deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
I've updated the online reading list for my Fantasy and Science Fiction class at the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College.

Some random statistics might be interesting. I kept track of them for my own purposes, and then I had too much fun with pivot tables, so I'm sharing some of my results. Keep in mind these are often guesses on my part, because I only needed rough numbers, and I could be wrong.Many stats! )
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
So [ profile] diceytillerman and I have an expression, "killing the baby." For us it means that moment when an interesting thought experiment ceases to be interesting because there is a clear moral choice. (It comes from the moment in Lois Lowry's The Giver when, in my opinion, no reader can continue to think that there's a moral option in not destroying the protagonist's society. Although I have definitely learned over years of teaching the book that for many students that moral decision comes much earlier. Never seems to come later, though.)

One of the things I find frustrating about most dystopian novels is that, well, they are clearly dystopian. We don't have a word for Potential Utopia, Sort of Dystopia, Chetzi-Chetzi Dystopia/Utopia. By definition they are Bad Places™.

Yet for me, they're more interesting, not just as philosophical thought experiments, but both aesthetically and viscerally as stories, if it's more complicated than that. I don't want the dystopia to hold my hand and show me why a certain societal structure is wrong, I want the story to make both me and the story's own protagonists think about trade-offs. Is the society in The Giver one that has benefits that might offset its costs? Is the Empire really that much worse than the decadent final days of the Old Republic?

Of course usually the answer to these questions are easy. Usually there is some disastrously evil act the dystopian society participates in: infanticide, having a comically ugly evil dictator, secret slavery. But all this disastrous evil does is prevent us from having to consider the pros and cons of the two structures. All it does is make reading too easy.

I've talked about this before when I addressed my feelings about the difference between The Hunger Games the novel and The Hunger Games trilogy, how after book one I still thought the trilogy might be the dystopia I had been waiting for, the one that shows contemporary American society's dark mirror without requiring a cackling evil overlord.

Can you think of any dystopian societies where it's not that cut and dried? Ones where, ultimately, there's not a correct moral answer? And are any of them created for young audiences?

(What I think might come closest that I can think of is The True Meaning of Smekday, which isn't a dystopia at all, it's an alien invasion story. But within that alien invasion, there are constant reminders that what is the right versus wrong way to run a society is complicated. But alien invasion stories have their own genre conventions, and finding complication in your relationship to the other is, well. It was thinking about Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," that made make this post, but now I am inclined to think about her "The Word for World Is Forest" as an example of the alien-is-us trope. My first exposure to it was probably Enemy Mine. It's different, is what I am saying.)


Oct. 26th, 2012 10:17 am
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
My built-in china cabinet has long since ceased to be a cupboard to showcase hand-me-down wineglasses and become a closet for hats. Now I've outgrown that space, and my coat closet, too, has become overridden with hatboxes. Veils and feathers, fascinators and caps, boaters and fedoras.

What I'm saying is that I have a lot of hats.

I have almost as many metaphorical hats, though sadly they lack the trimmings of the physical kind. Usually I juggle my professional interests adequately, although every fall I come to terms anew with the reality that, for three months, my contributions to Dreamwidth are what I give up to make room for teaching. This year is slightly tighter than usual, because of membership on the Odyssey Award committee, but at least much of the time spent listening to audio books is time that would otherwise be dead space.

In any case, here is a description of the 48 hour period of which I'm currently in the center.

  • Yesterday morning, go to work as a digital archivist, where I've been having more opportunities to code of late as I've been contributing fixes and features to a blacklight/Hydra digital library portal we will be launching Any Day Now, and where I've been helping to manage our Open Access Week activities.
  • Leave after a short day to teach two sections of the children's and young adult SFF class I teach with Amy.
  • Get home at nearly 11 PM, go to bed, and wake up at 4:30 AM (on a gorgeous, starry autumn morning, Orion and Jupiter high in the sky) to catch the early train to New Haven for code4lib New England, where I'll be presenting on
  • On the train I'll be listening to audio books for the Odyssey Award committee;
  • when I return home I have some reading to do for Kirkus Reviews.

I do like hats. I like how they look and how they feel, how each one makes me into a slightly different person. But sometimes having so many gets a little complicated.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I just read Kate Elliott on the female gaze in FSF ("The Omniscient Breasts: the Male Gaze through Female Eyes") (h/t [personal profile] yendi), which is primarily I think talking about adult FSF. Inevitably when I read an article like this I want to send it to every feminist who trashes contemporary paranormal and dystopian romance for teens -- as, I admit, I sometimes do myself -- and say "look what the teen love triangles have that we should be down right thrilled about!"

Yes, ubiquity in any genre gets exasperating after a while. As a reviewer, trust me when I have a pretty good sense of what percentage of books for teens currently have almost identical romance plots. But when these books get trashed by feminist reviewers, we are ignoring that an entire generation of young leaders is growing up thinking the female gaze is normal.

I don't understand why Bella finds Edward Cullen's pasty skin and under-eye circles so attractive, but the fact is she does, she dwells on them, and she ogles endlessly. Clary Fray is far from flawless as a character construction, but that girl knows who she wants, and she is perfectly happy to leer and admire while she goes for it. So often we don't know that much about what these female protagonists look like, but we know everything about the physical characteristics of the objects of their affection. That's... pretty cool.

These books are usually still heteronormative and cis-normative. They are often still relying on fairly regressive gender roles, and can have bizarrely archaic notions of sexuality. But I'm really curious what we'll see from this generation of female and sometimes male readers who have learned to read with and not against the female gaze. I suspect it might be something pretty awesome.
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
is Disability and Posthumanism in Science Fiction and Fantasy for Children and Young Adults.

I suppose if one of you gets to it before I do I'll be grateful it exists for me to read. Because I want to read it almost as much as I want to write it.

[ profile] diceytillerman, [personal profile] astern, though? Neither of you better write this wthout me. Because this book, first conceived of in an IM conversation after an inspirational session (Collective Scholarship in Digital Contexts) at the 2012 Society for Cinema and Media Studies meeting in Boston, would be so much fun to write.

...I wish any of us had reasonable time management skills.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
A friend to whom I will refer as Jules Léotard recently pointed me towards this lengthy video which is the product of Focus on the Family's "True Tolerance" program.

Direct URL / Video in accessible player

The video points parents towards the stealthy methods those "sneaky" homosexual activists are using to get into the schools, such as devious, wicked anti-bullying campaigns. (The fact that 23.2% of students who have been bullied at school because someone perceived them to be queer attempt suicide is apparently irrelevant to these people, who provide a [PDF] "model anti-bullying policy" which is not intended to prohibit expression of religious, philosophical, or political views. Presumably including "you're going to hell for being gay.")

Anyway, their list of [PDF] devious homosexual agenda books you might find in your school makes me sad, because the only thing in there that counts as fantasy or science fiction is Uncle Bobby's Wedding. Is that really the state of homosexual agenda children's and YA books in F&SF? Hero, Cycler, and some albeit adorable queer guinea pigs? (I'm exaggerating. Somewhat.)

It doesn't work that way in my mind, where I forget that Tally Youngblood never hooked up with Shay; that it was just subtext in King of Shadows; that none of those gay best friends in paranormal romances are the main characters. This is a good time of year to remind myself that for all I am used to seeing the intense social conservativism in fantasy, I mustn't discount the strong strain of it in science fiction.

Also a good time of year to make the time to read Ash. *goes to request from interlibrary loan*
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Signal boosting from just about everywhere:

Stacy Whitman ([ profile] slwhitman), freelance editor and fellow Simmons Center for the Study of Children's Literature grad, is trying to start a new publishing company. Tu Publishing will be "a small, independent multicultural SFF press for children and YA." I can't even find words to talk about how wonderful this is, or how much this project is needed. You know what really sticks in my craw? Telling the students in my fantasy and science fiction class that my syllabus, with its pathetic selection of authors and characters of color, is not representative of the genre as a whole because my syllabus is more diverse.

Tu Publishing will only get off the ground if it gets enough funding. The startup is currently trying to get funding through Kickstarter, where you pledge to donate money to help them get off the ground. Pledges are only paid if the project launches, and people who pledge can get coupons, ARCs, etc.. If their funding drive works, they'll start accepting manuscripts in January.

Their submission guidelines say they are accepting books along the following guidelines: "Our first two books will be fantasy or science fiction, and we’ll specifically be looking for books that feature characters of color, characters from minority or non-Western cultures, and/or non-Western/minority cultures. That’s pretty broad — it could be Japanese or Jamaican, Alaskan Inuit or African American settings and/or characters. We won’t be looking for books where race is necessarily the issue–just really great novels that will entertain readers from 7 to 18." Though the guidelines don't specifically encourage authors of color, there is nothing about Stacy's or the Tu Publishing website that leads me to believe the house would ever say "thanks, but we already have an Asian author on our list."

If in one year, we get two presses dedicated to science fiction and fantasy from underrepresented communities (because don't forget about Verb Noire), that is a fabulous thing to have happen.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Tomorrow I'm going to be teaching Virginia Hamilton's The Magical Adventure's of Pretty Pearl (alongside Donna Jo Napoli's Breath and Robin McKinley's Beauty), and I have to admit I'm somewhat terrified, as a white instructor in front of a classroom of (apparently) all white students. It's such a complicated book, and I just don't feel like I have the qualification or training to deal with the text's complications, such as its valorization of the mammy figure, or the way it presents phonetically spelled-out dialect. This is doubly complicated for me by some of Hamilton's own writings on the language. When she talks about it, she acts as if she's inventing a dialect out of whole cloth, albeit somewhat researched:
"I tried to imagine what the speech patterns would be like for the first generation of blacks after surrender. I decided that the African influence would still be there in some of the characters who were with the group just as in Roots there was the African influence always on the people of that family. I tried to figure out what the language would be like from my research into the narrations from the time done by blacks, from the Caribbean dialects that I had heard and understood were pretty authentic as to the way people talked for generations in the Caribbean, and also from the way Africans speak contemporaneous today. It seemed to me that the use of "him," of the pronoun in a certain way, changed the language to make it seem older or newer in a very special way. I wanted to use "de," pronounced "deh" in the way we say "red," not in the old-fashioned way that blacks are supposed to speak, "and de (dee) man said," not that kind of thing, but "deh" which has a more flowing sound to it. That's why I included the footnote for the pronunciation: I was afraid that when people saw "de" they would pronounce it as "dee" like in the old slave narratives, and that was not what I was getting at, at all. I was trying to do different things, and I used the pronoun "him" many times in a very different way, which changes the language somewhat. It is dialect, but I don't think it's difficult; it is more language structure that has been changed than the dialect."
-- (Apseloff, Marilyn. "A Conversation with Virginia Hamilton." Children's Literature in Education, 14:1 (1983), 204-13.)
She does identify her research here, and as a complete ignoramus even I recognize certain vocabulary and dialect in Pretty Pearl having origins in Gullah, not made up entirely. But she self-identifies as an outsider to this folklore and language:
"The black folktales are uniquely southern. Many of you have known some of them all of your lives. As a northerner, I felt privileged to have got my hands on them. "
--(Hamilton, Virginia. "The Known, the Remembered, and the Imagined: Celebrating Afro-American Folktales" Children's Literature in Education , 18:2 (1987), 67-75.)
And then there are all the mammy issues, which in her own writing and talking about the book Hamilton identifies as strongly feminist, and I feel like my basic fandom/Internet-culture course in Intersectionality 101 hasn't prepared me for this. I feel like I need at least Intersectionality 201, and I probably need more historical context that I have.

You know how Zora Neale Hurston took a lot of crap for writing down oral traditions and making them available to white people? The more I prepare for this class, the more I feel like this is the kind of story which is a beautiful reworking of oral traditions for insiders, but in clumsy (my?) hands can just reinforce stereotypes among outsiders. I'm sure I don't have enough knowledge of musical history to be sufficiently lucid about the gorgeous call and response patterns the book evokes. I have only an academic knowledge of the John de Conquer stories, and though I was brought up on John Henry picture books like many American kids, they were decontextualized from their racial and class history, tossed in a pile with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox and Johnny Appleseed. I've been spending the evening reading selections from Alan Dundes' 1973 Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrel: Readings in the Interpretation of Afro-American Folklore, and the very fact that I've been finding so many of these incredibly dated essays (many from the 1930s) informative is excessively worrying.

I'm starting to think I'm not smart enough to teach Virginia Hamilton. Last year I tried to teach Justice and Her Brothers. It's bad enough that the book makes no sense without the rest of the Justice cycle. I find that trilogy too difficult for me under any circumstances. I hoped that teaching it my students might bring some insights to it but they were fairly hostile and I felt too dense about the whole thing to bring any deeper understanding.

And yet at the same time, the more I read children's literature critics discussing Virginia Hamilton, the more uncomfortable I am with their overall treatment of her. Not because it's not deserved -- Hamilton is an artist, an author who writes beautiful books that frequently made me feel like a complete idiot because they are so rich and complicated. But because the towering pedestal on which Hamilton's work is placed in the context of decades lacking any critical praise for any other black writer of children's and young adult novels feels, well, icky. How much of the praise for Hamilton's work acts as a Band-Aid making people think it's unnecessary to confront the absence of critically praised black American writers for children? Yet by raising this question, am I implying the Virginia Hamilton has received praise she hasn't deserved? Because that's not what I mean at all.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)

And this one isn't linkspam. Regarding some snide comments made by Richard Peck, Roger Sutton asks "What do you do when your favorite author turns out to be a puppy kicker?" it's really interesting that it was Richard Peck who provoked the question, because before I heard Richard Peck speak several years ago, I always would have said "Eh, whatever. I can distinguish the author from his or her works." But after this particular talk of Peck's, in which he revealed his immense loathing of modernity, teachers, adults, non-old-fashioned children, technology, and pretty much everything that departs from his romantic vision of early 20th century America, I discovered I could no longer read his books without seeing that loathing shaping every word. It's not that the author kicked puppies, it's that after I discovered his puppy-kicking tendencies I realized that all of his books were about how awesome it is to kick puppies.

I think that's why I can still read Orson Scott Card (at least the good stuff, which is the vast minority). Card himself is a master puppy kicker, but a fair number of his earlier books are actually about how people who kick puppies kind of suck, and puppies are going to grow to be dogs and isn't that awesome? On the other hand, I have a difficult time enjoying Spider Robinson anymore ever since I read an essay of his, realized that he idolized Robert Heinlein and Heinlein's screwed up gender politics, and then started seeing those screwed up gender politics in everything Robinson wrote.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I've been reading Mary Anne Mohanraj's (parts one and two) and K. Tempest Bradford's posts in John Scalzi's blog with interest and pleasure (pleasure from their powerful and eloquent posts, and because I am choosing not to spend Sanity Watchers points on the comments). The conclusion of Tempest's post, however, is what really caught my eye:

"SF doesn’t deserve half of the wonderful voices it silences, anyway, not to mention the amazing ones that do make it into print, because their awesomeness shines brighter than the sun. Knowing that, there are days when I just think: Fuck it. I’ll write YA, instead."

To which I had the supremely unhelpful response of "Yes, please!" Unhelpful because F&SF needs to get fixed. It can't afford to keep driving out all these wonderful people. It's wrong and it's strangling and it's stupid. It harms primarily readers and writers of color, of course, but also white readers and writers, in all of the important ways people have been talking about for months.

But I still can't help myself from thinking "Yes, please!" Because, Tempest, F&SF won't appreciate you, but YA sure as hell will.

(Note that I am absolutely not propagating the idea that any good adult writer can also be a good children's or young adult writer. Writing good young adult fiction is difficult, and it's a and it's a different skill set for a different genre. Moreover, most young adult fiction is full length novels; it's not a genre in which the short story is particularly in fashion. But that doesn't mean Tempest shouldn't try.)

It's not that we have no authors of color writing fantasy and science fiction for young adults and children -- I just reviewed Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's latest and Cindy Pon's debut, both due out imminently -- but nobody could argue that we don't want more.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
So here's a thing I wonder: there's a lot of talk going on right now about finding more books by authors of color. In children's and young adult science fiction and fantasy (my primary field), authors of color and protagonists of color are few and far between. So I wonder when I make a lengthy post (as I did earlier this afternoon) that happens to discuss several science fiction books by authors of color if I should be pointing that out, just because it raises the chance that bring these books to the attention of someone who might be interested.

The fact that the authors in question are PoC is not (exactly) relevant to the topic of the post, which is about science fiction genre conventions in general. On the other hand, the topic of authors of color is interesting to people right now (and I wish were interesting all the time). I know many of people would be interested in knowing that some of the authors mentioned in the post are science fiction authors who are also people of color. But it seems weird to call that out when that's not what the post is about, you know? I didn't even tag the post "race" because it's not about race. I don't know what I should be doing in circumstances like this.

Fundamentally I think I can say the Attorney General was right about at least about me: I am part of a nation of cowards. It's odd how much many of us Good White Liberals™ were brought up to believe that mentioning someone's race is somewhere between tacky and racist.
"You see that guy over there? The tall one? No, slightly to the left of the other tall one?"
"You mean the Indian guy?"

(Now there is another post I've been thinking of making about some of those same books, and this other post is about race. In the tiny set of science fiction by black authors marketed to young adults, there do seem to be a lot of books with very mythic spiritual overtones. I'm thinking of Walter Moseley's 47, Virginia Hamilton's Justice and Her Brothers trilogy, and Nnedi Okorafor's books. It's a tiny sample set, so I don't know if I can reasonably extrapolate from that. They are also authors with very different backgrounds and personal histories. But I'm intrigued by it, because it's a touch of mysticism that I don't feel like I usually see in other science fiction, either for adults or younger readers, including science fiction by black authors. Does anyone know more about this than I do? I'd love to learn more.)
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
(Note: This post started as being one about trends I see in young adult and children's science fiction, but turned into something of a critique of Farah's article. I want to preface the post, then, by saying that I have nothing but respect for Farah, and I agree with the overall thrust of her article and her point. I'm niggling because I see more positivity for the genre and the direction it's going right now than she does, not because I disagree with her overall thrust. ETA: Farah offers important clarifications.)

Wow, this got long. Dystopias in young adult science fiction, and optimism about the genre. )
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
For some time now, I have been unhappy about the thinning of the wall between authors and readers that has taken place in the blogosphere. I've never been able to pin down exactly why (except in little ways -- as a reviewer, I had to stop reading Scott Westerfeld's blog when he started posting gleefully about positive reviews he'd received from me). I've also found it frustrating when other people post mixed or negative reviews on their own blogs, which they immediately retract if the author shows up in the blog comments to ask why the review was negative. The sense the blogosphere gives us of all being friends makes it more difficult to fulfill the professional obligation of the reviewer: to advise people on where to spend their limited resources.

Now I have a non review-related example of how this thinning wall aggravates me. Will Shetterly's behavior online has made me feel uncomfortable about the fact that his Elsewhere is required reading in my class, because I don't want to give him the sales. This is clearly a ridiculous concern on my part. For one thing, I regularly support far more loathsome people with my purchases. Shetterly, on the other hand, was probably once a pretty well-meaning guy who has just reacted pretty badly to being told that his own history of hardship does not make him always right. But more important, much more important, the book is pedagogically important. It's a little-known precursor to the genre which would eventually spawn Wicked Lovely and Twilight. Giving Shetterly a few dollars in royalties (dollars he desperately needs; the man is filing for bankruptcy, not living large on ill-gotten gains, and unless I'm going to stop requiring Twilight I really just need to get over myself) is the necessary price to teach my students what I need them to know to understand the genre.

Still, it sticks in my craw. And it shouldn't, I should be able to keep the artist and the art separate in my head. It makes me sad that the blogosphere has made that more difficult for me.

ETA: A. helped me narrow down exactly what's making me uncomfortable here. It's not an artist being Wrong on the Internet; Orson Scott Card, for example, is Wrong on the Internet pretty much every time he opens his keyboard. It's this thinning of walls, this Internet-created feeling of fellowship which allows us to engage with each other in the same spaces. When Card is an ass, he's an ass in newspaper columns. When authors engage with their critics (not even critics of their books, but critics of their extratextual words) in the spaces populated by their fans and critics, I get uncomfortable. As A. pointed out, some of the people Shetterly is insulting, investigating, and posting rumors about could easily be my students or potential students. It's that which makes me uncomfortable, not his willful blindness to the legitimate concerns of people whose side he would like to think he is on.

Well, that, too.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
yAt! My copy of the encyclopedia Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Robin Anne Reid, has arrived. I wrote the essay "Girls and the Fantastic" and the short entries for Ursula LeGuin and Raphael Carter. I'm so pleased by it, and will shelve it right next to my Oxford encyclopedia of children's literature.

In other news, I'd like to encourage you to check out the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives blog ([ profile] tufts_dca), especially if you like photo blogs. [ profile] lamentables, I'm looking at you! We post about once a week, and most of the posts involve an awesome picture from our archives. For example, my most recent contribution there, "Disaster!", features a fabulous photo of Jumbo the Elephant looking just a tad battered.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
There's a minor kerfuffle going on in both F&SF fandom and media fandom this week about some accusations that academia is the enemy of genre fiction and of fandom, and that SF should never be taught, and that "fans don't teach" (emphasis original). Now, this amused me no end for any number of reasons (not least the assumption that the bloggers' own experiences that literary analysis lessens reading enjoyment is universal; not to mention the assertion that scholarship is "a way to secure tenure" -- excuse me while I look at my own adjunct paycheck and then ROTFLMAO), so I read without comment, and then toddled off to teach my course in F&SF for Children.

And there I realised why, perhaps, fans shouldn't teach. Because the students almost universally disliked a book I think is one of the best books of its year, a book to which I'd have given the Printz. As instructor, I had to tamp down the part of me that was screaming "Fs all around! Why didn't you like this book! Aiyee!" and replace it with the calm, collected discussion leader trying to explore the text's use of language and character development. I think I succeeded, but oh, it hurt.

And the fan in me wants to chant: "Stupid stupidheads."

(They are great students, and smart, and we have great discussions. But I question their taste.)
Page generated Oct. 23rd, 2017 01:15 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios