the conundrum of avoiding the rue problem

I read Gretchen McNeil’s Ten for the Hub Reading Challenge, but also because it said it was a slasher film in a book, and that sounded completely excellent. And in that sense, it totally delivered as a delicious slasher film that completely takes all the tropes and characters present in those and does nothing to update them, and that’s great, because nobody wants you to update them. They’re great because they’re utterly predictable.

But there is a point where things get meta, and where they get meta, they get weirdly racial and problematic, and even though I have no business assuming that McNeil did this in response to a current event that happened barely a year ago (except also, to be fair, it happened longer ago than that), but I’m going to, because I think it allows me to think about an interesting concept in writing.

So everyone knows that the book The Hunger Games has Katniss as maybe something that’s not totally white, or at least not totally WASP, but that everyone read her as white and it’s not really a problem, because that’s what the author is. But what some people didn’t notice in the book is that there were some people of color in it. Because, if you are the kind of person who thinks about literature and problematic things in literature, you probably know how everyone reads everyone as white, no matter the reader’s color, unless it is explicitly stated repeatedly that the character is not. And sometimes not even then. This isn’t really up for discussion as far as its validity, because everyone knows that it is more or less fact, because it’s the way we in the U.S. were socialized to read. Continue reading

i hate libraries, creepy people, and everyone who thinks i’m not human because i’m a woman of color

Today my (white and blonde) friend and I went to a library to do some observations. We’re in library school, preparing to be youth services librarians, you know, so we were sitting in the teen section of said library and critiquing it. We were being pretty quiet and respectful, or at least she was – I kept saying things like “This blows” and “This is the most badly designed space ever.” We were in a back corner of the library, far away from most other humans there except for two teenagers who looked pretty annoyed that we were there and talking shit (sorry, it’s a beautiful building for a house, but the space was deeply uncomfortable and way too quiet). We both believe that teen spaces in libraries are for teenagers and that adults only have business in those areas if they are quickly browsing and then leaving or if they are the librarian. Obviously we are not technically either of those things, but clearly we had a legitimate, non-creepy reason for being there, and if a librarian had come up to us to ask why we were there, we could have explained that we are graduate students studying library science and that also we are pretty young, as far as adults go.

Anyway. We’ve been sitting for awhile, and all of a sudden I hear, “Hi, beautiful.” HORRIBLE, I know, but I looked up the way you do when you hear your name. GROSS. A telling reaction, I think you’ll see. Anyway. It’s this man who is maybe in his 50s and dressed kind of strangely and layered (but in a way distinct from the average homeless library patron – he was clearly the quirky kind of person, not the down on his luck kind of guy), and he comes over and says, “So, you must be either Hispanic or Ethiopian.”


those who hate “sick lit,” try #whitegirlproblems

So you might have heard about all that criticizing of “sick lit,” which is the new buzzword for adults who think they know about YA from having looked at synopses (you can always tell how invalidated these people’s arguments are when the comments are closed and the person has no experience as a librarian, writer, teacher, or scholar of the stuff, as you can see here). “Sick lit” has replaced Meghan Cox Gurdon’s ridiculous “Darkness Too Visible” article on the Wall Street Journal as the way to demonize YA for teaching teens that bad things happen in the world. They are written by people who know so little about children’s literature as to say things like “so-called ‘young adult’ (YA) fiction” (seriously, Russell Smith? A publishing category around for decades is just so-called? Anyway) and who think that a book published in the last five years was the first to “break the taboo about writing about suicide” (Tanith Carey). Basically, these people spent five minutes looking at YA and determined themselves experts, which I suppose is the same as men holding panels on reproductive rights and barring women from saying “vagina,” or politicians who have never been in classrooms telling teachers how to teach. This is about people with hegemonic power trying to keep it at all costs.

Of course, the real thing that these “concerned” adults are decrying is the idea that novels for teenagers might be something other than didactic and for an audience other than upper-middle-class white people with problems that cannot be easily solved with a little Kumbaya or finding true love that accepts you for who you are. There are scholarly articles about this, too, because people cannot get enough of criticizing these sick lit novels. And they have a point, to an extent – it is ridiculous when your novel hinges entirely on a kid with cancer and lacks, you know, a real plot, characterization, and compelling other things going on. But when these conversations move from Lurlene McDaniel to people with slightly more literary prowess, it gets ridiculous, because they are criticizing the wrong part of sick lit: the presentation of teenagers as people with serious difficulties in life instead of the problem novel-iness of it all. Continue reading


Since I’m still plugging away at Fifty Fifty Me (if all 12 months of the year were like my last three, I might actually be in danger of not fulfilling the reading requirement – that’s not a problem because I have already read a gazillion things this year, but regardless, I still feel like a failure), I watched a documentary on Netflix the other day. It’s called Busting Out, and it’s about boobs, which is one of my favorite topics EVAR. I have tons of thoughts on the topic, based in gender and sex roles, in my self esteem issues as a teenager (it is damaging to weigh about 100 pounds as a teen and hear a dummy Victoria’s Secret employee say that if their bras don’t work for you – since, you know, they’re required to size you incorrectly – you should go to Lane Bryant), and in my general sociological interest of the world. So I was so excited to watch something that purported to be about all these things.

While you can tell very easily that it’s incredibly low budget, the movie’s not horrible. It’s also short – barely an hour – so if you want to view it and consider using it in a classroom or Girl Scout troop or something, it’s probably a great candidate. It’s one of those personal journey documentaries that also deals with some history and interviews, which was a little disappointing, because I was expecting a bit more focus on history/sociology/anthropology/etc. There was a little of everything, under the general umbrella of exploring why Americans think boobs are so fascinating and yet so gross and yet in other parts of the world, they’re not sexualized at all. Continue reading

fashion: bad at doing it, good at loving it – part four

I love Project Runway. As far as reality shows go, I appreciate it because it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It acknowledges it’s rigged and doesn’t pretend otherwise by inviting fan votes. It has judges who are part of the industry it supports (and who are respected in their fields) as judges and mentors, not people who are famous and boring and say empty things (see: Nicole Scherzinger on The Sing-Off). And it’s interesting because the contestants on the show are regular ol’ people who just happen to be talented at something that works for TV (unlike a writing show, which I would love to be on and have challenges and stuff, but nobody but other writers and sadomasochists would want to watch), and so you really get to see them being interesting, and then dumb, and then ugly on the inside, just like real people. Shows like Real Housewives don’t do it for me, because those are ugly people who live unreal lives, so their ugliness is just gross and also just surreal. But contestants on Project Runway get to exhibit all of their human awkwardness. And to me, at least, it actually seems real–meaning that I can generally understand the points all the judges make, and sometimes I am utterly confused about their decisions until I consider that this is a competition for high fashion and couture, and often I am attracted to the clothes that I look like I would want to wear them to work or school, and that’s not usually the point of the show.

My favorite part of this show is probably any time that Michael Kors says something in Yiddish and Heidi Klum gets cutely confused because she thinks he’s speaking German. Continue reading