in the shadow of liberty

I read In the Shadow of Liberty in just under two hours, over the course of two nights of elliptical sessions. It’s a quick read. I made a mistake making it my gym book, because holding a hardcover with one hand two nights in a row is a great recipe for finger pain and hand cramps.

This is good, but I don’t see it as quite as revolutionary and amazing as so many others seem to. That may be a result of the fact that, as a black person and a lifetime avid reader, even “untold” histories of black people are less astonishing (and less likely to have been unencountered) to me than they would to a white reader of any age. Davis makes a point at the beginning of the book of noting that he strove use the word “enslaved” over “slaves” in order to draw attention to the fact that these were people, not items, and to drive home how horrifying the institution of slavery was, which is all well and good, except that he’s not all that consistent with it. Further, he uses “servants” indiscriminately, and while more than once he points out that white people called slaves their servants and that is incredibly problematic, but he also does so himself, so I don’t think it’s really going to drive the point home. We all know from the Rue problem and others that white readers need racialized things yelled at them in print a million times before they actually see them.

I’m trying to figure out who this book is for. Continue reading

on kidlit nonfiction, that incendiary nyt article, and “dumbing down”

There is an interesting conversation that went on last week on the child_lit listserv about this NY Times article on the trend of adult nonfiction authors rewriting their titles for young audiences. I was going to reply there, but the conversation has sort of gone dead, and everyone on that listserv dislikes me anyway, so instead I will write an essay about it. Of course, this is in fact not a new trend at all, but the Times could get more clicks if they claimed it was and also if their headline was “Hey, If You Hate YA Because You Think It Means Everyone Is Getting Stupider, Click Here and We Will Let you Complain About That,” so that’s what they made their headline. Long story short, because I don’t really like summarizing things, the article was about when publishers and authors take a best-selling nonfiction book for adult readers and adapt it into something suitable for younger readers. Surprisingly for a piece of writing about a topic in which the journalist has no expertise and doesn’t care, this one actually doesn’t use “YA” as a catchall to mean “anything for people who can’t vote that is longer than 32 pages and in a smaller trim size,” so my Bingo card for the Journalists Who Know Nothing About YA Except That It’s Trendy Refusing To Consult Experts Before Writing Articles Game is not full. So that’s awesome. Anyway.

There are interesting things going on here for sure, and I can see plenty of sides to it. Having been a kid when the book Chinese Cinderella (Adeline Yen Mah) enjoyed some success and was a trendy thing to read, especially after A Child Called It, I remember reading it and then finding another book by the same author, titled Falling Leaves. Given that as early as I can remember, I read books like a script supervisor and thought often about what my moves would be when I was a publisher, you can imagine my surprise when this book was the exact same as the book I had just read. Continue reading