Since November last year, I set myself a challenge: not to read any books written by men for at least a year. As of today, I still haven’t.
What’s perhaps been most notable in this challenge is how little I’ve actually changed my reading habits. I have no doubt that mediocre white men will scoff into their lustrous beards at my preferences, but I like my books to include at least some of the following: mythical creatures, sex, spaceships, lesbians, swearing, poetry by imagined cultures, lesbian sex.
Much, but not all, of what I read this year was completely new to me, even if it wasn’t necessarily new. However, I did also revisit a few old favourites: I reread the Harry Potter books for example, and concluded that Hermione probably wiped her parents’ memories and packed them off to Australia a hell of a lot earlier in the series than the point where she admitted to it; I binged on the Adrian Mole series and wondered on which side Pandora would fall in the rise of Corbyn; I treated myself to my favourite Sarah Waters novel, Fingersmith, which has something for everyone, if what you like is crime capers and lesbians. What I’m including in my round-up list of my top books that I read this year is only books that were new to me, the discoveries I made along the way.
Did I miss reading books by men? Honestly, no. All of the male authors I particularly love are dead, so it’s not like I’m going to be missing out on anything new. Pretty much the only words from a novel written by a man I ended up reading this year was Morrissey’s Bad Sex In Fiction Award-winning sex scene, featuring barrel-rolling tits and bulbous salutations, and frankly literally everything I read this year was better than that.
If you’re considering trying your own personal experiment with not reading men for 2016, I would definitely recommend it. Fucking do it. You’ll be surprised at how little you miss it, and delighted by how many excellent reads you pick up along the way. You could start with some of these…
Imperial Radch series (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy) (Ann Leckie)- Without a doubt, this trilogy of space opera novels are my books of the year. What Leckie has done here is build a fascinating, compelling world which I could spend forever reading about but definitely wouldn’t want to live in, and a host of characters who are complex and layered, but I definitely wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with. Through the lens of a sprawling space empire (and the eyes of a former sentient spaceship), Leckie examines colonialism and class.
Tiny Pieces of Skull (Roz Kaveney)- This is Kaveney’s semi-autobiography, a romp through the trans subculture in the late Seventies. I wrote a fuller review of it here.
The Companion Contract (Solace Ames)- If you’re judging a book by its cover, this is ebook erotica. However, it’s so much more than that: it’s a book about immigration and identity, a discussion of sex work and other work under capitalism, a story of trying to find community. And on top of all that, it’s also ebook erotica, with oodles of hot sex scenes. In a way, it’s like Lace–a feminist porn novel–except with more modern feminist politics (i.e. without Lace‘s heterocentrism, racism and transphobia).
The Dispossessed (Ursula LeGuin)- This is about anarcho communists that live on the moon, and if that hasn’t captured your imagination already, we probably have very different taste in fiction and you’ll probably not enjoy any of my recommendations. This was my first time reading what is essentially a classic that I should have read a long time ago. If you’re interested in theoretical physics and/or what an anarchist society would look like under conditions of scarcity, this is a very good read.
Trans (Juliet Jacques)- The only non-fiction text on this list, and for a very, very good reason. You’ve no doubt seen this book listed on every “book of the year” list, and it deserves to be there. I wrote a fuller review of it here.
Scale-Bright (Benjanun Sriduangkaew)- I’ve no doubt that including this book on my list will prove controversial, since Sriduangkaew is a controversial figure, but forget about the author. This is an excellent novel, blending Chinese mythology with queer urban fantasy: it’s sexy, it’s hypnotic, it’s haunting, it’s evocative, and it’s urban fantasy which doesn’t focus on western myths and pantheons.
Kushiel’s Legacy series (Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, Kushiel’s Avatar) (Jacqueline Carey)- If you’re looking for porny medieval fantasy, this is pretty much exactly what you want: follow Phèdre, a woman chosen by a god to experience pain as pleasure, as she uses her unusual gifts for political intrigue and divine purposes.
The Gospel of Loki (Joanne Harris)- A fun slant on Norse mythology, from the point of view of the trickster god Loki. This novel manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, and doesn’t fall into the trap of turning a bad guy into a woobie: you’ll enjoy the misfortunes of its narrator.
Romanitas series (Romanitas, Rome Burning, Savage City) (Sophia McDougall)- McDougall’s alternate history in which the Roman Empire never fell is a disturbing and often distressing read, with images that stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page. It’s the dystopic speculative fiction where the fascists won that should have been turned into a television show.
Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys)/Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)- Reading these two as a double bill is an experience, especially if you do it in that order. While most people likely know the plot of Bronte’s classic, Wide Sargasso Sea focuses on a character who is treated only a nuisance: the mad wife in the attic. The novel looks at her struggle to fit in as a Creole woman, and her madness becomes a natural reaction. I never liked Rochester anyway, and Wide Sargasso Sea validates this.
Happy 2016 reading, everybody!