A lot of people have been complaining about the lack of women on the Publishers Weekly top ten list. For commentary, check out the NY Times, The Rumpus, and The Arts Blog.

I have a problem not with this particular attempt to encourage diversification (and it is pretty strange that not a single woman appeared on the top ten), but with the overall attempt to make sure every list is diversified (Remember the complaints about The Millions Best of the Millennium?).

When people use the notion of diversity to bludgeon a
selection of literature, what they are really encouraging is not diversity per
se, but their unique cocktail of diversity. For instance, they complain
there aren’t enough women. Or enough international authors. Or enough writers
of color. (Or, as this blog might even argue, not enough short story

In other words, they’re encouraging prejudice/special favor
toward a specific group of people under the guise of “diversity.” But this
diversity can never be achieved. As soon as you add more women, or more authors
in translation, this skews some other—still significant—portion of the list’s

What about diversity of age? What about diversity of
religion? What about diversity of fame? What about diversity of education?
Diversity of class? Diversity of Genre (no poetry?) Diversity of single/married/polygamous? These diversities
are no less important, yet they are often ignored by people invoking diversity as a
moral good.

Remember, diversity is not the only value in town. Remember
unity? Also a good thing, whether you’re talking about employees or Best of
Literature lists.  I actually want
“Best Of” lists to have a flavor—not that diversity doesn’t have a flavor, but
that lists lacking a perfectly balanced demographic often portray a certain
perspective or a unique point of view that is enjoyable. 

The problem would be if every list actively ignored a group
of people. Then that would be an absolute lack of diversity. But in the age of
the internet, where we’ll see hundreds—no, thousands—of Best Books of 2009
lists, I’m confident that across this spectrum we’ll have plenty of diversity. For instance, check out the wiki that lists the best female-authored books of 2009. If one list of one publication lacks perceived diversity in one
category, stop complaining. Just find another list.

The truth is that we wouldn’t want absolute diversity. If
every list tried to choose evenly across a diverse spectrum, we’d get
politically correct lists, but not accurate portrayals of the passionate
opinions of editors/authors/readers. I’ll choose a passionate list every time
over a sanitized, carefully diversified list.