Today I’m in an introspective mood. Reading is pretty much kicking my arse lately. It may be the critic’s disease: consume enough of any kind of media, and it grows difficult to be fair to the average individual example on its own merits. It may be, too, that my capacity to engage intellectually and emotionally with work that demands a more thorough engagement has shrunk: it does that from time to time.
It makes writing this column regularly something of an interesting juggling act. I get to write about the things I love, the things I find exciting, the things I enjoy… and that’s incredibly fun, most of the time. A privilege. (Technically, you really shouldn’t consider anything I write in this column to be a review, you know that? Most of the time, I’m choosing to write about the good parts, and a review should take in all the parts.)
But Sleeps With Monsters reflects my interests—and thus my biases—pretty strongly. Which makes it not as broadly feminist a column as one might wish: I get shit wrong. I fuck up when it comes to things with which I’m not as familiar as I’d like to be. This column is definitely not a roaring success when it comes to being intersectional about its feminism, for example, and that’s a failing it’ll take work and thought to change.
I’m not sure how much work it will take to change that in a truly productive fashion. Taste—the kind of taste that spurs us to love and enthusiasm—is a culturally conditioned thing. I’m a white able-bodied Irish woman with a rather specific sort of acculturation. There’re a whole lot of invisible levers inside my head that condition how I react to art and narrative, and teaching myself to see them for what they are is the project of a lifetime. I don’t necessarily always understand why I like what I like: why some stories (like, for example, Ancillary Justice, or The Goblin Emperor) feel like coming home when others are alien evocations of familiar places, and others make me want to twist my head around like an owl to even begin to appreciate them on their own merits.
I write this not to excuse Sleeps With Monsters’ failings, or my own, but to acknowledge them. Honestly, most of the time I wonder what the hell I’m even doing, writing a column that has “talking about women and their work and their image in SFF” as its raison d’être. Strange Horizons’ SF Count continues to demonstrate that novels by women receive proportionately less attention in terms of reviews at major genre venues than their male peers, but I can’t cover more than a fraction of the quite frankly vast variety of things that exist. There are so many things that it overwhelms me. And I don’t even know about half of them: that’s an even more overwhelming thought.
Art and narrative is important. Representation is important. So is being the change you want to see. Most of the time, I don’t know how to do that: there’s a lot of change it seems the world could do with, and only one of me.
But I do think it’s important to talk about why we love what we love, and how our tastes are formed: to acknowledge we’re all the products not just of our own choices, but of the structures that condition those choices—often without us even realising. Why do we love what we love? Because it touches us, somehow: speaks to something inside us. How does it do that?
If I knew that, reading probably wouldn’t be kicking my arse so hard right now.
Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. Her blog. Her Twitter.