books and reading · pop culture

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things that got me thinking this week.  There’s been all kinds of things to think about over the past few days.  Without further ado:

Ambiguously Brown (Medium)

This excellent piece tackles the concept of what TV Tropes calls “ambiguously brown,” which is a person who is probably-definitely not Eastern European white but also not clear what ethnicity a person is.  It’s a trope used in TV and movies all the time to “diversify” a cast in an ambiguous way.

Every “ambiguously brown” person understands how this works in reality: people tend asking point-blank “what you are,” or smugly assume they already know, pinning your brown body down and through, like a butterfly in a natural history archive. Growing up in primarily white suburbs, I had become used to expecting this question, though I won’t say I’m really okay with it.

It’s an interesting, challenging read, and it tackles a lot of different things at once.  Well worth a read.

Pseudonymous Activity  (Dear Author)  AND The Choices of Kathleen Hale (Smart Bitches)

I’ve read a lot (and I mean A LOT) of pieces in response to the Kathleen Hale article published last week in the Guardian (which I am not linking to), and these are two of the best.  They provide an excellent roundup of what has happened and why it’s important, and they do it in a very polished, accessible way.  This is still ongoing in terms of discussion, and though I don’t think there will be much in the way of consequences for Hale (though she definitely lost a good chunk of readership), there’s more to think about as a reviewer and blogger (and, you know, as a human being who believes stalking, in any form, is WRONG).

On Wanting a Book to Fail (Bibliodaze)

This thoughtful piece tackles specifically the issues of James Frey’s book-packaging company Full Fathom Five and the unrelated issue of a major publisher going forward with a fan fiction story written by Anna Todd about the band One Direction.  In the latter case, Todd’s story was published on a fan fiction website and accessed millions of times before being acquired by a major publishing house, repackaged, and being sold as original fiction.  We can blame 50 Shades for that one.  At any rate, Cecilidhann writes:

Wishing failure on something is a loaded call to make. Numerous people have gloried in bragging about wanting political opponents to fail, even if the risks greatly outbalance the short-term schadenfreude. The success or failure of a book isn’t a one person responsibility. Thousands of people work in every facet of publishing, preparing a book from the auction to the bookshelf, and with the industry in as tenuous a state as it is, it’s understandable why everyone’s looking for a safe bet. Big names like Frey and authors with an established reader-base like Todd are seen as those easy bets. On one level, I get why many have overlooked the wider context, but I just can’t do it.

She’s passionate about what she’s saying, but I think she does a great job of being exceedingly fair-minded.  It’s a thought-provoking piece that tackles professional jealousy, the politics of book publishing, and the ethics that go along with the world of writing.

Read Whatever the Hell You Want: Why We Need a New Way of Talking About Young Adult Literature (New Statesman)

I mean, obviously this is relevant to me, because of where my passions lie.  But it’s also an extremely well-written piece worthy of anyone’s time, especially if they’ve read any of the incendiary “think pieces” about adults and YA and literature over the past year:

Backlash has been building for years…And now, it’s the so-called “realism boom”: if a book isn’t about wizards or vampires, if its readers can’t be written off as giggling schoolgirls, if the author is male, or writing about male protagonists, it might be  encroaching on the territory of “serious literature”. Realistic YA is often deemed not quite serious enough – and some act like its existence is some sort of threat to the “adult” titles it might be shelved beside. It appears easier to dismiss a teenage heroine in a dystopian hellscape than it is to dismiss kids with cancer – but these books are getting dismissed all the same.

One the whole, the article does a lovely job of summarizing the various schools of thought that have taken shape over the past few years surrounding what constitutes “good literature” and what people “should” be reading.  As a librarian, as a reader of books and lover of reading, it’s fascinating and infuriating to see people weigh in on this topic, especially when their snobbery and privilege is so powerfully overwhelming and when it’s clear they don’t even have the most basic understanding of whatever it is they’re choosing to disdain.  But it’s also worrying, because: who cares?  This policing of other people’s reading habits isn’t just obnoxious: it feels grossly dangerous.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

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2 thoughts on “What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

  1. Some of the best books I’ve read lately have been “YA” like “The Book Thief.” Aside from the protagonist being a teenaged girl, the writing and the subject matter works for adults too. I don’t understand why books like that have to be categorized as YA. Gotta check out that article.

    1. Thanks for the comment! It gets weirder when you realize that some books that feature a teenaged protagonist (which is generally a marking of a YA book) are actually published as adult fiction. Sometimes it’s just how the publisher markets the book, which makes it completely arbitrary. Therefore it’s crazy to judge the merits or quality of a book based on the age range it’s marketed at.

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