- Little Miss Crabby Pants Fires The Canon – There’s been a lot of reaction to Noah Berlatsky’s Salon article but I really liked this response from Wendy the Superlibrarian.
First, no book anywhere is going to be universally loved. People being people after all. What canons should do is tell you where you’ve been and show you where you’re going. Within the romance genre, the canon should be books that hold historical and cultural significance for the genre. In other words: they’re not all going to be books and authors you love. They’re not all going to be books and authors who “stand the test of time.” They should be books and authors who shape, mold, leaving resonance within that genre. Like the pebble tossed into a quiet stream – there should be a ripple effect.
Yes, Mr. Berlatsky – there is a romance canon. Reading and enjoying the genre isn’t enough. Bemoaning that it’s hard to find shit you personally like isn’t enough. It’s understanding the history of the genre. And lucky you – here I am to give you Wendy’s Starter Guide To The Romance Canon That You Think Doesn’t Exist. It does exist – it’s just not required by law to be validated by your personal tastes and preferences.
- The Fetish Object – Anna Cowan wrote an interesting post on writing sex involving an object that serves as a stand-in or intermediary for their lust. The example from Bettie Sharpe’s Ember with the coin is a favorite scene of mine.
A fetish object is something that’s imbued with power – often power displaced from something else. A sexual fetish object is something that’s imbued with sexual power, again often displaced from the more common, everyday fetishisation of the body (although it can itself be a body part, of course). According to Freud, a fetish object is the mother’s castrated penis so that dudes don’t have to deal with vaginas or something.
In the narrative examples I’m thinking of, the fetish object has some sexual power for the characters, but acts far more strongly on the reader. The sexual narrative that’s drawing the reader in is redirected through this object, which makes it more powerful than if it had remained in the everyday body.
- How Much Gay Sex Should a Novel Have? – The New Yorker has a great article about sexual content in books about gay men over the years.
In the twentieth century’s final two decades, the taboo on gay sex in mainstream literature was at last broken. In 1982, Edmund White’s “A Boy’s Own Story” opened with a cornholing and, in 1988, Alan Hollinghurst rang nearly all the imaginable changes in “The Swimming-Pool Library.”
Gay fiction boomed. With the débuts of such writers as Michael Cunningham, David Leavitt, and Stephen McCauley, and in the following decade, of Alexander Chee, Dale Peck, and Scott Heim, it seemed that, for the first time, uncloseted writers who wrote about gay men’s lives were being taken seriously by the mainstream. I was a teen-ager in the closet for most of the eighties, but I recall feeling, in the early nineties, that there was something politically significant about gay writers getting dirty in print. If straights were ever to get used to us, candor seemed a reasonable means. Not all the fiction published during the boom of the eighties and nineties was sexually explicit. But boundaries were being tested. I remember receiving as a birthday present in those years a gay novel from a commercial house with a man’s pecs emblazoned in closeup on the cover. The nipples were embossed.
- Herodotus Writes a History of the 20th Century – If you’ve ever read Herodotus – and you really, really should – this post nails his penchant for mixing fact with wild speculation and made me chuckle. I hope they do Pliny on modern science next.
On the Death of Rasputin, 1916:
In the old days, the people of Russia declared that they would overthrow the Romanovs, whom they called despots, and install a government of the people. The Romanovs in those days were greatly influenced by a priest and scholar called Grigori Rasputin and so during the February Revolution the Russian people conspired to murder him by means of poison. When poison failed to kill him, they attempted first to shoot him, then to beat him to death. At last he was wrapped in a curtain, still alive, and thrown off a bridge into the Malaya Nevka River, where he at last ceased to breathe. But there are others who say Rasputin survived these tortures by secretly drinking a mixture of ginger ale and pigeon’s blood, and that he roused himself from the river bottom and fled Russia together with his son, who was a lion.
- The “Rape Turns Ladies Into Superheroes!” Trope – This is an older post, but it combines well with comments Mikki Kendall made last night on Twitter about giving villains backstories where they were victims of childhood sexual assault. Rape doesn’t turn women into heroines or men into antagonists.
Survivors are not “broken,” but sexual violence can be injurious, and to pretend instead that it magically imbues women with superhuman strength and ability is to pretend that a broken leg turns a fella into LeBron James, rather than a dude with a cast who needs to heal like the mortal that he is.
Which is not to say that women who have survived sexual violence and gone on to do amazing things directly related to sexual violence don’t exist. They do. There are female prosecutors, cops, social workers, counselors, activists, writers, actors, artists for whom victims’ advocacy is central to their work. Many of them are as close a thing to superheroes as there are in this world.
But they didn’t arrive at that point by magic. And they aren’t where they are because sexual violence filled them with some kind of special superhero-making pixie dust. They are there by virtue of their own strength and resilience and tenacity.
- A thought on playing at the lowest possible difficulty level, and telling other people what’s easy – Shweta Narayan gives the side eye to high-profile ally John Scalzi admonishing people for “letting the trolls win” by saying they wouldn’t read the Hugo-nominated books written by a couple of particularly nasty bigots.
This person playing on easy, he tells us that this is about “fair play. Game on.” Which is accepting the trolls’ framing of the situation, that because they exist we must either fight them or let them win, we can’t avoid them and do more worthwhile things with our time. We must risk major damage that past experience tells us they will do, or it’s not “fair”. To the trolls. And to the game. Never mind what’s fair for us.
So. Having decided to play their game, and take them on – and without even acknowledging that they are nerfed on his level of difficulty – this person is telling us we have to, too, and that “It’s nearly as easy to fight a troll and decide it’s just not for you. And if it is for you, well. Surprise!”
…Yeah, that’s when we point out, Mr. Scalzi, that by your own logic you are fucking up.
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An ice hockey fan from north of Boston and the genre's most beloved troll, Ridley enjoys reading contemporary and historical romance, as well as the odd erotica novel. As someone who uses a wheelchair, she takes a particular interest in disability themes.