It has definitely been a while since we’ve had a nice solid discussion, and in the year 2019, I’ve taken the time to really think about why I write or why I wrote discussion posts.
I’ve taken down a few from last year, and reread others, and in 2019, I want to do better. And better means
- less reactionary (big oof)
- more thoughtful + nuanced
- braver. eloquent. reasoned.
I’ve shied away from writing discussions, because all of my discussions are conversation starters now, not conversation reactions. And this means being at the forefront of a conversation, which is a big responsibility.
It means Twitter notifications, it means comments, it means replying and answering questions. And I love talking with people, but when your Twitter notifications overload and you physically cannot keep up with chatting with your friends . . .
It’s a responsibility. Which is why I’ve taken a lot more care in 2019, and although that mostly meant avoiding discussions in the first half of the year, I hope to bring discussions about responsibly in the second half. By letting the topic stew in mind for months before hand, by starting it when I can handle the response.
Which brings us to today, and the first of my rekindled occasional-Thursday discussions:
So. Your Favorite Books Are Problematic. Now What?
I’ve been thinking about this since January, especially with a lot of realizations on my part about some of the books I loved when I was younger.
Books like . . .
- Eleanor & Park, which is extremely racist to Koreans & biracial Koreans
- Cinder, which has questionable Asian representation and worldbuilding
- The Grishaverse, which has bad Shu (aka East Asian) rep and magic yellowface
And so many others. These are the most stark to me, because all of them include negative portrayals of identities very close to my own (I’m East & Southeast Asian), yet these were also some of my favorite books when I was 14.
And there are so many other formative YA novels that are extremely popular, and also portray some minority group(s) badly.
YA is constantly growing and expanding and evolving. We’ve become more diverse, more sensitive, and more curated to the reader and the people who find a safe space in the genre.
And books like these–books published in 2012, 2013, 2016 even that are beloved and extremely popular among many readers–can also harbor a lot of harmful tropes.
If many of these books were published in 2019, they’d probably go through a decent number of changes. Leigh Bardugo says there are things she would have done differently with regard to the representation in The Grisha Trilogy, which she’s hoping to correct in the film adaptation.
(Which, admittedly, is something I’m nervous and very doubtful about in the film, but the fact still stands that if published in 2019, the story would have changed.)
Because publishing knows that in 2019, we’re not taking as much bullshit anymore. We’re not letting people get away with hurting us time and time again.
(Okay, we definitely still are being hurt sometimes, but we’re letting less people hurt us.)
But these are our favorites. They hold a special place in our hearts. They’re almost untouchable.
Key word: almost.
Because, well, I’d like to touch them. (That sounded bad, sorry.) I want to talk about them. I want us to do something about this, instead of letting things slide past because they’re beloved.
And sure, some people aren’t going to listen. But I really hope you do.
Are you saying we should cancel them?
No, actually. I’m not.
I know you wanted to scream “cAnCeL cUlTuRe!!!1!!11!” at me, but not today, Satan.
I don’t think mass-cancelling them will do anything. I don’t think issuing a community-wide “Six of Crows is officially cancelled for bad Asian rep!!!” statement will do anything productive, nor will it help us do better in the future.
(And some people see themselves in that rep. I don’t, but some people do, and I respect this.)
I do think, that some people might want to individually-cancel books, in different extents.
I certainly have. I’ve personally stopped promoting or interacting with anything Rainbow Rowell has written, because I’m hurt by not only her faults in the past, but her refusal to acknowledge it in the present.
That doesn’t mean you have to. I know so many people are excited for Wayward Son, and good for you. I just can’t do it, and I think everyone respects this.
So what are you saying?
I’m saying that first, we need to talk about their flaws.
We need to acknowledge it. Authors, readers, and publishing alike.
If you can’t even acknowledge that some people are hurt by X book’s rep, we have a problem. If you can’t even take note that the Shu rep in Six of Crows is harmful to some people, this is an issue.
I think, as fans of popular series, we want to live in a bubble. Fandom is great because it does end up correcting a lot of things, which I think is cool. (There are a lot of fandoms out there that can do a better job than the author–take Harry Potter.)
But that doesn’t negate the fact that the original work has issues, and I think readers need to at least say that they understand that there are issues, instead of being willfully ignorant.
Okay, and then?
And then, it’s up to you as a reader to decide what you’re going to do.
Every single case is different. If you’re just going to acknowledge the issues, and keep reading and moving on with your life, I’m not going to stop you. That’s your choice.
I personally cannot do that.
Each book is different, and each author and their reaction is different, and this influences how I react.
- I don’t recommend Cinder on my blog or social platforms anymore, although, I sure do love the series and reread it and talk about it privately.
- I won’t touch anything associated with Rainbow Rowell with a ten-foot-pole until she apologizes.
- I don’t really talk about Six of Crows publicly, especially because she doesn’t need my support anyways. I still read & chat privately, although King of Scars has been slow.
- I’ll probably never read anything by Cassandra Clare.
And it’s not just this. It’s little moments, like when I’m on Netgalley–was that author ableist on Twitter? Eh, maybe I’ll request something else.
I have to make hundreds of decisions on how to spend my limited time, money, and resources, and frankly I just don’t have the time to perpetuate certain things publicly.
That’s not to say you can’t, nor that you have to do what I do, but I think consideration is key.
You get to decide what you support publicly. Sure, you might not condone racism, and certain people will argue that supporting a book that supports racism wouldn’t necessarily mean that you support racism.
But I mean, you’re also perpetuating it, by putting it in the hands of more readers who are encouraged by the harmful themes.
This is obviously an opinion, and one I’m not looking to debate today, so we’re going to carry on as if it’s fact.
But, mini aside if you want to read it, my thoughts on this debate:
If we’re going to make the conditional statement that diverse books positively influence readers and help teens and make a good difference in the world, I think it’s irresponsible to say that the converse isn’t true, if the conditional statement is true.
Saying that racist books don’t influence readers feels wrong. Saying that books that support incest don’t influence readers feels wrong. Saying that books with harmful themes don’t influence readers feels wrong.
Yes, teens and readers are able to separate fiction from reality. But it’s always going to seep through, even just a little bit.
Everyone agrees that diverse books make a good impact, and having all white cishetallo books would negatively affect readers. Therefore, having racism or something else would also negatively affect readers, no matter how much you say that readers can separate fiction from reality.
Fiction will always be a reflection of reality, and kidlit is so formative in how people grow up, as well, that I personally disagree with those who deny the converse. But that’s just opinion.
So . . . you’re saying I don’t have to do anything, but you’re also putting the weight of racism on me. What gives?
Okay. Glad you pointed that out.
I think it’s impossible to only read unharmful books, especially when you read a lot of books. There’s so few of them, and so many books do something wrong.
It’s all about balance, and balancing out your gives and takes.
I like to think of things as pluses and minuses, and each plus and minus is a different size.
Some things are smaller minuses, because they’re not as severe or as harmful or as blatant. Say Cinder‘s use of Asian culture isn’t as harmful as Eleanor & Park‘s very blatant racism. It’s a small minus vs. a big minus, respectively.
Pluses can come in many forms. By being a supporter of diverse books from diverse authors online. By donating or monetarily supporting diverse groups and authors. By boosting and doing so much more.
If you want to support Rainbow Rowell, go ahead. I’d also love to see you support #OwnVoices Korean authors to balance that out.
You don’t have to do anything, of course.
This is my own weird form of how-do-I-handle-my-faves-being-problematic.
Because after many months of thinking, this is where I am. I can’t stop anyone from supporting books with hurtful themes, and it’s unreasonable and unproductive to do so.
But I can encourage the world to balance your sins out. And acknowledge them, at the very least.
So. Your favorite books are problematic. Now what?
- Acknowledge their issues.
- You decide how to deal with the minus that publicly supporting it will bring.