The “discriminating” reader

Lately there’s been a really bizarre and disgusting notion going around. It’s a “challenge” to spend a year reading only books by people of specified racial or sexual characteristics. Its source is an article by K. T. Bradford, titled “I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year.” It wouldn’t be worth paying attention to except that I’ve seen others seriously discussing it. Now K. T. can read anything or not for any reason. It’s the “challenge” which is offensive.

K. T. Bradford (I think), warning you not to read Neil GaimanIf you accept Bradford’s advice, you have to start by deciding whether you’re allowed to read the article itself. Is K. T. a man or a woman, and of what skin shade? There are several pictures on the page which don’t actually say they’re of Bradford, but it seems likely; I’ve linked to one of the pictures so you can decide before clicking. Of course, anyone who’s taken the pledge can’t read this post either, so that really doesn’t help.

People who take the pledge will have to research the authors of every piece they decide to read. That will pretty much kill their reading for the year, thus solving the problem. Or there’s an easier way: You can let gatekeepers give you a list of permitted reading. Bradford is, just by chance, available to provide you that service. The article ends with “some reading list seeds to get you started.” Relying on Bradford and other gatekeepers of permitted literature is really the only way a serious reader would make it through the year without sinning.

The idea seems to appeal to some readers as a way to explore new material they might have otherwise missed. As a way to find new material to read, with ideas that might challenge their usual ways of thinking, seeking out authors off the normal path can offer value. But for Bradford, it’s the exact opposite of this. She’s retreating into her comfort zone:

Because every time I tried to get through a magazine, I would come across stories that I didn’t enjoy or that I actively hated or that offended me so much I rage-quit the issue. Go through enough of that, and you start to resist the idea of reading at all.

I can sympathize with wanting to avoid upsetting material; there are a lot of books I’ve given up on and a few I’ve tossed across the room. But she decided it was the race, sex, or sexual orientation of the writers that was upsetting her.

A discriminating reader will ask questions like: How good a writer is the author? What outlook on life do the author’s works present? For fiction, what kind of story do they tell and what kind of characters to they portray? For nonfiction, how good is the author’s research and presentation? But the “discriminating” reader, in a much uglier sense of the term, will ask: What’s the author’s skin color? Is the author male or female? What kind of sex does the author engage in? It’s the supermarket tabloid mentality.

Let’s judge authors by what they write, not by their appearance or private choices.

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