In my review of Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, I compare reading it to reading Asimov’s Foundation when I was a kid.
I’m going to make the same comparison with the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” series by Cixin Liu. Reading this awakens the same sense of discovery and amazement as reading Asimov when I was a child. Liu gifts us a story that’s astounding in scope and vision, with some of a biggest Big Ideas in science fiction.
The English translations of Liu’s work boast an admirable level of stylistic polish. There’s a spare and refreshing lyricism at work here. I’m as impressed with the quality of the translations as I am with Liu’s story.
This is what science fiction should be. I’m in awe of Liu’s imagination and accomplishment.
Normally, we talk about diverse books in terms of the ethnicity and cultures of characters, authors, and story traditions. What speaks to me about the two articles linked above is the call to increase the diversity of the genres I read. The call to “read outside [my] own taste and interest” (from Bookriot), to read things I dislike or that scare me to try (as per the RA for All post).
We need diverse books to be sure, but those must be part of a literature that reflects our reality, books in which little black boys push one another on the swings, in which little black girls daydream about working in the zoo, in which kids of every color do what kids of every color do every day: tromp through the woods, obsess about trucks, love their parents, refuse to eat dinner. We need more books in which our kids are simply themselves, and in which that is enough.
On the last day of the KLA/MLA joint conference last week, I attended a session titled “Why We Need Diverse Books.” I believe the #WeNeedDiverseBooks initiative is one of the most important social movements going on right now. I believe diversity is the most important frontier for collection development in libraries.
The session presenters recommended a variety of publishers who are good sources of diverse titles and gave examples of successful diversity programming they had done at their own libraries. For me, the most interesting point raised was the need for foreign language titles in a diverse collection. Language is an essential facet of cultural diversity, and yet our diversity collections are still predominantly written in English. A truly diverse collection which serves a truly diverse community should have resources in a multiplicity of languages. Too often, this gets overlooked in collection development efforts. I think this is a point well-made.
I walked out of this session asking myself another question which sometimes gets neglected in our discussions about diverse books:
How do we get white dudes to start reading diverse books?
Last week, I wrote about how important Octavia Butler’s work is to me. Every time I tell people how much I like Octavia Butler, someone inevitably says, “You should read Nnedi Okorafor!” or, “Have you read any of Tananarive Due’s works?”
And I always want to ask them:
“Are you recommending them because you think their writing style / subject matter / perspective is similar enough to Butler’s to merit the comparison? Or are you just naming them because they’re another black woman who writes SF?”
Octavia Butler is one of my most treasured authors. Her work is astounding. More than anyone in the past few decades, she took up the mantle of the literary scifi authors of the 1960s and ’70s—Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison, et al.
Like them, Butler’s work transcends boundaries and achieves a level of artistry and power that’s rare. She’s an irreducibly important author. Her legacy is one to be treasured and honored.
When I completed my Master’s degree and began my job search, my top priority was to get my wife back home. She’d spent several years living away from her family and wanted to be near them again.
Everyone I spoke to for job search advice, every article I read, they all told me that I had to be willing to go where the work was, wherever that happened to be. Librarianship is a highly mobile profession. When I restricted my job search right out of the gate to a fairly narrow region of the country, it went against common wisdom. Some people told me I was making a mistake, narrowing my options too soon. Indeed, I passed over many professional opportunities because they were in the wrong part of the country.
But family was my first priority. Getting my wife back home was the most important thing. Luckily, I found a great job at a great public library, right where we wanted to be.
When I tell people why I did what I did—that I chose to put family first despite the potential risk to my career—many people praise me. For much of my life, there has been a sense that families suffer for our culture’s obsessive focus on work and career. Many people tell me how refreshing it is to see someone living with different values.
This brought to mind a post I wrote shortly after I started this blog, in which I detailed an experiment that some librarians had done to determine how dress and appearance affect patrons’ perception of them: