Monday, 12 January 2015

The Evolution of a Reader

The other day, when I was lamenting my impending dearth of book review posts for January (because of last-minute Aurealis reading), the lovely Gillian suggested I instead write about the evolution of my reading habits. In particular, she suggested "a retrospective of the changes in your reading since you started focussing on women's writing".

Well my first reaction was that I've never not read women. Going back to my childhood, the big names that stand out are Enid Blyton, Tamora Pierce, Isobelle Carmody... Then Traci Harding, who was the bridge, for me, between kids' books and adult books when I was thirteen*. The only male name that stands out as starkly as those women I read in my formative years is Isaac Asimov, who I think I started reading at around age twelve. It was not long after, during high school, that I started reading a lot of Australian female fantasy authors: Jennifer Fallon, Trudi Canavan, Glenda Larke, Karen Miller... a lot of which was thanks to discovering the old Voyager Online forums from an ad in the back of one of the Traci Harding books. <waves to Purple Zoners>

* I remember the age specifically because I got The Ancient Future for my thirteenth birthday, from a friend who said "It was the most depressing end of the world book I could find," which... is both an interesting commentary on who that friend thought I was at the time, and the ability of a cover to completely confuse a not-quite-thirteen-yet year old as to the actual content of a book. (A year later we were no longer friends.)

It was around that time that I started to shy away from male fantasy authors, after being burned a few times. I have always liked my female characters to be actual people in stories*. For a while there I was of the opinion that men couldn't write decent (BFF) fantasy that I would want to read and that women didn't seem to write science fiction. The latter statement is easy to disprove, of course (it wasn't long before I became aware of the existence of Marianne de Pierres, but rather longer before I discovered Bujold), and as for the former, well there's Duncan Lay and Brandon Sanderson† and probably others I haven't read yet. These days I'm perfectly willing to pick up male-authored fantasy books, so long as they sound promising, much like with any other books I pick up.

* This is also the reason my "let's read classic SF other than Asimov and Clarke" venture didn't get very far at all. Unlike every other mid-20th Century (very loosely speaking, time-wise) SF writer I've attempted to read, those two have not offended me deeply with their fiction.
† Not an exhaustive list. None of them have been. This is a blog post, not a bibliography.

But all the above was, as I said, my first reaction. My second reaction was this: the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which was the impetus for me to start book-blogging in 2012, started a few months after I had moved across the world. I had brought a bunch of books with me (many of which are still on my TBR shelf, sigh) but I think it would have been easy to slip into the habit of buying more easily accessible books. What makes an Australian book accessible around the world? Well being published by an international publisher, for a start, and being available in ebook form for a finish. (Trust me when I say you do not want to cart paper books across continents.) Both those criteria cut out a reasonable chunk of the Australian oeuvre, but not enough to leave me completely bereft of books I want to read. (And going out of my way to eventually get a hold of my favourite authors is not that much of a burden.)

Enter the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I signed up to the challenge because I figured I read a lot of books by AWW anyway, the challenge part would be to review them. And as an added challenge, I would have to find at least ten science fiction books to read for the challenge. That and my subsequent addition of a horror sub-challenge the following year has certainly broadened my horizons in terms of what's being produced in Australia outside of Voyager. I was previously aware of many of our small presses but hadn't read a huge number of their books before the challenge. That definitely changed with the AWW Challenge. As did branching out in genre. Especially when it comes to horror, which I read very little of before (unless you count vampires, which we generally shouldn't any more). And I've definitely read more short stories, a form I hadn't delved into much after running out of Asimov collections, since reading small press output more regularly.

And there you have it. I have always read women, but the breadth of my reading generally has increased since I've, well, been challenging myself to branch out more. I've never made a secret of the fact that book blogging is something I'm doing for now and not something I see myself doing forever. But I'd like to think that having gone through this reading transformation, I will continue reading as broadly whether or not I have a blog or challenges to push me into it.

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