What I'm Up To, Politics Fatigue, and Links

This is week two of my two week uni spring break. I’ve been working pretty hard and not breaking at all, but it’s nice to do so without teaching at the same time. The only day I’ve taken completely off was yesterday, when I dragged an arm chair in front of the wood stove and sat with a cup of tea, my pets, and my kindle all day. It was so nice.

I got a call from the hospital yesterday (where I work as an ethicist, and am always, more or less, on call). The doctor asked, “Are you here right now?” in a tone I know well,  and I knew I could either say, “No, I’m not” in my apologetic voice, or “No, but I can be there in ten.” I went with option A, and am still feeling a little guilty about it today. But I know there are others who are well-equipped to help him with his issue, and I wasn’t reneging on my “day off” promise to myself.

It’s that time of year in Maine when you’re really ready for spring, but it’s a good month away. It’s sort of gray, the snow is still in dirty piles everywhere, but receding enough so that you can see that you really ought to have protected your dangling and wilted shrubbery a bit better. It’s not quite freezing yet not exactly warm, but you’re so sick of your overcoat that you’d rather freeze without it.  It snows an inch or two every few days just as a reminder that one more big storm may yet happen.  The family’s winter gear is covered in mud and needs a good washing, but you feel winter is almost over, so it can wait.


There’s a lot going on online. Responding to the latest data on gender bias in books journalism,  Jennifer Weiner wrote about the need for an all girls book network at The Guardian. Then she did some “rom fail” style tweeting E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, and some tweeps who liked that book responded negatively to her. So Weiner tweeted that she just wasn’t going to say anything negative about other women’s books, which I thought had to be a joke, until I read her blog post, that confirmed it. This is all happening at the same time the romance Fever by Joan Swan is getting a lot of criticism for featuring a racist character who uses racist language in an objectionable way. See the review that started the discussion, Mandi’s at Good Reads (which the author gave her some grief over), and then see Jane’s review at Dear Author.  Over at Something More, Liz has some thoughts on How Mean is Too Mean When We Talk About Books?


If you are interested in pursuing the fan fic question around Fifty Shades of Grey further, here is a good post and thread by PNR author Jami Gold.


If you are a fan of Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed series, you now have your very own convention (via @smexybooks).


As iphone 4S owners, my spouse and I got a good chuckle over Funny or Die’s parody of the annoying Siri ad with the kid and the rock band.


If you are attending Book Expo America in June and need a roommate, here is a place to find one. I’m looking forward to BEA, but I would like to stop receiving emails for a webinar on how to use Google +, which, as far as I can tell, is used only by those of my friends’ kids who are too young to be on Facebook.


Via @inarascott, this gave me a smile.


Via @booksmugglers, a post on coverage of women in sff blogs.


From Foz Meadows, interesting post on YA dystopias:


And yet, for all that, there’s a maddening dearth of danger and consequence both in the bulk of YA dystopias – danger, which is here distinct from action, and consequence, which is here distinct from loss. Battle scenes and dead companions are staples of YA dystopia, and yet they tend to feel like punches pulled, potential roundhouse blows swerving away from successive protagonists and into their nearest and dearest.


Why deleting your Pinterest account over copyright concerns is an overreaction.


This Slate article on critic John Leonard was really interesting. Among the interesting bits, some “hard-won guidelines for responsible reviewing” (h/t @MarkSarvas):

First, as in Hippocrates, do no harm. Second, never stoop to score a point or bite an ankle. Third, always understand that in this symbiosis, you are the parasite. Fourth, look with an open heart and mind at every different kind of book with every change of emotional weather because we are reading for our lives and that could be love gone out the window or a horseman on the roof. Fifth, use theory only as a periscope or a trampoline, never a panopticon, a crib sheet or a license to kill. Sixth, let a hundred Harolds Bloom.


Jonathan Franzen thinks Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Pot, meet kettle. Predictably, Twitter folks had reactions ranging from amusement to anger, many of them under a #jonathanfranzenhates hashtag. Carolyn Kellogg asked:

Which was kind of not the point, as Rohan Maitzen pointed out:


Where would you be without your library?, an adorable video from a small library in Massachusetts. (via @shelfawareness)


I’m feeling very exhausted with all the politics, and staying away from Twitter and the blogs a lot more than usual. The heightened political tensions are seeping into the book blogosphere, which is appropriate and great, but not where my head is at right now. I’ve enjoyed lurking a bit in the discussions, but am not feeling the energy to participate. In my defense, I currently teach, research and direct graduate theses in feminist theory, and am active in my community on women’s health issues. With colleagues, I’m starting major work next week on overhauling our women’s studies program. So, it’s not like I’m not doing anything! I’m just in a mode where I want my fiction reading and blogging to just be a hobby, be an escape, and be fun. I feel like running away from the internet at this point, have even thought about closing up shop here (that wistful feeling that inner peace is on the other side of a farewell blog post, I call the “Tumperkin effect” ), so choked do I feel by all the righteous anger (much of it justified, which makes it even worse). In short, I’m just trying to focus on books right now. So, I hope you enjoy these links to what other people have to say about important issues, and from me, expect a review of Patricia Gaffney’s Lily very soon, maybe even today.

16 responses

  1. Thank you for linking to the Lady Business post on the coverage of women in SF/F (and for all the other really interesting links, as usual). Also, I completely understand feeling exhausted and needing to step back a little bit from even issues you care deeply about.


  2. I for one would be very happy to have a refuge right now that is all books, all the time.

    I have a week off from dayjob in April, which will be filled with family visiting, but also hopefully some reading. Have been pondering what books to bring for weeks – physical ones that have been languishing, that if I finish I can then leave with a relative to read after me.


  3. I love this post, Jessica, and feel your same weariness, winter and otherwise. I had an interesting conversation once with an oncologist who reads romance. In her words, “I deal with death daily at work, when I go home I want guaranteed escapism and happy endings.”

    So, do not feel guilty, because everyone needs some down time. I hope you’re enjoying that toasty woodstove and whatever book you’re reading! :o



  4. I’m feeling fatigue of many kinds too, but haven’t been able to detach as well as you have, despite making that a goal for Lent. I need to keep working on it (if my other choice were reading, not grading, I might get off the Internet more).

    It’s ironic that Franzen and Weiner should both come up here. He has no problem making critical statements; he must be (or maybe not?) aware that people will mock and criticize him for those statements, but that doesn’t stop him. He doesn’t seem to care that it might lose him friends or readers.

    Maybe that’s a benefit for him of not engaging with social media. He doesn’t have to see the responses. But I also do think this is a male vs. female style issue (as Meoskop pointed out on my blog post). For Franzen, part of the job of being Important Writer is making big statements. I think Jennifer Egan was operating from the same place when she dissed chick lit after winning the Pulitzer. I didn’t like her broadly dismissive comments, but should she not have made them because women must support each other/they offended people? Inthe end, I think yes she should say what she thinks. And people who disagree should argue against her, not silence her. The same for Weiner. If people disagreed with her comments about the book, by all means point out why she’s wrong or how you read it differently, instead of telling her to shut up. But I do think the “shut up” happens because we can be deeply identified with our taste and the stories we enjoy. It can feel like an attack on the reader even when not framed that way.


  5. Thanks for, as always, an illuminating tour of the links that make us go hmmm. Here’s a link to my #goodreads rant on authors and Fifty Shades: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10818853-fifty-shades-of-grey … in the ultimate irony, I wrote it before Jennifer Weiner decided to romfail Fifty Shades and then this and then that, culminating in her blog of yesterday.

    My opinion of Weiner: that she was wise to acknowledge the incongruity of self-labeling herself the Crusader of Women’s Fiction (the Guardian piece) while snarking out a woman writer … I leave it up to her to decide how she wants to present herself online. I certainly feel comfortable pointing out the juxtaposition of what she says/does on the one hand and then says/does on the other. I’m no publicist but a consistent public face is probably not a bad plan … as always, WWN*D? * = Nora Roberts.


  6. Thanks for the link to my post questioning the ethics around the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey! :)

    And believe me, I understand about being exhausted from all the drama. I wrote my blog post for my readers. I never reached out, linked, or tweeted to the fandom, but they found my post anyway. :) Not that I’m saying they were unwelcome, but refereeing a fight between dogs and cats wasn’t how I was planning on spending my Tuesday. LOL!


  7. Seeking/Providing a place of respite is, IMHO, a valid manifestation of “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. The news of the last eight months has imposed a firm ordering of my Internet time – news, analysis and opportunities for action come first, followed by book blogs. Retirement has shown me that I probably could have been more effective with important issues if I had honored a need to restore my own calm/well-being along the way rather than waiting for peace “at this end of this crisis”. My favorite part of this post was hearing about your wood stove, cup of tea, kindle and honesty in a phone conversation.


  8. @Nymeth: Thanks!

    @Victoria Janssen: Isn’t that a happy activity? Trying to pick books for a trip? Love it.

    @ Jan : Well, you know, I am going to start the The Magicians. consider me your shadow book club member, lol!

    @Liz Mc2: I just… don’t at all agree that showing solidarity means not criticizing other women’s books. Then again, her tweets were pretty dismissive of both the book and its fans. But Weiner has made herself the standard bearer for women writers. Maybe that does put her in a unique spot? I don’t know. I come from philosophy, where the highest compliment is critique, so my view may be skewed. See? I’m like mush. Ignore me.

    @Janet W: Well, exactly. Free speech means freedom to get criticized. Perhaps she should not have assumed that among her thousands of followers there weren’t any Fifty fans, and should have been better prepared to defend her view of its literary merits.

    @Jami Gold: Oh, dear. I did not mean to imply that because I’m a bit fatigued, that others should not be writing posts like yours. I’m glad you wrote your post, and I was happy to share it. I just meant, I’m too tired right now to get into these issues, important as they are. It was about me, not others who are fruitfully engaged.

    @Kathryn: Thanks!


  9. @Jessica: @Jessica: No worries. I knew what you meant. :)

    I was speaking more about how exhausted *I* am after dealing with all of that. LOL!

    And that was interesting news about Weiner. I’d hate to think that female authors were ever held to different (assumedly, lesser) standards simply because we’re women. I hate that kind of discrimination. I read her blog post, and I didn’t come away with that impression from her, but… I really hope that’s not what she meant.


  10. I’ve read neither the Twilight books nor Fifty Shades of Grey, but I read a good-sized bit of the Jami Gold post-and-thread you linked to, until it began to seem as if every comment was just more of the same on one side or the other. (Not to mention that some people have some really bizarre notions of copyright law.) I’d really like to see someone with a solid grasp of literary traditions and conventions grapple with fan-fic from a literary perspective, and I think that would go a long way to shedding some light on the ethical issues as well. Lots of people on the anti-James side complained that the Fifty Shades of Grey characters were too like Edward and Bella, in that, e.g., FSG featured a shy brunette and a domineering man with messy bronze-blond hair. Well, except for the domineering part, that could describe my husband and me, and about thirty thousand romance couples. Nobody complains that T.H. White, Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Stewart or about a gazillion other writers didn’t invent King Arthur and his court from scratch. Somebody noted that Wicked could get a pass because it was parody. How about Wide Sargasso Sea? How about The Aeneid? How about 90 percent of the plays of William Shakespeare? The history of western literature is chock-full of re-tellings, reinventions, and spinoffs, and all too many of the criticisms of fan fiction seem to be either ignorant of this history, or over-influenced by modern notions of intellectual property. The thread even had people casting aspersions on people covering other people’s songs. Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was a cover. So was The Carpenters’ “Superstar.” Clapton’s “Crossroads.” Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.” From an intellectual property perspective, there are special rules that allow for covers and compensation to the songwriters. From an artistic perspective, who doesn’t want covers? Who wants to stop P.D. James from publishing Death Comes to Pemberley? If a piece of fan-fiction is poorly written or edited, sure, criticize it for that, but just because something is, in copyright terms, a “derivative work” doesn’t mean that it can’t be dazzlingly original and satisfying.

    I have no horse in this race, except as a reader. I haven’t read much fan fic, and based on what I have read, Sturgeon’s Law is in full force and effect in the field. I don’t write it, because I’m fully capable of creating my own characters and situations (it’s plotting I have trouble with). I just think a lot of the condemnations of Fifty Shades of Grey and other works that people have suspected are fan-fic, like the excellent I Just Play One on TV (which I don’t mean to assert actually is fan-fic), are a bit shallow and ill-informed.


  11. I’m glad you’re paying mind to your own needs. You can’t help others if you draw your reserves down to zero when there’s no need.

    Like you, I’m bemused at Jennifer Weiner’s rash promise to not say anything bad about woman-authored works. We can promote and celebrate women writers without making a blanket promise to only say good things about them. Constructive criticism and thoughtful engagement with their work is far better for everyone interested in promoting women writers than hitting the mute button whenever you see a problem.


  12. Hope spring break is a refreshing time out. I understand the need for refuge.

    The JWeiner thing seems so much like the nice girls/mean girls thing we struggle with in romancelandia.


  13. @Jami Gold: Re Weiner, I think we’ll just have to see how it plays out. I mean, she clearly doesn’t mean she’ll never criticize another female author, because she does so in the post.

    @etv13: I have found it difficult to work up any outrage at all about EL James, but I chalk much of that up to not understanding fan fiction communities and their norms. Some arguments, like that something that was once free should not now have a price, do mystify me. I am quite used to things going from free to unfree, and books are the kind of thing I expect to pay for. I agree with you that there is a lot of homage and parody and everything else, but one difference that stands out is that the reliance of a book like Wide Sargasso Sea or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on Eyre or Austen is quite plain to everyone, in contrast to the way EL James has not acknowledged the provenance of the Fifty trilogy in the Twilight fan fic universe. Then again, as someone familiar with both Twilight and Fifty Shades, I saw so little resemblance that it makes me wonder whether a lot of what is being written as “fan fiction” is already so removed from its source material that it’s really no problem in “filing the serial numbers off” to publish it. On the other hand, maybe so much of the subgenre is already so like Twilight that even small differences seem large enough compared with the slew of post-Twilight PNR YA that;s been published. The argument I find most compelling is the one based on the norms of the fan fic community. But even then, there are cases, and there are cases. So, I like reading what others have to say. I figure if so many people are so mad, there must be *something* to it.


    Constructive criticism and thoughtful engagement with their work is far better for everyone interested in promoting women writers than hitting the mute button whenever you see a problem.

    This is how I feel, too. If she meant “hey, flippant snarky criticism is not what I am about”, that would be ok. Everyone has their own style of critique, and if Weiner feels she has reached a status as a mouthpiece for women writers such that she can’t write that kind of snark, fine. But to say “no criticism of fellow female writers” is a different thing altogether.


  14. Pingback: Stumbling Over Chaos :: Land sakes, linkity!

  15. @Jessica: “unable to work up any outrage” is a good state to be in. I agree there might be something to the “norms of the fan fic community” position, except that many of the members of the Twilight fanfic community seem to be James’s most avid supporters, so it’s not as if those norms are uncontested. My take-away from this brouhaha and the many similar ones about authors-behaving-badly is that we should for the most part judge the work on its own merits. It’s useful and interesting to evaluate a work in terms of its relationship with other works, as an adaptation, a refutation, homage or whatever, but not so useful to evaluate it in terms of whether we think its author is a jerk. (And I say this even though I won’t pay to see a Polanski movie, or buy an Anne Perry mystery.) I read a biography of Georgette Heyer ten years ago, and I haven’t read a Heyer novel since, and frankly, I wish I hadn’t read the biography. I think I’m getting pretty close to overcoming that and embarking on a re-read, but that ten years of estrangement from books I really loved is a cost. Dickens was an asshole to his wife. It may well be that Shakespeare was an asshole to his. (I can think of scenarios where leaving her the second-best bed is a loving in-joke, but I can’t deny that at first blush it seems pretty hostile.) It’s interesting and sobering to know these things, but they’re not all that relevant to an evaluation of Great Expectations or Hamlet as works of art.


  16. @etv13:

    I agree there might be something to the “norms of the fan fic community” position, except that many of the members of the Twilight fanfic community seem to be James’s most avid supporters, so it’s not as if those norms are uncontested.

    This is a great point. Indeed, it may be that the angry folks are a small minority (not that this would make them wrong, of course). I have no idea.


    My take-away from this brouhaha and the many similar ones about authors-behaving-badly is that we should for the most part judge the work on its own merits.

    I agree with this, and I try, not always with success, to practice it. It is so easy for me to ignore the personal lives of long dead writers, but I find it harder with contemporaries, especially contemporary writers I consider to be part of my extended online community.


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