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From Becca's Shelves...
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke & The Bookish.
This week's topic is TOP TEN BOOKS TO READ IF YOU'RE IN THE MOOD TO BINGE READ...because I'm currently OBSESSED with binge-ing any and everything lately! I went a little overboard with suggestions today, but I wanted to give you guys ALL the options! Enjoy!
The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh
So, look, you guys all know that I'm pretty obsessed with some fictional boy toys, right? I mean, when I really love a book, it's because the hottie hero totes stole my heart and soul. I have literally like 50+ book boyfriends.
Why is that? Well, now that I'm officially the big two five (that's 25), I've found myself thrust back into the dating world, much like any typical
1. To go out at night or stay home and read
don't know about you guys, but this is something I constantly worry
about. I get asked to go doing something mundane, but but but this book
that I'm reading is so good. I need to finish it like ASAP.
I NEED TO KNOW WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN!! If I go out, all I'm going to be doing the whole time is
So you think you may be a Book Pusher?
Well, I've got some good news for you (and maybe some bad), because if you didn't know, I am a Book Pusher. I have been called a Book Pusher since my very early days of book blogging. This makes it sound like people were calling me something bad, but I love being a Book Pusher, and personally I think fellow Book Pushers should come together
Recently, (more like the last six months or so, but hey, who's counting?) I've had a hard time reading. Not necessarily that I couldn't read or didn't want to. I DESPERATELY WANT TO. But what happens when you've been oversaturated with so many amazing books that other books start to seem blah?
COLOR ME SHOCKED
I've entered the land that every book nerd dreams of (the part about
You may have remembered a few months ago, I begged for responses to a long thing about gender and stereotypes and then a few weeks later I begged for responses to a shorter one. HUGE THANKS TO ALL OF YOU FOR GIVING ME RECS OF WHAT TO READ AND THINK ABOUT AND/OR DATA TO QUOTE HERE!
This was for a level two project, also known as a higher project qualification or HPQ. We got to choose anything to research and come up with a 2000 word essay on it. It was finished in February 2014, and came back with an A* :)
Anyway, I chose to write about YA and how heavily gender stereotypes feature in it. A googledoc of this essay can be found here; the essay is uncut here, but there you can find the whole bibliography, and results of the shorter surveys.
What do you think? Does YA challenge or reinforce gendered stereotypes, or is it changing? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Does Young Adult Fiction challenge or reinforce gender stereotypes?
Gender stereotypes invade every aspect of life. From the moment a child is born and pronounced a boy or a girl, they will have the trappings of gender thrust upon them. However, by the time they are teenagers, they will have started questioning these, and many other things about the world around them. Literature written for teenagers, also known as Young Adult literature (YA), addresses many issues such as grief, bullying, drugs, suicide and rape. However, in my years reading a wide range of books on the market, I have not found many books that prominently challenge gender stereotypes, unless it is one of the few with a main character on the transgender spectrum. I have also often thought about the more general representation of gender throughout YA-the characteristics, traits and ideas attached to characters of different genders. In my time as a book blogger, I have also grown to know the methods of marketing YA literature, and I am going to analyse these, and if and how gender plays a part in these. Gender stereotypes are rife throughout all forms of media, not just young adult literature. But as teens question and explore life, and are influenced by the media they consume, the books they read challenging or reinforcing gender stereotypes will help form their ideas that will stick with them throughout their lives.
The majority of my research involved reading and rereading many books on the YA market. As the selection is much too large for me to read in its entirety, I selected major books and book series in the YA category, and books with protagonists that challenge gender stereotypes. I have also drawn on books I have read previously and have stood out to me as reinforcing or challenging gender stereotypes. To gain an idea of other peoples’ opinions on gender in YA, and the gender distribution of those involved with it, I conducted an online survey, read blogs and articles by readers and authors, and directly asked authors, both in person and over the internet.
Do major YA books feature characters that conform to gender stereotypes?
Stereotypes placed on women in everyday life include being emotional, passive, flirtatious, and dependant. Examples of passive and dependent women in YA include Bella (Meyer, S., 2005) and Nora (Fitzpatrick, 2009). Girls challenging this view a major feature in YA, as seen with Katniss (Collins, 2008) Celaena (Maas, 2012) and Tris (Roth 2011). However, as these girls are, in-universe, challenging the norm of women being submissive and obedient, it could also be said that these books reinforce the idea of most girls being weak. Even in these worlds, reinforcing the passive, romantic female adds value to their character; in The Hunger Games, Katniss’s worth increases when she has a boy-kissing Peeta earns her gifts to survive in the arena, and when presenting her as victor, she is made to look “like a girl. A young one. Fourteen at the most. Innocent. harmless” (Collins, 2009, p431), compared to the independent, fierce fighter she was in the arena. Katniss’ conformity to traditional feminine stereotypes is further reinforced when her story ends not with the end of the revolution, but her marriage to Peeta and her raising children (Collins 2010). Another common idea attached to female characters in YA literature is the idea that they need to have a romantic relationship with a boy, or possibly two, being in the centre of a love triangle. Not only is this heteronormative, it reinforces the idea that a woman must be dependent on someone, often a man, an idea that feminists have spent years trying to combat.
Boys also fit into one of a few major stereotypes. There are ones such as Four (Roth, 2011), Jace (Clare, 2008), and Gale (Collins, 2009), heroic and adventurous, who are providers, and independent when they are not tied in to romantic relationships. There’s the dark brooding immortal supernatural creature such as Edward (Meyer, S., 2005) and Patch (Fitzpatrick, 2009), who conform the idea that men do not share their emotions very well. There are also emotional and non-aggressive boys such as Peeta (Collins, 2008), who also challenges stereotypes by being skilled at “feminine”, creative activities such as painting and cake decorating, and Simon (Clare, 2007), Charlie (Chbosky 1999), Dash (Cohn and Levithan, 2011), and all of John Green’s protagonists. These have become so common in young adult literature that they are becoming a stereotype in themselves. However, as these boys do not conform to traditional views of men, they can be said to challenge stereotypes.
Some stereotypes grow in popularity due to high sales of a book that features it. Twilight (Meyer, 2005) is responsible for the popularity of vampires, paranormal romance and, unemotional boys with ordinary but special girls, selling one million copies in two and a half years in the UK (Alexander, 2009), and the series selling over 100 million copies worldwide (Sellers, 2010). Strong girls fighting against a dystopian system have exploded in the wake of The Hunger Games, which has sold over 65million copies across the trilogy (Scholastic, n.d.) in the US alone. Books with such a large audience will majorly reinforce any gendered stereotypes, as examined above, contained within them.
How are characters challenging gender stereotypes presented?
For a category of literature with such a wide appeal, the amount of characters challenging the stereotypes in their everyday life is surprisingly small. Within the small, slowly growing, selection of queer fiction, trans* and intersex representation is negligible, with only two books featuring trans or intersex main characters published by mainstream publishers being published in 2013 (Lo, 2013a), and 7 (4% of 167 books featuring queer characters) featuring trans characters in a decade by “the big six” and three other major US publishers (Lo, 2013b). Agender and nonbinary-gender characters are practically non-existent, unless mentioned in passing. The erasure of characters who, with their gender expression, challenge cisgender norms, aids in the reinforcement of the gender binary and attached stereotypes.
Cisgender characters challenging their gender stereotypes have often been girls attempting to pass as boys, for example Deryn from Leviathan (Westerfeld, 2009), Polly from Monstrous Regiment (Pratchett, 2003) and Jacky from Bloody Jack (Meyer, L., 2002) to gain freedom, owing to the repression of women in their respective worlds . Rare are characters challenging gender stereotypes in contemporary settings, although over the past few years, the selection has been slowly growing; for example Jesse from The S Word (Pitcher, 2013) and Eleanor and Park (Rowell, Eleanor and Park, 2012)who challenge gender stereotypes by the way they dress, and Ben, who takes up knitting, a conventionally feminine hobby, and ends up enjoying it, becoming the “only male knitter to have ever attended” the English Knitting Championship (Easton, 2014, p227 ). These help to challenge perceptions, both in-universe characters’ and readers’. What also helps challenge stereotypes is characters being supportive of these characters, for example Megan Hooper (Easton, 2014) and Angie (Pitcher, 2013). However, as the characters challenging stereotypes for them to support are few and far between, their effectiveness at challenging stereotypes is limited
Do covers reinforce gender stereotypes?
The marketing of a book is based mainly around a cover. Books aimed at boys often feature darker colours used in a more aggressive way, explosions, weaponry and technology, reinforcing the stereotype of boys being violent, active and dominant. Covers on books targeted at girls often feature a girl in a long flowing, especially in paranormal romance, even if the dress is not relevant to the plot at all, for example Gena Showalter’s Alice in Zombieland (2012), possibly because the stereotypical girl has through her life, in the words of Stacey Whitman, been “romanticizing…the fairy tale, including all the pretty things to wear.” (Wan, 2013). All these tactics used by publishers’ art departments reinforce gender stereotypes to do with the perceived audience of the book, and have the added effect of unnecessarily gendering genres and stories. The colour pink will also mark a book as girly, regardless of the content. An example of this is What’s Up with Jody Barton (Long, 2012), which features a bright pink cover, off-putting to boys, despite the fact that the main character is a teenage boy. Over time, book covers that are more gender neutral than others have emerged. Examples include the US first editions of The Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, and certain editions of John Green’s novels, particularly Penguin’s 2012 editions. Features of these covers include block colours, symbols, a lack of cover models, whose gender will assumedly influence the gender of readers, and no suggestion of romance.
Gender stereotypes in book covers may also be influenced by the author. In May 2013, prolific author Maureen Johnson (2013a) tweeted “I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says, “Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it. – signed, A Guy”, then challenged her 77000 followers to take any novel, imagine that the author was a different gender to what they are, and redesign the cover accordingly (2013b). This activity was performed on books from all genres, but you can see stark cover design differences by author gender. Books with female authors were given symbols in place of people, and books with male authors were given people in place of symbols. The altered cover designs reinforce the lack of emotion often associated with men, and the gentility often associated with women. Johnson (2010) also suggests that “female stories are consistently undervalued, labelled “commercial,” “light,” “fluffy,” and “breezy,” even if they are about the very same topics that a man might write about”. While books will be marketed on merits such as content and tone as well as the author’s gender, this labelling of women’s work and the Coverflip exercise shows that gender stereotyping is still, to some extent, present in the publishers’ marketing departments.
Are reading and writing gendered activities?
Genres are heavily gendered. Romance is seen as a feminine genre, due to the idea that women are emotional. Contemporary is also seen as a feminine genre, with the exception of John Green novels, as many contemporary books heavily feature romance, even though they also deal with harder issues. Thrillers, action and science fiction are seen as male genres, due to the stereotype of men being intellectual, active, and technical, which can lead to women using initials when publishing in these genres, which reinforces these stereotypes. Dystopia is a gender neutral genre; however many dystopian novels with female authors have a stronger romantic subplot, while dystopian novels written by male, or initialled, authors emphasise the control and destruction of the regime.
Women are often said to dominate the YA market. At first glance in a teen section of a bookstore, you would think so, and in my survey, 75.3% of the writers were female, but when it comes to bestsellers, it’s the men who win. In 47 weeks, two women topped the New York Times YA list for five weeks total (Jensen, 2013a), and at no point, women have had more than 4 books in the top 10. This seems strange considering that 75% of the authors on a selection of “Best of” lists in 2013 were female (Jensen, 2013b). The reason why more male-authored books have higher sales figures despite critics believing female-authored books are better are unknown; but it could be partially due to the idea that women are less likely to produce quality product.
The use of gender concealment reinforces gender stereotypes. Louisa May Alcott, Marian Evans and the Bronte sisters all used pennames to conceal their gender, (Anderson, 2011) in a time when women had strict restrictions on control over their rights, property, and money. The author who is often credited with kick-starting YA as a genre, Joanne Rowling, used initials J.K. to avoid a negative impact on marketing to male readers. Women who take on initials in modern YA include J.R. Johansson, S.J Kincaid, D. J McCune, and S. D. Crockett. They may use initials because they are all writing from male perspectives, and may not be taken as seriously as a woman, or because their books are not heavily romantic, as would be expected from a woman, and these two facts would impact the sales of the book based on the preconceptions about the book based n the gender of the author. Men taking on initials was common in classical literature, for example J.R.R Tolkien, T.H. White and J.M. Barrie, however I can only find two modern male authors using initials- M.T. Andersen, who wrote Feed, a science fiction novel, and T.S. Easton, who wrote Boys Don’t Knit. Easton, who uses pseudonyms, also wrote My Year in Agony and My Summer on the Shelf, two books about a girl who becomes the school’s anonymous Agony Aunt, under Lara Fox, a female pseudonym, (Easton, n.d.), and Haven, a thriller, under his full male name, which reinforces the gendering of genres.
A Canadian survey (Katz & Sokal, 2003) found that 24% grade 2 boys found reading feminine. A recent survey conducted by the National Literacy Trust found that 56.8% girls like reading “quite a lot” or “very much”, compared to 43.9% of boys (Clark 2013), and a survey carried out by the Canadian Council of Learning (2009) found girls outperform boys by 23 points in reading tests. That reading is feminine activity is reflected in the fact that, of the 149 people I sampled, 84.6% of the readers were female, 84.7% of the book bloggers, people publishing book reviews to the internet, were female, and 80% of the workers in publishing were female (see appendix).
There are many possible explanations for this. One is the fact that reading is not seen as a “masculine” activity-it does not require physical exertion, is not technically challenging, and often invokes emotion. Another reason may be that “as the majority of the teen publishing industry is female, boys see reading as a female activity, and are put off by it”, as suggested by Darren Hartwell (personal communication, 31 January 2014). I believe that a major factor is the androcentricism in society, combined with marketing. Jacqueline Wilson, writer of books for children that cover topics that affect many children, such as abuse, divorce, grief and mental illness, said that she had been told in the past that the books had to be pink because “it would sell “twice” as many copies among girls even if it put boys off.” (Bingham, 2013) This attitude is effective at upholding the stereotype of pink for girls, blue for boys. In the same interview, Wilson then “I do think that with books a boy is going to have to feel really quite confident if he is going to be seen in front of his mates with a book that is bright pink because it is immediately code for this being 'girlie'.” Bluemle (2012) says “We steer kids—no, we steer boys—away from stories they might respond to from a very early age.” Wilson and Bluemle are referring to the stigma that society places on boys who do “girly” things, even while accepting girls who do “boyish” things. Due to the majority of books being believed to have “girly” covers, as 88.5% respondents believed most books have covers aimed at girls, covers not only unnecessarily gender a book, they also gender reading as a whole.
Does YA challenge or reinforce gender stereotypes?
The aim of every author is to tell a good story, with an intriguing plot and fully developed characters. Many authors don’t go out of their way to include or avoid stereotypes. However, being ways of quickly conveying information about a character or situation, it is inevitable that stereotypes will appear in any form of fiction. The aim of this report was to examine whether or not gender stereotypes are reinforced by young adult literature as a whole. The extent of this research is limited by the fact that I am unable to analyse every book on the YA market, and that people have different ideas of stereotypes relating to genders; however, I believe my research has given me a good overview of the market. My findings have led me to believe that gendered stereotypes have grown in popularity due to high sales of books featuring these idea, and waves of similar books riding on their success perpetuates them, as seen in the dystopian and paranormal romance genres, which are full of romantically dependent girls and protective boys. Gender stereotypes are also reinforced by the marketing of a book, which is influenced by both the content and the author’s gender, and is expressed in a book’s cover and words used to promote it. As the selection of YA increases week by week, characters that challenge gender stereotypes are slowly gaining visibility, and as attitudes towards queer people change and we see more and more, gay characters, in time, maybe we will have a full range of characters, both trans* and cisgender, challenging stereotypes . However, as the market stands, I believe that YA fiction as a whole does reinforce gender stereotypes.
Lo, M., 2013b. LGBT Young Adult Books 2003-13: A Decade of Slow But Steady Change [online] Available at: http://www.malindalo.com/2013/10/lgbt-young-adult-books-2003-13-a-decade-of-slow-but-steady-change/ [Accessed 21 January 2014].
Long, H., 2012. What’s Up with Jody Barton? London: Macmillan
Maas, S. J., 2012. Throne of Glass. London: Bloomsbury
Meyer, L., 2010. Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy. Boston: HMH For Young Readers
Meyer, S., 2005. Twilight. UK Edition. London: Atom.
Pitcher C., 2013. The S-Word. New York: Gallery Books
Showalter, G., 2012. Alice in Zombieland. New York: Harlequin Teen.
Sokal, L. et al, 2005. Boys will be “Boys”: Variability in Boys’ Experiences of Literacy. [online]. Available at: http://ajer.synergiesprairies.ca/ajer/index.php/ajer/article/viewFile/550/537 [Accessed 15 February 2014].
Wan, M., 2013. An Insider’s Take on Cover Story. Forever Young Adult. [blog] 23 August 2013. Available at: http://foreveryoungadult.com/2013/08/23/an-insiders-take-on-cover-story/ [Accessed 11 February 2014].
Westerfeld, S. 2010. Leviathan. London: Simon and Schuster Children’s Books
It's no secret that I disagree with Michael Gove on the majority of the things he's doing. But his changes being made to the GCSE English Literature course made me very very angry. Angry enough to write a 650 word post on it. With footnotes.
Gove, Gove, Gove. Once again, I must ask: what are you doing? You’ve already played with GCSEs and A Levels to the point no teenager really understands fully what they're doing in the next part of their school years. And now you're changing the literature syllabus to remove important non-British works from the classroom.
Such works include American classics like The Crucible, To Kill A Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men, which is studied by 90% of students, and works from other cultures like Purple Hibiscus and Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence.
These works are important. Not just because they’re works of literature that have stood the test of time. But because as well as being able to be studied and teach us about symbolism and metaphors and all other things you do when you study them for a literature course, they teach us about other cultures and themes.
Of Mice and Men’s themes include: power, privilege, friendship, racism, sexism, ageism, injustice, and prejudice. To Kill A Mockingbird’s themes include: racism, education, bravery, and justice. Both are set in cultures different to our own, but have themes and ideas that are timeless, and relevant to life today.
I understand that the main point of the English literature course is to develop analysis skills. But you can do that with many pieces of literature, regardless of where they originate from-look at my language notes for the start of Of Mice and Men.
You say that "If [exam boards] wish to include Steinbeck – whether it's Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath – no one would be more delighted than me, because I want children to read more widely and range more freely intellectually in every subject."  The new plans state that students should study “at least one play by Shakespeare, at least one 19th century novel, a selection of poetry since 1789, including representative Romantic poetry [and] fiction or drama from the British Isles from 1914 onwards” . I can’t see Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men fitting into any of those categories. No, your four guidelines don’t say you can’t study other things too, but two years to study these four things in depth, alongside multiple other subjects, means that exam boards will probably want to steer clear of piling extra things on students, meaning they will likely be excluded.
Britain is a multicultural country. We have students of all races and backgrounds studying the course, and we don’t need solely British Victorian viewpoints and ideas about poverty and romance, which is what the majority of Dickens and Austen is made up of. Likewise, English is a multicultural language, spoken in most parts of the world either as a first or foreign language. It should not be surprising that quality literature written in English comes from all corners of the Earth. The study of world literature is important to broadening all our horizons.
Of course, British literature is important too. You know my love of Shakespeare, and works by Orwell and Huxley might go on the list to be studied, and some of these books are pretty good. But these aren't the easiest to understand and read and engage with. Difficulty levels really can put people off reading. One reason why 90% of students get taught Of Mice And Men is because it is short enough to be studied in depth, and the language is both accessible to lower level students and good for analysis for higher level ones.
No, you’re not banning teenagers from reading these books. I get that these books will still be available to teens in bookshops and the dwindling number libraries that are still going. But according to the Reading Agency, 46% teenagers don't read for pleasure  . For some, the books they read in school will be the only books they read at all. Shouldn't the few books these people read showcase experiences and ideas other than those of long-long dead people, and be able to teach us something about cultures and issues both historical and contemporary? You are the secretary of state for education, Mr. Gove. Educate.
Do you think any part of the LGBTQIA gets overlooked/subject to erasure?
Suzanne: Hm... Having not read all of the LGBTQIA books available, this is impossible to answer. I'm sure there are aspects that are not as well examined as others. Perhaps it's more about a lack of balance, where most stories tend to focus on the discovery of sexuality and the coming out process, especially in teen fiction.
James: I think trans characters are very overlooked. I wonder, at this stage, if writers feel any book with trans characters would have to be ABOUT being trans. I think authors worry both about getting it right and angry internet people.
Ria: Absolutely. Asexuals and agendered people get overlooked all the time. That's been slowly changing, and work is being done to legitimize those identities, but if a positive gay role model is rare in teen fiction, then a positive asexual or agendered role model is rarer still. I can think of only 1 single asexual character in teen fiction (at least none where their asexuality isn't explained away as being due to religion or trauma), and I can't think of any agendered characters.
Alfie: Yep. Our actual thought processes, not being accepted by everyone. It generally tends to be shoved to the side in favour of ""WOO LESBIAN SECKS And while I have no problem with sex in fiction, don't use an LGBTQIA character for the pure sexual aspect of it."
Zoë: My personal feeling is that transgender and genderfluid/genderqueer kids are getting a bum deal right now. For some reason gender binaries seem to have become a bit of a frontier in the portrayal of non-hetero characters. People who seem perfectly fine with a mainstream portrayal of gay and lesbian characters will get squirmy over the idea that gender in our culture is a largely artificial construct (there is no pink gene on the X-chromosome, dammit!). But I also think that bi/pansexual kids and asexual kids aren't seeing the representation they need, either. Like I said above, we still have a long way to go.
Rie: Intersex and Asexual, both seem to be completely ignored.
Sean: That depends on the whims of the editor.
Caitlin: I'd say LGBT gets a lot more coverage than the QIA side, maybe because people feel more comfortable writing about it? Maybe I just haven't been reading the right books? This is why I am very much looking forward to your event, Nina!
Megan: I think gay/lesbian/bisexual gets covered quite a lot. Definitely more than before. The others... Not as much really. That I know of, anyway.
Charlie : I cannot name a book that features an asexual character, except maybe Struck By Lightning by Chris Colfer (Carson Philips has an intellectual crush on Rachel Maddow, but is otherwise more interested in pursuing his career.)
Illjolras: Anything but gay, white, cismen or lesbian, white, cis women. Writers act like there's no such thing as bisexual, nonbinary, asexuals, pansexuals,trans*, more than one way to be lesbian etc.
Have you ever had issues with the way LGBTQIA characters (in general or in a particular book) have been presented?
Suzanne: Not really because I'm quite picky when it comes to what I read. I have been mildly annoyed by certain gay characters being presented as super emotional to the point of melodrama as this is borderline stereotyping. I'm also saddened by books where the futuristic world is shown as open and accepting, even encouraging, of same-sex couples and yet, the main character remains hetero and only ever engages in a hetero relationship despite almost every other character around her being bi or homosexual.
Me: I don’t like the fact that LGB peoples’ sexualities are, unless they’re the main character, often their defining feature.
Ria: Mostly in that books involving LGBTQIA characters often completely centre around the character's sexuality, giving the impression that that's all there really is to someone. I won't deny that seeking validation and acceptance is a big part of coming to grips with your own identity, especially when you've got bigots bellowing at you that you're wrong for being who you are. But that isn't the only thing that matters. And currently, most fiction doesn't express that well. A single issue has been focused on to the exclusion of so much else, and it does some people a disservice.
Alfie: I can't think of any specific books presently, but it's generally the points I outlined previously.
Rie: The Immortals series by Alyson Noel has one of the most stereotypical gay characters I have ever read.
Ashley: I do think there has been a lot of stereotyping, but from shows I've watched with gay characters, I think they've mostly always been presented well.
Caitlin: Not that I can think of off the top of my head no. Which, I guess, is a good thing?
Megan: "I feel sometimes guy-friends are made gay to support a plotline: like, their sexuality is just a convenient way of getting rid of a love triangle, rather than the boy feeling actually like they are real.
Also there can be stereotypes, as mentioned earlier, and I hate this."
Charlie: Yes, I think sometimes writers have one viewpoint they are trying to put forward and they forget to look at the bigger picture. If characters are casual insulting other marginalised people in the LGBTQIA spectrum who might be reading the books, then that is counterproductive (unless their prejudices are part of the narrative intent.)
Illjolras:Yes, plenty of times. The gay best friend trope is so over used and so easily ruined.
Harriet: no, not at all.
So...a wide range of answers for the second question, a smaller one for the first. What are your opinions on these topics?
Hello! For today's Q&A for Rainbow Reads, it's the invasion of the writers!. Ok, you’ll have seen some of these answers already from them being posted in their own interview, but I put everyone’s answers in the collection of answers and I don’t have the patience to go throug
h them. Anyway, I think it’s good you’ve got everyone’s answers in one place.
Suzanne: I try to be as authentic as possible in my characterization. I'm quite an odd person and have had the privilege and delight of interacting and befriending many colourful characters throughout my life that do not conform to stereotypes. Drawing from these experiences and being conscious of how stereotypes are used in fiction, has helped me to avoid them. I like to buck expectations so every time I've got characters that need to behave a certain way, I try to put less likely individuals into those roles.
Daniel: Being gay, bi, straight, or anything in between, shouldn’t define the character, it should just be another part to them. Every character should be their own individual, regardless of their sexuality and whether or not they fit any of the stereotypes. For that reason, sexuality is the last thing I decide when creating my characters.
Zoë: Stereotypes are basically a result of a lack of knowledge. They're a product of only having One Story about what gay or transgender or genderfluid means; the fact that really no one in our culture gets a fair and nuanced representation in media apart from straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied males. So the first step in avoiding stereotypes and one dimensional or offensive portrayals is to learn. Read books, watch films, seek out TV programmes that portray all kinds of different QUILTBAG people doing all kinds of different things, like falling in love, conquering strange planets, solving crimes, making funny YouTube videos. Seek out and join groups that seek to promote allyship among different groups. Talk to people in real life and online. *See* people. See people as people first and whatever other labels are attached to them later, not even second, but way down the list after their taste in books and whether they're, you know, annoying or maybe a Linkin' Park fan...
Illjolras: I just write them as people, not a serious of boxes that need ticking to make up a queer character.
Charlie: Research, ask people, think.
Sean: I think avoiding stereotypes is something authors try to do but it's very hard unless you've walked a mile in someone's shoes.
Ashley: While writing my two main characters in "A Melody in Harmony," I completely stayed away from stereotyping and it was easy. I didn't think of the characters as "two gay men," I thought of them as two young men in a relationship and just like any other couple.
Ria: It's hard. I kind of believe that some stereotypes exist for a reason. Not in that every gay male is flaming, for example, but let's be honest -- some are. So if I write a character who's like that, it comes across as me believing that every gay male acts that way, when that's a skewed perception. So it's very difficult. It's almost gotten to the point where the opposite of many stereotypes have become stereotypes in themselves (e.g., the gay jock as a contrast to the effeminate man). The only thing I can do is write the characters as they come to me, try to be fair and balanced in my presentation, and hope for the best.
Do you feel you accurately represent LGBTQIA people in your writing?
Ria: I feel that I'm doing it as accurately as I can, based on my own personal experience. But then again, I'm sure people who are badly representing LBTQIA characters feel the exact same way - writers don't set out to write badly."
Ashley: I hope I do. It's all about love. Writing the love my two main characters share, I think I did it justice.
Sean: Not yet I don't as I haven't written one. Actually scratch that, I am .. but it's not supernatural
Illjolras: I feel like yes, but that's because I am queer.
Suzanne: I accurately represent the characters I'm creating and try to be as authentic as possible in those representations. I don't try to represent any subgroup, be that race, religion or sexual identity. Some of my characters might accurately represent LGBTQIA people, others might not simply because they're oddities themselves and that's okay because diversity in real life is something to celebrate.
Zoë: I feel that I do. I hope that I do. I'm not sure how 'accurate' is really defined though. It's not like... I don't know, say, 'accuracy' in your depiction of playing the violin. If you show someone doing it with a hammer rather than a bow, you've got it wrong. I don't think there's a right or a wrong answer if you're presenting readers with what are hopefully complex, fully-realised characters. I'm mostly concerned with making readers love the characters I want them to love, hate the characters that I want them to hate, and with making all my characters seem like evolving people. I do try to be aware of stereotypical or negative portrayals of marginalised groups in the media so that I can avoid adding to them,
Have you ever gotten homophobic, transphobic or otherwise negative reactions regarding your inclusion of LGBTQIA characters? How did you deal with it?
James: I honestly haven't had any negative feedback about Kitty and Delilah. Ryan, in Cruel Summer, is the main character so it'll be interesting to see what reaction he gets. Personally I've had homophobic messages on my Facebook fan page - I suppose given how open I am about my sexuality it was only a matter of time. Rest assured, I won't be deterred.
Laura: So far, there's been no homophobic outcry in response to Pantomime, and I think that's surprised some people. Though I might have gone and jinxed myself now by saying that. In fact, the only controversy has been some people wishing the blurb was more open about the intersex nature of the protagonist. I think that's great.
Suzanne: No, thankfully. What I have noticed, which serious irked me, is that some reviewers put 'warnings' on their reviews for LGBT content. They didn't warn people that my book contained bad language, violence, underage drinking, or depictions of self-harm and suicide. No, the big bad thing about my book was the LGBT content which included an alluded to blowjob and some kissing. This offended me. I wanted to edit every single review I'd ever written and put 'WARNING: Main character is straight. Avoid if that's not your thing* - See how ridiculous that looks? So why 'warn' people of LGBT content? I really thought we'd be past this by now.
Illjolras: Someone said I was trying too hard to be diverse when a story I wrote had very few straight characters. I said 'so?'
Ashley: "A Melody in Harmony" is brand new, so I haven't yet, but a lot of the bigotry and homophobic remarks that appear in my novel are actually things that I have witnessed in real life. I decided to take the hate and ignorance and bigotry that I've seen and put it into my story, which I think makes it all the more realistic.
Ria: Most of what I write hasn't seen public eye. But what little has has generally been well-received. I'm lucky in that regard. I have, however, received negative reactions based on my own identity when it comes to sexuality and gender expression. I don't delude myself into thinking that people will avoid negative comments on what I write when they won't avoid it on what I am.
Zoë: Apart from a couple of reviews on blogs or Goodreads (which did make me fuming mad, but obviously weren't directed at *me*), no. I thought that I would, and braced myself for it, but it hasn't happened yet. I think that, in a way, being a midlist author with a quite small but devoted group of readers is an advantage in that way.
Yet another set of fantastic answers from a wide range of authors. As always, please comment with your thoughts and remember our multiple giveaways.
Hello people! Continuing with the discussion on presentation, I asked people
Do you think LGBTQIA characters are presented as well as they are when they are main characters, when they are secondary characters?
Here are their responses.
Suzanne: Main characters tend to be more three dimensional and more fleshed out just because they're main characters and the author takes more time getting into their head and presenting their various traits to the reader. From what I've read, LGBTQIA main characters are treated better and are less inclined towards stereotype than secondary characters that often conform to a certain archetype or simply fulfill a role required for the trope.
Ria: When they happen, I think they can happen well. But they're not as likely to happen. It's far more common to see a straight protagist with a gay best friend and sidekick, for example, than it is to see a gay protagonist.
LH: There's a difficulty in using sexuality as a defining character for a secondary character, because due to their 'secondary' status, that's all the time they have to make an impact. I do think though that with the shift in children's / YA literature over these past few year, you've got more and more authors writing with an increased awareness of what they're doing and what they're creating and that can only be a good thing.
Alfie: Too much emphasis is put on the sexual aspect of the characters.
Rie: No, usually when they are main characters they are portrayed in a realistic fashion. When they are secondary characters they are a joke, a plot device, or a stereotypical version of themselves.
Sean: Again, that depends on how familiar the author is with his/her subject matter.
M: I don't think I've read a teen novel where they are main characters (though I know these books exist).
Caitlin: I'd like to think so. Most of the recent books I've read have featured them more as secondary characters. I just like my characters to be well-rounded regardless of whether they are main or secondary, and being LGBTQIA features as part of that.
Megan: I think so. Normally, anyway. Except for when the secondary character is a guy and the lead character is a girl and the boy is gay. Then it seems like it's just making the best friend gay to avoid a love triangle, something I think is wrong...
Charlie M: No, unfortunately some times they are more stereotypical. However in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, Bane is particularly well represented and appears initially as a secondary character. Authors should take care to make their secondary characters well rounded individuals, or have editors pick up on stereotyping.
Illjolras: No, their usually very exploitative, act like conforming to some stereotypes is bad, and almost tries to downplay the character's queerness.
Harriet: "Every character is presented in a different way, it doesn't matter if they are first or second characters. In any novel, the protagonists of the story normally get the lime light, because you're following their story. If it was a book about the second character, they'll automatically become the protagonist of the story. If the protagonist of the story is LGBTQIA then more detail will be put into their character. If the protagonist is not a LGBTQIA, then their character will have an equal amount of detail, as well. However if the LGBTQIA person is the second character, naturally there will less effort put into making and developing that character, unless you're going to continue the story as a series and have a book from the LGBTQIA point of view - thus you'll have a LGBTQIA protagonist and it goes back to what I was saying before."
A great range of answers from everyone. Please add your comments below, and remember that each comment is an extra entry in the giveaway. Also, because this is a short post, you'll get another short post later.
So. Yes. Question and answer time, because fabulous people answered so well that their answers won’t fit in with my posts. These posts are only edited for spelling and profanity, otherwise, these are exactly what people think. Please share your comments, and remember you could win some awesome books!
Today’s question: How prevalent are stereotypes in LGBTQIA fiction?
Suzanne: In general? I think many gay characters have, in the past, been token sidekicks, like the gay best friend who makes a great shopping partner and helps the female lead pick shoes for a date. I think fiction has also had the tendency to present LGBTQIA characters as confused and intrinsically unhappy in life. I've also seen lesbians portrayed as man haters, as women hurt or abused and therefore turned off men, instead of these women simply loving other women. Time and again, I've seen gay, lesbian and bi characters presented as promiscuous, more promiscuous than straight people, which is just ridiculous.
Harriet:"In my opinion, the term 'stereotype' belongs as a cheat code to describe what something or a type of group is like. For example, if I were to say 'Goth', we'd all get an image of a person dressed all in black, with black make-up on and sat in a dark corner (and so forth.) Stereotypes belong because the human race (generalising) ignore the fact that they can describe each person as being different and not in a sub group. We also only use stereotypes because it is easier to identify the character and portray them. You can look on at the term as a cheat code or a derogatory word, either choice we all know that everyone knows that not everyone is like their stereotype. I believe, because I have this opinion, that others have this opinion too. Now, I haven't read every LGBTQIA fiction under the sun but I do believe that not everyone is going to portray a character the same. Therefore, stereotypes are prevalent."
Illjolras:"Very. Usually the side characters are gay, and if that's so, they're very camp and flamboyant. If it's a main POV character, they are always closeted until they fall for just that /one/ person."
Charlie M: I think some stereotypes are prevalent, but am hesitant to say that those stereotypes shouldn't be represented (theatrical gay guys exist after all). But there should be MORE fiction that contains a variety of personality types and interests. Sexuality shouldn't define those interests or restrict them.
Megan: "I think we're definitely going away from the stereotypes now - not all gay men are overly feminine and not all lesbians are 'butch' or whatever. Something I think is stupid: it's not like all people who are LGBTQIA are the same person - they don't all have the same, stereotyped personalities and likes! Everyone avoids stereotypes when writing heterosexual people so why don't they do the same when they're writing gay people?! Sorry for the rant. It annoys me when people judge. Anyway, my point is that we're getting away from stereotypes. Now LGBTQIA are 'normal' - unique and their own person, rather than a bunch of stupid stereotypes."
Caitlin: I honestly couldn't say, I guess, when you have people writing about them who don't really know...there might be some stereotypes? But then, there are always stereotypes in fiction? Most of the things I've read I wouldn't class as being stereotypical.
M: Not sure because I don't go out of my way to read this. I avoid 'romance' as a genre and this might be where they pop up in storylines? But, I have noticed that LGetc. characters pop up more in current teen fiction than when I was younger, albeit as secondary (or even tertiary) characters.
Sean: I suspect the stereotypes are quite real because some authors aren't intimately involved in the reality of life for LGBTQIA teens.
Rie: Very. Every time I read a secondary character that is gay they are always as flamboyant as can be. It's become an immediate groan when they introduce gay characters.
Alfie: Very prevalent in shi-- sorry, worse books, but after all, they are the bad books. Unfortunately, most LGBTQIA fiction is badly written, because it's often very badly-written smut. Or at least, what I've been exposed to has been badly-written smut.
Ria: Hard to say. Less prevalent than years ago, as greater exposure and media coverage doesn't allow for blatant negative stereotyping as much anymore. That being said, we're not completely free of stereotypes, partly because the stereotypes are so numerous in themselves, and partly because some writers aren't quite sure how to not write a stereotype.
You can see (mostly) my thoughts on the matter here, but they’re essentially that the camp stereotype is overplayed, but we’re getting better and more varied representation now. What are your thoughts on the matter?
Hello and welcome to the first of our discussion posts. I thought a lot
about how to present this, but in the end, I settled on raising a question/topic, giving my thoughts, and quoting other people as we go along, when they fit. Then, there’ll be a Q&A post, with everybody’s response to the questions I set, with no comment from me. I hope this format gets across everybody's views, and interests you.
So, the first one is about how LGB people are currently presented in YA lit.
Stereotypes are everywhere, and this is true for every demographic of everything. They’re set in people’s minds, and it’s really hard to avoid them. TV Tropes has a lot of lists of tropes, or conventions, revolving around the LGBTQ community in general and bisexualityand gender bending. A quick look over, I’d guess that about a third of these are very common stereotypes, in general or in YA literature.
I asked about bad presentations of LGBT people in literature. I’m really glad that most people couldn’t think of specific examples, because it means that there can’t be that many in prominent literature. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some, because there almost certainly will be, but still.
There are some certain stereotypes that come through particularly. Suzanne says “I have been mildly annoyed by certain gay characters being presented as super emotional to the point of melodrama as this is borderline stereotyping.” Charlie says “Usually the side characters are gay, and if that's so, they're very camp and flamboyant. If it's a main POV character, they are always closeted until they fall for just that one person. The gay best friend trope is so over used and so easily ruined.” I’ve seen a couple of times in teen fiction the “all gays are promiscuous” , but the one I see most is the “camp best friend” one.
The thing that often gets me when reading LGB fic is that sexuality is the one of the first things presented about a character. In very explicit terms. For example, Boy Meets Boy, there’s chapter 2 which says “Paul is definitely gay”, and then in other books that I don’t have to hand there’s things to that effect. And I don’t mind that so much, but the fact that it’s presented as a defining thing. Sexuality does not define a person. I’m sure for any character introduced this way, you can find a much more interesting thing about them than the gender of who they fall in love with.
That presenting first of sexuality, I find, comes across mainly when the person in question is a secondary character (by secondary, I mean not the main one, nor the POV). I get that secondary characters don’t need quite the detail of a main one, but my thoughts are put nicely by Rie as “usually when they are main characters they are portrayed in a realistic fashion. When they are secondary characters they are a joke, a plot device, or a stereotypical version of themselves.”
Overall, whether a character is main or secondary, sexuality is often one of the facets of them that is most focused on. I understand the reasoning for this when a book is generally about this, ie a coming out story, but for when it isn’t the plot, I don’t see why. Luckily, we’re moving away from this slightly, and I hope representation will continue to improve in the future.
Just in case you haven’t had a chance to start reading Joseph Conrad’sThe Secret Agentwe thought we would give you a little teaser. Below is the first page. Be sure to check back on May 24th for our discussion as part of our Oxford World’s Classics Book Club.
Mr. Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law. (more…)
To get you all excited about June’s Book Club pick, Tess of The D’Urbervilles, I decided to excerpt the first page. An important revelation is made that affects Tess throughout the whole book. So stop procrastinating and go read!
On an evening in the latter part of May a middle-aged man was walking homeward from Shaston to the village of Marlott, in the adjoining Vale of Blakemore or Blackmoor. The pair of legs that carried him were rickety, and there was a bias in his gait which inclined him somewhat to the left of a straight line.
I’m emotional. I sob in movies. Even bad movies like Boiler Room. Remember that one? It came out in like 1999 or 2000 and starred Giovanni Ribisi. There was a scene in which Ribisi’s character has an emotional break down in front of his father while reminiscing about a childhood biking accident. I sobbed like a baby and I didn’t even like the movie! So you can just imagine my reaction to the end of Tess of The D’Urbervilles. (more…)
The trailer for book 2 is done. Be warned however, if you're currently still working your way through book 1, there are some minor spoilers here.
Otherwise, enjoy (Double Click to see in full size on youtube)
On another note, I'll be appearing on a segment of The Annie and Burl show this coming Saturday night! The show starts at 10:00 EST, and I should be popping up around 10:15. I'll be discussing the book and whatever else the cool table wants to toss my way. If you're bored, listen in!
We all know how important the summer months can be for students. With little stimulation or opportunity, they can lose more than 3 months' progress during the time they are away from school. Today's post will share resources and information on how you can use these last few weeks to impact summer learning.
I'll begin with a wonderful list of articles, websites, and research from the the State Library of Alaska. You will find familiar names like Dr. Richard Allington and Steve Kreshan and a few new ones there.
Here are a few more tools for supporting and encouraging students to read during the summer:
Connect with your local library and other organizations that may be promoting reading with school aged children in your community (booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Nobles are on board). Find out what they are doing and publicize those activities and resources with students and families. My own local library, Huntsville/Madison County Public Library (AL), is offering an End of the Year Summer Reading Party!
Make reading a social event. Give your students a few extra minutes every day to talk about what they are reading. Use colorful, florescent index cards or post its and create a cool "What's HOT?" bulletin board.
Blog or text with your students about what you and they are reading (and viewing) this summer. You'll need parent permission, but even a core group can make a difference. I know that you want to be "away" for a while just like the students do but a small investment can yield big dividends. Set a few guidelines such as how often to post and encourage the online conversation to weave between story lines and characters and what your students are doing during their summer vacation. You might even see some text to self and text to world connections and squeeze in a bit of authentic writing practice!
Get Families Involved
Families may not understand what can be lost during the summer without reading and writing. Be sure you share with them a few bits of information and some encouraging resources. Check out Summer Reading to help moms and dads, grandparents, and caregivers tap into the joy, expl
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Tonight, the Walls and Bridges Festival will end with a discussion event at FIAF entitled “The Original Copy: Borrowed Voices and Stolen Stories.” Chris Lehmann of Bookforum will moderate a panel of four authors which include Yannick Haenel, Laurent Nunez, Victoria Patterson, and Siva Vaidhyanathan.
Here’s more about the event: “It’ll tackle the topic of the tension inherent in borrowing (a plot, a style, or the entire library of written works) for one’s own use. It features French authors never before accessible to American audiences who are experimenting in their fiction, plus Americans Victoria Patterson and Siva Vaidhyanathan.”
Admission normally costs $15, but the organizers have a special offer for GalleyCat readers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with GALLEYCAT in the subject and get in for free.
A ThrillerFest panel last week tackled this question: “Can a thriller be both exciting and smart?” Participants included authors Linwood Barclay, Joseph Finder, Kathleen George, Andrew Gross, Andrew Pyper and Matt Richtel. David Liss moderated the panel.
During the discussion, the participants picked Dennis LeHane‘s Shutter Island, Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness, and William Landay‘s upcoming Defending Jacob as their favorite smart thrillers.
Below, we’ve included five tips for writing smart thrillers from the discussion.
Book Blogger Confessions is a newish meme hosted by Tiger’s All Consuming Media or For What It’s Worth. On the 1st and 3rd Monday of every month they discuss a topic that effects book bloggers and then give other bloggers a chance to vent, share their opinion, or offer a solution.
If you want to participate just grab their button and include it in your post with a link to either Tiger’s All Consuming Media or For What It’s Worth. They will be providing a linky at the end of their posts so people can "hop" to see all the participants answers.
Today’s topic is: Deadlines for reviewing and blogging. Do you set them? How do you keep them? What do you do if you can’t meet a deadline?
This is something I struggle with all the time! Deadlines! They stress me out! I find it amusing that even though I hate being under pressure and having to meet deadlines, it is such a huge part of my book hobby. That just doesn’t seem right, now, does it?
Here’s how I deal with those deadlines, which can dangle over my head like the Sword of Damocles. I have a daily planner just for blogging. I have tried to keep one online with Google Calendar, but I just can’t seem to make a virtual calendar work for me. I mark down the dates of firm deadlines, and then I keep a sheet, updated weekly on Saturday, of looming deadlines. Interview post dates don’t stress me out like review commitments. I love reading author responses to my interview questions, and have a lot of fun with these posts, so they are easier to deal with.
Now reading and reviewing can cause a lot of apprehension. I try not to make many firm commitments for book reviews. When I am feeling pressured, I don’t enjoy reading as much. I don’t enjoy blogging as much. I can’t find my blogging mojo, and during those times, there are fewer reviews on the site. Maybe Real Life is intruding, and I just don’t have the time or the attention span to write that review. That’s never a good thing, so I keep my schedule for book reviews more flexible and fluid.
My biggest piece of advice to new bloggers: don’t over commit. Blogging will quickly become a chore, and you won’t have fun doing it. If you don’t have fun doing it, you will quickly stop blogging altogether. Work out a schedule that works for you. I work long hours to pay the bills, so reviewing and blogging activities happen mainly on the weekend. I squeeze in as much reading as I can after work during the week, but some nights I am so tired that I actually fall asleep with a book propped up in my hands. This tends to scare to crap out of me when I drop the book I was reading when I doze off. Oops!
Set realistic goals for yourself, too. I tend to be to a bit overly optimistic with how many books I can read in a month, but by posting a projected reading list at the start of each month, I feel that I at least have a plan to work with, and I work better with a plan. I don’t beat myself up when I can’t get everything read, but at least I have a goal to work toward. So setting goals for yourself that are realistic, and not over committing will keep your blog a more enjoyable activity. If you lose the mojo, take a break. Step away from your blog. Take a deep breath. This is supposed to be fun!
How do you manage your deadlines? Leave links and share.
I am hard at work on Act 1 of a new story that I am jokingly calling SHARKS.
I have roughly plotted out the story for Acts 1-3, and am now getting serious about Act 1, using two strategies:
Lists Help Me Plot
Creating lists is a helpful way for me to explore possible scenes and remind myself what needs to be included. My first list is a rough idea of the scenes that need to be included in the first act.
I need a scene that:
captures interest, while introducing the setting and main characters, A and B
sets up a minor conflict, a sort of running gag
A meets C and the result is joining a club
set up another subplot, one with parents
Club goes on outing which reveals a global danger to A
A and B try to warn someone about the danger, but are rebuffed
A and B are determined to save the world, even if the world doesn’t want to be saved
Does this list seem unfocused and boring to you? It does to me. But it’s a start. These ARE the scenes that I need, but I need to inject conflict and put more at stake in each one. And listing is a help here, too.
Scene 1: Introduce A and B and the outcome is that they don’t like each other.
A good opening strategy is to introduce two characters with a minor conflict that creates a distance between them. I know these guys must work together closely, which means they can’t get along smoothly, there must be conflict. OK. What sort of conflict? For me, that can depend greatly on setting. So, I create a list of possible settings; the general setting is Seattle and Puget Sound, but I need to know a specific setting for a scene, which is grounded in a particular place with particular actions.
On a ferry
Bike rental shop
Discussions with Myself Help Me Plot
Which brings me to the second strategy, and that is a discussion with myself about these options. Some of this is internal, but some of it is actually typing the conversation with myself. How do I know what I think until I write it?
Here’s an example of what I might write to myself:
I’m thinking the coffee shop is a good idea. A comes in and B is working there.
Immediate questions: How old is A? Is this a MG or a YA? If a MG, can he be wondering around on his own and ordering 5 cups of coffee? Teen, yes. 12 yo? Not so sure. This story isn’t YA, though, so it needs to be definitely MG. So the coffee shop must be very close to his grandparent’s house. And he’ll need a steady income, an allowance or something, or he can’t buy that much coffee.
If I use the coffee shop for the opening scene, it is 3 blocks from A’s grandparent’s house; he gets a generous allowance from his parents (Dad is Dr., mom is ambassador, so they can afford this). His first week in the Seattle area, it is plausible for him to become so enamored with coffee that he orders five cups in one morning; that also set up conflict with grandparents for later because he will be wide awake all night. The time change from his move, combined with caffeine could heat things up. I like this possible cause-effect relationship between scenes.
On the other hand, do I want school scenes or not? If so, I need to introduce it early: which is more important to the overall story, a coffee shop or a school yard. Can I reuse the coffee obsession later and have the coffee shop come back? Maybe the “club” meeting can take place in
Yesterday, I saw a link to an article (source: Dear Author) that really got me thinking. Brenna Clarke Gray, a teacher, wrote an article for Huffington Post calling for readers to stop apologizing for reading what they like. I love what she has to say on the matter:
You should not apologize for what you like to read. The person you are apologizing to can only fit into one of three categories:
1. He or she shares your joy. 2. He or she doesn’t give a good goddamn. 3. He or she thinks less of you for what you read in which case don’t apologize to that person because he or she is clearly a douchebag who doesn’t deserve your obeisance.
Number 1 requires no apology. Number 2 requires no apology. Number 3 neither requires nor deserves! an apology.
So what, then, do you do when someone you respect or even admire, mocks your choice of reading material? The first time I really felt bad about what I read was in my 9th grade lit class. We had a list of required reading for the semester, and in addition, we were to read additional books of our choice. See that last bit? Of our choice. At that time, I devoured Harlequins, fantasy, and sci-fi. That’s it. That’s pretty much all I read. Back then, I read even more voraciously than I do now. I didn’t have a 60+ hour a week job, no puppies, no ponies, no responsibilities. I lived for my mid-week trip to the local bookstores with my mom, where I would snap up the latest releases from my favorite authors. I was looking forward to that class, because I loved to read, and I figured it would be an easy A.
Imagine my surprise when the teacher showed distain for my book selections. She wrote condescending little notes at the top of my papers that I shouldn’t waste my time reading such tripe. I was embarrassed. Then I was pissed. I read more books than 99% of the population, and this lady was going to make fun of what I read? I am a person who tries to avoid confrontations, and back when I was younger, I was so shy that I rarely spoke in class. So after stewing about those nasty notes, I decided to alter my choice of reading material. Good-bye, tame Harlequins, I would not be reading you for this class. Hello, John Norman, you naughty creator of GOR. You , I will read. And Sharon Green? Hello, Terrilian series and Jalav, Amazon Warrior series. Yes, I will read you, too, because I know that the teacher will hate you all. (She did, but I still got an A)
I was fortunate that my mom encouraged my reading, and she didn’t really care what I read. This made it even more puzzling that a stranger would feel the need to show disapproval of what I read. I thought that the goal of the class was to encourage reading. My bad.
Today, I don’t care what people think of my choice of books. If they think that I am wasting my time reading about zombies or unicorns or fluffy pink bunnies, whatever. Those are not the people I choose to spend my time or energy on. I continually strive to make new connections with people who enjoy reading, without passing judgment, and those are the people I will try to form friendships with.
Has anybody ever made fun of what you read? What did you do about it?
I had an odd moment yesterday when reading a couple of posts on a national listserv. Someone had originally asked for ideas on improving a library service. The poster finished the inquiry with the phrase "All ideas are welcome". However, when someone replied with an idea, the original poster stated that she very much disagreed with the idea. It was a jarring realization for me - perhaps all ideas were not welcome.
It struck me that this is the kind of reply that shuts down ideas, that says thanks for the input- but not really. If I had an idea to contribute, would my opinion be welcomed....or disrespected? I definitely felt a strong urge to keep my ideas to myself on this issue. Who needs to be put in their place after four months or forty years in the business?
This is by no means the first time I have seen this behavior. You name the issue in librarianship and you know a few people are going to wade in, say their piece (on any and all sides of an issue), lob a few bombs and shut down discussion. Others shy away from saying anything lest they be branded a less-than-true believer or flaming the fan of disagreement even further. The bomber has accomplished something that, in most cases, I hope they didn't mean to do - they have effectively shut down discourse.
The townhall of listservs, groups, online discussions and comments seems to be more and more a place where one gets to state their opinion and then re-state and re-state it and re-state it. Each time a particular topic comes up that someone disagrees with vehemently, he or she feels duty-bound to wade in and state for the record just how wrong-headed the idea, approach or opinion is. Reasoned discourse devolves into "This is my opinion and if you don't like it, bite it." or "I have the research, so shaddup." or "Lots of people feel/think/believe the same way I do, which proves me correct."
We all have strongly held opinions - both personal and professional. We would be less than human if we didn't. And what a boring world if we all believed exactly the same thing! It strikes me that innovation would simply stop if we didn't have the constant give-and-take of divergent opinions to push us to new solutions and heights.
How we express our opinions dictates whether we will brook no disagreement or are willing to evolve, change and learn from the discourse engendered by our expressions and inquiries. When I work with students, respect and reasoned discourse is the guide by which we agree to disagree. Once we hit the work world, spats and tantrums must be left behind. Learning to elevate opinion and conversation into a respectful space takes patience, wisdom and smarts.
While I certainly own to being less than perfect in expressing my opinions and honoring those of other people, perhaps there are a few ways we might all navigate better when asking for input and honoring what we receive. Let's think of it as bringing some civility to our professional-level discourse - welcoming, listening to and absorbing divergent viewpoints without disrespecting opinions or ideas that are diametrically opposed to our own.
Strangely or not so much so, I am guided by the best set of book discussion guidelines ever. The CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center in Madison WI) developed these to help people speak and listen actively and intelligently. Book discussion committees that use these guidelines have an amazing experience when discussing books.
So let's look at these and see if there are ways we can use some of these suggestions to do a better job of respecting each other while expressing our firmly held beliefs. Try substituting the word "issue" for "book" in the Guidelines and see what we get:
Make positive comments first. Try to express what you liked about the book (issue) and why. (e.g. "The illustrations are a perfect match for the story because....")
After everyone has had the opportunity to say what they appreciated about the book, you may talk about difficulties you had with a particular aspect of the book (issue). Try to express difficulties as questions, rather than declarative judgments on the book (issue) as a whole. (e.g. "Would Max's dinner really have still been warm?" rather than "That would never happen.")
Avoid recapping the story or booktalking the book (issue). There is not time for a summary.
Refrain from relating personal anecdotes. The discussion must focus on the book (issue) at hand.
Try to compare the book (issue) with others on the discussion list, rather than other books by the same author or other books in your experience.
All perspectives and vocabularies are correct. There is no "right" answer or single correct response.
Listen openly to what is said, rather than who says it.
Respond to the comments of others, rather than merely waiting for an opportunity to share your comments.
Talk with each other, rather than to the discussion facilitator.
Comment to the group as a whole, rather than to someone seated near you.
Sometimes, it's also ok to accept an idea or opinion without responding to state a disagreement. Our opinion isn't changed but no response also honors the fact that the other person has a right to theirs. Learning to express our views with an eye towards engendering discussion often involves phrases like, "While I appreciate what you are saying, I wonder whether..." or "I hear what you're saying, but my hesitation lies in....". It opens up communication and creates a safe space to express and share.
I wonder if we might commit to be more open, less combative and elevate our discussions with each other? Can we honor the ideas others share while tactfully expressing our own and even learning to moderate our opinions based on what we hear? Can we put down our arms and learn to disagree in a collegial way? As Eli Mina, the ALA Council parliamentarian, suggests in Council when tempers begin to flare and back-and-forthing detours councilors from the larger issues of working towards solutions: Let us return to the balcony in this discussion rather than staying on the floor. I wonder if we can do this more?