Happy Monday, team! Today I’m over at the Oxford Dictionaries blog yammering about genre. Basically it is my considered opinion that literature has genuinely failed us by having so few available filters, and I think the publishing world should do something about it.
In 2013, the most recent year for which we have data, the US, UK, and Canada published over half a million books altogether. Yet of this infinitely categorizable bounty, we’ve apparently only managed to sort books into as many genres as your neighborhood Waterstones has clusters of shelves. I call shenanigans! Why should it be so hard for me to get my fix of YA novels set in boarding schools? Of epistolary fiction of any stripe? Of historical novels set exclusively during the London Blitz?
Happy Friday, everyone! Today I’m linking you to the adventures of me, elsewhere! The lovely Shiny New Books has out a brand new issue, and my lovely pal Memory and I are in it, recommending you all the best YA of the summer and being heartfelt. Viz:
I think of the sort of fiction I had access to when I was a teenager, and I look at what’s available to today’s young people, and I’m beyond happy for them. The trans kids get to see themselves on the page and the cis kids get to experience the world through someone else’s eyes, all wrapped up in a great story. It’s a damned nice thing.
(I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, don’t you usually recommend fewer books in these columns? And the answer is, hush your face. We got excited about a lot of books this season.)
Or, that time I read a book about male violence right after a rapist in Stanford got a six-month jail sentence because a longer sentence would negatively impact his life and prospects.
I felt intense frustration with The Association of Small Bombs, for reasons that are probably more to do with reading it in proximity to other infuriating things than the book’s actual merits. So let me say up front that I read this book when I was already angry, and that I had the specific expectation that it would be about the aftermath of violence for the people affected by that violence. 70% of it was about that, and even the 30% that was about the people doing the violence avoided so many of the tropes of terrorism stories that it feels particularly churlish of me to attack this book for this thing, when there are so many other books and movies and TV shows that are doing the same thing much less thoughtfully.
However, I make a concerted effort to avoid those media, and I didn’t know to avoid this book.
To say that The Association of Small Bombs attempts to understand male violence is probably to do it a significant injustice; or at least, to dispute that this is a worthwhile project is to do the book an injustice. Mahajan himself lived near to the site of a “small” bombing that killed thirteen people in Delhi when he was a child, and he wanted to understand what these bombings are in the lives of those affected by them, and what they are intended to be by those who create them. It’s not unfair, is it, to want to understand that? Mahajan doesn’t default to easy answers, religious fundamentalism and terrorist violence as a response to poverty or humiliation or Western powers doing this or that.
Except I am always asked, I am asked again and again and fucking again, I am incentivized by the threat of violence to put myself in the minds of people who choose to do that violence, and to feel empathy for them. I say “people” because it sounds less inflammatory, but of course what I mean is men: men who do the violence, men who want to help me understand the minds of men who do this violence. The secret is always that men do violence because the alternative is that they do nothing and feel helpless, and they can’t live with that feeling of helplessness.
Thank you, but I don’t need lessons in what it feels like to feel helpless in the face of forces that are stronger than me and that care about my feelings and experiences not at all. My life is that lesson. Brock Turner is that lesson. I find your conclusion inadequate. The helpless anger that women live with every day because that’s the price of admission for us to live in this world, and what else? Because if there’s nothing else — if it’s just another man who decided to hurt people because he couldn’t figure out what to do with his feelings — then don’t come asking me to understand his motives for doing violence. I understood already and I decided it wasn’t enough.
In goddamn fucking particular, I am fed up with being asked to imaginatively identify with the men who commit violence while the barest of lip service is paid to the interiority of the women in their orbit. You know how sometimes there are tropes that have lasted so long and been so damaging that you kinda have to retire them for a while? Like how we just need to place a ten-year moratorium on killing TV lesbians? I’d like a break from the glass-shattering fury that consumes my heart every time I read any iteration of the worst story in the whole world, i.e., Once upon a time, a man turned to violence because a woman he wanted to fuck wouldn’t fuck him.
Mahajan isn’t telling a straight-ahead version of this story, and the man who sets the (spoilers) second bomb of the book does it for a constellation of reasons, some petty and some idealistic. But this is the one that Mahajan chooses to highlight in the moment of the explosion:
A few seconds later, the bomb opened with a seismic roar. Hundreds of people lay on the ground. From the shop came only silence. Ayub — thrown to the ground, rolling, sliding — thought: Tara will hear me now.
As a lady reading that story for the fuckteenth time, the corollary to it remains crystal goddamn clear: If you had but fucked this person, think of how many lives could have been saved. We are not saying it was your responsibility, it’s just that this devastating violence could have been avoided if, for a few minutes, an insignificant amount of time in the grand scheme of things, you’d agreed to take one for the team and fuck this guy.
And it doesn’t matter that the author doesn’t believe this corollary and would never endorse it, just like it doesn’t matter that the showrunners of a dozen-plus shows this year don’t believe lesbians deserve death rather than happy endings. If you choose a story that has been used, and continues to be used, to hurt us — the story that when men are denied access to sex, they have nowhere to turn but violence — don’t act shocked and affronted when we grow tired of it, this story that reduces us to outlets for male feelings. We are not just our bodies; there are minds inside us too. Shit like this hurts to read:
Was [9/11] really economic? . . . He was convinced this could not be the case. . . . Killing others and then yourself is the most visceral experience possible. Atta must have felt himself full of sexual hate for the people piled high in the towers, bodies in a vertical morgue. He saw the opening between the two towers as a vagina into which to shove the hard-nosed dick of the plane. Sitting at the controls, his curly hair tight on his skull, eyes rubbery, underslept, blackly circled, he must have seen someone appear at the window and look at him — a woman, maybe, a blond American woman. At that moment he got an erection. At that moment he slammed into her alarmed face.
An economic motive is insufficient, but a sexual one would explain everything? Why? Can I see your receipts on that? Or if you don’t have receipts, then please fucking stop with this. Stop asking me to live inside the heads of men who think this way about my body. Stop reproducing this narrative that positions sex and violence along the same axis, as if it’s inevitable to think this way.
Not that I am bitter. (I’m not.) But since I wasn’t able to make it this year1, please pop by in the comments and tell me one lovely thing that is happening at BEA. Or if like me you couldn’t go this year, tell me only lovely thing that has happened to you this week.
Also, this is your final notice that today is Friday the 13th. Take all reasonable precautions.
or any year, thus far? I mainly care about meeting bloggers, and I can do that fine without actually being inside of a convention center ↩
It’s Monday, and I had a smashing weekend! A good friend came to town so we got to break bread (and have some drinks) together and shoot the shit on Saturday. The bookstore had a surprise for me which I will share with you in a moment, although if you know me well or follow me on Twitter you can probably guess what it was. And I made French onion soup for the family on Sunday, and it came out excellent.
Oh, I went to the library too. We don’t need to talk about that. I DO NOT HAVE A PROBLEM.
So, what am I reading?
Well, I am plowing my way through my mother’s copy of HAMILTOME, in the hopes that I can finish it before she notices I swiped it. My local bookstore put The Raven King out on the shelves a few days early, which I confess was the outcome I had hoped for, and I purchased it feeling very wicked indeed and expecting at every moment that the booksellers would say HEY THAT BOOK IS NOT OUT YET and take it away from me. I’m trying to make it last because I’m going to be well sad when this series is over. And finally, I’m reading Jowhor Ile’s And After Many Days, which despite my casting it in the position of “vegetables to eat because I cannot eat dessert Raven King all the time,” is quite, quite excellent.
I want to quote like sixteen things from The Raven King, because I love what Maggie Stiefvater is doing with this world and these characters, but I will spare you. I will just say, for now, that there are some triplets in this book who are the light of my life.
It’s Monday, April 18th, and I am doing my honest best to finish my library books and return them in a somewhat timely manner. I presently have 11 books out from my university library, plus one interlibrary loan, and 2 of those are ready to be returned. I have, yes okay, 27 books out from the public library BUT I am prepared to return 9 of those when I go on Saturday. So there.
(I’m fine, I don’t have a problem. You saw that 11 of those, nearly a quarter, are set to be returned?)
My main current book is The Ever After of Ashwin Rao, which deals — one way and another — with aftermath (I love aftermath!). I am also dipping in and out of this essay collection Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn, which is an absolute treat; and while I am brushing my teeth, I am reading one of my Own Damn Books, i.e., Thomas Cahill’s book on why the Greeks are important to history.
(I noticed that the highest number of unread books on my shelves live in my nonfiction section. Which makes sense! Nonfiction isn’t quite as subject to the vagaries of taste as fiction is, so you can see how I might acquire a whole bunch of it without having read those books beforehand. I DO NOT HAVE A PROBLEM.)
You know what’s happening in my neck of the woods, team? Stinging caterpillars is what. They are a pernicious blight upon the land. They fall from the sky onto your head when you are just trying to catch your bus, and their fuzzy tops sting your fingers if you try to brush them off. The spring is wet and full of terrors.
All that consoles me in this trying time is the evergreen wellspring1 of YA fiction, of which there is a plethora this spring season. Here are three that I’m particularly looking forward to, in celebration of Waiting on Wednesday.
Chasing the Stars, Malorie Blackman
Perhaps you read the Noughts and Crosses series when they came out a million years ago, and perhaps since then you have wondered what Malorie Blackman was up to, since she evidently wasn’t writing any more books. You have been played for a fool, I’m sorry to say. Malorie Blackman has been writing books this whole time, and America has not been goddamn publishing them.
Well may you shake your fist at the heavens. America still isn’t publishing Malorie Blackman, but on April 21st, a new book of hers comes out in the UK that is genderswapped Othello in space. I’ll repeat that for the people in the back: GENDERSWAPPED OTHELLO IN SPACE. You may repair to the Book Depository for your copy.
Places No One Knows, Brenna Yovanoff
Admittedly I have been up and down on Brenna Yovanoff, but I feel great about her new book. It’s about an overachieving girl and an underachieving boy and the small bit of magic that brings them together. I have been promising a heaping helping of darkness and emotional honesty, with a splash of fantasy. This one drops in late May, by which time I dearly hope the goddamn caterpillars will all be gone.
THE RAVEN KING THE RAVEN KING THE RAVEN KING
Note: The actual title of the book is The Raven King once. I just said it three times because I’m very, very excited to read it. Will Gansey die? Probably but I don’t believe it’s permanent. Will birds do things birds don’t normally do? Almost certainly.
If you got excited the other day when I said “sociological speculative fiction,” then your luck’s in because I stole that term from Maggie Stiefvater, who used it to describe these very books. Start with The Raven Boys and work your way through the sequels, and then you won’t even have to wait very long to read the fourth one. LUCKY YOU because I have been waiting all this whole year and on April 26th at last my wait will be at an end.
Tell me, friends: What are you looking forward to this season? And also, what, in your opinion, is the worst thing about spring?
Something glorious happened this weekend, friends.
I also inherited seven other glasses exactly like this but with different poisons written on them. Before they belonged to me, they belonged to my great-grandfather, who loved Rafael Sabatini and, apparently, novelty highball glasses. It is really too bad that he and I never met.
Over the weekend, I finished up Lamar Giles’s Endangered and Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks’s YA comic Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, then plunked myself down on a sofa and read Åsne Seierstad’s One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway in its entirety. Now I’m gazing at a truly awe-inspiring stack of new library books and signally failing to even narrow down whether I feel like fiction or nonfiction, let alone to choose which one I want to put in my brain.
The new issue of Shiny New Books is up! Swing by and check out Memory’s and my regular column of new YA books to check out this season. Then stay and see what else is new in the book world — as ever, Shiny New Books is a fun read from (online) cover to (nonphysical) cover!
Since the theme of today is Not Being a Dick, this is your annual reminder that there are very few April Fool’s Day jokes that are actually funny (though Social Sister is in the midst of perpetrating one now), so you should probably just not do them at all.
How to not be a dick to women who write comics criticism. (Good news: It ain’t even that hard.)
A thoughtful response to the recent “I don’t want to be Black Spiderman” issue of the Miles Morales Spiderman comic (by Brian Michael Bendis, a white dude).
I’ve seen a couple of pieces lately arguing that Hamilton uncritically props up the American dream (as in opposition to, one of them really weirdly argued, Ta-Nehisi Coates? it was a strange article), and I think this NK Jemisin post about fantasy in Hamilton does a good job of explaining why that claim is kinda beside the point.
And finally, because we live in a world run by a benevolent God, Anne Helen Peterson wrote a piece about Jennifer Garner’s transformation from sexy spy to ultimate soccer mom. Then, as we were basking in the glow of that, she wrote another piece about Sad Affleck. They’re both fire.