Literary Linking 28/02/15

To start things off, here’s Sunili Govinnage’s article in The Guardian on reading only non-white authors in 2014. One of the things that stuck out to me the most was this:

What this means is that if diverse books are only valued because they can be categorised as being different per se, they are still othered. Even if writers from diverse backgrounds might do commercially well and be critically acclaimed, they face the risk of being stereotyped for their work. Valuing a writer only for their diversity, but not their humanity or talent – that’s tokenism.

It’s something that I’ve noticed, especially in reading lists when I was at school and university. When we read, for instance, books by black authors about black characters, they were invariably books where race was fundamental to the story, like Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’m not going to pretend that Beloved wasn’t worth reading, just that its inclusion, without also including novels by black authors about black characters that weren’t about being black, reinforced the idea that the only stories worth reading from black authors were those that were about race.

In a similar vein, books by and about women and girls are considered books “for girls”, though the reverse does not hold true for books by and about men and boys. Shannon Hale talks on her blog about how she has done school visits where only girls were excused from class to hear her speak. Likewise, Kelly Jensen discusses the problem of “boys’ books” and “girls’ books” on Book Riot.

On io9, Lauren Davis talks about misconceptions about mediaeval life we have from fantasy novels. While fantasy worlds shouldn’t be carbon-copies of the societies they’re based on, there does seem to be a standard “Mediaeval Fantasy Setting” that includes certain elements that are not common to actual Mediaeval societies.

From Chuck Wending at Terrible Minds, How “Strong Female Characters” Still End Up Weak and Powerless (Or, “Do They Pass the Action Figure Test?”). Wendig discusses the difference between women who are physically powerful (and I think this can be extrapolated to women who are highly skilled in other areas, particularly traditionally male-dominated ones, such as the sciences), and those who have agency within the story. Although Wendig talks about female characters, characters from other marginalised groups also often lack agency, being relegated to the “Gay Best Friend” or “Sassy Black Friend” roles.

If you’re worried your characters don’t pass the agency litmus test, Daniel José Older has the answer in 12 Fundamentals of Writing “The Other” (And the Self).

From the Washington Post, Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. As a member of this generation, I can say that I love my e-reader, but it’s hard to read difficult texts that involve flipping back to re-read information. That being said, I think the article falls into the common trap of equating all forms of digital reading, when there is a vast difference between a non-wireless-enabled e-reader and a phone with push email notifications.

And in Nova Scotia, councillors in Halifax consider whether or not a new library, which does much more for the community than lend books, should be renamed. I’m firmly on the side of “no, it shouldn’t”, because while libraries evolve into community centres they are not divorced from their roots. They remain, fundamentally, places for the dissemination of information; whether a librarian is helping a patron find a book on birds or fill out a job application online, s/he is spreading information within the community. Libraries have changed in a fight to stay relevant in an increasingly digital society, but they should not do that by taking away what makes them unique; community hubs, after all do not traditionally employ people who can help you find the next item on your TBR list.


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