I scroll through a decent amount of news headlines in a given week, and a lot of those are book related. I always want to chat about these stories, but my coworkers are not nearly as bookish as I am, so it’s difficult to have a conversation about some YA controversy with them. I also don’t want to deluge my bookish friends with news headlines they may or may not be interested in. And so I’m thinking about doing a sometimes weekly post where I share the bookish stories that have caught my attention.
Last weekend I saw a post on Instagram where a woman discussed her impressions of the play, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. She told her followers that she’d received many messages telling her that it was a book and not a play, and then rather snidely implied that these people needed to do their research. For some reason, this stuck with me, so when I stopped at Barnes and Noble that night I walked back to the mystery section and looked at the two different editions of And Then There Were None. Both were novels. It turns out that Christie published the novel in 1939, and then adapted it for the stage in 1943. So that Bookstagrammer wasn’t entirely wrong, but she probably should have taken her own advice and done her research.
Since it was on my mind, I bought the nearly perfect mass market paperback edition of And Then There Were None I found at the used bookstore. I’m looking forward to reading it.
Apparently, there are life coaches who advise women to not have either books or cacti in their bedrooms, lest they frighten away potential mates. The Daily Mail apparently agrees with this sentiment. This article is The Guardian’s hilarious response to it.
In short, Ladies, if a man is frightened by your book collection, he’s not the man for you.
The late poet Mary Oliver was often criticized by ‘serious’ literary reviewers for her attention to nature and natural details. But she shrugged it off, because she felt that her work wasn’t about her, it was about opening doors to the world.
We hear all these dire statistics about the impending death of books and reading, but Lucas points out that, while people gnash their teeth over the statistic that says 24% of Americans don’t read, that means that 76% of Americans do read. Book sales have been rising in the past five years, more independent bookstores open every year, and memberships in book clubs are rising, as well. The book is far from dead.
For many fantasy readers, long novels aren’t a big deal. 800-1,000 page fantasy novels are quite common in the SFF section, but other genres don’t always have such high page counts. While they might be intimidating, it’s worth it to settle down with a long, long book.
An Author Canceled Her Own YA Novel Over Accusations of Racism. But is it Really Anti-Black? by Aja Hoggatt
I know it’s been a couple of weeks since the Blood Heir controversy blew up, but it took me a long time to not get infuriated whenever I thought about it. The lowdown for those who missed it? A debut author, Amelie Wen Zhao, got a major publication deal for a new fantasy trilogy. It was scheduled to come out in June. But thanks to a couple of reviewers who decided that the book was racist, Zhao is pulling the novel. It may be published with edits later, it may not be published at all. This could destroy Zhao’s writing career before it had a chance to begin.
Where do the charges of racism stem from? Blood Heir was meant to be a fantasy retelling of Anastasia, in the Cyrilian Empire where people with magic are feared and oppressed. Slavery exists in this world as well, and apparently, one of the characters was a former slave who ended up dying to save another, white character. Critics were angry that Zhao was not sensitive in her depictions of slavery, because they felt it wasn’t enough about American slavery. But in her apology letter, Zhao stated that she, as a Chinese immigrant, was writing about modern slavery as it exists in Asia today, not about slavery as it existed in the U.S. during the 1800s. Slavery has existed in one form or another in every part of the world at some point in time, and for Americans to assume that a Chinese immigrant (or a person from anywhere in the world that is not the U.S.) must conform to ‘accepted’ points of view on the topic is ludicrous. Zhao’s perspective is different from that of someone who grew up in America. Her book reflected that.
We need more diversity in the publishing world. No one is arguing with that (that is, no one sensible is arguing with that). But gaining diversity means that we will have to deal with perspectives that do not always perfectly align with our own. That is how we learn. Amelie Wen Zhao, an immigrant who has dealt with racism herself, achieved a longtime dream when signed her publishing contract. And now, thanks to a Twitter mob, her dream may be dead.
Is it possible that there was racism in Blood Heir? Perhaps. But now that it has been canceled because of a few reviewers, none of us will be able to read it and judge for ourselves. That choice has been taken away from us. When the mob mentality rears its ugly head on social media and causes books to be canceled based only on rumors of problematic content, we all lose.
“The problem in our country isn’t with books being banned, but with people no longer reading. You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”– Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451