Rock On! But I’m Not Ticking Boxes

Articles on the internet are so often written in the imperative mood.  Read more diverse literature, and read it now!  Every day I find new lists of LGBT literature, Black literature, Latinx literature, LGBT Y.A. audiobooks… the list goes on.

Do I seek diversity in reading? No, I do not.  This is not to say I do not read so-called “diverse” books.  But the “diverse” literature comes into my life by serendipity.   I simply pick up a book at a bookstore and start reading.

Crooked hallelujah kelli jo fordI am currently reading Crooked Hallelujah, a charming, poignant first novel by Kelli Jo Ford, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. It is certainly the most original debut novel I’ve read this year.  I love Ford’s portraits of three generations of Cherokee women, Lula, who suffers from epilepsy and belongs to a fundamentalist church, her rebellious daughter Justine, a single mother who works two jobs, and her daughter Reney, who receives mixed messages by observing her mother’s rocky relationships.  Ford’s style takes me back to the spare, less padded fiction of the ’90s:  I am simultaneously reminded of Susan Power and Elizabeth Tallent.

I also read and loved Louise Erdrich’s breathtaking new novel, The Night Watchman, which is one of her best.  And I enjoyed Elizabeth Thomas’s Catherine House, which turned out to be more SF than literary fiction, very light. I had no idea Thomas was Black until after I wrote the review, because I read an e-galley.  And then  I realized with chagrin that I would have given the book a better review if I’d known the author was Black.  And that’s not right, either.

Here is a diverse book on my TBR: Natalie Diaz’s new poetry collection, Postcolonial Love Poem. According to the Guardian, the author “identifies as queer, Mojave, Latinx, and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian tribe.” That ticks all the boxes. But you know, I just want to read it.

Publishers Weekly recently published an article, “Diversity in Publishing in the Age of Black Lives Matter.”  It begins, “Since the killing of George Floyd in late May, the book publishing industry, overwhelmingly white at every level, seems to have reached a period of reckoning about its own history of exclusionary hiring practices.”

I’m not ticking boxes, but someone has to do it, and publishers always need good people. But there are so many issues we  women need to support:   abortion rights, voting rights, women’s rights, equal pay for equal work, health care insurance….

We all have our issues, and not everyone is on the same page at the same time.

But rock on!  We always need new voices.

Numerical Insanity: What Does “Personal Information” Mean?

Remember these? Twenty years ago…

I love my computer–that is, when I don’t want to throw it in the trash after too much time online. But certainly I have enjoyed my access to international news, book clubs, and reviews for years.

As a woman who abandoned math so long ago I barely remember what π is (except as a Greek letter), I seldom contemplate the not-very-personal data gathered by internet companies. Personal?  It comes from the Latin persona: mask, false face, character, a part, or person.  We may show the mask to people online, or perhaps gussied-up bits of who we are. (See Instagram.) But personal matters are confided to your dearest friend, your husband,  your book club,  or support group. Some people prefer online relationships because, on the surface, people you don’t know seem more sympathetic.  And real people are often disappointing: you do meet controlling people who try to shut you up about personal matters.

We hate having data gathered, but I say, Knock yourself out if you want to know how often I visit The New York Times.  Of course the mysterious data-devouring technology also gobbles information about how rapidly we scroll down the pages, or our weird pauses in the reading of articles–perhaps Kat went to the bathroom here.

But alas, the seemingly pointless, and doubtless very boring, information collected by internet companies is the point of the internet, as I understand it. People’s mild enjoyment of YouTube, writing Facebook posts, and other social media are a byproduct of sales. Stores, big companies, browsers, newspapers, e-readers, neurotics, and Russians gather this data and use it–sometimes for sales, sometimes for control. (I learned the latter from Homeland and 24!)

Online life seems to prepare us to anthropomorphize A.I.  Are Alexa and Siri our friends?  In books and movies, AI can be threats or products of human sexploitation (Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein), while others are our friends (Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and the TV show Better Than Us).

I think we can agree that e-books are our friends (Kindle, Nook, and Kobo), but why gather data about what we underline and bookmark? Enough!

We are human, and we are more than our consumption of goods.  We should be respected as humans.