01 February 2011

In Other Book News

I haven't posted this week on account of being pretty horribly ill and not having a lot of coherent thought to share. But as kind of an addendum to Wordwrestler's post about the NY Times Book Review, I thought I'd toss this out there, for our international readers and anyone who hasn't caught this yet.

So, the Bitch Magazine debacle.  Sequence went something like this. Bitch makes list of 100 Awesome Feminist YA Books. Cool! I read it, and I think it has the same issues most "best x number of books in given genre" lists have; it leaves off some of my favorites, includes a few that are like, the hell?, and a few that were like, you've got the author right but for heaven's sake don't start with that one. And there are a million I haven't read, so I should maybe get on that, but probably won't any time soon. Whatever, I have those kind of issues with every book list I read -- doesn't everybody? We don't agree, that's why it's fun to make lists. So anyway. People start commenting. And two or three of the books get called out for being triggering to rape survivors.

Now, you're Bitch. What do you do? As a reader, you know that everyone's opinions about books are different, you can't possibly please everyone, and taking books off a YA list for being "too disturbing" smacks of condescension and nasty censorship. As a feminist, you want to honor rape survivors and not say that triggering people is awesome. As an editor, that's a hundred book list, and I'm betting each individual editor has not read all 100, and there may be some in there that are based on reader suggestions, which no one has read. Dilemma.

What Bitch does is remove three books from the list. And the shit, she flies. Scott Westerfeld and Maureen Johnson, two well-known YA writers on the list send in respectful, grammatical, fuck you letters. Westerfeld asks that his book be removed, as he doesn't wish to be associated with the list anymore. (Personally I wasn't terribly enamored with his book, but that's neither here nor there.) Bitch gets called out by writers. And readers. I looked on some of my favorite feminist websites and couldn't find much supporting either side; mostly they're busy protesting HR3 (which I wrote to my Congresswoman about, and if you're a US citizen, you should too, because it's basically codified misogyny, thank you SO much, GOP). But anyway.

So there's another wrinkle up for debate. Who do you listen to in a case like this?

Open for discussion: a shenpa moment

So I'm minding my business, reading the New York Times, and there's a review of Allison Pearson's new novel. This led first to a moment of feeling really old, because I thought, "Pearson. I know that name. She had a big-deal bestseller a year or two ago..." only to find out from the review that, um, yeah, that was in 2002. So after a brief shocked head-shaking about how quickly time does go by, followed by a restorative glass of sherry, I kept on reading. And I soon found, as we feminists are wont to do, something to get angry about.

Clunky as this plot machinery might be, Ms. Pearson does a winning job of making Petra and Bill...as funny and incisive as characters created by, say, Nick Hornby or Stephen Fry, though with considerably more tenderness and felt emotion.

Now it seems to me that this is a fairly classic and insidious example of condescension--"Good little chick-lit novelist! Why, your characters are just as good as the big boys' are, plus your lady-ness gives you bonus! emotional! insight!" ::headpat::

Ahem. The question is what to do with this perception besides wrapping my next fish purchase in the NYT. I went with, "Write a blog post, mentioning that this thing happened and pushed your buttons a bit." Which is where all y'all come in. I'm interested in your thoughts, on other ways to read the sentence quoted above, or just on your own reactions to it. The full review is here.