Reading, especially science fiction/fantasy (SFF), has always been one of my greatest joys. Unfortunately, after college busy work schedules (teaching, then grad school) and the intenet really ate away at time to read books. At the beginning of 2019, I set a goal to read 50 books; I managed to get to 53 by reading consistently on my commutes with occasional binges.
I read mostly for pleasure, and still mostly fiction and mostly SFF (43 / 53 books). When I do read non-fiction, I tend to read history and sociology, especially pertaining to race in the United States. Although I don’t actively try to diversify my reading or seek out books by women, my taste does tend towards books by Asians (28 / 53) and books by women (34/53). Knowing the importance of reading diverse books by diverse authors, I wanted to see how I did in this aspect in 2019 and be more intentional about the books I seek out in 2020.
Note that the numbers for race and gender don’t add to 53 because I didn’t include author statistics for the anthology A People’s Future of the United States.
Things get a little but more interesting if I break by fiction/non-fiction and consider race x gender. Some observations:
- The gap between male and female authors is entirely because I didn’t read any fiction by non-Asian male authors.
- I only read one book by a Hispanic author.
- I didn’t plot the publication years, but I only read two books published before 2000 (and for one of those, the English translation appeared in 2019), and 26 of the books were published in 2019. In large part, this is due to me getting a lot of book recommendations from Twitter. However, it’s also true that SFF has undergone a revolution in the last decade or so, and I have a definite preference for these new voices in the genre. There’s also been a surge in SFF translated from Chinese, spearheaded by the inimitable Ken Liu.
- I don’t have time right now, but it would be interesting to disaggregate the Asians.
- Another thing this plot doesn’t show is the number of distinct authors: for example, both the books by Indigenous authors are by Rebecca Roanhorse.
Some light resolutions for 2020
- I should read a little bit more non-fiction.
- I should read more books by black, hispanic, and indigenous authors.
- I should read more older books.
The Dragon Republic, by Rebecca F. Kuang
My first SFF stories were excerpts from Chinese mythology read to me by my dad. I didn’t know I could read SFF in English that incorporated that world and history until I came across RF Kuang’s 2018 book The Poppy War. I read all 544 pages in one day. The Dragon Republic is the sequel, and if anything even better written and more gut-wrenching. Seriously, Kuang really likes to torment her characters. Following her on Twitter is also what’s biased my reading towards SFF by Asian women, and I have no regrets.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
This is probably the best-written novel I read in 2019. Ng masterfully weaves seemingly disparate threads into a cohesive story that speaks to intimate familial connections, the complex intersections of race and class, and the ramifications of choices and secrets. Interestingly, the story is set in suburban Ohio, where I grew up, and Ng now lives in Boston, where I now live.
How to Be An Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
In Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi lays out a thesis that there are two strains of anti-black thought. Segregationists contend that some races are inherently inferior, and so our current racial hierarchy is the natural order. Assimilationists contend that some races act in inferior ways, whether because of culture or past discrimination, and so our current racial hierarchy will go away when those races learn to not act in inferior ways. While almost everybody now recognizes segregationist ideas as racist, it’s important to realize that assimilationist ideas are also racist. Both posit that some racial groups are superior to others. Anti-racist ideas hold that racial groups are equal, and that the only thing inferior about black people is their opportunities. How to Be An Antiracist is primarily a memoir describing how Kendi came to these conclusions. However, it also introduces some new ideas, some of which went against what I knew about anti-racism. For example, Kendi pushes back against the idea that black people cannot be racist and the concept of “microaggressions.”
Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
I think this book about a sassy Chinese girl in segregated Atlanta is technically Young Adult fiction. I really enjoyed the main character’s voice and Lee’s sense of humor.
Books I’m looking forward to in 2020
- The Burning God is the final installment in the Poppy War. Kuang keeps putting out screenshots and teasers on Twitter, and I’m a little upset I have to wait until November.
- Ken Liu’s short story The Paper Menagerie is the first and only work of any sort to win a Hugo, a Nebula, and a Locus. He’s coming out with his second short story collection, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, in February.
- After wrapping up the Broken Earth Trilogy, which won three Hugos in a row, N. K. Jemisin releasing The City We Became in March. Kuang keeps mentioning on Twitter that she’s read the ARC and that it’s really good.
- The first two installments of S. A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy have an entracing world and captivating story. The third book, The Empire of Gold comes out in May.
- A Memory Called Empire is one of those books that feels totally fresh and opens the genre to new directions. In May, Arkady Martine will release the sequel A Desolation Called Peace.
- I started reading Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister, by Jung Chang, but then had to return it to the library before I finished. It’s ostensibly a biography of the three Soong sisters, but really it’s a gripping crash-course in 20th-century Chinese history. I’d really like to know more Chinese history! From what I’ve read, I’ve already been questioning a lot of the bits I picked up from going to the Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek memorials in Taipei. In retrospect, I should probably have expected those to be slightly biased.
- I got Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America as a Christmas present, and it looks really good.
Looking at these, I don’t think they’re going to help me that much towards the resolutions I listed above…
The Complete List
The full list is available here