styles and topics than the science-fiction shelves I have seldom explored beyond, and diversity among the resulting books’ authors just tagged along. Did I get lucky, or did one naturally follow the other? I don’t really know yet, but nonetheless feel quite pleased with how lazily I accomplished my goal.
Let me now describe how I came to include each book on the list. (I will save deeper description of the works for when I actually finish reading them.)
Open City, by Teju Cole. Perhaps the one exception to the completely accidental nature of this list, even though I found it by chance while wandering the stacks of my local public library. While I felt delighted to recognize the author’s name from Twitter and plucked the book from the shelf for that reason alone, I also consciously thought “Aha, this is a book by a black guy: score.”
Nearly to the end of this one, now, and quite look forward to sharing my thoughts about it. Update: I did!
The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron. I felt an urge to revisit this, the first novel I can remember reading and truly enjoying under my own power, due to comments in this great BoingBoing survey of young-adult adventure fiction from the 1960s (though this particular book came from the decade prior). I hadn’t thought consciously about the book in a long, long time, and had no memory of its authorship by a woman.
I very rarely reread novels, and I feel fairly certain that I’ve not reread one from my childhood, barring ten-minute picture-books and such. So, I anticipate an interesting time with this one. Update: I read it.
Exercises in Programming Style, by Cristina Videira Lopes. Recommended by a friend and fellow software engineer who works at a large and important internet-related company, and who read through this as part of an office book club. (Same friend whose unrelated complaint about programming fueled the poem composed by my cat which in turn resulted in my blogging again, for whatever that’s worth.)
Given the highly technical nature of the book, I would (naively?) expect the author’s gender — and the rest of her social background — to play a minimal role in its construction. But my friend helped convince me to get this book by describing its structure as inspired by a certain collection of thematically linked poems, so I don’t expect only a dry wasteland of emotionless code examples, either.
Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less, written by C. Spike Trotman and drawn by Diana Nock. A 170-page comic book I picked up on impulse only yesterday as a DRM-free PDF.
Its target audience is folks just emerging from college, a time I can hold well in my mind, but whose personal reality has long since passed. But though my hair may grow hoary with eld, I remain not-rich, and my economic stratum doesn’t seem likely to improve any time soon. I think I could still learn a thing or two from this book. Beyond all that, its art style delights me, so I look forward to digging in. Update: Dug.
Finally, I shall allow myself half-marks for the following, whose qualification for this list occurred to me only after I started writing this entry:
Practices of an Agile Developer, by Venkat Subramaniam and Andy Hunt. Even though I have sung praise for this book in the past, I have not actually finished it! Perhaps because feels so rich with immediate relevance to my day job, I have worked through it very slowly, taking copious notes, but letting easier books interrupt my progress frequently.
Now that I think of it, for reasons obscure to me, I have been limiting my visits to this book not just to lunch breaks during work-days, but specifically those rarer lunch breaks when I desire something heavier than usual, and head out to a bar by myself, iPad in tow. I should really just buckle down and finish this one. Update: I finished it.