Shame on Scholastic

luv

Lauren Myracle’s Luv Ya Bunches will be missing from this year’s Scholastic book fairs. Why? One of the main characters has two moms.

Myracle says it best herself, ““Over 200,000 kids in America are raised by same-sex parents, just like Milla. It’s not an issue to clean up or hide away. In my opinion, it’s not an ‘issue’ at all. The issue, as I see it, is that kids benefit hugely from seeing themselves reflected positively in the books they read. It’s an extremely empowering and validating experience.”

Death of genres?

John Green said something interesting. Using the National Books Awards as a frame, he theorizes that the idea of genre is becoming less and less relevant, that the internet is changing the ways we find and read books, and that the ideal definition of genre is “the same people like them.” I don’t think I would argue the first two points, but I’ll argue the third because I’ve essentially already argued against it. Shannon Hale also argued against it when she says that whether or not you like a book may not be all that important.

I don’t really want to spell it out or unpack that argument, but I will say that I think the trouble here is, to go full circle, that we’re working with different definitions. One thing I didn’t say in my big ol’ post about definitions is that the reason we define things is to clarify what we want. What John wants from a genre (books that he likes… or something) is different from what I want (a loose-ish set of rules or conventions that tell the reader what to expect and give the author a structure to base her story on… or something). Wants lead to definitions lead to actual practice and then back again to wants.

So, though I disagree with John (who is a fabulous author, btw), I’m not gonna say he’s wrong. I will say, though, that our changing wants lead to changing definitions and that we’d all be better off if we don’t try to preserve our wants and definitions long past their expiration dates. The larger definition of genre (which I think is closer to mine than John’s) will surely change and so maybe I will have some catching up to do!

APE

I went to the awesome APE (Alternative Press Expo) this weekend! Wanna see my sweet haul?beat-never-book

First off, what I mainly went for: Kate Beaton and her hilarious (and almost educational) Hark, A Vagrant! comics.

I succumbed to the sales pitch of a manga distributer and picked up Children of the Sea. I haven’t read it yet, but the art is pretty fantastic and I’m looking forward to it.

And a total impulse buy, but probably what got me the most excited were volumes two and three of Aya by Marguerite Abouet. They are set in the Ivory Coast in the late 1970s, when the economy there was booming, and follow the main character, Aya, and her relatives and friends and friend’s relatives. The art is gorgeous, the books are gorgeous (cloth hardcovers and thick, all-color pages), and I was so happy and suprised to see all three volumes at the expo. EEE!

ChildrenoftheSea1_500 ayaofyopcity aya3

I also discovered about a billion new comics to check out (as well as bought a bee-ootiful print from Bold Riley), but the above are the actual books I bought. Too exciting, ain’t it?!

Science Fiction… and Beyond!

Charles Stross has a blog post up. He is a science fiction author of fair acclaim. I have only read one of his books, Singularity Sky, and it suffered from that classic SF symptom of Good (Great, Even) Ideas But Nothing Else Good At All, Really. Anyway, he wrote that he hates Star Trek (and most SF on TV) and has finally figured out why: it doesn’t fit with his definition with SF. That’s not what he said verbatim, but after copying part of an interview with a writer from Star Trek, he gives his definition. He writes, “SF, at its best, is an exploration of the human condition under circumstances that we can conceive of existing, but which don’t currently exist.” Star Trek and its ilk (BSG, B5, all the subsequent ST spawn) don’t fit with this definition, which makes them bad.*

This is ridiculous, of course. His definition is perfectly valid, but so are others (the definition of SF that birthed Firefly, for instance). Where he treads very dangerous water is his apparent obliviousness to the validity of those other definitions.** I’m about to say something inflammatory, so avert your eyes if you are trigger-y: that sort of insistence and that sort of exclusionary attitude (I am Right and therefore you are Wrong) is what starts wars.

The thing is… The thing is that people are different. That’s why they define things differently and care about different things and etc. It’s sometimes called taste, when you’re talking about what things people like and dislike, but it goes way beyond that. It’ll be easier to narrow the field if I focus in on something, so I’m gonna do that. That something is gonna be… uh… oh, I know! Books. Gasp!

So. Let me start with an anecdote. My brother’s ex-roommate and friend of ours, Elisa***, and I were talking one day when we hadn’t known each other very long. It came out during the conversation that Wicked is her favorite book. I was… surprised. Now, I’ve read Wicked and pretty much liked it and thought it was a good book and all, but. Come on! The musical is way better! The musical’s a wonderfully unexpected exploration of a deep friendship, both ups and downs, between these two strong female characters. With music! The novel explores what evil is and what it means to be evil and stuff. In other words, the musical is about character relationships (and music!), whereas the novel is about a specific theme. The latter moves slowly and goes off on tangents and none of the characters are likable (they are, in fact, mostly disturbing). I thought it was an interesting book, and I don’t regret reading it at all, and I in fact think it is probable that it’s even a good book by most accounts. But your favorite? I had to know why.

And, as it turns out, the answer is simple. Elisa loves explorations of theme. She loves other things, too, of course, but having a strong developed theme is what makes or breaks a book for her. It’s also what will keep her enthralled when other things are lacking. I only like theme. A lot of time, though less often now that I’m an old fart (of 23), a novel/movie/play’s theme will go over my head, so obviously it can’t be what I read for. Thankfully, the theme of Wicked is as explicit as it gets, and our conversation about it became much more productive after I found that out, because now we could talk about evil and how each character, even the setting and the plot and really everything, revolved around it. And not how everybody was unlikable and sometimes the plot was slow, etc. (As a sidenote, I think it’s really important to have these conversations with the people you talk to about books. Find out what they read for. It helps not only with conversations like these, but also helps you when you want to recommend or buy them a book!)

The things we like and dislike, the things we live for/read for/watch for, are multiple and not uncommonly competing (too much characterization gets in the way of pacing, for instance). Taste, and its larger unnamed buddy, is that area of balance where Our Things are all represented in a way that is pleasing. To us. To me. That is what I care about, after all. Me. The quintessence of perfection that is me! *cough*

Bottom line, don’t think that what you think is right. Do try to find out what other people think. Read a lot, and talk about books. Make definitions, but be flexible! Drink lots of water. If you stumble, get right back on that geriatric horse and continue to rule your own little universe like the benevolent god you are. And, uh, watch Emperor’s New Groove.

*He followed up that post with one that says, “All you people are equating me saying I don’t like something with me thinking it’s bad!” (paraphrased) I don’t really buy it, though. By his definition, ST is bad science fiction and maybe also bad storytelling. What he needs to say is that his definition isn’t the only valid one.

**To bring the conversation back quickly to my post on conventions, he is defining SF in a way that excludes some obviously popular conventions, which creates tension. OTOH, he’s very aware of which conventions of SF he likes, which helps him seek out entire books/etc he will like and to talk about SF on a more meta level. Even if it’s exclusionary.

***Name changed, but it’s from one of her favorite TV shows, Gargoyles.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

disreputable-historyWhen will I learn? When will I learn that when the entire YA blogging world (or the small portion of it that I read regularly) falls in love with a book that I will love it, too? First I put off the Hunger Games (and a link to my review of it) for ages, and now what?

I have spent the entire day reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I did not put it down, even when I should have been reading for school, listening to my professors’ lectures… It’s a bargain price hardcover on Amazon right now, which is how I bought it, and let me tell you, it is a bargain. What a frickin’ good read. Go buy it. Or, if you know me, borrow my copy.

Free books!

I love free books. I love books that are cheap. I love books that are expensive (but I don’t love to buy them). But free is just… beautiful. If you start following the book world, including the many book blogs out there, you will get more and more chances to get books for free.

One of my favorites, because it is very straightfoward and also because I WON once, is Free Book Friday. Every Saturday she posts a new book and every Friday she gives away some copies. And yes, I won. The very first time I entered, and never since. *sigh*

Anyway, be sure to check it out and don’t miss the sister site, Teen Free Book Friday!

The Greatest!

Did y’all know that there’s an ongoing argument about which book was the first novel written in English? The question mostly revolves around what the definition of a novel is – is it realistic or fantastical? is it dependent on length? does allegory count?

The Greatest! (I hope you appreciate the eye candy... He's too much a ruffian for my tastes.)

The Greatest! (What the heck is up with his shoulder?)

All of which is very interesting, but not what I want to talk about. According to that Wikipedia article, Robinson Crusoe is often accepted as the winner (if such a thing is something to be won, that is) based on a 1950s literary sociological study* by some dude. Not relevant. What is relevant, and interesting, is that RC came out in 1719! I repeat, 1719! What struck me immediately was that Shakespeare and other playwrights had been composing plays in English for over a hundred years prior to 1719. English, back then, wasn’t “high art”. It was the language of the people. The written word was for ponces, plays were for the everyman. Of course, it’s also important to remember that the novel as an art form was in its infancy. If you really wanted to be taken seriously, you didn’t write “fiction”. You still sneer at the word! You wrote History! or Science…-y! books and you wrote in Latin.

I’m an art student and the couple of theory and history classes (and even the studios) I’ve taken have all talked about this dichotomy between high and low art. When I was talking last week about genres and conventions and briefly in my post about awards, I was also talking about high art and low art. The genre ghettos are literature low art and the books that win most of the awards are high art. Why? Because that’s the culture at the moment. As we can see, looking back to when writing in English was “low”, these things change.

*Note to self: need more literary sociology in life!