Last week the Weneeddiversebooks campaign ran on Twitter, Tumblr and other social media outlets, it was inspiring to read and see all the different voices. For my own small part, I read more diverse books and tried to be more conscious of what I was reading. As a white, privileged youth librarian, its important for me to listen and do all I can to promote authentic voices so that new readers can see themselves in the books that they’re reading. A company that is doing an amazing job of promoting diversity and listening to all the voices is Lee and Low Books who on their blog and other social media highlight other publishers and the discussion around the need for diverse books. One of the interesting side effects of this campaign was that it drew me to a number of thoughtful movies on Netflix that look into how key representation is and I would recommend them. To begin with, a movie about a singing group from Australia called The Sapphires, this movie is a wonderful mix of gorgeous music, the pain of racism and the Vietnam war. A shame of how its been promoted is that Chris O’Dowd, who is the manager in some cover art is highlighted when he’s very much a co-star to the four women.
Then the other two that I want to highlight are documentaries that deal with who is presenting the voice of a marginalized people. Sholem Aleichem: Laughter in the Darkness about the Yiddish author who’s stories inspired Fiddler on the Roof and helped the diaspora of Jews from Eastern Europe see themselves within literature. The documentary is wonderful in its use of archival photographs and footage along with actors reading Sholem Aleichem’s works in character. Watching it happened to coincide with a copy of The Golem and the Jinni finally becoming available at the library and the documentary gave me a greater understanding of the background for the Golem’s world.
Lastly I watched Reel Injun, a film about the harm caused by movie portrayals of Native Americans in film. The director Neil Diamond travels across the United States connecting with places and people to understand what was behind the choices made about Native Americans in film and what’s being done to change the ideas. It’s a clever use of the road trip format to go through history and enlightening.
At the moment all of these movies are available on Netflix Streaming along with other outlets.
Recently a matter of stereotyping in terms of books especially Young Adult novels featuring women happened with my father and I wanted to share it as it shows how books can be lost. When I was at ALA Midwinter, I picked up a copy of Expiration Day at the Tor publishing booth, because I had seen it mentioned on their website. I didn’t read it until I was on a plane and then I blew through it, amazed and fascinated. My review is here.
When I finished it, I knew that I had to recommend it to my father who has been reading science-fiction since he was a boy and this was one of the most thoughtful books about robots and artificial intelligence that I’d encountered in a while. Science fiction is a genre I enjoy but I tend more towards fantasy, but this book completely pulled me with the characters and set up. My parents in the last week had been getting ready for a trip and that means lots of clearing up, so my father has been looking over books and magazines. He saw Expiration Day, skimmed the back and decided it wasn’t for him and I got annoyed, because the cover with the back of a young woman’s head and the description which reads like a different book, he wasn’t convinced. I told him to not judge it on how it looks, gave him a synopsis of the story and then a few days later, I found him sitting and engrossed in Expiration Day. I was glad that I was able to change his mind, but it worries me how many people who consider themselves science fiction readers will pass over a book that has a girl or a YA feel to it.
I don’t know what the best answer is to this, because the strange aspect is this book was written by a man and its one I’d recommend to teenagers. I thought it did a masterful job covering the complications of growing up, but it doesn’t fit perfectly into either box. So going by the norms of science fiction writing culture, it should do better than a woman writing about robots yet because it’s portrayed as more YA, it won’t be. The best answer I have for now is to promote Expiration Day and link to The Book Smugglers’ review of it and keep pushing against the dangers of judging too much by genre. Genre to me is a place to begin, but shouldn’t be the first and last way of choosing to read a book. I know what I prefer in a book and of late I find it more in YA, fantasy and romance, but I don’t want to miss any book since it doesn’t stay in one of those boxes.