Friday, November 6, 2009

The Diversity Dichotomy

My two readers deserve better than me. They really do.

Two posts in a week? And when’s the last time I actually wrote about a book? (Answer: Last Tuesday.)

Unfortunately, my streak of content-less content continues today. Instead, we get another post about what other people are writing about books.

Publisher’s Weekly released its Top 10 list for the year. It included no female authors. (Twenty-nine women made its Top 100 list.)

In the words of PW:

We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the “big” books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.

This did not pacify bloggers who felt women had been ignored.

Susan Steinberg replied on The Rumpus:

The PW editor explains in her short accompanying text that the deciders of the Best 10 list “ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz.” Which is kind of brilliant in a way. Because everyone knows if you ignore things—like how I sometimes try to ignore the homeless guy who blocks my path when I’m walking to work, because it’s just too much to deal with in the morning—you can maybe make those things go away.

Women in Letters and Literary Arts (WILLA) has replied by compiling a list of Great Books by Women in 2009.

I have not read any of the books in the Top 10. I rarely catch a trendy author until about 10 years after he or she dies. Consequently, I cannot say if Publisher’s Weekly identified the 10 best books of 2009 or if they ignored a woman’s masterstroke (intentionally, or otherwise.)

However, I tend to agree with the sensibilities of John Matthew Fox who said:

When people use the notion of diversity to bludgeon a selection of literature, what they are really encouraging is not diversity per se, but their unique cocktail of diversity. For instance, they complain there aren’t enough women. Or enough international authors. Or enough writers of color. (Or, as this blog might even argue, not enough short story collections!).

In other words, they’re encouraging prejudice/special favor toward a specific group of people under the guise of “diversity.” But this diversity can never be achieved. As soon as you add more women, or more authors in translation, this skews some other—still significant—portion of the list’s demographic.

What about diversity of age? What about diversity of religion? What about diversity of fame? What about diversity of education? Diversity of class? Diversity of Genre (no poetry?) Diversity of single/married/polygamous? These diversities are no less important, yet they are often ignored by people invoking diversity as a moral good.

Once again, without doing a lot of reading (more reading than one person can probably do alone considering the amount of books that come out every year), I cannot say if PW’s list is an example of sexism or a stand against unnecessary political correctness.

-Jason Lea,


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