It’s really been an amazing week for things to read on the internet. This is a huge post, but hopefully worth it.
From the New York Times, On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women, by novelist Meg Wolitzer (via @JanetNorCal). She does rehearse a lot of the same old concerns, but there are some interesting perspectives:
any lumping together of disparate writers by gender or perceived female subject matter separates the women from the men. And it subtly keeps female writers from finding a coed audience, not to mention from entering the larger, more influential playing field. It’s done all the time, and not just by strangers at parties or by various booksellers that have no trouble calling interesting, complex novels by women “Women’s Fiction,” as if men should have nothing to do with them. A writer’s own publisher can be part of a process of effective segregation and vague if unintentional put-down. Look at some of the jackets of novels by women. Laundry hanging on a line. A little girl in a field of wildflowers. A pair of shoes on a beach. An empty swing on the porch of an old yellow house.
Compare these with the typeface-only jacket of Chad Harbach’s novel, “The Art of Fielding,” or the jumbo lettering on “The Corrections.” Such covers, according to a book publicist I spoke to, tell the readers, “This book is an event.” Eugenides’s gold ring may appear to be an exception, though it has a geometric abstraction about it: the Möbius strip ring suggesting that an Escher-like, unsolvable puzzle lies within. The illustration might have been more conventional and included the slender fingers and wrist of a woman, had it not been designated a major literary undertaking.
But then there’s this:
When I refer to so-called women’s fiction, I’m not applying the term the way it’s sometimes used: to describe a certain type of fast-reading novel, which sets its sights almost exclusively on women readers and might well find a big, ready-made audience. I’m referring to literature that happens to be written by women.
I’m not sure what to make of that. “Women’s fiction” shouldn’t be used for literary fiction, but it’s ok to use for genre fiction?
Perhaps Wolitzer shouldn’t be so quick to assume only women read those “fast-reading” novels. Via Twitter, I discovered a romance review blog written by a man, The Romance Man, to be exact. I’ve enjoyed his rather blunt style:
We find out that Sam and everyone in the town knows that Joe beats Kasha yet no one has done anything about it, especially Sam. Apparently he was waiting for Kasha to leave Joe before he made his move. Here’s the thing, Sam loved Kasha, Kasha loved Sam, it was no secret, they each knew they loved each other, the whole town knew it yet Sam let her get her ass kicked for years waiting for her to leave Joe. What kind of fucking hero is that?
When I was a young man, full of arrogant energy**, I imagined that I’d write things that broke the mold, that sheared away from the conventions and showed that I Am My Own Man. I recognize the importance of experimentation, of striking out beyond the edges of the map, but I think that when one does this purely–or primarily, at least–to set oneself in opposition to an idea of “convention,” then one is basically just being perverse. “I will be different” is not much of an artistic vision. “I will fit in” isn’t either.
So one innovates, I suppose, and possibly it’s true that a lot of innovation by young artists comes about through error: the artist is actually attempting to paint like Vermeer but lacks the technique and temperament and so stumbles along creating glorious failures that have their own aesthetic power. “I made it that way because I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t know any better.” Yes, that happens. But it’s also true that artists, having gathered technique and experience together, see new possibilities and go on to do more difficult*** things. Some of the formal innovations of William Burroughs, for example, are accidental hack work; the formal innovations of Vladimir Nabokov, however, are deliberate and careful. Both are interesting aesthetic experiences, but because I’m an old-school worshipper of craft, I claim that Nabokov is the better writer though it’s true that Burroughs can be more fun.
Bailey reports not being able to share the readers’ aesthetic experience of his own work. That differs from what I see from genre writers on Twitter, who often talk about writing sex scenes that make them hot, or sad scenes that make them cry.
Kristen of Fantasy Cafe is launching a Women in SF&F Month in April. Yours truly is delighted to be a contributor. She explains,
After all the discussion recently about review coverage of women writing science fiction and fantasy and the female bloggers writing about these genres, I decided to dedicate the month of April to the women of science fiction and fantasy. Though I’m interested in the discussion overall, instead of talking about it more I’m choosing to make my contribution to addressing the issue by highlighting the women who are writing and reading SF&F. Throughout the month I’ll have authors, book bloggers, and other commentators making guest posts.
I saw The Hunger Games on opening day and loved it. As many of you know, I wrote an essay for the edited collection, The Hunger Games and Philosophy. My essay is titled: “‘She has no idea. The effect she can have': The Gender of Success in The Hunger Games.” That line is spoken by Peeta to Haymitch before the Games begin. It’s very important for many reasons but … it’s not in the film. In The Missing Hunger Games Line, Marcy Kennedy explores this strange omission. (Via @KellyMcClymer)
The Book Blogger UNcon, held on the same day as the official BEA Bloggers Con, is a go:
WHO? Book Bloggers
WHAT? An unconference dedicated to book blogging
WHY? Book Bloggers asked for an event that focused on entirely on book blogging.
WHEN? Monday, June 4, 2012
WHERE? The Center for Fiction, Midtown Manhattan
Jeff, aka The Reading Ape, proposed the idea of an unconference on March 21, after it became clear to him that the alternative, BEA Blogger Con, was not going to be the kind of event he had hoped for. It turns out that there are a lot of people who share that sentiment. It is not that BEA Blogger Con will not be a valuable experience for those who choose to go. If they have not attended the Book Bloggers Cons of the past, then attending this new event will definitely be a worthwhile experience. For many of us, though, the event will not focus enough on the actual book blogging. We want a forum where we can share our experiences, trade ideas, and have a whole room of other bloggers with whom we can discuss new ideas. One commenter envisioned it as a giant twitter chat, but with everyone in the same room. With snacks.
The beauty of an unconference lies in its flexibility. The event is what it needs to be on that day. We will decide, as a group, what we talk about and who leads those discussions on the day of the UNCON. We will all have some idea going in what we want those topics to be and (likely) who will be leading those sessions, but we are not going to set a strict schedule that must be followed. For some of us, that is going to be a new concept, so Jeff is going to come back and talk more about that in the near future. In order for this model to work (at least the first time around), we are going to limit the number of participants to 100 book bloggers – and it will be a book bloggers only event.
And we have more information about the agenda for the BEA Bloggers Con. But there’s still a lot more to be filled in.
Four bloggers can win a trip to BEA if they win a new contest:
To celebrate the role book bloggers play in the industry, Association of American Publishers members and Goodreads have teamed up for the Independent Book Blogger Awards.
Four bloggers will win a trip to BookExpo America (BEA) along with “free airfare and hotel accommodations and a pass to the three-day global gathering.” Bloggers can submit five examples of their best work to the contest; entries will be accepted from today until Monday, April 9th. Follow this link for contest details.
I would love to enter this contest, but I’ve already bought plane tickets and BEA admission. Great idea, but a little late guys!
Edited to add: Looking over the rules, they are quite restrictive. No non-US bloggers. No bloggers under 18 (although I think that comports with BEA rules). No profanity or lewd language. No use of anything copyrighted without permission (mental note: take down those images of The Hunger Games movie). Also, “Materials which are derogatory to Sponsors or any affiliated entity or Person” are prohibited, so that post you wrote about bad author behavior and Goodreads’ annoying refusal to stop it, may not be a good choice.
Are you a blogger who has wondered how to get noticed by search engines? This post, from Good Books and Good Wine, written as part of a recent Bloggiesta event, is for you. I was stymied at step 2, but I’ve favorited it for perusal this summer.
I hope I don’t regret linking to it, but there’s a heated dispute over whether an m/m reviewer refusing to review romances featuring trans men is behaving in a transphobic way, or in some way contributing to transphobia, or at the minimum, is being exclusive in a less than transparent way. This comment from m/m writer Alex Beecroft is clear and helpful:
I think for the purposes of the blog you are making a distinction between cis men and trans men, and are only reviewing books with mcs who are cis men, and the main complaint is that the review policy just doesn’t say so.
This may not look like a big deal, but trans men are men too, and some trans men are gay, so if you just say ‘gay’ or ‘m/m’ there’s no real reason to exclude trans stories from that.
I guess we’re supposed to assume the ‘cis’ from the fact that there’s a separate category for trans, but that kind of implies that trans men can’t be gay, or that gay men can’t be trans.
Nobody says you stop being a woman if you’re bisexual or a lesbian, but excluding trans men from the ‘gay’ category seems to imply that, if you’re trans, you’ll somehow never be man enough to be gay. You can see from Dani’s comment and from the anger of the other trans men who’ve commented that that’s a very hurtful thing.
I presume we’re all in this genre because we care about the feelings of LGBTQ people, and it’s pretty obvious that this is an issue that’s hurting the trans people in our community.
But why are romance novels trashy in the first place? Why do we tend to be so ashamed, even jokingly, about reading them?
Is it because the women in them have sex?
Is it because the women who buy them like reading about sex in varying degrees of explictness?
Is it because romance novels are kind of regarded as fancied-up porn with romantic trappings for women?
Speaking of porn, @Katiebabs asked a really terrifying question on Twitter the other day:
I do believe that, despite the temptations at our fingertips, there’s an obstinate, durable minority of people who, having learned to read, will go on reading books, however and wherever they can find them, on pages or screens. And because people who read books mostly want to share them, and feel however obscurely that sharing them is important, they’ll see to it that, however and wherever, the books are there for the next generation(s).
But here’s a short, neat video on the making of a print book that’s been all over Twitter the past few days.
Congratulations to Amy of My Friend Amy for seven years of blogging! Amy was featured in this Publishing Perspectives piece from earlier this year on why book bloggers matter. And Ana, another blogger I love, is now five! I loved her post a couple of weeks ago on reading and gender, a brief guided tour of her MA dissertation.
In a campaign released today, the professor makes his plea in an irreverent video that mixes in clips from a 90s true-crime show, and video interviews with students and professors shot from unusual angles. He explains that last year he ran the course, which is on digital storytelling and is called DS106, using his own equipment. But the class has grown so large that he needs a new server to keep it going, and he estimates that will cost him $2,900.
I enjoyed Dear Author’s series of posts about fan fiction, but I really enjoyed Aja Romano’s critiques of them, part 1 and part 2, and part 3. I personally wasn’t convinced by most of the arguments against turning fan fiction into published paid fiction, and Romero’s writing has helped me translate my gut feelings into actual arguments. These arguments may not win the day, but they are worth considering. Here’s another Romano fan fic piece from The Mary Sue. She wins the award for person who taught me the most in March. Actually, there is no award. Unless being linked to a lot in a small book blog is award-like. Erm, moving on.
I closed comments on my two Fifty Shades posts because they really devolved into crap. My Hunger Games posts, OTOH, continue to generate worthwhile critique, and I just wanted to single out today’s comment on my post Ten Things I didn’t Like About the Hunger Games by Hari Seldon. I’m very grateful to get the chance to rethink and reframe my earlier claims.
This hilarious video is making quite the rounds today: Drunk Canadian man sings Bohemian Rhapsody while in the back of a squad car. It is absolutely worth it to stick with it until the end, when he says, “Do you have to cuff me? Physical violence is the least of my priorities.”
We don’t have to travel any place for soccer this weekend, thank god. We’ll be heading to the cineplex to see Wrath of the Titans. It doesn’t matter if it sucks. We’re seeing it anyway. Cuz that’s how we roll.
We also plan to re-watch the first season of Game of Throne, although the kids are begging us to let them see it, too. We’re thinking no. I’m asking myself, “Have I explained incest to them? And is this the proper context in which to introduce it?”
On Monday, we are inducted in to a secret meat preserving society the existence of which we were unaware until a mere two weeks ago. It involves going into the basement of a centuries old home adjacent to Stephen King’s. I got a little nervous when I was instructed to bring a sharp knife, and a mixing bowl, and our children.
I hope you have a great weekend!