Okay, I am almost never confrontational on this blog, but I’m going to be today. Because I have read this dozens of times in the past year and I’m sick of seeing it.
Context. There have been a lot of posts (especially since May) about how White privilege and unconscious bias can lead to white reviewers to rate books by authors of color lower. These posts often focus on ways we write our reviews that are unfair to authors of color (and readers of color) that are almost always fair. True, reading about an unfamiliar world experience can be uncomfortable, which some reviews frame negatively and should not.
However, one point that I’ve seen time and time again is that the authors of these posts might say “Stop saying you didn’t relate to a book. The book wasn’t written for you, you weren’t supposed to relate to it.” And I just cannot express how angry this idea makes me.
Yes, it is fair to say that a book by an author-of-color was maybe not written “for” me. It is a fair statement that I might not “see myself” in the book as much as a reader of the same ethnicity/background of the author might. But that does not mean the author doesn’t intend for me to relate the novel or characters.
The entire point of literature and reading is to connect with people and experiences who are different from you. A good author can make a character who is completely different from you relatable. A big part of the reason to read books from diverse authors are so you can experience empathy for people who are different from you. OF COURSE you’re “supposed” to relate to these books!
This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What is a contemporary book you think might become a classic? Or should become a classic? This is a difficult question for me because I don’t read a lot of literary fiction which is, in my experience, what is most likely to be taken seriously. Even within genre fiction I’m not super likely to read the critically acclaimed literature as much as I am to read the fun literature.
But perhaps I have a bit firmer of a grasp on what is going to be remembered in children’s literature and YA. While kids lit has a firm set of books that are by and large considerd “classics”, YA is so new that other than The Outsiders it doesn’t. But since there is so much content written for teens now, I think it’s inevitable that these lists start coming out.
When thinking about what would be included in a list of YA classics, it’s impossible to believe that the list would not include something by John Green. He has been consistently producing work that has received critical acclaim for long enough to be, well, influential. The only question would be, which book? Looking for Alaska is the most widely used in schools, while The Fault in Our Stars is easily the most popular of his books. In my opinion Paper Towns has the most to say about what it means to be human. I think ultimately Looking for Alaska’s consistent use by teachers and frequent bannings (which keep it on the librarians’ radar) will land this book in the YA cannon as that begins to develop.
So as I’m writing this I’m reading Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, which I was really excited to read and is objectively AMAZING. I mean, the writing is so readable but so intense. Would definitely compare to Gabrielle Zevin in that’s is “chick-lit” or “women’s fiction” that can easily be taken seriously as “literary”.
I’m not enjoying it. In fact, it’s stressing me out. Not because it isn’t amazing, but because I’m currently SOOOO stressed at work. We are attempting in-person school in the middle of a pandemic, and we’re not letting kids browse the books so I have to pull a hold (or two) for EVERY KID IN THE SCHOOL. Plus we’re going to try start giving books to distance kids, so that’s a lot to plan! Plus I’m finishing grad school this semester. I just have a lot going on, and I’m having stress dreams literally every night. So reading Queenie, who has anxiety and panic attacks, is really activating my own stressed, anxious feelings.
I think if I had read this book this summer, which was very laid back, I would have been much more appreciative of what Carty-Williams has very successfully achieved with this book. I really can’t downplay how GOOD this book is. If I wasn’t so stressed right now, would I feel differently?
This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: How did you interpret the ending of Lois Lowry’s The Giver? I think it’s only fair to say before I start that I read this book as a novel study with my fifth grade (?) class, and we discussed this at length with the teacher, so my answer might be her answer…
I should also state that I have not read ANY of the sequels, and I have no idea what happens in them or what they are about or who the characters are, and it’s definitely possible that reading those books would change my interpretation.
In case you’ve forgotten, at the end of The Giver the protagonist, Jonas, kidnaps his adopted brother, Gabe, in order to prevent him from being “released”. They travel for days and days, and eventually the weather gets cold. They go on into the snow until Jonas finds a sled at the top of the hill, and they sled into a Christmas village where someone is waiting for them.
At the beginning of the month or at the beginning of a new season I tend to see a lot of “Anticipated New Releases” posts. A lot of the time I’m not particularly anticipating the same books as everyone else (probably because I anticipate so few new books and don’t really keep up with book news). So at the beginning of this month looking at all these posts got me thinking, What DOES make me anticipate a new book?
If it’s written by an author I love?
Mmmmm, maybe. I won’t lie, that whenever I hear Naomi Novik has something new coming out I get pretty excited, but I don’t really do the auto-buy-author thing. If I love the author I’m more likely to be excited about a book, but I still have to be interested in the concept or story.
I’ll be honest, this post has been sitting in my drafts for a long time because I’m not exactly sure what to write. So much has been said about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl by people who know so much more about books and film then me, what more could I possibly have to add to the conversation? But ultimately I write my blog for myself, as writing and talking about ideas often helps me to process and understand them, so here we are.
For those of you who don’t know, the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” was coined by film critic (?) Nathan Rabin in response to Kurstin Dunst’s character in the movie Elizabethtown. He said the MPDG “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” She is adventurous, seductive, fun, probably hyperactive, and she has no story or purpose of her own, she exists solely to drive the hero’s character development.
In the years since Rabin’s article (geez, it’s been over a decade) the MPDG has started to be considered as a trope, often a negative one. Critics find her annoying, or sexist, or unrealistic. Well, of course she is sexist and unrealistic! That was Rubin’s point in writing the article, to draw attention to the superficial ways women are treated in film!
But I would like to take a moment to challenge the book community’s near unanimous rejection of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
I have noticed since I started book blogging that many (dare I say most?) book bloggers read and enjoy young adult novels. Just because a book is written for teens doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy it, we say! These books tend to have quick pacing and cool concepts that nab our attention, and the writing is rarely too dense and literary. Just because they’re YA doesn’t mean they don’t have great themes and metaphor and the ability to say something about what it means to be human. And so we uplift these books as equally worthy of anyone’s time as “adult” books.
Yet, fewer bloggers do this for middle grade books.
Why? Many of the same arguments can be made for them. Just because a book is written for kids doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy them! They tend to have quick pacing and cool concepts that grab your attention, and the writing is never too dense and literary. Just because they’re MG doesn’t mean they don’t have great themes and metaphor and the ability to say something about what it means to be human. So why do so few book bloggers read them?
One thing I’ve heard lately is “I would if I knew about those books, but nobody talks about them.” So it sounds like people rely on other bloggers to tell them about books, and since bloggers aren’t talking about MG books nobody reads them. I don’t really believe that, if I’m being honest with you all. I think the truth, if you took the time to self-reflect and examine, is that bloggers are less interested in middle grade books.
I’ve had a lot of hobbies over the years. And I mean a LOT. Counted cross stitch, scrapbooking, Pottermore, fan fiction, running, pokemon, sports (as a fan, not a player), podcasts, movies, knitting. But book blogging has not only been the hobby I’ve stuck with the longest, it’s become the most influential to who I am as a person.
Book blogging changed what I read.
I’ve always been a reader, that’s not something new. Even at my lowest reading points (probably just after college when we first got Netflix, lol) I’ve been consistently reading something since I was five. But prior to becoming a book blogger I mostly read books that were suggested to me, that I found on lists of classics, or that I found on a recommended paperbacks shelf. I didn’t think much about what I decided to read or about how that affected my view of the world.
Becoming a book blogger opened up a whole new world of books to me. I started finding more books that I absolutely fell in love with, especially science fiction and fantasy. I read more YA books than I probably would have otherwise. I read a lot more new releases and fewer books that have been around long enough to become classics or even modern classics. Surprisingly I read less of the best-seller list, which is weird.
Most importantly, I read books by authors from a wider range of background. The default in publishing is cisgender, straight, and white. But thanks to you all I’ve left my bubble and am so much more likely to read books by someone who is different from me. But more on that later!
Back in May, in an effort to make room on my tbr so I could start being more intentional about actually adding books again, I went through my list and deleted EVERY book that I had lost interest in reading, couldn’t remember anything about, or only added because I had FOMO. I don’t know about anyone else, but when my list gets too long I get overwhelmed to the point of not being able to choose a book. Hence all my super type-A lists, spreadsheets, and genre rotations etc. lol
In two short months it had easily filled back up to 90 stinking books, which I know to some of you is a drop of water in the ocean, but to me is a heck of a lot, hence another type-A list (which you can read here if you’re curious). Since creating that list, I don’t know, three weeks ago?, I’ve been devouring books at rates I previously couldn’t have even imagined. I’ve been regularly reading two books a week, sometimes more. But my tbr hasn’t gotten any smaller?
For every book I read there’s always another to add. I knock one off and add seven on. Sometimes it feels EXHAUSTING.
I don’t know if this is a thing that other people do or not, but I find myself doing it ALL THE TIME. Whether on my blog, or my Instagram, even on Twitter back when I was part of that mess, I often find myself scrolling through my old posts.
Instagram is the easiest example because I end up doing it the most frequently. What happens is I go to my profile to make sure I like the way my feed looks, or what kind of picture I haven’t done in a while, or to check and see if I did x-book last year or not. Then I’ll think, “man, I like the way my Instagram looks” and start scrolling. The next thing I know it’s been thirty minutes and I’m looking at pictures I took three years ago.
I do this on my blog sometimes too. I’ll go and re-read an old review or post to try and remember what I said, and soon I find myself scrolling through my feed reading (and laughing at) half of my posts. I must say, I find myself terribly funny.