October 21, 2014

Dear Author, Whose Book I Read and May Have Negatively Reviewed, Your Anger Will Not Silence Me.

By now, the flurry of comments on the Guardian essay of last week have turned into their own weather system. I won't link to or add to the storm, but should you want to sort of track the round-up, Leila has stood in the eye of the hurricane, Beth Revis has responded as an author, and Kelly Jensen has some good thoughts on blogger privacy.

I was disappointed, though, to hear that a couple of bloggers are considering leaving blogging over this. I am... baffled. Okay, I know - I'm often baffled, but seriously, I don't understand. NOT that I don't get the fear that something like this could happen - there's another tale of insanity online at a Goodreads review where a woman said that the author struck her over the head with a wine bottle - yikes. There's a case, and it's ongoing in Scotland and London. Authors are not always acting with genteel restraint, to say the least, and frankly, Wonderland is embarrassedsince both of us are authors, too.

But, what I don't understand is reasonable people's inclination to quit blogging over it. Because of stupidity? Oh, no. The egregious we will always have with us. I understand the feeling - seriously, I do - but I strongly feel... we need to keep blogging.

♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦ ♦♦ ♦♦ ♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦

Dear Author, Whose Book Of Yours I Read And Reviewed:

Your narrative piqued my attention. Your jacket copy raised an eyebrow. Your plot arc had all the elements we enjoy - a beginning, a middle, an end... Well, I liked your book enough to finish it - or, at least it intrigued me that far. And now, it's my turn: I'm going to talk about it.

Despite YA bloggers having been labeled the queens of nice, you may not like what I have to say.

I won't be mean - you can count on that. I don't find personal attacks necessary. However, the fact remains: I might not have enjoyed your book.

You know, I'm sure, that when a book leaves your hands that it is no longer yours. Of course you do - you've experienced the same moments of dismay, as your critique group read deeply into something you hadn't even put into the voice. You even experienced this same thing in school, where you read a novel, short story or poem, and the teacher tried to drill MEANING into your head, where you only saw words. Discussions ensued and you had no idea what the rest of the class was talking about. Theme? Symbolism? What? Sometimes, that's how it goes: we all come to a work of art from varying angles of privilege and background, we all bring different things to the metaphorical table. No one of them makes us better or worse - just who we are, and inform where we're coming from.

So, dear author, whose book I read, when I say that it troubles me that your dominant culture characters talk down to your deaf character, or when I express disbelief that your African American character from an urban landscape shows facility with country activities, such as raising cows; when your male character uses the word "Mamí" to a minor Latina character, and comments on her backside, or "don't be a retard" and "that's so gay" escapes the lips of a straight female character with no context or explanation - you can bet I'll comment. I'll be talking about the book, not you, but sometimes, the book might feel like you, like your baby. When I comment, you may feel attacked, and angry.

And your anger is really and truly okay. As long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, it's just fine.

So is mine.

And, your anger will not silence me -- nor will the potential you have, as everyone does, for unhinged assault, stalking, or violence. Your anger does not silence me, because I've already had that childhood, and I'm old now, and cranky, and cannot live my life in fear of what you might do if you don't like what I say. Your anger will not silence me, and I will not quit blogging for you. I will not cease critically engaging with books. You can't make me.

There is a way to be a fan of problematic media. There is a way to say "I LOVE Buffy," and turn around and say, "but she should have gotten the heck away from That One Guy Whose Name I Can Never Remember," because the relationship was abusive, and that relationship, Mr. Wheedon, reclined all too comfortably on the lumpy cushion of the tired stereotype of the female's honest desire for an alpha male to come and tell her his crazy was her fault. There is a way to love Game of Thrones, and voice your concern, Mr. George R.R., about the violence toward women, and how somehow it feels a little skewed, because there's a blonde over the slaves, and so many of the slaves - when the series is otherwise flirting with the monoculture, so many of them are not of the dominant culture. There's a way to enjoy engaging with video games, but want to speak out incisively about certain games' pervasive might-makes-right storylines, gratuitous violence and inability to consistently make avatars of reasonably bodied females or minorities. There's a way to love what you love, and still SEE it.

This is what smart people do. I like to think of myself as, if not smart yet, thinking my way hard toward that direction. I can't be afraid of my own thoughts - or expressing them. Not for you, dear author whose book I have read and reviewed.

Sometimes things in books are problematic. Sometimes cultures are appropriated, genders and ethnicity are slandered, races and nationalities are "othered" and marginalized. Bloggers, as we see those things, need to speak up. And you, dear author, might come to my home, call my workplace, stalk me online, warn me that just "as a friend," that I should know that some nebulously scary "people" can "find me," and that you'd hate to see anything happen. You might hit me over the head with a wine bottle with no explanation.

But, you know what? YOU CANNOT SILENCE ME.

Just sayin'.


Kimberly said...

I want to shout a cheer after reading this. Thank you, Tanita. Thank you especially for pointing out that it is not only reasonable, but also necessary to critique the things we love, as well as the things we don't.

tanita✿davis said...

@Kimberly: Thanks for coming by. I admit I got a little ranty, but feel strongly that backing off from what is questionable in what we love doesn't inform anyone, change anything, or help create better books and media to love.

Jen Robinson said...

Go Tanita, I say. I would personally never DREAM of trying to silence you, because you have a lot of good things to say. (And, you know, not my place to silence anybody, blah blah).

Leila said...

Since you aren't on the FB, I thought I'd share:

Anne Boles Levy: She is amazing not only for her own strength, but for how she can help others feel stronger too.

Leila Ann Roy: Very much so. Rather than pulling MYSELF up by my bootstraps in re: this whole business, it felt like SHE pulled me up.


tanita✿davis said...

@Jen: ...yes, it's no one's place to silence anyone. And, yet...

@Leila: Aww. Thanks. As I said, it's mostly ill-temper and decrepitude, but I'm glad it's working for you. ;)

Ms. Yingling said...

Very well put, Tanita! If everyone could play nicely in the sand box, the world would be a better place. If we criticize constructively as bloggers, hopefully the authors will learn from our insights. That's the hope, anyway. I'm baffled at all of the online unpleasantness!

tanita✿davis said...

@Ms. Yingling: I, too, am just gobsmacked. And that it was a YA author doing the stalking? That's a little too much like the books we write... about high school. And Mean Girls. And... yeah. No. Enough.

Paula Willey said...

Yup, yup, all of this a 100 times over! I've gotten a few bits of fairly unhinged pushback over the years, and my response to that has been to stop reading the person's work, and in some cases warn my peers against reviewing that author. I feel like Inara Serra: "That's not how it works. You've earned a black mark in our registry!"

Maybe only Leila will get that one. :)

Leila said...

I *do* get it! <3

tanita✿davis said...

@Paula: *sigh* CLEARLY I need to sit down and watch all of Firefly. Someday. In my prodigious free time...