caitri: (Books)
The Dangers of Reading in Bed by Nika Mavrody

In his history of masturbation, Solitary Sex, the historian Thomas Laqueur draws a direct link between 18th-century distress over solitary, silent novel reading and masturbation’s new status as a public menace: “Novels, like masturbation, created for women alternative ‘companions of their pillow.’” These “solitary vices,” as Laqueur calls them, were condemned for fear that individual autonomy would lead to a breakdown in the collective moral order.


People feared that solitary reading and sleeping fostered a private, fantasy life that would threaten the collective—especially among women. The solitary sleeper falls asleep at night absorbed in fantasies of another world, a place she only knows from books. During the day, the lure of imaginative fiction might draw a woman under the covers to read, compromising her social obligations.
caitri: (Is this a kissing book?)
"Full-body reading: Literary criticism taught me to scrub my feelings out of my reading, but a medieval mystic showed me how to put them back in" by Anna Wilson

The Book of Margery Kempe challenges what it meant to critically engage with a text. Amid Kempe’s loud weeping and marriage ceremonies with Jesus, there was her rebuke to the priest about his closed-mindedness, her challenge to the Archbishop of York about his hypocrisy, and an assertion that she – an illiterate woman – had the right to teach others what the Bible meant.
Reading The Book of Margery Kempe alongside fanfiction makes it clear that physical, imaginative reading is still associated with women, still considered embarrassing, and still employed as a form of resistance to mainstream narratives. People, in short, are still using this style of reading to elbow their way into texts from which they are restricted, just as Kempe and other women did with religious texts.

Just as important, Kempe’s Book argues that writing is also reading – transforming other texts, enriching them for readers – and it evidences a long intertwined history of women’s education with alternative literacies of power and resistance. Through Kempe, I came to realise that fanfiction, qualitatively so different from the literary criticism I learned in the classroom, is itself a powerful critical tool. My fanfiction community gave me a healthy disrespect for the ‘author’ in ‘authority’, teaching me to notice where a text dissatisfied me and to dig deep into my own feelings to work out why. I learned that identifying with characters can be valuable. Indeed, my identification with Kempe helped me notice something about her mysticism that hadn’t previously been studied: the importance of ‘Mary Sue’-style self-insertion into Bible stories, which formed the starting point of my PhD dissertation.
caitri: (fandom is like rl)
So through happenstance I've recently read several novels in which fandom takes on a large role, so I have some random thoughts on it.

1) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. (This one is actually a reread because I like this book.) Main character is a fangirl who writes slash for the not!Harry Potter of her universe as she navigates her first year of undergrad. Fannish interactions--excerpts from fic, fan sites, fan conversations--all ring pretty true, but the "great leap" is at the end when she writes and then publishes her own original short story that echoes all her growing pains heretofore. So fandom is great but something that must be grown out of.

2) Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson. I had high hopes for this one when I read about it and largely enjoyed it. The entirety of the story is told through online postings and comments (mix of pseudo-lj and pseudo-Tumblr), IMs, texts, fan art, etc. Two fangirls bond over their favorite show and flirt with becoming more, and then not-quite-implode. The two main characters go from the "gosh it's so weird talking to someone real on the internet and having feelings" (which I'm not sure people still have those? it being 2016?) to "I can't live without you I might break up with my boyfriend over you" stage ~really quickly. Spoiler alert, they don't end up together, which makes me sad. One of them has a mental illness that really explodes when a traumatic event happens; anyway, she starts the book with her rl friends and family AND DOCTOR saying "you should be off drugs by now" and then when she goes off the drugs she absolutely relapses, and this affects her relationship with her fellow fangirl who decides she probably wants the bf after all. Which I also thought was too bad, and almost flirted with biphobia? Like, sure you can "like" girls, but boys are what you settle down with for "real life." Ugh. Ditto the ableist aspects of "you can love someone with mental illness BUT IT IS SO HARD." Which, yes, but also? Ugh. So I have very mixed feelings about it.

3) Scarlet Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw. High school fangirl dealing with high school and her fav tv show being cancelled. Also the former best friend/boy she's had a crush on forever dating a popular girl and acting like a tool. She decides to cope with both by writing a spin-off fic with OCs--because ~as we all know~ fandom gets really excited about fic with all OCs *snort*--that are also, functionally, RPF AUs. Hijinks ensue when because reasons the real kids find out about this and are justifiably hurt...and then the dude eventually ends up dating her anyway because reasons. So fandom is a high school thing that is fun and verges into creepy and is then abandoned for Real Life. Ugh.

4) Arkwright by Allen Steele. So this one is a bit different but I actually quite enjoyed it. It's a series of linked novellas; the first being about a granddaughter finding out about her grandfather's legacy and his story told in fun fan history flashbacks to the "First Fandom" of the 1930s. Lots of rl fan history cameos by guys like Sam Moskowitz and Forry Ackerman; one token woman fan who ends up being an agent rather than a writer, so, could be worse. Anyway, the guy writes a series of highly popular sf novels--sort of Star Trek meets Foundation etc etc--that inspire the later generations of his family, who end up in other stories building an interstellar spacecraft that goes to another planet and settling it. So it's about how fandom effects science effects real life, which was a lot of fun. But--notice how because white boys and science fandom is treated as much more useful and "normal" and even, dare I say it, worthy? That's kind of...not cool.

Anyway, so I'm fascinated by this new trend of representation in pop culture. Anyone else have any observations? recs?
caitri: (Gamora)
So has anyone been reading Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels? The literary world is nuts for them: See her coverage at The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Vanity Fair, among others.

I finished reading the first novel, My Brilliant Friend, last week, and am about halfway through the second, The Story of a New Name, right now. (I feel it says something about popularity that I waited like a month to get the first book from the library because of the wait-list, and I got the second in less than a week.) I'm enjoying them more than I expected, to be honest; despite starting in the mid-twentieth century, Ferrante's writing about an anxious, studious girl constantly grappling with poverty, class, and worst of all, adolescence, really resonates with me. I enjoy the writing, too, but I also have to wonder about how much, stylistically, is the author vs. the English translator. The book is published by Europa, a publisher that specializes in European translations, and I've read a number of their books (Muriel Barbery is probably the best-known because of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, but also Amelie Nothomb and Laurence Cosse) and they all sort of sound the same, and I'm not sure if this says something about a contemporary "European" style or if it's only the "house style" of the translators. (And I'm slightly tempted to try to get one of Ferrante's books in the original Italian just to see.)

The story is told memoir-style by an older woman, Lenu, whose friend Lila has disappeared, and then rewinds to tell the story from their childhood. I really like how it's as much about the darker aspects of female friendship as it is the glowy stuff; the girls envy one another: Lenu covets Lila's beauty and her take-no-shit attitude, Lila envies that Lenu gets to continue at school while she has to work (one thing I think is poorly done is they don't explain how the Italian lycee system is different than American schools, eg. elementary school is the basic school for everyone, middle school is functionally high school in that graduating it is pretty important, and high school is much more like an American college where you specialize in certain subjects with some general ed. requirements), even though Lila is the one who, as a girl, would check out books at the library and learn voraciously (like, for instance, Greek). There's a brutal bit where Lila has to leave school, and basically their teacher refuses to talk to her or acknowledge her again because she was smart and didn't continue her studies, never mind how her family made her go to work full-time so they could make ends meet. Lila ends up marrying an asshole she can't stand for money, Lenu basically has a breakdown partway through high school because of the pressures of balancing school, work, and taking care of her family. There's a beautiful, painful scene when one of Lenu's teachers starts giving her newspapers to read about the wider world (because the 1960s, because she can't afford them on her own) and she wants to cry because as far as she's concerned this is more homework she doesn't have time for. And in the meantime there are familial rivalries that flirt with gangland, there's pining for the cute and smart boy who barely knows you exist while dating the perfectly nice guy who can't talk books or writing with you, etc. And also, because of the language itself, there's anxiety about speaking: Lenu often talks about speaking in dialect with her family and friends, and proper Italian in school and with her teachers, and how if she slips and uses proper Italian with her friends and family they get angry and resentful, and worrying what the teachers will think if they ever heard her speak dialect, etc. (And this resonates with me too because I grew up in the rural South, and I never spoke with the local accents because, functionally, I was raised by the tv, and that was a source of bullying. Ugh.)

ANYWAY. So I'm enjoying the books, I get why people like them, but what I'm curious about is why these books in particular are being heralded as this amazing thing? Because you know who else writes about stuff like this. MAEVE BINCHY. Binchy, who writes (well, wrote; she died two years ago) about a changing Ireland and class issues and national issues (Ireland v. England) and religion, and domestic violence, and fucking divorce and abortion because those are/were huge issues there. Maeve Binchy with the bright paperbacks sold in grocery stores, sometimes on buy one, get one free tables, mass-market paperbacks that retail for like $7 vs. Ferrante's trade books that are like $18 a pop.

It should perhaps go without saying that Binchy's books were never reviewed by the prestigious journals above, nor was she interviewed by them, but I'm going to say it anyway because I just checked. I also looked at the NYT, who reviewed a couple of Binchy's books in the late 80s and early 90s (the last one reviewed was in 1995), and republished some of her Irish journalism in the late 60s and 70s, and a couple of book reviews by her in the late 80s and early 90s; there's also her obituary from 2012. I'm not sure what happened in the mid-90s for her to disappear so, though I suspect it was a couple of things: 1) The popularity of Circle of Friends which probably pigeon-holed that whole "women's fiction" thing (and probably also the dismal film of it, which surely didn't help with the change of ending); 2) the ever-widening prestige gap between popular genre and literary fiction, which was always there but I feel really hit new high (low?) points in the late 90s/2000s (Remember how people got so upset about Harry Potter being on the best-sellers lists that the NYT actually started a CHILDREN'S AND YA list so that grown-up reading wouldn't be sullied?); and possibly 3) shifting values in book review sections in the NYT generally, and more largely because in the late 90s/early 2000s a lot of papers eliminated them altogether or cut their pages so that space had to go towards "important" stuff.

(It now occurs to me that a study of linking at reviews and how they changed during these periods would be ~fascinating.~)

Anyway, so there are these shifting grounds of popular and literary reading, and women writers almost always get stuck in those bogs. Because Ferrante appears in translation she automatically has a higher prestige value, just because the translation market here is so tiny. Binchy wrote in English, albeit in Ireland, so the language/translation issue was never a thing, but she was always a best-seller in the Anglo-American market. She's even had a number of books come out posthumously, including In Her Own Words which was a collections of her journalism and nonfiction I quite enjoyed. Binchy was also profoundly prolific; some thirty books of fiction, several plays, her regular columns. In contrast, Ferrante has published nine books since 1992, although she has also landed on TIME's Most Influential People List. There's also the mystery of Ferrante; the name is a psuedonym, and there are theories about who she (if she) may be but no solid conclusions.

I don't have any conclusions; I'm just struck by how women writers, especially popular women writers, tend to get dismissed, and this isn't the case here. And I'm not sure why.
caitri: (books)
Aaron Burr visited William Godwin and his daughters when they were young. He was in disgrace and his own daughter Theodosia had just died, so he was enrapt with these brilliant children. Young Mary (who would be Mary Shelley one day) had written a political speech to be performed by her little brother, while her sister Jane (who would change her name to Claire, also have a thing with Percy one day, and also Byron) sang.

I feel like there's fic in this somehow.
caitri: (books)
"Dark books:
What’s more wholesome than reading? Yet books wield a dangerous power: the best erode self, infecting readers with ideas" by Tara Isabella Burton

In his condemnatory tract Popular Amusements (1869), the American clergyman Jonathan Townley Crane cautioned his flock against reading novels: ‘novel-readers spend many a precious hour in dreaming out clumsy little romances of their own, in which they themselves are the beautiful ladies and the gallant gentlemen who achieve impossibilities…’ only to find themselves ‘merged in the hero of the story’, losing the sense of who they really are. ...

And it’s not just toxic notions of gender that novels have the power to reinforce. Historically speaking, control of narrative and language has been inextricable from notions of political and cultural control. The power of the writer is to decide which characters, which worlds, he treats as fully human, and which as reducible and other.

In a 2009 TEDx talk, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie highlighted the dangers of the ‘one story’, explaining how she, as a Nigerian, found her self-understanding dominated by collective narratives – the ‘single story of Africa’ – in a manner not so different from Cordelia’s possession by Johannes. As a child, Adichie wrote exactly the kinds of stories she had access to:

"All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out… I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to."

To be a fully formed character, in the stories Adichie read, was to be white and British; the story of Africa, by contrast, was a story ‘of negatives, of difference, of darkness’.

Here, too, the act of reading is an act of experiencing another kind of danger: in this case, the danger to the self posed by writerly erasure. ‘Like our economic and political worlds,’ Adichie says, ‘stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: how they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.’ ...

At its most fundamental level, to read is to put our selves at risk, to make ourselves vulnerable by welcoming the presence of an other into our psychic space. This can be a radically transformative experience, challenging us to reformulate our own self-understanding. But at worst, we become like the dinner-party guests in The Torture Garden or Don Juan ­– our ‘possession’ by a storyteller awakening our inner violence. Or else we become like Johannes’ Cordelia, the books we read reinforcing existing societal threats to our being. Either way, the act of reading is an act of acceptance of power: a power that, if not god-like, is nevertheless – within the sphere of the text – absolute.
caitri: (books)
"The Great Internet Debate Over Not Reading White Men" by Saladin Ahmed

'Bestselling author' is, functionally, a job. And nearly every single one of those jobs goes to a white person (quite often a white man). When women still make only seventy five cents for every dollar that men make, and 98% of the New York Times bestseller list is composed of white authors, anyone who reads primarily white male authors is contributing, quite directly, to the economic inequalities that pervade our culture. Now, some readers — particularly those of a politically conservative or libertarian sensibility — don't give a shit about this. Indeed, they may be actively hostile to the very notion of egalitarianism. The market, in their view, is a pure meritocracy. But many other book buyers believe, as I do, that the market itself is racist and sexist in all sorts of unseen ways. Choosing to buy and read books by women and people of color is one small way to address this.

More selfishly, though, seeking out the voices of women, people of color, and LGBT folks will lead you to wonderful books you might not have found otherwise. Indeed, there are a great many wonderful books that you are likely to miss unless you are consciously choosing to privilege those voices.

This is not simply because, as one commenter on Scalzi's response to the debate put it, "humans tend to default" to what they know. It's because, despite the heroic efforts of many agents, editors, and publicists, publishing's marketing machine is a long way from treating all authors equally. It is my sincere belief that most readers don't know just how slanted the publishing industry is toward a narrow sliver of voices. Unless one deliberately seeks out fiction by marginalized writers, the vast, vast majority of books that cross one's radar via TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, and, yes, the internet, are going to be by white people — and most of those white people are going to be straight men.
caitri: (books)
Goodreads Poll Finds that Readers Stick to Their Own Gender

Goodreads recently polled 40,000 British citizens on their reading habits and among the many trends that popped up, the one making the rounds today is all about sex. Namely, the surprising gender divide between male and female readers and the writers they prefer.

The survey found that men and women stick closely to their own camps with 90% of the 50 most-read books by men coming from male authors, and an identical 90% of the 50 most-read books by women coming from female authors. Female readers were also slightly more critical in their ratings of books penned by the opposite sex – giving them an average 3.8/5, compared to the 4/5 for works by female writers.


But what’s really disheartening is that we still tend to view books written by women as less substantial and less “important,” which — given Goodreads’ findings — may just say more about who’s in charge at the top newspapers and publishing houses than anything else.

See also: Goodreads' message board discussion on Your Reading Experience > Male or female authors
caitri: (Dorian)
I've been thinking about writing this post for a while, I just wasn't sure how to because there's always the "stating the obvious" thing.

So to start with, a month or so ago I had a chat with another writer friend, who was angsting about "how" to write POC in her novel, because she has fears of being perceived as racist or accidentally racist. Which I guess happened because she read the new Donna Tartt book, and I guess Tartt was criticized for writing all POCs as servants and whatnot? Anyway, my (ever so deep) response was, "Dude, just do your research and write people AS PEOPLE."

which, you know, obvious, right? And yet.

So I just finished reading the new Diana Gabaldon book, Written in My Own Heart's Blood. Which, I largely love her because man she does historical research RIGHT. But she's one of those cases where she tries to write diversity and comes so CLOSE and yet SO FAR. Because she writes POC in broad strokes but doesn't seem to understand that she's doing so, or that, for instance, coming at historical stereotypes from the opposite end is problematic, ie. that writing Native Americans as nobly doomed and JUST AS PROBLEMATIC as writing them as scalping maniacs. And its one of those cases of, see, putting all that attention to detail and family trees and characterization that you put into the Scottish people? Doing THE SAME THING to the Mohawks and the Black freemen and slaves.

Like I said, should be EASY. AND YET.

Here's the other thing, particularly about historical fiction (And this needs to be its own post sometime): Historical fiction is ALWAYS just as much about the time in which it was written as about the time it depicts.

So, for instance, Downton Abbey. (I fucking hate Downton Abbey but damn is it a useful Cliffsnotes sometimes.) Thomas, Teh (sic) Gay Character, is largely treated sympathetically even as he is often a douche. But there's one episode where a character informs the police of his Gayness and Lord Grantham has to talk to the cops and be all "he's just as God made him" and there's a moment and Thomas is left alone. And some people were all "Ohmigod, that is so not historically accurate!!!!" Which, of course not, because in 20fucking14 you can't demonstrate that sort of intolerance without being *read* as intolerant yourself--it's a storytelling decision to maintain sympathy. BUT, when they *do* choose to demonstrate period-accurate intolerance to the Jewish characters? That TOO is a decision, and we HAVE to understand that by doing so the writers are trying to demonstrate that as an old intolerance that is dead and thus "safe"--and never mind how contemporary Jews are getting the same crap as always because it is "invisible" and "historically accurate." We're saying that anti-gay is not okay but that anti-Semitic is normal.

Now think about what that means.

Meanwhile, back to Gabaldon. She has a history of some deeply problematic things, but there were two in this book that REALLY stuck out at me. SPOILERS ) I still love the writing by itself but I really want to make Gabaldon take some consciousness-raising classes and whatnot.

Anyways, as a sort of conclusion: All writing is a deliberate choice on the part of the author. It may be an unexamined choice, but it is still a choice. When it comes to historical fiction, you can't really say "that's how it was back in those days" because that writing isn't coming from THEN, it's coming from NOW, and it's coming from YOU. And you have to be aware of that last bit before all others.
caitri: (fandom is like rl)
Being a Better Online Reader

Of course, as Wolf is quick to point out, there’s still no longitudinal data about digital reading. As she put it, “We’re in a place of apprehension rather than comprehension.” And it’s quite possible that the apprehension is misplaced: perhaps digital reading isn’t worse so much as different than print reading. Julie Coiro, who studies digital reading comprehension in elementary- and middle-school students at the University of Rhode Island, has found that good reading in print doesn’t necessarily translate to good reading on-screen. The students do not only differ in their abilities and preferences; they also need different sorts of training to excel at each medium. The online world, she argues, may require students to exercise much greater self-control than a physical book. “In reading on paper, you may have to monitor yourself once, to actually pick up the book,” she says. “On the Internet, that monitoring and self-regulation cycle happens again and again. And if you’re the kind of person who’s naturally good at self-monitoring, you don’t have a problem. But if you’re a reader who hasn’t been trained to pay attention, each time you click a link, you’re constructing your own text. And when you’re asked comprehension questions, it’s like you picked up the wrong book.”

Maybe the decline of deep reading isn’t due to reading skill atrophy but to the need to develop a very different sort of skill, that of teaching yourself to focus your attention. (Interestingly, Cairo found that gamers were often better online readers: they were more comfortable in the medium and better able to stay on task.) In a study comparing digital and print comprehension of a short nonfiction text, Rakefet Ackerman and Morris Goldsmith found that students fared equally well on a post-reading multiple-choice test when they were given a fixed amount of time to read, but that their digital performance plummeted when they had to regulate their time themselves. The digital deficit, they suggest, isn’t a result of the medium as such but rather of a failure of self-knowledge and self-control: we don’t realize that digital comprehension may take just as much time as reading a book.

An interesting article with interesting questions. However, I'd like to point out that some of the most in-depth and critical textual analyses I've ever seen? Have been on Tumblr. And Livejournal. And other e-forums where people discuss genre and popular texts. This could also of course point to a different type of reader; I've long maintained that genre fans can safely be likened to medieval scholars based on their predilections towards intensive readings. But I am struck by this notion of this ability to "construct your own text." In fandom, we call this head!canon--your personal "correct reading" of a text. I'm always struck by how we compare "digital reading" with "real" or "print reading" much in the way we differentiate genres--literary vs. popular and whatnot. I wonder what arguments might be made about different types of readers if we elided the print/digital divide with the literary/popular divide.


Jun. 13th, 2014 02:04 pm
caitri: (books)
So I'm reading Thomas Traherne today; specifically the selections from Centuries of Meditations. The notes in the back mention that the Centuries were written in a notebook that was a gift from his friend Susannah Hopton; apparently after finishing his writing Traherne returned it to her for her to write her responses. The editor mentions that Susannah is thus the "you" in his text, and that what in manuscript becomes an intimate sharing of thoughts and writing becomes a rhetorical device in print.
So of course this makes me think of how we share writing today: Google Documents with Comments, or MS Word with Comments and Track Changes. Visually very different. In my Google docs work pane I can see my list of documents, who I have shared them with, and whether someone has commented or edited recently. Is this intimate? Is this shared text?
caitri: (books)
So earlier I had a conversation in comments with [ profile] afearfulthing that got me thinking; the context was of reading only fic, blogrolls, and recs. In short, the selective reading of only trusted sources etc. There's nothing unusual in that, per se, except the reflection/self-consciousness of choosing to read from a body of free, communal, and public work versus industrial/pop culture production. I think that self-conscious choice is the key part, here, because it implies not only active choice in selection but also active selection.

A project I'd love to pick up one day is the history of women's private reading. Reading is of course both fascinating and difficult because it is in many ways invisible: How do you know who read what? And what she thought of it? There's a rabbit-hole of locating information from marginalia, from bookplates, from notes and diaries, from eyewitness discussions of women in line at bookstores, etc. etc. There's the story about Anne Boleyn's Bible: how she made marks in it with her fingernail: this visceral, bodily connection with a text that is still almost literally invisible.

A lot has been done on women's reactionary writing--especially in fandom, where fanworks are operators of critique and in some ways recovery: bids to "rescue" characters we love. But I'm not sure much has been done on reactionary reading--I'm writing this freeform without having done any research.

I'll use my own experience to talk about this a bit: I often find a lot more reading material of interest to me in fandom than in traditional publishing. Part of this is an access issue: what I want is a really good story with x, y, z. In a brick and mortar store or a library, you can ask clerks for recs, or see what they are promoting at the moment; but these depend on that individual person, and--sometimes--the necessity of building a relationship with them. In an online bookstore, you can run a search and sort by popularity, but this is limited by the interface's algorithms and the site's own audience. You go to a fansite, or AO3, search by tags and recs, and boom--you're done. Because you're automatically in a community of the likeminded. Going back further, you end up with similar situations in print zines, because the zines were community-based--if you were in that community, you would probably already like its content.

I imagine the closest analog to this community appeal in traditional publishing is how some companies--and I'm think specifically of Marvel and Harlequin here--build their lines for specific demographic audiences. Both companies literally have dozens of titles and each of them is for a specific audience: older readers, younger readers, African-American readers, queer readers, etc. I'm curious if anyone can think of other companies that do this?

I'm also thinking of the ongoing schisms in fandom right now, particularly on the topics of race. Check out N.K. Jemisen's GOH Wiscon Speech for more, but here's a key bit:

Maybe you think I’m using hyperbole here, when I describe the bigotry of the SFF genres as “violence”. Maybe I am using hyperbole — but I don’t know what else to call it. SFF are dedicated to the exploration of the future and myth and history. Dreams, if you want to frame it that way. Yet the enforced SWM dominance of these genres means that the dreams of whole groups of people have been obliterated from the Zeitgeist. And it’s not as if those dreams don’t exist. They’re out there, in spades; everyone who dreams is capable of participating in these genres. But many have been forcibly barred from entry, tormented and reeducated until they serve the status quo. Their interests have been confined within creative ghettos, allowed out only in proscribed circumstances and limited numbers. When they do appear, they are expected to show their pass and wear their badge: “Look, this is an anthology of NATIVE AMERICAN ANCIENT WISDOM from back when they existed! Put a kachina on the cover or it can’t be published. No, no, don’t put an actual Navajo on the cover, what, are you crazy? We want the book to sell. That person looks too white, anyway, are you sure they aren’t lying about being an Indian? What the hell is a Diné? What do you mean you’re Inuit?”

But the violence that has been done is more than metaphysical or thematic. Careers have been strangled at birth. Identities have been raped — and I use that word intentionally, not metaphorically. What else to call it when a fan’s real name is stripped of its pseudonym, her life probed for data and details until she gets phone calls at her home and workplace threatening her career, her body, and her family? (I don’t even need to name a specific example of this; it’s happened too often, to too many people.) Whole subgenres like magic realism and YA have been racially and sexually profiled, with discrimination based on that profiling so normalized as to be nearly invisible. How many of you have heard that epic fantasy or video games set in medieval Europe need not include people of color because there weren’t any? I love the Medieval PoC blog for introducing simple visual evidence of how people like me were systematically and literally excised from history. The result is a fantasy readership that will defend to the death the idea that dragons belong and Those People don’t.

An ugly truth in publishing is systematic erasure of choice--just check out what's going on with Amazon right now.

[Direct linking because the embedding code just isn't working:]

The commentary on first-time writers and publications is as fascinating as it saddening and disgusting.

As such, we as readers (and writers) are left to make our own alternatives where possible--and then we see this co-opted as well in terms of the major publishers that give mega-contracts to fanfic authors with proven track records (most recently, literally two days ago, a 1D fan bags a mid-six figure deal for her fan novel), and Amazon's own Kindle Worlds.

This cycle of production and consumption is fascinating--I have a whole 'nother piece I want to do on historical disruptions in terms of women's writing and reception--but what we see here is how publishers are taking advantage of alternative communities and trying to use them for more profit.
caitri: (charles write)
I feel extra guilty and sad at her passing because I've read so little of her. I read a portion of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when I was in...middle school, or possibly a freshman in high school. It was the Rape Scene, and it was upsetting, and I couldn't go on. For ~20 years I meant to pick the book up again, but I haven't, because cowardice.

When I was a senior in high school, we had to write papers for some contest on government something something. You were required to do it if you were taking Government that term, and I was assigned to take Gov the spring term, so I didn't have to do it. But there was a cash prize, and I was anxious because not only did I want to get into a good college, but I also had an inkling (an inkling that wasn't even a drop in the ocean of the reality) of the problems I would have once in university because of my background (rural, middle-class in the sort of way that would be coded "poor," as I would find a year later). So, a writing contest, a cash prize, and me.

And let's not forget rural South.

So: I remembered Angelou, and I wrote a paper around the theme of the caged bird:

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

I wrote about women struggling for the vote and a place in the American political landscape. I wrote about feminism, and how in 1998 there was still no Equal Rights Amendment. I wrote about being a young woman struggling to find her voice even as what we had to read and write about all the time were dead white men. (Oh, I was an angry girl, and I wish I had a copy of this essay still, because it's funny how I've kept the same preoccupations even as I've learned how little I know, and how I've tried to remedy that ever since.)

This went about as well as one would expect.

My Mom didn't like it. (She also mocked how I read poetry, and her saying back to me my own words of I like reading it that way have stayed with me all these years.) (She was also freaked about how I ordered copies of Camille Paglia's literary criticism, because one of the titles was Sexual Personae. Look, I was a baby feminist AND a baby literary critic, I didn't know better!) She wanted me to change it, and I refused.

We had to read our entries in the Gov. classroom. I remember going up, reading the paper, and as I left, a student whispering, "She used words I've never even heard before."

I heard at some point that my paper upset the voting committee, who I think consisted of three old white men and one white woman. I don't think I ever learned what upset them, though let's be honest, it could have been just as much a white girl quoting a black poet as much as anything.

Needless to say, I didn't win the cash prize, or any prize for that matter. But what stayed with me was, at least, the visceral power of words, and how the right ones could make people--teachers!--so very angry. This may have been one of the first times I understood the power of the status quo, and how much I wanted to tear it to pieces.

So I've not read as much Maya Angelou as I should, but she still means a lot to me. She showed me the world as it is--full of struggle, sometimes violent struggle, and sometimes an intellectual struggle that cuts to one's heart. This is a very simple gift, and one that brought my eyes wide open. In short, I think a lot of who I am is--accidentally, tangentially, and perhaps serendipitously--because of her.
caitri: (fandom is like rl)
So I spent last week at the Popular Culture Association's National Meeting, which is always basically like nerdy braingasms. I gave a paper on Pacific Rim, spoke on a roundtable about Tolkien and derivative works, and ran a panel and roundtable on vampire literature. I also sat in on papers on comics, audience reception, adapting Sherlock, and a bunch of other things, and had some really great conversations, and then on the plane started sort of writing the following in my head:

Okay, so one of the ways to look at book history is how production and readership ties in with class: Today we refer to this (rather obliquely) as highbrow (Shakespeare), middlebrow (Tolkien), and lowbrow (comics? WWE?) culture. Now, what sort of came up in conversation at lunch one day, as happens, was the discussion of fandom as middle class activity. We like to think of the internet as freely available, but let's face it, it requires a computer and a connection, and any fanworks require software for images and wordprocessing. They also require time. This can also be tied into the assumption that fanworks are all by (middle class) teenage girls, because who has more leisure time for fan creation and media consumption, etc. etc.

Then you backtrack to the days of zines etc. You could obtain fic by either sending through the mail through ads in magazines (somewhere I have a 70s Star Trek mag that has one of those ads in the back for zines, with that old "- /" coding to denote whether it was gen or slash material) or by attending cons and acquiring them in the dealer's rooms (note: I know cons today often have a discounted charge if you want to go to the dealer's room and not the whole con--anyone know how far back that goes, or was it always the case?). So it would have been possible to have gone to buy zines but not shell out for actor photos and whatnot; not sure how many would have done that, but it would have been *possible*, I think.

But then in terms of actual zine production, back to the 1930s, there would still have been costs for paper, mimeo equipment, etc. etc. One of the fun things in my private collection is a short pamphlet by Don Wollheim from around ~39-40 where he is arguing against the US going to war because of the effect that will have on fan/SF culture: paper prices will go up and so will the cost of the magazines AND the fan pubs. (There's a paper in that, sometime.)

So backtracking even more, I'm thinking of Wilkie Collins's essay on the "Unknown Public" that was thousands of women buying books and serials back in the 1800s; his argument, as I recall, was about how they were buying all this lowbrow dreck (of course) and that someone (he) should *really* be teaching them to read properly. (Another note, there's been this preoccupation with "reading properly" back to the 16th and 17th c., and that too is tied in with class and also gender lines. Basically, men worrying about what women were reading goes way the hell back.)

Richard Altick in The English Common Reader actually did a fair bit with crunching numbers on publications and readers and such. I'm not sure if I'm relieved or not that he got kicked off my prelims list cos now I want to go back and look at it, though of course I need to focus on the books I already have. Altick was fairly seminal in shifting the discipline of book history from "how books were produced" to "who was reading them."

Anyway, fan histories/criticism tend to be written to focus on ethnography ("lookit what these people are doing! who are they?"), sociology ("look! it's women! *why* are they doing it??), and only now (like, literally, less than ten years) into literary critique ("this fan novel does x, y, and z."). I'm thinking if you apply book history practices to fandom, how we'll reveal things at a new slant: Not *why* women read and write slash, say, but what fans are really doing with their cultural preoccupations and so forth.

This can also be tied into romance studies, in a way. (Also, at PCA, I kind of wish I cared more about romances because what panels and scholars I have dipped into always seem to be consistently deep and well thought out. This year I attended a panel on gay romances and there were a couple of papers that were just really great histories of the emergence of those genres and how they were coded back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and it was *fascinating.*) Janice Radway's Reading the Romance basically focuses on the issues of women readers and writers, the patriarchy, and the middlebrow. Since a lot of fanworks are romances and erotica, a lot of this criticism and scholarship also applies. For instance, she has an essay about the supposition that romances are primarily lowbrow reading, except, of course, in terms of consumption and leisure time, a lot of romance readers are also middle class women.

Anyways, these are just so preliminary thoughts. So.
caitri: (Cait Yatta!)
Sending it by my committee again but I think this is The One!

Sharing because I'm inordinately pleased.

Read more... )
caitri: (books)
I meant to do it over the weekend but forgot. My bad.

Also I hear tell there's going to be a fan version of the poll/list, and anticipate many more fun books, and gods willing, less DWGs.

Now then. Meme!

NPR conducted a poll to determine the top 100 SF/Fantasy novels of all time according to participants.

Bold for read
Italics for intending to read
Underline for partial read series/books
Strikethrough for never ever reading

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien (Fuck yeah.)

Read more... )
caitri: (books)
Got my acceptance to Rare Book School for one of the summer sessions; really excited about taking Teaching the History of the Book with Michael Suarez. Then I remembered the Advanced Reading List and spent about fifteen minutes requesting my required texts, a bunch of my highly recommended texts, and some of the texts from the "for the overachiever" list.

Anyhow, just told Todd, who hasn't even turned his app IN. *grump!* Note to self: Bug him until he's turned it in!
caitri: (Default)
So I got an unexpected get out of jail free card and have been enjoying it.

Varamathras looks like I feel.

Scott called this morning from the Barnes and Nobles in Atlanta. We've been working our way through io9's 14 Best Speculative Fiction Books of 2010. He finished The Wind-Up Girl which I'm still stuck on--I like the chapters with Emiko but I loathe everyone else. Grr.

Anyway he was calling cos B&N had like none of the other books and he was about to give up and go to Amazon. He did pause to ask if I wanted to read Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian with him.

Me (reading from web review): "If what we call "horror" can be seen as including any literature that has dark, horrific subject matter, then Blood Meridian is, in this reviewer's estimation, the best horror novel ever written. It's a perverse, picaresque Western about bounty hunters for Indian scalps near the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s--a ragged caravan of indiscriminate killers led by an unforgettable human monster called "The Judge." Imagine the imagery of Sam Peckinpah and Heironymus Bosch as written by William Faulkner, and you'll have just an inkling of this novel's power." Llama, this sounds horrible!!!
Scott: Yeaaaaaaah... that was a bad choice wasn't it?
Me (laughing): YES! This is a HORRIBLE choice!
Scott (sheepish): Yeaaaaaah. Okay I'll get this for me and then see if they have How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe.
Me: Yes please!!!


Saw this NYT article about some coffeehouses banning ereaders and found it deeply amusing. I know I'm really in the minority but I do LIKE ereaders: I like that I can carry a bunch of books with me very easily. I don't like that I can't mark them up, deface or improve the text, or a dozen or more years from now look on one fondly because it holds special memories (like the copy of A Moveable Feast I took to Paris, or the copy of Inglorious I read in Japan while contemplating marriage to Scott), but that's why it's possible to have BOTH things.

(And I've said this before and will say it again: I would totally have my iPad's babies if I could. So there.)


I crossed the 10k line in my novel. I know it's a drop in the bucket/average size of a Trek story, but it's still something all my own and I feel proud. I've created a file that's a sort of appendices as I work out additional things. Most recently I've been trying to figure out the religion of the people on the planet of Uir. (See, it has a name now. Well that's what the inhabitants call it, not sure what the Terrans call it yet...) Since I'm talking about a half dozen countries on the main continent, I'm thinking there's got to be at least three biggies. Now how do they all interact???

Working, working...


Nov. 10th, 2010 10:02 am
caitri: (Screw Subtext)
Reading the new Star Trek reboot novel. McCoy just said "Holy cow!" WTF?!
caitri: (ample nacelles)
A couple of my friends suggested I try some soy milk to see how I handle it as I seem to be getting lactose-intolerant in my old age. So I bought some and drank a cup an hour or so ago and I feel pretty good actually. Although I gotta ask, is it supposed to look sort of tan? Cos that kinda freaks me out.


Spent most of today cleaning: the house looks kinda better. The movers are coming for Scott's stuff on Wednesday, and after that I'm going to re-do the guest room as a sort of study.

Anyhow, this is the first weekend I've had in ages to sort of decompress. I say 'sort of' because I've basically spent the past year in hyper-ahhhhhhhhhh! mode and now I'm actually sort of in a good place with a lot of things. But at the same time I'm also sort of counting to when I can go visit Scott. So it's all sort of odd and I'm way restless and even more ADD than usual.


Went to see Eclipse yesterday. Scott went at the same time so we can have sort of virtual dates. I enjoyed the film but not as much as the other two. But hella props to Melissa Rosenberg, the screenwriter, for continuing to infuse Bella with feminism and 5x the grrlpwr! of the series' Mary Sue-ish non-entity.

Scott and I are also going to start reading Lev Grossman's The Magicians together this week. Here we go with an attempt at respectable literature!


caitri: (Default)

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