Another note from Austin: living your life is not “too much”

I have another story from Austin I can’t believe I forgot to write about it last week. I really should be at the grocery store right now because I forgot to get basil for the pizza I’m making (I cook Tuesday mornings because I work Tuesday nights) but I hate the grocery shopping.

Anyway, at the #genrequeer presentation where panelists spoke about the need for LGTBQ readers to be able to see themselves in genre fiction other than the sad, “coming out” or bullying stories. The panel was amazing and pretty inspiring. I want all the teens I work with to feel like the books and stories they read represent them. The important of books being “windows AND mirrors” got thrown around quite a bit at the conference and I think that’s true. Books can help you learn about people different than you, but should also reflect yourself back to you.

At the end of the panel the presenters answered questions and then there was time for one final question. A woman in the back raised her hand and said, “So I just finished Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds and my teens and I just thought it was a lot. It’s the story of a writer and you read the fantasy book she’s writing along with the story, so that was hard to follow and I’ve never seen that before.” Really? You’ve never read a book within a book? Sigh. Then she continues, “Then he makes the main character an lesbian who happens to be South Asian, and it all just seems too much.”

Bill Bailey is really embarrassed for you right now, lady.

Bill Bailey is really embarrassed for you right now, lady.

There was silence in the hall for a split second before one of the panelists, I can’t remember who, said, “What about that is too much?”

Someone in the audience said, “I think it’s too much that I have all these straight white dudes in all my books.”

By now the lady asking the question is trying to backpedal and I can tell everyone else in the room is thinking, Was she even here for this whole panel? 

After a few comments from Robin Talley and Kristin Clarke about examining why the reader would think an Asian, lesbian writer is “too much” and other identities are not, Malinda lo leans forward. She pauses before she says, “Well. I just want to say in closing, I am Asian. I am a lesbian and I write fantasy. I exist; it is clearly not ‘too much.'”

Asian lesbian writers exist. Deal with it.

Asian lesbian writers exist. Deal with it.

It was the best mic drop moment of the conference for me.

Differences and the complexity of humanity is not too much; it is the whole point. We need to have empathy for our fellow members of the human race. Empathy is something that should be remembered in the week (and every week) when National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson has to hear as much about Daniel Handler’s racist comment as her brilliant book. I’m in the middle of it, so lovely. We should also remember empathy when we consume media about Ferguson, MO, too. Remember that a son is dead and many more sons and daughters are killed everyday. That the country is not a post-racial one, and we haven’t moved beyond homophobia in so many places. We need to have compassion for all.

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I have returned from the land of chicken fried steak

I’m back from Austin and the YA Literature Symposium and had a great time! I wish that I had more time to explore the city and I know I missed out on some food truck awesomeness.

It was so nice to hang out with fellow YA lit enthusiasts and learn about new titles. I also really appreciated the impetus and opportunity to think critically about YA literature and it’s impact. It’s something I do on my own a lot, but don’t always have the chance to do with other people. There were so many great discussions throughout the weekend; I won’t be able to recount them all. I wrote a bit about the last panel, “Keeping it REALLY Weird,” for the Hub. Here’s some other things that I tweeted about:

birds-primary-headerstorify

Some highlights/notable experiences:

-I rode in the elevator with Andrew Smith (and thankfully a few other people!) and just giggled nervously most of the time. He’s one of my favorites and I felt like such a fool. I promised myself to be cool about it later on in the weekend and tell him calmly how much his books have affected me. But I lied; I was still weird at the book signing. Classic me.

-I got a list of new comics to read from @cat2mck like Copperhead, Ex Machina, and another one I forget… Yay comics!

-I had lunch with R. L. Stine – who is a delightful, curmudgeonly man – because Valerie aka Greatest Mentor of All Time  snagged me a seat! Whoooo!

-In the “Where are the heroes of color in SciFi?” session someone asked the panelists a question along the lines of “Why don’t these stories get published/why doesn’t the publishing industry realize that minorities are important and becoming the majority?” Before the panelists had time to answer someone else in the crowd muttered, “Republicans,” and it just made me so mad! Not because I am some kind of Republican apologist – I’m a liberal, feminist, LGBTQ-rights-supporting Democrat who thinks socialism has some pretty good ideas – but because that’s not the problem. You think some of those liberal, feminist, LGBTQ-rights-supporting Democrats, some of us librarians, can’t be racist or bigoted? Yeah, we can and we’ve all seen it. It’s not just Republicans, it’s Democrats, and the in betweens, and feminists, and those douchey MRAs and a lot of people. Lots of people who you agree with and don’t agree with can also still be racist and bigoted. I wanted to go over to here and shout, “Have you not heard of institutional and systemic racism? It’s a thing. Google it!” I refrained but I’m still simmering over it.

-Saturday night the Hub bloggers in attendance went out to eat together and had a great time! It was so nice to put faces to names I see all the time reading the Hub! I wish we could get together more because we were a pretty hilarious bunch of ladies. (Gretchen, I will learn a state song for you….) I felt like I should try the chicken fried steak because Threadgills seemed known for it. In hindsight, I should have ordered the “chicken fried chicken” also known as “fried chicken.” The chicken fried steak wasn’t bad, just weird. Cheesy grits, though? Heaven on a plate.

I’m sure I will think of more things I want to write about the Symposium. Keep on the lookout for those.

 

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Off to Texas

My other post about adult programming is languishing lasciviously in the drafts folder, fraternizing with all the other unpublished drafts. It will have to languish for a bit more as I won’t work on it now, and I’m headed to YALSA’s YA Lit Symposium tomorrow in Austin. My library is paying for me to go (Thank you, Library!) and I’m going to see my Superstar YALSA Mentor, Valerie. We’re going to dance in a bucket of glitter and it will be glorious.

I hope to write up a few of the programs I will attend. A bundle of YA authors will be there and I’m the most excited about seeing Malinda Lo, Lauren Oliver, Andrew Smith, and Jennifer Nielsen.

I’ll be writing up a report about some programs for the Hub as well as interviewing, via email, author Leigh Bardugo. I can’t recommend her Grisha trilogy enough. Do you like magic? Handsome soldiers? Russian and Slavic folklore? Kickass ladies in eye patches (gotta get to book three for that one)? Oh course you do!

If you’re not convinced by the convergence of those delights, read her response to this commenter who says, “You had a great story and then you ruined it with unnecessary lesbianism.It’s so good.

That’s it for now. See y’all later.

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High vs. low, adult vs. teen? Just read, folks.

[I’ve had two draft posts sitting around for a week or so without finishing them. Here’s one. The next one is about adult library programming!]

I think Lichtenstein is a good illustration for a high/low culture debate. What about pop art, huh, critics?!

I think Lichtenstein is a good illustration for a high/low culture debate. What about pop art, huh, critics?!

Apparently, there’s another article about how books for kids/books for teens/trashy books/comics/not “literary fiction/not the classics/not the books the writer likes to read are bad for you and you shouldn’t read them. This one is about Percy Jackson and how they will steer kids who love them into more Percy Jackson-esque books and not to the Odyssey and what not. This is not true in my experience as a reader and as a librarian: if a kid or adult even is really interested in something, she will seek out whatever information she can find. Some will be a stretch for her as a reader, but her background knowledge – as fictionalized and geared to a specific audience as it may be – will help her decipher, and feel more excited about, more complex texts and themes.

Additionally, I am getting tired of reading these articles and reading about them and thinking about responses and defending YA for teens AND adults or whoever.

It’s just tiring. I’m tired.

So once and for all, let me just say: read whatever you want! Read mysteries, read comics, read Melville, read Jacqueline Carey, or Saga, or Twilight, or Christopher Hitchens, read Elizabeth Bishop, or The Hunger Games, or Derrida, or Henry James, or Nancy Drew, or A.S. King or whatever. Or read them all. Read high and read low. I’ve read some or all of all of those things listed above. Some are “high culture” with supposed, so-called, and sometimes confirmed in my opinion, “literary merit,” and challenge me to think in different ways and are legitimately difficult to read. Some are “low culture” that may be “easier” to read but can still be challenging because of concept, issues, or themes, or can just be escapist. Escapist can be okay and challenging is okay, too. We can be allowed to do a mix of both.

Also, books and stories can important and useful at varying times of life. For example, I did not get Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy as a kid and it’s a children’s book. As an adult, when Aslan says, “‘Child,’ said the Lion, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own,’” it had a profound effect on me. I was reminded me to be more compassionate for people and to try to listen to their stories. But maybe I shouldn’t have read that kids book.

You can do both. I love YA books AND Henry James even though the New Yorker doesn’t seem to think that’s possible. I am a possible person; I contain literary multitudes. Let’s not be so policing of our reading and remember to every thing there is a season.

Speaking of seasons, here’s another reminder from Ecclesiastes: there’s nothing new under the sun. We’ve been having this high/low culture debate and fear-mongering for pretty much all of time. It’s a fallacy that “now” is any worse than any other time for our level of intelligence, crime, culture, or whatever the “kids these days” do. It’s all old. The world has always been kind of crap and we’ve always had to grapple with that. Humanity has a range of the despicable to the divine, the thoughtful and intelligent, and the exceedingly stupid. Everything has happened before and will happen again. Get over it, and move on.

For another view especially addressing adults reading YA or Children’s books, here’s Sarah Burnes in the Paris Review blog: The binary between children’s and adult fiction is a false one, based on a limited conception of the self. I have not ceased to be the person I was when I was an adolescent; in fact, to think so seems to me like a kind of dissociation from a crucial aspect of one’s self. And the critic should be concerned with what is good and what is bad, what is art and what is not—not with what’s “appropriate.”

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Because survival is insufficient

Listen up: Station Eleven is about a traveling symphony that performs symphonies (duh) and Shakespeare all across post-plague ravaged Michigan

Quite a nice cover as well!

Quite a nice cover as well!

because survival is insufficient. Oh yeah, that’s a Star Trek quote (Voyager, but STILL) and a comic features quite heavily. Despite the fact that I was reading about a plague that kills 99% of those exposed while I have a cold and Ebola is breaking out all over, I could not put this down. It really does have so many elements that I knew I would like: music, literature, comics, Star Trek, post apocalyptic life, and amazing writing.

The novel seamlessly weaves in the stories of a famous actor who dies the first night of the outbreak, the paparazzi-turned-paramedic who once interviewed him and tries to save his life, the child actor who was on stage with him when he died, his first wife, and his best friend. Mandel sees the connections between them but it’s not in a grand, structured Cloud Atlas David Mitchell sort of way, but more of the real life bonds we make that are sometimes passing and sometimes deep.

There is perhaps more I’d like the write about it (the friendship between August and Kirsten?!), but it’s still settling in my mind. It’s really lovely and engaging. I heartily recommend.

Oh and I forgot to recommend Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles as well. Just briefly: a kid whose father wrote a well-known sci-fi novel with a character eerily similar to him feels trapped in the book. He thinks of time as distance (it takes the earth one second to revolve 20 miles so 5 seconds is 100 sideways miles) and goes on a road trip with his friend. Classic Andrew Smith with great insight into the mind of a teenage boy; always a winner.

I’m now looking at my hold shelf to see what’s coming up for me next. Here’s what I have active or what I am very much looking forward to:

Rooms by Lauren Oliver – I liked Oliver’s writing and this sounds like a nice, creepy read.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – Jesuits/missionaries in space! Need I say more?

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Steifvater – Book 3 of the amazing YA fantasy series, the Raven Boys.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and more – A Muslim teen becomes Ms. Marvel. Huzzah for diversity in comics!

I could list more but then it’s just me listing the other 22 items on my hold list. That gets a bit dull.

Anything I’m missing and I should have on hold? What are you looking forward to reading this fall?

 

 

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