On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal fired a shot heard around the literary world: a so-called book review by Meghan Cox Gurdon condemning the YA genre. Gurdon begins by describing a mother looking at covers in a young adult section and finding nothing she considered appropriate for her daughter, only "vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff." Of course, many YA readers (myself included) could name titles that are not "dark, dark" at all, but Gurdon uses this dubious anecdote as a launchpad for a deluge of problematic assertions, contradictions and tacit accusations.
Read more about this misguided article, and the awesome responses by YA lovers, after the jump!
Alissa Nutting's Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls is a collection of bizarre and wonderful stories about the difficulty of bodies and the possibilities that arise when their inhabitants transcend them. Nutting, who is the managing editor of the awesome Fairy Tale Review, paints a series of women deviants with irresistible fairy-tale simplicity, creating loveliness and magic in some extraordinarily wicked places.
Looking into libraries for this post I decided to talk to my former colleague Tara Robertson. In 2009 Tara put together a group called the Lesbrarians to take part in the Vancouver Dyke March. Last year they had about 35 lesbian, bisexual, and queer women who worked in libraries, archives or other information organizations, as well as writers and library lovers. We met when we both worked at the Vancouver Public Library and she's done quite a bit of work on LGBTQ and feminist issues, so I knew she'd be a great resource.
After interacting with MacArthur Genius Grant recipients at her school, Annie Murphy (author of I Still Live) began to wonder about what makes a genius. "Somebody just comes out of the blue, taps you on the shoulder, and gives you a lot of money?" She realized that her creative friends had just as much, if not more, genius. The seeds of Gay Genius, were planted. Several years (and one Kickstarter campaign) later, an anthology of 18 contemporary queer artists (slash geniuses!) has hit the shelves from Sparkplug Comic Books. Gay Genius is not just a much-needed volume celebrating the work of queer artists, but it's a must-have for contemporary comics lovers as well. And you can buy it at Bitchmart!
Chaz Bono's new memoir, Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man, co-written with Billie Fitzpatrick, brims with candid emotion. It covers his entire life so far, and as the title implies, it frequently comes back to Chaz's lifelong discomfort with being thought to be female and his gradual acceptance of himself as a trans guy. Unfortunately, it's also full of sexist statements about who men and women can be.
I am an enormous fan of Joanna Russ' work. The feminist science fiction author is best known for her dense exploration of the effects of parallel societies on a given character, The Female Man, but I swear by We Who Are About To..., about a woman fighting to die rather than colonize an unknown planet, and The Two of Them, about a traveler who feels superior to a gender-regressive realm only to realize her own life is not as free from patriarchy as she wants to believe.
I was saddened to learn of this great talent's passing last week after a series of strokes. Russ was seventy-four years old. There is an endless amount to be said about her influence, her fearlessness, her distinct and sometimes meta modes of writing, and her triumphs and limitations as a feminist role model. Today, though, I'd like to discuss an unsung heroine of sorts: Russ' one book for younger readers, Kittatinny: A Tale of Magic. I only managed to find this bildungsroman recently (and you can imagine my elation, as both a Russ-ite and a YA connoisseur) and have rarely been so enchanted by a story.
For LGBTQ and disability rights activists, allies and California youth, as of April 14th, it got better. The CA senate voted 23-14 in favor of a bill mandating the inclusion of curriculum based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, and if the bill is adopted by the state assembly, the teaching of LGBTQ history will become lawful. Much like the cultural contributions made by women, people of color, immigrants, aboriginals, and workers, if the bill is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California will become the first state to require the inclusion of LGBTQ history in schools. Hardly mentioned in the media thus far, the passage of the bill will also grant people with disabilities long overdue space in California classroom curricula.
Meg Wolitzer's new novel, The Uncoupling, has an intriguing premise, in a Joanna Russ-meets-Kelly Link kind of way: a spell is cast over the women of Stellar Plains, New Jersey, that makes them stop wanting sex. They all turn away from their male partners for reasons very mysterious and mystical and altogether unclear to everyone (articulated in the novel as "a cold wind"), and though most of them sure did like getting it on up to this point, they suddenly begin to feel that sex with men is generally not such a desirable thing.
I rode on a plane over the weekend, and since I love excuses to buy shiny new hardcover books (and I do not love air travel), I got a copy of Tina Fey's Bossypants to take along. Note to others who might make a similar decision: Bossypants made my trip go by very quickly. It also made me cry tears of laughter, which made the burly dudes on either side of me visibly uncomfortable. You've been warned.