The Canon

Jul. 20th, 2015 08:00 am
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
[personal profile] forestofglory
So Renay wrote an excellent essay on the Canon and the pressure to read things by white men. It’s really great and you should go read it.

Renay’s essay made me reflect on my own history with the SFF classics. As young teen I got the idea that it would be good for me to read classic SFF. I’m not sure where, as I wasn’t a very social reader at the time – or rather I didn’t have a lot of people to talk to about books, and I wasn’t really active online back then.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, a very liberal place, and I had access to great bookstores and libraries, yet I still fell into the trap of thinking that classics where written by men. It’s not that I didn’t read books by women, but I didn’t think of them as classics. (I’m afraid I didn’t read much by POC at this stage.) Often the older stuff by women and POC was out of print. Why was it easy for me to find Stranger in a Strange Land, Ringword, and I, Robot, but not The Female Man or Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand? I’m angry that this was the case. My younger self was deprived of books she would have enjoyed, and got a skewed picture of the genre as a result. It took until my late teens when I was online and actively looking for feminist stuff for me to find classics written by women, but that was my second wave of classics reading.

Having read quite a few “classics” I now only want to read things because I think I will enjoy them, not because I ought to read them. Which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy older books, or that this type of research can’t be enjoyable. But I’ve had enough, and I’m not going to be pressured into reading things just because other people think I should.

I want to tell readers like Renay that they also shouldn’t have to read anything that they don’t enjoy. I don’t want people to have to wade through the sometimes quite egregious levels of sexism, racism and other failures to see people besides straight white cis men as fully human. Being constantly talked down to, misunderstood, or just erased hurts. There are a lot of good reasons to avoid older SFF or at least tread very carefully.

But I understand wanting to read older stuff to put newer works in context. I love history myself and even my hobbies like reading tend to lead me into historical projects like reading older works. So what I want is for people looking back at older work to find more than just white men. I want Russ and Wilhelm to be just as easy to stumble across and Asimov or Niven. I want them all to be in print, for books by marginalized groups to take up self-space in bookstores, on reading lists, to be discussed as classics. We are failing newer fans and ourselves when we create with a one sided canon.

Date: 2015-07-20 07:06 pm (UTC)
qian: Tiny pink head of a Katamari character (Default)
From: [personal profile] qian
It’s not that I didn’t read books by women, but I didn’t think of them as classics.

This line is so familiar! That's it exactly.

I still feel as though I'm not a REAL SF fan because I love SF a lot, but really only feminist SF. So Butler, Le Guin, Russ, Tiptree, and more recently, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Ann Leckie and the like. I read some Asimov when I was young and enjoyed it, but eh. I expect I will die without ever reading Niven or Harlan Ellison and I am totally cool with that!


forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)

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