An Introduction: On Not Reading White Men

I love reading. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. And I read a lot. Over the last year however, I have noticed that my reading habits have started to slowly shift. I have found myself consciously choosing to read books written by women, or people of color, people from other, non-European countries, or people from other typically marginalized groups. I want to emphasize now that I am NOT saying that white men are not great writers, or shouldn’t be read. I am simply saying that I have noticed that the authors of the books I read are not always representative of the people I know and love, and I want to change that.

I’m not sure why this is, but I have a few ideas.

First, I only recently completed a graduate degree in environmental education. My cohort was mostly women, yet we were conscious that the outdoor world is heavily dominated by white men, and this contrast became a matter of much discussion. As part of this I became increasingly aware of how much of our assigned reading was written from a white, European perspective. I have heard many people say that that is just the way it is, that because in the “past”, when we were sexist and racist, only men were getting published, men like Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Edward Abbey or Henry James Thoreau. I get this, and I think these authors have published some great work, but I disagree with the argument. We are still living in a world where most books are written by white men, and yet it is pretty clear that white men are not better authors because of the color of their skin or the shape of their genitals.

Second, with the election last fall, the fact that sexism and racism and many other isms are still alive and well in the United States was brought home to me pretty starkly. I became more aware of the ways in which my race has given me privilege, even as a women, and I started to reach out in many different ways. One of the main ones was that as a reader, I became hyper-conscious of WHO I was reading, and I was reminded yet again of the prevalence of white male authors on our shelves.

This leads me to the title of this piece. Once again, I want to stress that white men are good authors. Some of my favorite books were written by white men. A quick glance at my favorite books includes authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, William Shakespeare, Brian Doyle, Douglas Adams, Amor Towles, Anthony Doerr, Bill Bryson and Peter Heller. However, a few weeks ago, I made a split second decision to not read any books written by white men for the rest of the year.

I recognize that white women still hold positions of privilege, but I am including them in my ok list for two reasons. Firstly, the publishing world is so disproportionately white that to exclude all authors of European origin, I would be limiting myself to such a narrow selection of books that I don’t think I could make it to a year. However, the other reason is that publishing is still an area where women are at a distinct disadvantage. Men do not typically read books written by women or featuring female protagonists, so publishers will reason that the audience for such books is too low to merit publication or publicity. Many female authors choose to use initials or male pseudonyms. The most recent and high profile example of this is Joanne Rowling, who published the hugely popular Harry Potter series under the name JK Rowling so that boys would read it and then published her adult novels under the pen name Robert Galbraith.

I love reading. I don’t know where this choice will take me, but I have decided to commit to it. I may choose to include some “token white males” as Phoebe Robinson does on her podcast “Sooo Many White Guys” as I go on, but other then that I am going to try and avoid books by white men completely. I don’t know how hard it is going to be, but I am willing to see.

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