The book world had highs and lows in 2014. While it’s wonderful to celebrate the great moments of the past year, it is also important to learn from our mistakes. The world of literature and book blogging has had some serious stumbles. Here is a list of things we think that could be done better in the coming year.
Call out coded sexism in discussions about YA, Romance, and Erotica.
“Mommy porn, smut, and adult readers of YA” have all been sneered at women by judgmental outsiders, and a few insiders struggling with internalized prejudice. If you’re a woman in any part of the literary community you’ve been judge whether on your qualifications, authority, or simply on the books you choose to read. It needs to end.
It is 2015, women have been on and at the top of the best sellers list in numerous genres for decades. We shouldn’t have to prove ourselves, especially not in genres where we are the majority both as authors and readers. We certainly shouldn’t have to put up with backward, sexist media that wants to shove us back into the kitchen or sitting rooms, or shame us over our sexuality. Women of all ages like sex, like to read and write about it. There is nothing wrong with this, no matter the genre. We need to call out conversations that are coded ways to undermine women’s authority and autonomy to write and read whatever we want.
“Should there be sex in YA?”
Translation: “Should women be allowed to expose young girls to their sexual fantasies?”
Teens are exposed to sex every day. Have you not seen MTV, or an Axe body spray ad? Why not give teens a variety of narratives to understand and contextualized sex, offer them both fantasy fulfillment and realistic explorations of sex. Give them a safe, fiction space to address and explore sex without actually having it. Or are you more comfortable with kids only seeings sex in music videos and beer ads?
“Why is YA dominated by women?”
Translation: “Why are their only ‘girlie’ books? What are boys supposed to read?”
Why is this an issue that needs to be questioned in the first place? The question is framed in a way that implies there’s something wrong with women dominating anything. Not to mention it is misleading. There are a lot of men both reading and writing in YA. Just as there are many women writing in other genres ‘dominated by men.’ Strange how that isn’t a headline that’s used for clickbait, likely because it’s a popular perception that since men have historically dominated literature that is how it should be. The real discussion should be why we don’t question the default assumption that white cis men are always at the top, both as authors and in key roles in the industry.
Women have thrived in YA for the same reason they dominate Romance and Erotica, because they weren’t taken seriously as a literary genres. For many, YA is “kids books.” Now that the genre has become a money making power house the literary community is forced to take notice, and are facing how uncomfortable they are with seeing women at the top. This is why there is a lot of manufactured concern about whether women are fit to helm a ship they’ve been competently steering for decades. The question shouldn’t be why women dominate YA, it should be why we’re not welcome in other genres.
Why aren’t the women in the publishing given more visibility and recognition? Why aren’t women the face of other genres? Why aren’t women the public face of self publishing, considering women written romance and erotic are the money makers in that market?
Why isn’t there more of a spotlight on black women writers and books featuring black women as lead characters, especially considering they are the largest demographic of readers in American right now. [source]
The first step to flipping the script on the sexist undercurrent in literary media is to call it out when we see it. Change the conversation. This is a challenge for us all to change how we talk about women in literature.
Stop Telling People How to Read! Support and Empower Them Instead.
There’s been a few conflicts in different corners of the book blogging/Booktube world around critical reviewing and what it means to be a “good” reader. In many cases, the approach to these topics has been judgmental and unwelcoming, which resulted in important discussions being derailed. It’s time to get it back on track, and here is how we do it better.
There is no such thing as a good or bad reader.
Classist qualifiers have no business in a discussion about a highly personal experience like reading a book. Aside from them being impossible to subjectively measure they put up walls that keep a lot of potential readers away from books and genres they might love. We’ve all been new readers. We’ve all felt intimidated by a new genre or even a classic novel. These ridiculous ideas about what qualifies someone to be a reader play a big part in those unnecessary fears, and it’s time to dismantle them.
While critical reading is important and deeply empowering it is not the only way to read. Reading for pleasure isn’t just valid, one could argue that it is the primary way most fiction is intended to be consumed. I do not think the most authors of fiction expect their readers to write twenty page dissertations on the cultural impact of their treatment of race politics or whatever subtle themes they work into their stories. Sure, they may hope the deeper idea in their work come across, but fiction is a form of entertainment. While it can serve the duel function of being educational it is not it’s primary purpose, nor should it be.
The idea that critical reading is somehow more valuable or should be more respected than pleasure reading is bullshit. It comes from a place of elitism and insecurity. Books can be both entertaining and enlightening, but they don’t have to be both. Readers don’t have to be anything but themselves.
We should not appoint ourselves or allow others to be literary gate keepers. No one has a right to tell someone else what they can or can’t read, much less how they should read. No one has a right to tell you whether or not you’re a reader.
You read, you’re a reader. It really is as simple as that. Never let anyone tell you differently.
Critical Thinking and Productive Discussions.
Just because pleasurable reading is valid and fun, doesn’t mean we can’t also encourage and empower readers to be critical. It is possible to be both aware and still enjoy books. Part of making that experience fun comes from having a community of friends and fellow readers supporting us along the way.
We should be encouraging readers to be daring, to read outside of their comfort zones and to try new genres. We should be supporting each other with open discussions and read alongs. Make reading a social activity where stories are shared and celebrated. This helps make exploring new books and genres less intimidating, as well as fun. It also empowers us all to be bold and adventurous with our choices.
Booktuber Ron Lit does a great job of explaining what Critical Thinking is and why it’s important not just as a reader, but how it can also making us more aware people in general. She also approaches critique from a fun, no-nonsense perspective. All her videos are informative and entertaining without being heavy handed. Her video, Critical Thinking, Y’all, is a wonderful example of how we can kick off open a discussions, rather than lecture and intimidate fellow readers.
Critical discussion should be about the free exchange of information and ideas. Those discussions don’t happen in the one way communication of a blog post or book review, they happen in the comment sections of those blogs, book reviews, and youtube videos. They happen on social media, in emails, and book groups. When we talk as equals we can learn from and better understand each other, as well as the books we read.
One of the benefits of open discussions is how they can exposes us to other perspectives and experiences. This important link with reading diversely. Reading diverse books is extremely important, but it’s only a step in the process of becoming more around about the world around us. Meeting diverse readers, and opening ourselves up to seeing the world and books from a different point of view is even more important. That’s where diverse book bloggers come into play.
The world of book blogging and Booktube is just as diverse as books. Women of color, LGBTQA+ people, someone from every point on the spectrum of human experiences is out there on the internet. They are posting book reviews, uploading videos, starting discussions, and sharing their own unique perspectives on books.
Here are some other great examples of diverse discussions happening on blogs and Youtube.
- Amanda Nelson of Book Riot shared her persecutive on Diverse Books, explaining why reading diversely is so important, and a conscious choice. “On Reading Diversity: Personal Observations.”
- Booktuber Ariel Bissett regularly challenges the definitions of literature, with videos like “Is Fanfiction Literature?” and “Are Video Games Literature?”
- Fangs for the Fantasy challenges popular assumptions about diversity in their post titled “Mixed Raced Characters in Urban Fantasy don’t Necessarily Constitute Inclusion.”
- Latonya Pennington wrote an enlightening article on Black Girl Nerds title “Repainting My Imagination With Black Fantasy Authors.”
- Guinevere Zoyana Thomas’s Gay YA post titled “Women in Love” discusses the many forms of love between women in media and literature.
- Corinne Duyvis writes about “The Mystical Disability Trope” in literature on Disability in Kidlit.
As the last days of 2014 tick down it is our hope that we can generate productive discussions, promote diversity in reading and blogging, and dismantle the ignorance and prejudice that keeps us from accomplishing these goals. We all love books. Let’s share that love and encourage all readers to be fearless and adventurous in the new year.