- Reading Challenge – I like this post from Liz about how “challenging” books are invariably contrasted with “beach reads” and why that’s not really necessary.
I do wish, though, that these writers could make the case for ambitious literary fiction without putting down other books as inherently unchallenging. I realize that doesn’t sound very logical; let me try it another way: I wish that McBride and Egan would recognize that they are arguing for a particular kind of challenging reading and not the only kind of challenging reading. Books can challenge us intellectually or emotionally in many, many different ways: the kind of fiction Egan and McBride write–ambitious, “difficult,” somewhat experimental literary fiction–is not the only kind that offers readers a challenge.
- The Beautiful Tragedy – Kody Keplinger opines on the “beautiful tragedy” concept, where disability is portrayed as the tragic flaw holding a great/beautiful person back from sheer greatness.
Recently I was talking to a guy online when I mentioned being legally blind. He replied in what he thought was kind – something along the lines of, “I’m just trying to wrap my head around the idea that someone with such beautiful eyes can’t see out of them. Seems like such a waste.”
To be fair to this gentleman, I think he thought he was being flirtatious or sweet or something. But, in reality, the “beautiful tragedy” is a complex and frustrating trope in disability culture. The guy’s comment is not the first I’ve heard, and I’m not the first person it’s been directed to.
- After recaps announcement and explanation – I don’t know what to make about Trout’s announcement that she won’t continue her amusing recaps of After because the author is so nice. She has to decide what’s fun for her, but I am troubled anytime criticism of a book is taken as an insult for the author.
So, while I was on my rustic camping adventure of mosquitoey doom (details to come soon), I gave this After situation some thought. I was already pretty iffy on whether or not to continue the recaps, after I learned that the book would be edited at S&S by someone who used to be my editor. We don’t work together anymore, but it still seemed ethically shaky. Maybe it’s not. But it didn’t sit right with me to have that crossed-wires connection thing happening. Adding in the way I feel about Anna Todd and the way I feel about her work, and the difficulty I had in separating the person who seems very positive and cool from her work, I kind of thought, well. Maybe it’s time to pack it in. I came to the conclusion that my feelings toward After were clouded by the bad taste left in my mouth by E.L. James and her shitty behavior, and that was that.
- Encouraging diversity – an editor’s perspective – Magazine editor Rose Lemberg shares what specific steps she and her co-editor took when they wanted to buy a more diverse range of poetry.
When I founded Stone Telling, I knew I wanted the market to be diverse. I talked to both poets and editors before founding the magazine, and heard from quite a few that there just weren’t that many PoC poets in the field, and that very few poets write queer content. I was planning to solicit, but heard back from a few folks that I should expect to quickly run out of PoC poets from whom I could solicit.
That did not happen. What happened was that the field grew in response to a welcoming market. New poets, including queer and PoC poets, sent work to us, and had their first poems published at Stone Telling. Starting with Issue 4, Shweta Narayan joined the team – first as a guest co-editor (with J.C. Runolfson), then as a co-editor. We consistently encouraged and are continuing to encourage marginalized and diverse voices, and the community responded by sending us amazing, fresh, and thought-provoking poetry. The slush pile changed from 2010 to 2014 to better reflect our editorial direction and choices.
- Sex Trafficking: How I Survived Foster Care – Tara Burns tells the story of her struggles with foster care after being rescued from a father who pimped her. Absent true support or stability, foster care drove her to return to sex work to survive. I’d say something about paving the road to hell, but I’m not sure many of her “rescuers” really had good intententions.
My first night at her house, I sat down with the family at a big, round table for dinner. We look like a family! I thought—at least until I noticed the kids looked at the floor and stayed silent. I soon found out why they kept their mouths shut. Midway through dinner, my friend’s brother took a timid bite of macaroni, and my new foster mom exploded. She said his chewing was disgusting, called him a dog, dumped his plate on the floor, and then stood over him ordering him to eat like a dog and lick the floor clean. As he obeyed her demands, she kicked him.
A few hours later, my new foster mother tucked me into bed, kissed my forehead, and told me I had a family now. I waited for her to leave and then grabbed my blue sweater and climbed out the window. Outside, I realized we were miles out of town, and I didn’t have any equipment for cold-weather camping, so I climbed back in the window. The next morning, I called the cop who looked out for me, and she picked me up. I asked her to drop me at the store and promised her my new foster mom would pick me up later—adults accusing me of being a crazy liar had taught me to stop talking about abuse.
- The Fanciest Genderqueer You’ll Ever Meet – H. Kapp-Klote talks about when a man scrunched his nose up at the idea of being genderqueer and asked why they have to be so “fancy.” A good read, especially if you still secretly feel non-binary folks are just being difficult.
But “fancy” is more than just aesthetics: it’s elaborate. Why can’t they pick one or the other? Midwest Power Gay was asking. Why do they have to configure their gender in such ornate ways, with spectrums and genderbread people and brightly colored hair? Why do they need pronouns that aren’t grammatically correct, or have unexpected “z”s? In short: why can’t they just be like everyone else?
This is part of a narrative of queerness as linked exclusively to oppression. The popular narrative of both sexual and gender nonconformity is based on norms of rigid, compulsive sacrifice: “born this way,” “I can’t change,” or “trapped in the closet.” Even as we celebrate gender and sexual diversity, we demand proof that deviation is compulsive, uncontrollable, and that one has suffered innumerable tribulations as consequence. The monolith of gay culture creates an understanding of gender identity as linked to personal pain. You can’t use weird pronouns unless you’ve shown how you’ve suffered for them (our Puritan roots are showing.) Without that conditional of coercive queerness, genderqueer people don’t have a right to take up space.
- How Comments Shape Perceptions of Sites’ Quality—and Affect Traffic – I used to be a big fan of “anything goes” discussion spaces, but more and more I am warming to the idea of actively moderated ones or no comments at all. Your average book blog does just fine with light policing, but we all know news stories have wild comments on them and are forums of unchecked bigotry and hate really adding any value?
A couple of weeks ago, National Journal changed its comments policy, opting to eliminate comments on most stories as a way to stem the flood of abuse that appeared on the site. Naturally the comment-section reaction to that announcement helped reinforce the reason editors said comments had to go in the first place.
For all the boycott threats and comparisons to Hitler, though… the site seems to be doing better now. If anything, user engagement has increased since the comment policy changed. Pages views per visit increased by more than 10 percent. Page views per unique visitor increased 14 percent. Return visits climbed by more than 20 percent. Visits of only a single page decreased, while visits of two pages or more increased by almost 20 percent.
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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.