2014: The Year in Numbers (2): Diversity Edition

PantomimeGender

The good news is, I read a lot of women: Women accounted for 60% of the authors I read, not including multi-author anthologies, and 43% of the protagonists, again, not including multi-character short stories, or books with male and female protagonists with equal presence.

However, these characters were overwhelmingly cis; two books featured trans characters: J, of I am J, a trans teenage boy, and Micah, of Pantomime, an intersex boy raised as a girl.

Hex is not the protagonist of Love in the Time of Global Warming, however, the book features an explicit enough sex scene between trans Hex and his cis girlfriend, Pen. (It’s not pornographic, but you know what they’re doing.)

I didn’t read any books about trans women.

The Beauty Myth and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex were also exclusively cis in focus, but both would have benefitted hugely from including trans perspectives on beauty, sex, desire, and science.

Sexuality

Miseducation of Cameron Post

Sexuality is a little harder to determine, considering I read a number of children’s books, and the characters are often so young that their sexuality plays zero part in the story. Ophelia (of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy) might be queer; we have no way of knowing, and it’s irrelevant to the plot.

In those cases, I’ve left the data blank, or included the book as “straight,” on the basis of the parents’ orientation.

Only four of the books I read could be classified as “LGB books:” The Miseducation of Cameron PostAfterworldsLove in the Time of Global Warming, and Pantomime.

I read no books primarily about male homosexuality, although gay male characters featured in Love in the Time of Global Warming and My True Love Gave to Me (which also, significantly, had zero queer women).

Race

Akata WitchMy reading list was blindingly white; 9% of the protagonists were people of color, excluding characters of color in multi-story anthologies. The diversity of authors I read wasn’t much better; white authors accounted for 86% of the books I read, and then some. (Again, multi-author anthologies were excluded.)

9% of authors I read were of Asian descent, either Asian-American or living and writing from Asia. Of those, one was a book in translation from Japanese.

(I also read one book in translation from German, by a white author.)

A mere 2% of the books I read were by African-American authors.

One of my reading goals for 2015 is to diversify my reading list. I’ve done a good job of putting my money where my mouth is, at least for library purchasing, but I need to read a more diverse selection of authors in my personal life, too, and practice what I preach at school.

Class

Sapphire BatterseaOne thing I’ve noticed, but found difficult to quantify, is the class status of protagonists. It’s rarely quite so obvious, unless it’s a “problem book” about poverty, but there are subtle clues about class, such as the characters working a part time job (or not), owning a car or cell phone (or not), living in a house or an apartment (or not) and so on, and man, a lot of books are about upper middle class kids, or higher.

I’ve found this especially true of historical fiction, which tends to focus on the upper class or even outright royalty at the expense of… Well, everyone else, really. A Mad, Wicked Folly would have been a much more interesting book if Sophie were the main character; frankly, I’m tired of reading about how bored these rich girls are with their balls and their fancy dresses. Give me more of Hetty Feather and how most of the world actually lived, thanks.

I’d like to point out that Jacqueline Wilson, in particular, has a good range of characters, including very many who are poor or working class. It’s one of the reasons she was my most read author in 2014.

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2014: The Year in Numbers (1)

Drita, My HomegirlThe first book I read in 2014 was Drita, My Homegirl. The last book I read in 2014 was Tiger in My Soup.

Total, I read 100 books this year. That’s a good number for me, a goal I’m going to keep in 2015. According to Goodreads, this was 23,972 pages worth of reading.

(I didn’t count every book I read, especially picture books I read to my students. The actual number would be much higher if I did that. I’ve only included picture books that really stood out to me for some reason.)

Of those 100, 92 were new-to-me; 8 were rereads. (The books I reread were: The Little PrinceHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneHarry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsThe Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeNo Plot? No Problem!Surviving the ApplewhitesSo Yesterday, and The Hunger Games.)

Ratings

I gave an average of 3 stars, which makes sense, as three is, you know, about average. I gave eleven books 5 stars; 8 books got only 1 star. (I would have given more 1-star reviews, but I’m usually not the kind of person who finishes books I don’t like.)

The books that only got 1 star were: How to Be a GentlemanThe Princess DiariesDivergentI am JPilot and HuxleyInk, The Desire Map, and Poisoned Apples. In particular, Divergent and Ink stand out in my memory as hate-reads; I am J and Poisoned Apples were just disappointments. The others were usually a case of “oops, I only have this book with me right now,” so I ended up finishing them anyway.

The Magician's BookThe books that earned 5 stars were: The Three PigsHarriet the Spy, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneAkata WitchDoll BonesBoxersSaintsAfterworlds, and, of course, this was the year of The Magician’s Book

Genres

My most read genre was fantasy (29), followed by nonfiction (23). Fantasy doubled over with other genres, notably most of my historical fiction reads. I’m not surprised that fantasy won the day; fantasy has always been my favorite genre. However, before this year, I never read nonfiction for fun, and now it’s overtaken all other genres for second place!

Of the fantasy books I read, 5 were what I would call “secret world” fantasies (think the Wizarding World, hidden from us Muggles); nine were magical realism (which I’ve stuck under “fantasy” for ease of sorting, sorry); 2 were paranormal (ghosts, vampires, whatever); five were “secondary worlds” (e.g., one of them is The Silmarillion); and the rest were a hodgepodge.

Of the sci-fi I read (3), they were all dystopias.

A Christmas CarolThis was the year I discovered nonfiction, so I read all over the place, trying to find my “niche” in the nonfiction section. I read: 2 biographies, 5 cultural histories, 1 etiquette book, 1 book about feminism, 3 how-to books, 6 books about books (books about reading or writing), 1 self-help, 2 popular science, and 2 professional development books. (Phew!) The cultural histories were definitely my favorite, and now that I know that, I’ll start seeking out more of those things.

Format

41 of the books I read this year were borrowed from the elementary library where I work; 12 were borrowed from the secondary library. 1 was from Project Gutenberg, 1 was from LibriVox. I won 1 ARC in a raffle. (Assume I own everything else, but mostly in ebook format.)

I listened to 3 audiobooks. 56 of the books I read were in print; the remaining 41 were ebooks, read in the Nook app on my iPhone. (I don’t own a dedicated ereader.)

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Goals/Resolutions for 2014 (Bookish or Otherwise)

Top Ten TuesdayIt’s that time of year again, when we start thinking about all of our resolutions for next year, what we did well and what we want to do better.

I read a lot, for fun and profit. (I’m a librarian.) I did well with my reading this year; currently, I’ve read 99 out of my goal of 100 books in 2014, which is almost double what I read in 2013, which was probably more than double what I read in 2012, but I didn’t keep track. (2012 was a bad year. We don’t talk about 2012.)

This year, I also started keeping track of the diversity of my reading; diversity of genre, of authorship, of character. We’ll get into that in another post, once I finish off that last book and crunch some numbers.

So, without further ado: Top Ten Goals/Resolutions for 2014 (Bookish or Otherwise).

Bookish

  1. 2014 Reading ChallengeRead 100 books. 100 is a good number. It’s a solid, somewhat challenging number of books that isn’t completely overwhelming. I’m content with this. I’m not one of those people who needs to increase the number every year. I like a little flexibility and time to think, even while keeping myself busy reading.
  2.  #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I haven’t run the numbers yet, but I already know that my reading list was overwhelmingly straight, white, abled and wealthy. In 2015, I’m going to put serious effort into diversifying my reading, and collection development for my library.
  3. Review. I like to read, but I do not like to review. I don’t even like reading reviews. I skim them. But I know that this is a book blog, and part of writing a book blog is writing reviews. It’s not like I don’t think about my books as I read them. I’m just really bad at gathering my thoughts and getting them out there.
  4. fiftyfifty.mefiftyfifty.me. This is a combination books/movies challenge for 2015: read fifty new-to-me books and watch fifty new-to-me movies. I’ve set up a side blog just for tracking my progress: fifteen50. I haven’t decided on my majors and minors, but I’m considering a “minor” in Shinto, and “majors” in books in Japanese/日本語の本 and poetry.
  5. Poetry. I’m one of those readers. I know what I like – fantasy, children’s literature, perky girl protagonists – and I tend to stick to it pretty closely. 2014 was the year I discovered nonfiction. I never used to read nonfiction for fun. In fact, the thought never occurred to me before a coworker mentioning that his leisure reading consists mostly of biographies. I want to expand my reading again next year, and give poetry a fair shot. Whether this is books of poetry, or reading poems published in magazines, I don’t know.

Otherwise

  1. Get Your Words Out!. I’ve already pledged the Modest goal level, which is to write 150,000 words in 2015. This is my first time participating, and I wanted to start with something manageable. According to their site, this is three NaNoWriMos – or approximately 411 words a day, because the idea is to build writing stamina, not sprinting.
  2. Post/Publish. This doesn’t mean publish in the sense of professionally, just get my writing out there. I used to post my work on fictionpress.com. Is that still a thing? Or are all the cool kids on WattPad nowadays? I don’t want to just write something, stuff it in a folder and forget about it with maybe one or two other people ever reading it.
  3. NaNoWriMoNaNoWriMoI won NaNoWriMo this year for the first time since 2008. It was a great feeling and a lot of fun, even when I hated my story, my characters, my setting, and my hand hurt. (I write longhand.) I want to do it again. I also want to do…
  4. NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. Ever since I started working in a school, I’ve been thinking about offering a NaNoWriMo “club” for my students. I already have some interest from some students who knew about my November project from hanging around the library when it’s supposed to be closed. I think this would be a great program for my school, so.
  5. Blog. Of course! I don’t have any big new plans for this blog, but I just want to keep it going and do my thing, meet other bloggers, make friends! 2014 was a pretty good year for blogging. I want 2015 to be even better!

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesday (December 24, 2014 – Christmas Eve)

A Christmas CarolWhat are you currently reading?

‘Tis the season and all, so I’m reading A Christmas Carol. I grew up with the 1983 Disney special Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the Muppet’s Christmas Carol, and I designed a book jacket to fit the local library copy for a project during high school, but I’ve never actually read it; my one encounter with Dickens (Bleak House) scared me off of that for a very long time. Now that I have the time and motivation to read it for my own edification and of my own free will, I’m finding that it’s not actually so bad.

I do have a problem with hearing some parts in Gonzo’s voice, because they’re directly quoted in Muppet’s Christmas Carol. 

I’m happy to finally be reading this book. It’s helping me to keep in the Christmas spirit and not be such a Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol

The colors matched up when printed. This is the problem when designing in RGB for print in CYMK.

What did you recently finish reading?

I’ve been on vacation, so I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of reading this week.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish LieutenantI read Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant in two sittings: once right before bed and then immediately as soon as I woke up (and wrote my morning pages). I grew up on black and white manga, so I struggle with the information overload of full color comic books, but it was beautiful – the art and the story, both. I guess it’s the first in a series, and I hope I get the chance to read the rest of it.

I finished Pantomime and it was excellent. (Review.)

Keeping with the season, I read My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, which I enjoyed, but I also docked a star because there was one token queer couple, two cis gay boys, and exactly zero queer women or trans people, which is just such a bummer.  You’ll have to do better than that if you want an ally cookie. (Review.)

Then I read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, which I liked a lot at the beginning and wanted to like at the end, but it didn’t quite work for me. (I can’t really say what bugged me about it without getting into spoiler territory, but it really just didn’t seem to “fit” for me. Suffice to say, I think the ending would have been better left ambiguous.)

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not really sure why I haven’t immediately jumped into Shadowplay, considering the first thing I did when I finished Pantomime was run out and get it? (Metaphorically.) So… probably that!

I’ve read 98 of my 100 books for the Goodreads challenge. This isn’t to say that hitting 100 will stop me, but expect some MATHS soon. For someone who had to take my math gen ed pass/fail, I really like crunching numbers.

“What Are You Reading?” Wednesdays are hosted by Should be Reading.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year

Top Ten Tuesday

It’s a liiiiitle late for Christmas shopping – my friends/Japan family and I are having our Christmas dinner tonight, since half of us have work on Christmas Eve and Christmas – but just in case: here are my Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing This Year.

I’m breaking the list into two: five books I want for myself, and five books I want for my library.

For My Personal Collection:

  1. Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone 2014Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone “But Leslie, don’t you already have this? Isn’t it, like, your favorite book?”
    Yes, yes, I do. I have numerous copies, even, but I always want more, like the adorable new Bloomsbury paperback or this French paperback. I collect different editions of this book, but really, I wouldn’t mind if Santa would just bring my existing collection to Tokyo on his sleigh.
  2. Sacred High City, Sacred Low City: A Tale of Religious Sites in Two Tokyo Neighborhoods Living in Tokyo, I’ve developed a hobby bordering on a religious obsession with Shinto shrines, but most of my knowledge is informal, gleaned from what little I remember of undergrad and my limited ability to read the informational pamphlets the priests sometimes give me with my goshuinchō stamps. In 2015, I’d like to do a little more serious research, including this book.
  3. Critical Perspectives on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials While Harry Potter was my obsession, His Dark Materials changed me in quieter, deeper ways that I didn’t fully realize until I reread the trilogy after moving to Tokyo. I love books about books – at home, I have heaps of books with titles like The Psychology of Harry Potter and The World of The Golden Compassbut this is a more in-depth, scholarly (and thus, expensive) book that I haven’t had the chance to read yet and I would love to get deeper into this story.
  4. NimonaThe Magician’s Book I already have this one in ebook format, but I loved it so much that it would be an honor to have the print edition on my shelf beside my own Magician’s Book(s), The Golden Compass and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (mentioned above). 2014 was the Year of the Magician’s Book, and I’d love to hold the actual, you know, book.
  5. Nimona I read most of this comic free online, but I liked it so much that I want to hold it in my hands and hug it and keep it on my bookshelf and admire it forever. This one might also double-up and go in the secondary library collection, too, because it is just soo great. I haven’t cried over a webcomic since seventh grade.

For My Library Collection:

  1. Olivia Kidney and the…  There are a couple of these (Secret Beneath the City and Exit Academy), and I want them both for the library after a student came up with a copy of the first book, begging me for the rest of the series. I didn’t even know it was a series, but how do you say “no” to one of your best patrons – a girl who comes in every single day to borrow new books and help sticker and shelve for fun in her free time – when they’re just dying for the next book in their new favorite series?
  2. Blossoming Universe of Violet DiamondThe Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond I tried to order this with the last PTA batch, only to realize – d’oh! – it won’t be released until next year. Oops! But I do really, really want it. I’m trying to build a diverse collection. Many of my students are biracial/bicultural, and I think this is a story that would resonate with them, even if the specifics are different than their own situation – it’s a mirror and a window.
  3. The School for Good and Evil Soman Chainani was one of my Top Ten New-To-Me Authors of 2014, and I really want this book in the library collection. I know what my patrons like, and a certain faction of my patrons likes princesses – loves princesses, even. I think this book would support their interest while maybe subtly dismantling the “princess” archetype, where “princess” means “pretty and helpless.”
  4. Eddie Red, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile (Series) Some of my “reluctant” readers have finally branched out from Captain Underpants and started reading Jack Stalwart and Zac Power and asking for more. We don’t have more, is the thing. For some reason, my library collection is weirdly lacking in adventure stories. Here is a solution to that problem.
  5. My Mixed-up Berry Blue Summer I want this book for a bunch of reasons. For one thing, queer characters are underrepresented in my library collection, but And Tango Makes Three is one of the most popular titles. For another, it takes place in Vermont, which is where I grew up, and that’s cool. The students – all international – like asking about where the teachers are from. I tried to buy it last year, but it was “not a priority,” while none of my other fiction picks had any complaints. Hmm. Hopefully Santa can help me out here…

My Thoughts On…: My True Love Gave to Me

My True Love Gave to Me  One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 is to actually review (some of) the books I read. I figured, Why wait? and so here we are, with My True Love Gave to Me.

Goodreads summary:

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME: TWELVE HOLIDAY STORIES by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins.

Do I love holiday stories? Yes. Holiday movies? You bet! Made-for-TV-holiday specials? Ohhh yeah. Holiday episodes of my favorite sitcoms? Bring it on.

I love Christmas so much that I get excited about starting Advent somewhere around Halloween. And let’s be honest: it says “holiday” up there, but it’s mostly Christmas with a token Hanukkah story. There was a token Hanukkah story, and a token “queer” story – we’ll get to that in a minute – but it was a Christmas anthology.

I didn’t recognize most of these authors. I know Holly Black from Tithe when I was a teenager and Doll Bones now; Rainbow Rowell for Fangirl, which I read this year but it did not impress me; David Levithan from the good/bad old days of digging up something anything queer I could get my greedy little hands on reading Boy Meets Boy and then Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist in university; and though I’ve heard of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I’ve never read it. The others were a mystery to me.

Usually, I get bored of short story collections, but these were just the right length, and just the right number.

Most of the stories washed right over me. I enjoyed them enough to keep going and not skip any, but then I promptly forgot about them. (This happened with Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” and “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” by Stephanie Perkins.)  Others I really didn’t like at all because it felt like wasted potential. (e.g., Ally Carter’s “Star of Bethlehem,” and Holly Black’s “Krumpuslauf.” Black’s story felt too much like she was trying to be Holly Black then just tell a story.) The closest I came to skipping was “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me,” by Penny Han.

A handful really stuck out for me: “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” was probably my favorite. I hadn’t even heard of Myra McEntire, and the whole thing fell flat when I tried to explain to my roommate why I liked it so much, but I actually laughed out loud – multiple times, even! – at this story, and I’d love to read more by her.

The other two I liked were magical: “The Lady and the Fox” by Kelly Link was vivid and beautiful, like a Tam Lin retelling? and I love Tam Lin retellings, ever since I read Holly Black’s Tithe when I was sixteen or so. “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” was so vividly told that I’m curious if it’s part of another, larger piece… I hope so!

All in all, I’d give it three stars: a solid I liked it. (I’m trying to be stricter with my stars. Otherwise, I give everything four stars and it just becomes meaningless.)

However, in twelve stories, there was one couple that wasn’t straight – the two boys in Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” – and there wasn’t a single queer girl to be seen. There were no trans characters. While each individual story was good enough on it’s own, I guess, as a collection, I wanted to see a little… more.

Cis gay men are always the token queers. Cis gay men’s stories are the dominant narrative of what it means to be queer in 2014. That’s not David Levithan’s fault, but they couldn’t find a single author to write about a lesbian couple? Nobody would write about a trans main character?

Let me tell you: this asexual lesbian (that’s two points on your diversity bingo!) freaking loves Christmas. I’d like to read about girls like me falling in love with girls like me and kissing under the snow or whatever it is couples do in holiday specials.

That’s what I want for Christmas.

Judging a Book by its Cover: The Littlest Angel

Today is December 18th. Do you know what that means?

It means there is one week until Christmas!

The Littlest AngelOne of my favorite Christmas traditions is the picture books my mom would read to us every Christmas Eve, after our one present and movie, just before bedtime. One of those books, my favorite, is The Littlest Angel. My mom still has her childhood copy, complete with scribbles. Obviously, that one, the angel’s dresses sloppily colored with a blue crayon, is my favorite.

When I moved to Japan in 2011, my mom bought me my own copy. It’s the most recent edition, with illustrations by Paul Micich. They’re very beautiful, but not quite what I grew up with, so I went looking into other illustrated editions.

I mean, I didn’t know re-illustrating picture books was a thing you could do. Certainly, no one would ever dare redo the illustrations for that other Christmas children’s classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas? (As if the live action movie wasn’t sacrilege enough!)

The Littlest AngelSo off I went to investigate these other versions.

I like this one a lot. I think the angel looks like a cutie, and they’ve captured his facial expression perfectly – but maybe a little too perfectly. I miss the cartoony, soft look of my mother’s book. It might be dated, but that’s what Christmas tradition is all about.

I know it’s unfair to compare these books to my book. It’s like buying a loaf of banana bread, even from a fancy bakery, and complaining that it doesn’t taste just like my mom’s.

I should be glad that this book gets redone, the story updated with new illustrations for new readers. Maybe someday the copy I had will become someone’s favorite, the illustrations they cherish.