Game Shoes

“Sympathizers are spectators; empathizers wear game shoes.” -John Eyberg

I have been so lucky in my professional life.  From the tight band of women who were my grad school friends and are now librarians and archivists all over the US to the friends and connections I made through my work in YALSA to the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with in my day-to-day librarianship, I’ve found nothing but support and encouragement from my professional colleagues and it’s made me even more excited to do what I do.

And, of course, there’s the online world of connections, another place I’ve found a warm welcome.  (waves to all my blog readers and twitter followers.)

Today, I wanted to start by talking specifically about a group of fantastic, inspirational colleagues (and friends!) I connected with at Midwinter this year, thanks to an amazing event organized by the dynamic and amazing Kelly.  This group stayed in contact after Midwinter.  Boy, did we ever stay in contact!

Kelly, Andrea, Katie, Sarah, Abby, and me formed an email chain after Midwinter and it took on a life of its own.   I cannot even tell you how much inspiration and support this group has given me over the past three months.  Booklists, summer reading strategies, dealing with our administration, plans for outreach, sharing our success to inspire each other, venting about bad days so we feel less alone – it’s a group of people ready with encouragement, ideas, humor, experience and always there to jump into the game.  I’m so lucky to even be part of this group and to have these girls in the game with me.  It makes me better and it makes me try harder.

For me, one of the most important parts, one of the best parts, of having empathizers there with you is for the moments of outrage: the moment when you find someone who has the same outrage as you, feels the same injustice and wants to raise their voice in the same way you do.

Just about a week ago,  author Brendan Halpin posted some commentary on a Washington Post article about the “gender divide” in YA fic. (and, yes, that totally means “boys don’t read!  there’s all these supernatural books for girls!”  Which is a totally legit point, because we all know boys won’t/don’t/can’t read paranormal books and it’s not like 4 of the 7 children’s/YA titles that sold over 1,000,000 copies in 2010 had male protagonists and were written by men. )

First of all, the Washington Post article had good intentions, I guess, and was at least semi-researched and really wasn’t that bad.  But, I swear to GOD it just made me want to pull my hair out.  OH GOOD, LET’S HAVE THIS DISCUSSION AGAIN!

SO GLAD this issue is getting coverage and being brought up yet again because, WOW, there’s just not enough discussion about it.  It’s not like there are numerous professional titles about engaging boys with libraries and literacy, blogs written by and centered on boys reading, or a monthly column in VOYA about books and programming for boys, or that over half the Printz winners have been written by men and feature teen boy lead characters.  Oh, wait! It’s exactly like that.

So, yes, I had issues with the Washington Post article … but then came Halpin’s post which took things to a whole other level.

And that level is: Really?!

Let’s start with: “we’d better find more books for boys because boys need books that reflect their realities.” Which, you know, that’s an issue close to my heart.  I am totally a person that speaks up for the importance of that, OK?  But really?  Really? There aren’t enough young adult/childrens books out there that reflect boy’s/men’s reality?  Really?  I know, what a stirring point, but honestly!  If you can look around our culture, around every single part of our contemporary culture (and, yes, publishing is included as part of said culture) and still say to yourself: “Women are the machine and they are bringing an unconscious bias towards men to their gatekeeping!!” I honestly can’t say more to you than: Really?!

MUCH LESS than the unspoken end of that is “because boys can’t relate to girl’s experiences, you know the way girls can so easily relate to boys.”  You know, there’s a real gender divide happening and that gender divide is: girls love books with boy protagonists because of course they can relate but no boy in his right mind would be caught dead reading a book with a girl protagonist.  How’s he expected to relate???!

This is what we might think of as the Twilight/Harry Potter faux-dichotomy: Harry Potter sells well?  Gee, that’s because it’s such a universal, magical, epic story we can all relate to and lose ourselves in!  Twilight sells well?  Teenage girls and middle age women are buying them all because NO boys or men are interested in stuff like vampires and werewolves and love stories.  Gross-out!  WOMEN: RUINING THINGS BY BUYING TWILIGHT, WAY TO GO.

While I read Halpin’s post, my mouth dangled open in disbelief.  It wasn’t just about the Washington Post article, it wasn’t just about getting boys to read – it was about how “women of twitter” weren’t taking the issue seriously enough, about how further that in children’s publishing “women are the machine”, about how women, i.e. the machine, do not serve everyone equally.  Halpin’s post was an exquisite experience in privilege, a perfect illustration of it, really, because it used privilege to deny privilege.

I knew I had to respond, to try to point out how problematic Halpin’s blog was.  I knew I had to voice my outrage.  And just as I started to wrestle with how I was going to do this: how I was going to approach the inherent privilege and straw man logic in his post, how I was going to address all of the coverage this issue consistently receives, so to approach it as if it were entirely novel was ridiculous. Believe me, I wasn’t relishing this.  I didn’t want to start a “fight”, I didn’t want to be “unfun“, I have a thousand other blogs I need to write so I didn’t want to be writing this one.  But … well, some things you just have to address.

And then?  Just like that – I found out that Jodi, AKA bookgazing, had written the perfect, comprehensive response over at Lady Business.   Said response had everything I wanted to say only said better.

It wasn’t just relief that now I didn’t “have” to write a response, it wasn’t just knowing that there was someone out there as outraged about a particular issue as I was: it was knowing that there was someone else in the game with me.

I am so grateful for all the empathizers in my life: the people like Kelly, the bloggers at Lady Business, and so many more people than I could possibly list, both within my professional field and just in my life:  the people who share my outrage and speak out about it.

All of them make me so glad I’m in the game and I am eternally grateful for the reminders and the assists.

(who are some of your empathizers and inspirations?)


Why “Team Peeta” is a Feminist Statement (I’m Proud to Make)

First, hello to any visitors from BlogHer!  Recently I was fortunate enough to have my post, Why I Use The F Word be featured there, so welcome to any visitors that are stopping by via BlogHer.  Please feel free to look around and I hope you enjoy what you find. Comments are moderated here, but I get to them fairly quickly, so please comment!

This post was inspired by my BIG LOVE for Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games trilogy and by the following thoughtful, incisive blogs: Malinda Lo’s Why I’m Team Katniss and Nancy Werlin’s The Hunger Games, Casablanca, and the Madding Crowd

When you love a fictional character, love them so much it can ache, it’s hard to say good-bye.  It’s hard to know that, for you, in that giddy first-time-what’ll happen next way, it’ll all be over!  When other people complained about The Deathly Hallows epilogue, I  loved and defended it.  I did that for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I think it’s absolutely necessary to the text, but another main reason was that *I* needed to see Harry that one last time, knowing that all was well.

So, that’s what I feel (impractically, I know) the day before Mockinjay takes flight.

I feel so sorry that it’ll all be over!

The Hunger Games trilogy are the kind of books that light up reader’s eyes, the kind of books I have literally seen teenagers push into each other’s hands.  They’re the kind of books you feel: gut-punches, breath-stealing, oh no! gasping.  They’re the best of what young adult literature can do: the best ambassadors for when you’re telling friends who don’t read “kid’s books” about just how amazing the genre is.  They’re what we hold out when we say, “Wanna read something great?”

I can’t wait for Mockinjay, I can’t wait for that moment that so many of us all know, that we all get to the end of this intense, emotional, unforgettable story.

And I’m Team Peeta.

But what does that mean?

For some readers, I think that has come to mean that I only validate Katniss through her external relationships with boys, that unless she’s “with” a boy in the story, I’m not interested.

But it’s not like that at all for me.  See, I’m Team Peeta and Team Katniss.  For me,  the romance makes me Team Katniss just as much as Team Peeta, because it means I think Katniss deserves to live, to have joy and beauty in her life, to have someone who’ll stand by her and respect and admire the woman she becomes.

And I think Peeta is the obvious (and perfect) choice to be this someone.  Which brings me to the other thing: I’m Team Peeta regardless of Katniss.

I love Peeta Mellark just as much as I love Katniss Everdeen. (which is a heckuva lot!)

I love how he is totally guileless and open (he’s actually shocked, to some degree, at the end of The Hunger Games when he finds out Katniss was “faking” in the arena) and an uncanny, savvy media manipulator (the interviews he so carefully prepares for Caesar Flickerman, the way he traps Katniss with the locket.)  I love how he not only will he die for Katniss, he’d kill for her too.  I love that he’s brave, angry, and charming.  I love that he’s so fierce and yet so easily wounded.  I love what he sees in Katniss and I love how they interact.  I love that he paints and decorates cakes.  I love that he doesn’t show all of his cards at once, that he’s running several plans at once, that he’s in the Games to live and to win.

A teen patron told me, “I have to know what happens to the Boy with the Bread.”

That kind of character identification?  That’s about Peeta, that’s about what Suzanne Collins has created in his character.  That has nothing to do with Katniss.


What’s so wrong about that either?

Love is what makes Katniss more than the Mockingjay, more than a killing machine in the arena that slaughters for people’s amusement.  Love for Prim is what starts the whole fucking story off, love for Rue is what reminds Katniss that she has a soul.  And, in the end, it’s love for Peeta that starts the spark that changes their world.

Yes, love.

Because when Katniss stands up in front of Panem and says that either they both get out or they both die, Panem thinks they’re seeing a romantic love story.  (and, of course, to some degree they are. It’s how Katniss doesn’t quite realize that yet that twists the knife so beautifully at the gasping end of the first book.)  But they are also seeing the moment when two tributes from one District stand up and say NO MORE.  This is platonic love in its purest, this is the moment before the Quarter Quell when the tributes hold hand, expose the Games as the pure barbarity that they are.

It’s the power of love that starts this revolution.

When I say I’m Team Peeta, I mean that I am Team Peeta for who he is and that I’m Team Peeta because I’d like him to “end up” with Katniss.  (assuming they both live, naturally.) Their connection is part of the appeal of the story, for me.  I think Collins’s has worked in their narrative in a heartbreaking and aching way: the pull of wanting to be with someone but not being entirely sure where your feelings came from,  how learning the little details about someone can show you bigger parts of their story, how maturing and changing personally makes your emotional feelings evolve too.  This is smart, this is deep, this is romantic to me in the truest sense of the word.  What’s so wrong about admiring the authorial skill it took to seamlessly weave in a compelling love story in a book where people get their heads chopped off and are eaten alive by monsters?

When we, as readers or librarians or critics, are dismissive of romance, we’re dismissive of HUGE reader bases that are, let’s face it, most frequently made up of women and girls.  If romance isn’t your cup of tea, that’s cool.  But why does it get so summarily dismissed out of hand as useless or a distraction or “bad” for readers?   I think that’s a question worth asking.

I think it’s profoundly feminist to suggest that Katniss can be the bow-wielding-kick-ass spirit of rebellion who never retreats and who rallies people to challenge the status quo while also being a person who needs love, comfort, passion, and companionship.  Since when is the message that you have to choose one or the other?

If fans of romance find themselves drawn to The Hunger Games, shouldn’t we welcome them?  Shouldn’t we say, “Pull up a chair and join the conversation!”? Isn’t it it our job (librarian’s jobs, that is, those of us who do reader’s advisory, run book clubs, get teens talking about and interested in books) to facilitate deeper conversations not just assume that they only part of the story they’re interested in, the only part they MUST be able to grasp is “so, like, which boy?”

I’ll be happy to lead a “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta” conversation at my Hunger Games event but we’ll also be discussing strategy in the arena, the mechanics of how the rebellion could legitimately work, and looking at fan-drawn maps of what Panem might look like and how that might change things.  It seems dismissive to assume that it has to be one or the other.

For me, it’s both.

For me, the romance is a crucial element in a fantastic, one-of-a-kind story I feel so lucky to have experienced, a story I just don’t want to be over.

And it’s one element I won’t apologize for.

Team Suzanne Collins!