The Message of Your All White Booklist

“Well, they’re my favorites, I can’t help if I like what I like.”

Back in July, Grace Lin shared a picture from her local public library on Twitter. When I saw it, my heart sank. I felt a shock of embarrassed sadness. And then I just felt fucking mad.

First, imagine Grace Lin is your library patron! Grace Lin! She has a Newbery Honor Medal! She is a National Book Award finalist! She’s literally one of the most passionate and smartest people in children’s literature. And she’s your library patron!  And when she comes into your library and sees one of those classic library displays of BOOKS YOUR LIBRARIAN (the curator, the decider, the person you trust) LOVES she sees … White people. As far as the eye can see: White people. This has nothing to do, by the way, about an author thinking “they should be featuring MY books!” Because now imagine that this patron is not Grace Lin, a famous children’s book author and adult, but a child. Maybe a White child, maybe a child of color. They see that same group of books dominated by White stories and White authors and White experiences (the sole exception being Simm Taback’s beautiful retelling of the Yiddish folk song about clever Joseph, who lives in a vibrant Jewish community) and they are told, explicitly: these are the stories your librarian (the curator, the decider, the person you trust) loves. These are the stories they see. These are the stories they value.

This message couldn’t be any clearer, it couldn’t be any louder, and it couldn’t be any more damaging.

Michelle Martin wrote this great piece in Kirkus – Be An Accomplice. In it, Dr. Martin asks a question I think should be posed to all librarians: “If you stay current, you know about the We Need Diverse Books movement. But has it changed what you do from day to day?”  

My fellow White librarians, I am asking you to think about your messages. I am asking you to imagine a child of color standing in front of a display filled with historical fiction that completely erases people of color. I am asking you to imagine the messages a White child gets standing in front of this display: “My story is THE story, see?”

I see this happen time and time again and I bet each of you do too.  I know it still happens in schools and public libraries all over the country. I bet you have all had a heart sinking moment of looking at a curated list compiled by a professional colleague (with the best of intentions, of course) and seeing how few books by Native creators and creators of color are on it.

For me, this sinking feeling came every year when they released the New Mexico Battle of the Books list. This is a state wide competition that encourages kids to read from a list of 20 titles, memorize details, and then compete in a quiz bowl like competition. It’s assembled by a small group of (almost entirely) school librarians and, without fail, it is a exceedingly White list. I have tried a variety of things to change this including made plenty of other nominations and specifically requested more diversity. But the White list – featuring the same small handful of Native creators and creators of color – returns every year.

On their 2016-2017 list out of 40 books, only one was by an African-American author yet two were by a white woman writing about African-American characters. The elementary list had only one book by an author of color and one book by a Native writer and the middle school list had three books by people of color – including the only book on either list by a Latinx author. Considering the population of New Mexico is 48% Latinx as of 2015 this felt like an especially glaring oversight. Similarly, we have 10% Native population and 22 federally registered tribe, yet there was only one book by a Native author on either list. All together out of 40 books, the lists featured only 5 books by Native authors and authors of color.

This is simply unacceptable in the year 2017. Honestly. I can’t think of any other way to say it. You, as a librarian, are charged with being a gatekeeper. When you make lists like this one, when you make displays like the one in Lin’s library, you are not opening the gates to everyone. You are status quo’ing and, to be frank, you’re being lazy.

“But they’re my favorites! I can’t help that they’re my favorites! I should be able to read what I want!” 

Imagine a patron comes up to you and tells you that they just finished the last Harry Hole book by Jo Nesbø and they really want some more dark Scandinavian mysteries.

“Oh sorry,” you say to them. “I really only like cozy mysteries. Ones with cats or in tea shops. I just can’t get into that dark stuff. But I just finished a great series about a quilter, let me show you.”

Can you imagine that? No, probably not. Because even if that was true, you’d understand that your reading tastes weren’t supposed to dictate their request. This moment is not about if you like Scandinavian noir. It’s about more than just YOUR taste in books.

And this exact thing is what I’m asking when I ask you to consider the lists, the displays, the booktalks you present to patrons. It’s about more than just YOUR taste in books.

Moreover: “I don’t really read books ‘like that’ so I don’t have any favorites to include or booktalk or display!” is a fundamentally racist thing to say. What do you even mean “like that”? Do you think Native creators and creators of color only write or create ONE kind of book? And what kind of book, exactly, would you imagine that is?

You really only love mysteries? Great! Do you know Attica Locke? Lamar Giles? Marcie Rendon? The Clubhouse Mysteries? You really only love romances? Super! Do you know Alisha Rai? When Dimple Met RishiWhen the Moon Was Ours? Farrah Rochon? You really only love historical fiction? Amazing! Do you know Stacey Lee? Homegoing? Margarita Engle? Tim Tingle? Shall I go on and on and on?

When you say “I don’t really read books ‘like that’ I stay in my favorite genre!” you should think carefully about what assumptions you’re making about work by Native creators and creators of color. It reveals that you think of “diverse books” as something remote, separate from “regular” books. And when you, as a librarian, as a gatekeeper, make these assumptions in your booklists, your displays, your selections – you’re passing them on to your patrons. You’re distancing and other’ing your Native patrons and patrons of color and you are sending the same message to your White patron.

I am not telling you what your “favorites” should be. I am not telling you YOU BETTER READ ____ OR ELSE! I am telling you that you owe it to your patrons to think bigger than just what you have always known, what you are most comfortable with, what you have always done.  Isn’t learning more and serving everyone a major part of what drew you to public librarianship as a career?  It certainly was for me. And I don’t take that lightly. I want to do the most for ALL my patrons and open their worlds up as much as I can. So for me, that means I’m going to make sure that my patrons are exposed to the widest range of authors and books – I am going to look BIGGER than the same White stories by the same White authors over and over. (the immediate family of an 11-13 year old White girl with a quirky name die in an accident, or maybe from cancer, and so she goes to live with her eccentric family, aunts or grandpas are best, and learns that this is her new home as she meets a loving cast of oddballs. They’re all mostly White, with a few people with “light brown” skin. I’ve read this book 10000 times. I’m so over this book.)

So, you’ve been there. You’ve looked at a booklist or a display that a colleague made – maybe that you made – and realized that you were leaving some voices and stories out, that it didn’t have the full range of experience and life that you wanted for your library and your patrons. You got that all White message.  What next?

Change it.  Change what you can, where you can.

My library stopped participating in the New Mexico Battle of the Books when my complaints (and suggestions) were met with a constant refusal to consider more and deeper diversity or to even address my concerns. Instead, I decided to create my own local program and get my school librarians on board.  It’s not perfect, heck it’s still an experiment in progress, but it’s a list that more accurately reflects the kids in our state, a list that isn’t the same tiny handful of Native creators/creators of color, a list that shows some of the best and most interesting writing in kidlit. I’m going to learn lessons as this goes. I am not going to have the same program I used to have. Some kids won’t be interested. But maybe some new ones will be. I am going to be OK with this new thing and know that at least it’s a step forward.

And I mean, come on. This is a pretty great list, right? 

Here’s a list I compiled for people signing up for our new 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program. I wanted to make them a list of books they might not have read 1000 times already (haha) or received ten copies of at their baby showers. I wanted to make a list for adults to share with kids that would allow them, together, to discover and explore the world through books. I chose high interest toddler topics (animals, trucks, counting, nature) and books about reading, writing, singing, playing, and talking. Some of these books could be considered my “favorites” but, really, they’re books I think a wide range of patrons can enjoy. Maybe even the books I don’t like as much, the books that aren’t my favorites can be someone else’s favorites.

Whenever I have a chance to share books with my patrons, with my fellow educators and librarians, I look with a critical eye at those lists, those displays, and those chances to be a gatekeeper, a trusted voice.  I think about who I am sharing mirrors and doors with and I think about all the chances I have to change a life, to help a patron feel seen, to open a new door, to help someone discover a new favorite. I am going to think about more than just me. Because that, too, is why I became a librarian.

My fellow White librarians: I challenge you to challenge yourselves. Take a hard look at your daily library service and think about what messages you’re sending – and which you are sending by virtue of omission.

We can change the message. Let’s do it.

Additional Reading

Performative Allyship and Storytime by Alec Chunn
Selecting While White: Breaking Out of the Vendor Box by Chelsea Couillard-Smith
Multicultural Children’s Literature: Where Are We? by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop

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But What About The NON Reluctant Readers? (this is actually a give away post!)

As librarians we bend over backwards for our reluctant readers.  We salivate at the idea that a book is perfect for reluctant readers, that it’s so appealing that kids who don’t like books will LOVE it.  We preen with delight when non-readers tell us “I loved this book and I never read books.”  We feel an indescribable thrill when we talk about how we connected reluctant readers with the right books.  We champion books that are not all that well-crafted because we know, we know, that they will speak to a reluctant reader, that they will suck in some teen who doesn’t read often or widely.

This is something I am proud of in our profession.  This is a particular reward, a particular task that takes particular skills, in our profession.  Not everyone is good at it and it takes time and skill and patience.  It takes the ability to, at times, squash down that voice inside you that wants to prostrate yourself at a teenager’s feet and scream, “NOT TWILIGHT!  THERE’S SO MANY *GOOD* BOOKS YOU COULD BE READING INSTEAD!”  And that is a lot harder than you might actually think, when you are a person who loves good literature so darn much.

But we push through that!  We reach out for reluctant readers, we constantly assure them that we are there for them, that our collection is for them, that we won’t give up on them.  And I’m damn glad we do.

Only sometimes, sometimes, I wonder about what happens when we forget about our non reluctant readers – those teens that can’t get enough, that read dozens of books and still want more, the ones that walk out of the library with a huge pile of books and a big smile.

What happens to them in our giant stampede of “THIS BOOK WON’T HURT YOU, I SWEAR!” reassurances?

I think I know.  It’s not that they stop coming into the library, not quite, it’s that they stop coming to us.  They go to the adult section, you see, and fall in love with Harry Dresden and Daenerys Targaryen.  And while that is totally awesome – nothing breaks my heart quicker than to see a 15 year old, a bright, voracious reader look right at me and say, “Yeah, young adult books are just boring, I’m not really interested anymore.”

When we, and here we means librarians, teachers, writers, publishers, publicists, all of us who are involved in this industry, when we encourage the dumbing down of young adult fiction, we tell this 15 year old they’re right.

We say: “Yup, you had a good run here with us, you really loved those kid books!  But now you’re way too smart and sophisticated and mature as a reader for all this stuff, this baby stuff, so you might as well go find real books!”

And I don’t want to be in an industry that says that.  Do you?

When I am doing training and workshops for librarians I inevitably come up against the Octavian Nothing issue.

Here I am, having just spent an hour telling them all the latest zombie-romance-vampire-killing-non-stop-action books that are sure to fly off their shelves and now I stand before them and tell them that, with limited budget, they need to buy Octavian Nothing – a dense, historical novel that wrestles with huge, hard questions and is written in deliberately stylized prose meant to evoke the 18th century.  They stare at me in bewilderment.  Who am I?  Can they trust anything I say?  HAVE I GONE MAD?

So then I tell them the most important part: Octavian Nothing is not for all your teen readers.  Octavian Nothing is the kind of book you have to sell to your teen readers, the kind you have to work to connect with the right teen.  And maybe Octavian Nothing is right for one teen out fifty.  But for that one, this is the kind of book that can change their life – the kind of book that can open a world of possibilities in them, that can make them think and wonder, that can make them say, “Yeah, young adult literature is awesome.”

Don’t you want that?

And yes, they nod, thinking about Octavian Nothing, thinking about the American Revolution and questions of liberty and freedom and justice and moral right.  That seems profound, that seems like a higher calling.  Yes.

But what if that same question was posed about a book where monsters rip people’s faces off, where the blood flows copiously, and there are very nasty things that go bump in the night?

Would it be so easy to nod then?

The Monstrumologist is that book.  It’s not for every reader.  It’s not for many reluctant readers (though there are some who will be drawn in, much to their surprise!)  It’s sophisticated, smart, classically structured, dense, and detailed.  The Monstrumologist is a book for the teenagers who think that young adult literature doesn’t have anything left to offer them.

The Monstrumologist tells the story of young Will Henry, who is apprenticed to Pellinore Warthrop, the monstrumologist of our title.  Dr. Warthrop is an amazing character, full of sharp edges and determination – a man who never flinches from his duty, even when his duty is dark business indeed, he springs off the pages with clarity.  Will and Dr. Warthrop, as I am sure will come as no surprise to you, encounter and do bloody battle with a great number of monsters, both of the human and inhuman variety.  The books are richly plotted, detailed historical pieces and, oh yeah, they’ re rip-roaringly-turn-on-the-lights scary and stomach-churningly gory. 

This blog is not a review of The Monstrumologist series, per se, Bear already handled that for me a few days ago  And if you want to read a great one try out Liz’s review of the first book (she has great reviews of all three titles in the series, Curse of the Wendigo and Isle of Blood.) or you could read the professional reviews, which were glowing.  (Booklist said it “might just be the best horror novel of the year.”)  I wasn’t lucky enough to get an AR of Isle of Blood but I can’t wait to read it next week because this is a series that has only become richer and more fulfilling with each volume, as you come to know all the characters and their world better.

When I heard that Simon & Schuster had declined to pick the book up for a fourth volume, I felt YA lit grow poorer.

But!  Now we know there will be a fourth volume and THAT makes us all richer.

To celebrate and because I hope this series of posts has convinced at least one of you, dear readers, that you absolutely MUST start this series today, I’m giving away a copy of The Monstrumologist so that you too can be taken in by Will and Dr. Warthrop (and so that you too can have nightmares!!) All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this blog and I’ll randomly select a winner!  The contest is open extra long since I’m currently out of the country on vacation – so you have until September 19 to enter.

If you can’t wait that long, head out to your library to get The Monstrumologist right this second.  I promise, you’ll be richer for it. (and probably a little scared too…)

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I Am A Good Liberal – Rita Williams Garcia’s “One Crazy Summer” & Reflections on Diversity in YA

I am a good liberal.

In fact, I am a good liberal about being a good liberal.  That means that I recognize that my activism is always a work in progress, that I must constantly strive to question and check my own privilege, that I must consciously work on expanding my vocabulary and understanding,  I must broaden my horizons and knowledge base to better inform my positions, and acknowledge that there is always something more for me to know.

I’m a good liberal about being a good liberal and I’m damn proud of that.

So why had I never heard of Bobby Hutton?

When he was 16 years old, Bobby Hutton was the very first Black Panther recruit.  When he was 17 years old, Bobby Hutton lead a protest march on the California state capitol.  And Bobby Hutton never got to be 18 years old, because two weeks before his birthday, the Oakland police murdered him. (more on Bobby Hutton)

I’m a good liberal, damn it, why did I find out about Bobby Hutton from a children’s book!?

Rita Williams-Garcia’s masterful One Crazy Summer is ostensibly the story of three sisters (Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern) who spend a summer reconnecting with the mother (Celeste, who now calls herself Sister Nzilla) who has left their family to “find herself” in 1968.  In  many ways, it is a very traditional children’s book: the story of a summer that changes everything for the characters, the story of an older sister who learns that she doesn’t always have to be in control, the story of our three young characters learning and growing and changing.  It’s those “traditional” hallmarks that will help ensure this book is a classic that generations of readers can relate to.  But what makes One Crazy Summer MORE than that is everything that makes it non-traditional.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a children’s book that looks so uncompromisingly at what you sacrifice as a woman to be a mother, particularly the unique sacrifices that would exist in the year 1968.  I have certainly never read a children’s book that has a mother like Sister Nzilla – a mother who is neither a villain or a redeemed heroine, but who is person, on her own terms, struggling to find out what it means to be a mother and a free person.  And, of course, I’ve never read a children’s book where our characters learn about revolution from the Black Panthers.  All those elements are what make One Crazy Summer something special and unique, something rare and beautiful that draws you in simply because you want to understand and inhibit and know its world.

But I am not here, exactly, to review One Crazy Summer (although it is, of course, worthy of review and analysis!) the goal of the Diversify Your Reading challenge is to talk about how the book affected me as a reader.

And Bobby Hutton is how this book affected me as a reader.

Lil Bobby Hutton is in every corner of One Crazy Summer.  Learning his story makes Delphine, our no-nonsense narrator, question  everything she thinks she knows about how the world works.  It also makes her afraid.   If Bobby Hutton could be shot and killed while he was unarmed and stripped down to his underwear is it safe to be around the Black Panthers?  The brilliance of  having this be one of Delphine’s fears is how Williams-Garcia then lets Delphine understand that the real question Bobby Hutton’s death should have her asking is this: is it safe to be black in America?  And if it’s not what I am, Delphine, going to do about that?

This is a real question the Black Panthers strove to address and answer: what does it mean to be black in America, when a 17 year old boy can be shot dead on the street by the police for no reason?  What does it mean and what can we do to change what it means?  What can we do to change America?

Bobby Hutton’s death, Bobby Hutton’s life and activism, raises these questions – questions all Americans should be called upon to answer, both in 1968 and in 2011.

And I, good liberal that I am, had never heard of Bobby Hutton.

Reading One Crazy Summer did much more than just cause me to go look up Bobby Hutton and find out more about him.  (though I am grateful this book afforded me the opportunity to do that!) That’s too simple an answer to “how this book affected me as a reader.”  Bobby Hutton, One Crazy Summer, the question about what any of can do to change the country we live in and the world we’re a part of – reading this book was a reality check for a good liberal like me.  I know there’s always more for me to know, but I honestly wasn’t prepared to find it in a children’s book about the 1960s.  “I know a lot about that era,” I assured myself.  “And I know a lot about the Civil Rights Movement too.  If anything, I’ll just enjoy this because Rita Williams-Garcia is a great writer and this is a unique era to be featured in kid lit.”   And as I comforted myself with all my knowledge and my good liberal-ness, there was Bobby Hutton.

It was more than a reality check: it was a reminder that the best books about “diversity” do more than fulfill check boxes in an effort to educate you.  The best books about diversity, like One Crazy Summer, get straight to your heart and your brain and open the world up to you – they make you, like Delphine,  ask questions about Bobby Hutton that are more than “So, who was this guy?” and are, instead, “What did he mean?  What can I learn from his life?  How can his life make my  life better and more meaningful?”

These questions are relevant and worth asking to readers of all ages, but they have a particular resonance, I think, with children and teens.  That’s the reason we, as librarians and teachers, must have these books on our shelves and get them into our patrons and students hands.  Books like One Crazy Summer don’t force answers on you, they do something far more valuable: they get you to ask the questions.

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There Are No 50 Books “Everyone” Should Read (Give Away post!)

After our teen group meeting, a group of boys split off and starting playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl and a group of teen volunteers came into the room and started eating leftover cake and ice cream.  It was a fun atmosphere.  One of the teen’s boyfriend arrived and looked around.  “Um,” he said slowly, pointing at the boys playing video games.  “Doesn’t this, like, go against the point of, um, book club or whatever?”

Another boy jumped in.  “No.  It’s not about – it’s like.  This is our big-party-fun-time.  It’s – this is where – we can – ” he couldn’t seem to get the right words out.  I tried to help.

“It’s that the library is about fun,” I supplied, smiling.  “You don’t have to think about school or homework or getting into college if you don’t want to.  You can just come and hang out and enjoy yourself. ”

The TAG kids nodded emphatically over the smashing sounds of Mario.  That’s it exactly.

Fun.  Remember that?  Enjoying yourself?  Remember that?  Last week, I returned to my alma mater for my favorite, hands-down my favorite, professional conference: Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival.  Lots of amazing things, more amazing things than I could imagine, happened.  I had the chance to interview Gary Schmidt for half an hour for an article for VOYA and David Diaz gave me a packet of cherry Pez for blow-drying one of his paintings.  I also had the chance to hear Roger Sutton give the Ezra Jack Keats lecture.  The lecture was a lot about how Harry Potter changed the field of children’s publishing.  This part was fascinating, of course, and I can’t wait for The Horn Book article that’s sure to result.  BUT it was also a chance for Roger to speak up about the importance of pleasure reading, defending children and teen’s reading choices.  I don’t know how I managed to resist standing up and shouting AMEN!

I was tweeting throughout Roger’s lecture and here are some highlights from my notes:

  • “Reluctant reader often means they are not reading what we want them to read.”
  • “Kids have always fallen in love with terrible books, libraries need to have them too.”
  • “In my dream library, no one ever says that’s not good enough.”
  • “A librarian’s job is to get out of the way and let the reader choose.”

AH, ROGER, YOU’RE THE BEST!

This all reminded me of the recent flap about the The Independent‘s recent article about “The 50 Books Every Child Should Read.”  While this is a noble effort to be sure it’s also … frustrating and, well, silly.  There are no 50 books “every” child should read.  This is just as silly as that Facebook meme about the BBC’s list of books.  Why should you feel guilt about what you have and haven’t read?  Who came up with that list anyway?  Who is judging you?  When did reading become a chore or a competition or (shudder) a requirement?  Reading is supposed to be fun, remember?

And, with that in mind … here’s the GIVE AWAY part of the blog, huzzah!

A few months ago, Simon & Schuster offered me a chance to do a giveaway on my blog.  I told them heck yeah, because giveaways are awesome.  They’ve given me FIVE signed copies of Elixir by Hilary Duff to give away and I couldn’t be more excited.

Yes, Elixir by Hilary Duff.  Yes, that Hilary Duff.

Are you rolling your eyes yet?  Maybe you are.  But let me tell you – this book might not win the Printz but it’s a fun time.  It really is.  I read it in one sitting and I enjoyed the heck out of it.  It’s soapy and ridiculous and full of details about everything from rainforests to red carpets.  The story involves Clea, a socialite without a care in the world.  Everything changes when her father disappears in the rainforests of Brazil and she decides to go off and try to solve the mystery of what’s happened to him.  This is the first plot element I loved: Clea getting out there and doing something herself, a plot that kicks off without a boy pushing her along.  Hurrah!  (don’t worry, we get to the triangle later.  It’s my favorite kind, too: the best friend or the mysterious stranger.)   Once she gets to Brazil it gets all supernatural-y and there’s reincarnation and a mysterious stranger who Clea can’t help but be drawn to and adventures in the jungle. Now come on.  That’s a fun time, especially for teen readers.   The plot doesn’t quite all hang together and the reincarnation stuff gets a little confusing but, really, I wasn’t reading it for plot, I was reading for jungle adventures and longing looks and a female protagonist with a mind of her own.   This book delivered that in spades.  I wasn’t reading because I wanted to impress anyone (like the BBC) or because someone who doesn’t know anything about my life or my tastes was “requiring” me to.  I was reading for pleasure.  And you know?  That’s required reading to me.

So, thanks to the awesome folks at Simon & Schuster, YOU can win your own signed copy of Elixir.

You can keep it for yourself, add it to your library’s circulating collection, or use it as a prize giveaway.  This really would make a great teen giveaway:  this book was a fun time for me, but teen readers that gobble up paranormal-romances will like it EVEN MORE.  AND it’s signed.  My teens treat signed books like gold.  Better still, I have five of them to give away and the contest is open internationally.  All you have to do is leave a comment saying you want to be entered and, at the end of this week, I’ll do a random drawing and notify you if you’ve won a copy.

There are no books “everyone” should read, not every child, not every teenager, not every adult.  All of us, every single one, should read what we want.  And we should treat reading like what it IS: a big-party-fun-time.

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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?)

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I Hope My Fat Body Isn’t Grossing You Out, World.

Well, there it is: my big, fat body.  I’m standing in the Gulf of Mexico, in the middle of a luxurious vacation with a group of my closest friends, enjoying my life and my world and having a wonderful time with people who love me, but I can see as how this would gross you out.  What with me existing and everything.

On Monday, Marie Claire published an blog in their online Year of Living Flirtatiously column called “Should “Fatties” Get A Room?  (Even on TV?)” by Maura Kelly.  I’m not going to link to that article because (in my opinion) Marie Claire is currently loving all the page views and publicity.  But I first read about it on Jezebel, where there’s plenty of excerpts from the article and a link you can follow to it, if you’d like.

Anyhow, the article went viral, Kelly issued a completely awesome non-apology and it started a really good conversation about about if fat people, like, have a right to exist even if they make people like Maura Kelly upset “simply by walking across the room.”  Well, OK, there’s actually been much more conversation, commentary, and insight written about it and I’ve appreciated it, really, and I’ve appreciated that so many people spoke up and said, “This is offensive, this hurts me, this isn’t OK.”  That part is awesome.

But at the same time?  What in the holy hell?  There is no both sides.  There is no “let’s talk about Maura Kelly’s points!”  She doesn’t have any points.  She does not have an argument.  She wrote an offensive, hateful piece that isn’t well written or edited and isn’t really coherent.  This doesn’t mean “why bother responding?”  as most of you know, I *always* think it’s worth responding.  But … wow.  That this is what we’re responding to?  It’s almost shocking.

Almost, I say, because on the other hand, it’s not shocking at all.  It’s barely a surprise, I guess, to me as a fat person.  That’s what it means to be fat, after all, that people can “seriously” write things like this for a major national publication and get away with phrasing it like a question.  Should fat people be allowed to make out?

I wasn’t always aware of fat activism, part of it, you know.  I didn’t just spring into being this way.  Wading out in the Gulf of Mexico, the sand under my toes and the water deliciously cool on a hot day, I think that was maybe the first time in my adult life I was in a swimsuit without some sort of cover-up trying to hide my body.

It felt so good.

Understanding my body was not my enemy, understanding that people do not have an unalienable right to comment on and judge my body, that my body is not part of their conversation – that changed everything.   Maura Kelly, Marie Claire, that ridiculous blog, they deserve a response.  And that response is: shut the fuck up.

OK, fine, that’s simplifying it a bit.  What I mean to say is: my body is not yours for public discussion.  How I walk across a room, how I kiss a man, how I eat a pretzel, how I look in a swimsuit with clear blue water washing over my skin – that is not yours to feel repulsed by, to wonder about, to comment on at all.

That’s mine.

This is how my fat activism started: the awareness that my body was mine.  It grew from there, spurred on by conversations with a very smart person who knew about body politics and encouraged me to think about it, by my development as a feminist, and, oh yeah, by my reading.

In reading others stories, I saw my life and my struggles reflected back, and I knew that I wasn’t alone.  It is this connection that has always made reading so powerful, so important to me.

Over a year ago, I started planning a program for the 2010 YALSA YA Literature Symposium.  The idea?  To look at the many books published for young adults (in the last five years) dealing with fat issues, fat characters, and even fat acceptance.  These books (some good, some bad, some trying) that had characters that were learning to make peace with their bodies, to stand up for themselves, to figure out who they were – these books I thought could be a connection for so many teenagers.

One week from today, what began, over a year ago, as an idea for an author panel program will now be a half-day pre-conference.

I hope that this is just the beginning of the conversation, the first step in getting word out to librarians (and teens!) that there are books being published now that reflect a world full of different bodies and different sizes and these voices can help teenagers (can help anyone!) learn to stop apologizing for their bodies and start telling people like Maura Kelly that they’ll walk across the room without any shame and she doesn’t get the slightest bit say in it.

I hope you’ll join the conversation and spread the message.  It’s the most important thing we, as a community of librarians, reviewers, and writers, could ever say to Marie Claire or Maura Kelly.

It’s the best response we can give.

(additionally: if you’re coming to the symposium, please let me know, I’m super-excited about getting to meet up with as many people as possible!)

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“I Hadn’t Even Considered That!” or Why Librarians Matter

REJOICE, THE BLOG IS BACK FROM THE DEAD!!  (peeks around) I hope some people are actually still out there reading?  Hello?  Please forgive my absence, I hope some readers are still around!

ZOMG, has it really been over a month!?? I can’t believe it’s been this long between posts!  Getting back in the habit of regularly blogging has been harder than I expected!  (I kept a personal blog for years.) Part of me is still holding on to the idea that unless I have something really significant to say or to discuss in depth, I shouldn’t post.  I am working to overcome that though and trying to remember that saying something is the most important part!

Besides that, I was on blissful vacation from September 8th to September 21st, spending 11 glorious days in Toronto at the Toronto International Film Festival.  I saw 33 movies in 9 days and didn’t have a lot of energy or focus for blogging!

But! I’m going to make a post about some of the Canadian books I picked up and about the amazing promotional initiative Indigo, the Canadian version of Barnes & Noble/Borders, ran: The Teen Read Awards, where Canadian teenagers were invited to vote on their bookish favorites, like Best Hottie, Best All Time Favorite, and Best New Writer.  Just by voting, teenagers could win all sorts of prizes,  from movie tickets to eReaders and a trip to Toronto!  The voting promotion was everywhere in their bookstores and it all culminated in an awards ceremony/big party with live music, author appearances, and more prizes.  HOW AWESOME IS THIS?

In the meantime, this is something that has been in the back of my mind for a while . . .

Do you ever get not-at-work requests from your friends/family for reader’s advisory?  I get so many requests on Facebook from friends.  “I was wondering if you could make a list for me of books for my 12 year old niece/reluctant reader I tutor/9 year old niece/13 year old friend of my family who loves to read?”  I love these requests, of course, compiling these lists and is such a delight.

Of course, you start out any reader’s advisory by making sure you completely understand what the person wants.  As my newest round of this started, I asked my friend a question that I think should be standard in any reader’s advisory interview, particularly one where you can’t actually see the person you’re recommending books for.  The question?  “Should I be looking for books that feature characters of color?”

My friend’s delighted response?  “I hadn’t even considered that!  A Hispanic main character would be fantastic!” (my friend ended up buying Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez and Twelve by Lauren Myracle.  Do you know about the amazing Confetti Girl?  You should!)

I hadn’t even considered that!

But librarians have.  (Librarians should.)

Shortly after that, a teacher came into the library and asked me for books about Native Americans to read to her 3rd grade class.  “I’ve done the same books over and over,” she said wearily “can you recommend something new?”

Looking at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Jingle Dancer (illustrations by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu) and Joe Medicine Crow’s Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird (illustrations by Linda Martin) I could see her eyes light up.  “These are … different.” She said.

I had the chance to explain why it’s important to use books created by Native authors and illustrators and why they’re so different from the same books she’s always used.  She nodded the whole time, as if I was telling her something both new and that sounded familiar and right to her.  When she was checking the books out she told me, smiling, “I knew coming to ask you was the right idea!”

At the time, I just basked in the glow of a satisfying reference interview, that feeling you get when you know you’ve answered a patron’s question in the exact right way.  Later, though, I had time to consider the impact of these recommendations.  It started when I tweeted Cynthia Leitich Smith (you should follow her on Twitter already!) about this interaction.  She thanked me for recommending Jingle Dancer and then said “Expertise in an area like Native American #kidlit is yet another reason why librarians are so necessary to schools/communities!” which sent a thousand thoughts clicking in my brain.

Expertise.  I guess I wouldn’t have used that word, maybe not right away, but there it was and it suddenly made so much sense.

I started to think about all the students who would now be exposed to these titles through this teacher, the students who had maybe never heard a Native voice in their classrooms before.  I thought, too, of my friend buying a book for a young girl who would now see Spanish words, a culture of her own, reflected back in a book.

It’s our jobs to consider this, it’s our job to think about this impact.

It’s our job to be experts.

Or to at least try as hard as we fucking can.

To work at it, to be diligent about it, to consider it, to know that it matters.  It’s important to know books that feature characters of color, to think about the audiences that will read the books we recommend, to make sure our collections, services, and knowledge base are diverse wide-ranging and that we, as professionals, are prepared to use all of this to fulfill those oldest of library science laws: every reader his or her book and every book its reader.

None of this is lip service, because all of this matters.  We matter.

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Silver Phoenix, Sean Kingston, and the Importance of Visibility

“My reality is filled with young people who don’t see themselves reflected in books. And if you don’t see yourself in books, do you exist? Do you matter? Does anyone care about your life? Your story? Well, I know that we all matter, and my goal as an artist is to make sure others know, too.” -Charles R. Smith, Jr. in his 2010 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award acceptance speech

I live and work in a small town.  According to the 2000 census, the population was 11,909.  In many ways, my town is an “average” small town.  We have one four screen movie theater, one grocery store, and no restaurants open after 10 PM.  It’s the kind of place where you can spend ten minutes in the one grocery store and see ten people you know.

But something is different about where I live (which means something is different about where I work) … in my small town is one of the largest science and technology institutions in the world.  People come from all over the world to work here and they live in our community.  For the most part, these people are highly educated and make a whole lot of money.  37% of the population has a graduate or professional degree.  This means that while I work in a small town, my patron base is international.  A few weeks on the job, I complimented a smiling 8 year old on her purse.  She replied, “Thanks, we bought in Singapore.  We stopped there on our way to New Delhi for vacation.”  I would soon find that in this town, that was the norm.  When I look around a story time, I see parents from (among other places) China, Mongolia, India, France, Russia, Nepal, Spain, Israel, Germany, Jordan, Korea, Scotland, and Japan.  Our library has a thriving, circulating foreign language collection that includes books, magazines, newspapers and DVDs.  I live and work in a small town, but I am often reminded it’s not like many other small towns I have known.  I have learned a lot working here and it’s made me more attuned than ever to issues of visibility and why it matters.

When I think of the latest round of cover whitewashing that is slated to occur when Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix comes out in paperback with a barely disguised white girl on the cover instead of an accurate representation of Ai Ling, the kick-ass Asian protagonist actually featured in the book, I think about Jenny.

Jenny is twelve years old.  She’s an avid reader.  She’s also Chinese. One day several months ago we were talking about manga.  She asked me, with disgust, if I knew about the upcoming Avatar movie.

“Did you know they cast white people in that movie?” She said, disgust rolling off her every word in that way only twelve year olds can manage.

“I did.  That’s so dumb, isn’t it?”

“What is it?”  She asked, practically vibrating with anger.  “Do they think Asians aren’t cool enough or something?”

This, this simple question, is everything you need to know about visibility.  This is the question I think M. Night Shyamalan and everyone involved with Avatar the Last Airbender should have to answer to Jenny’s face.

Many people have written much more eloquently than I could about the problems with changing the cover of Silver Phoenix. (and its forthcoming sequel Fury of the Phoenix)  Here’s a sample of some of those posts:

Inkstone: I Guess I Still Have One Post In Me
Steph Su: Why I Want More Asians on YA Book Covers
Trisha: Asian-American Characters and Me
Miss Attitude: Guess What This Post Is About? (with a great link roundup)

But one point I never really saw addressed was this: what about libraries (like mine) that bought Silver Phoenix when it first came out?  How do these covers look together? My library system purchased it for a variety of reasons: great reviews and huge demand among our patrons for fantasy with strong female characters, for instance.  But we also bought it because we have large Asian patron base, because we see dozens of readers like Jenny every day, because it’s our professional responsibility to put books that reflect their faces, their identities, into their hands and their hearts.

For all of these reasons, and due to the success we’ve had with the first book, it’s a no-brainer that my library will be purchasing Fury of the Phoenix. So what now, Greenwillow Books?  How do these covers look together?

How will these books look to Jenny if she sees them together?  What message is she going to be getting?  What are we saying to Jenny?  How should my library display these books together?  What should I say when I am booktalking, promoting, and hand-selling the series and showing both books to my patrons?  Do you think they will not notice this difference?  Do you think it doesn’t matter?

VISIBILITY MATTERS.

There’s a reason Queer Nation took to the streets and shouted “We’re Here!  We’re Queer!  Get used to it!”  There’s an equal reason that, in 2002, The Simpsons would have Lisa tell the Gay Pride parade marching down her street and chanting this once radical statement of purpose: “You do this every year.  We are used to it!”

About a month or so ago, I was researching Justin Bieber (no, seriously.  He’s a youth cultural phenomenon librarians should at least be somewhat cognizant of.) and I discovered that he has a duet with Sean Kingston.  The duet, Eenie Meenie, went platinum in the US and the video has over 12 million hits on YouTube.   That part isn’t much of a surprise, Bieber collaborates with everyone (a key to his success and appeal, for sure) and, really, he and Kingston have a lot in common.  They were both discovered as teenagers through their presence on social media sites and built huge fanbases online that translated to “real” album sales.  When I looked up the video, however, I admit I was kind of blown away by the plot.

Basically, Bieber and Kingston are unwittingly competing for the affection of the same girl at a party.  She flirts with one and the other as they are in different parts of the house party.  Bieber and Kingston eventually meet up and realize that GASP this “eenie meenie miney moe lova has been PLAYING THEM BOTH!  Neither one seems to have hard feelings, they roll their eyes and embrace as the girl stomps off.

On the one hand, besides the problematic “girls, never flirt with more than one dude at a time or else you’re an unfaithful skank!!!” messaging, this is a pretty typical video.  Bieber and Kingston aren’t in the video as super-famous-musicians, they’re just two guys at a party who happen to be flirting with a girl that seems equally interested in both of them.  Why get blown away?

I was blown away that this simple narrative of “one girl is equally interested in two guys and is perhaps coyly leading them on simultaneously” was presented featuring one guy our society would absolutely consider “fat” and one we would consider “normal.” (NOTE: obviously, I’m not assigning or claiming either of these words to or for Bieber and Kingston, but in contemporary American culture, I think it’s inescapable and obvious that they’d be labeled with them.)

Sean Kingston and Justin Beiber nonchalantly competing for a girl is VISIBILITY IN ACTION.

When I see Sean Kingston flirting, dancing, looking hip and suave, and wooing a girl – I have a new way of rejecting the preconception that everyone has to look one single way, that there is only one standard for what makes you desirable, noticeable, what makes you, as Charles R. Smith, Jr. might say: exist.

When I see Sean Kingston, to some degree, I see myself.

We all deserve that experience.  That’s why these conversations are so important.  That’s why it matters that we keep discussing what Ai Ling should look like on the covers of the books she lives in, what it means and what messages it sends when she disappears into a black blur and turns into an oblique and ambiguous pair of lips.

Like Queer Nation so many years ago, we should ALL stand on the rooftops and march through the streets and shout: WE’RE HERE! until our stories are told, until attention is paid.

We owe it to Jenny.

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Unfun

my response to the 2011 Quick Picks Committee

I always knew I was going to end up making this post, but I really didn’t think it was going to be within my first 10 entries.  Good to get it out of the way, I suppose.

Mainly, this post is a response to some comments from the 2011 Quick Picks committee that were made in my post about This is Why You’re Fat. I already gave a cursory response there, and I recommend that you read that and their original comments, because I made several points there which I won’t bring up again here, but there were some points that I felt deserved a rebuttal post of their own.  I will be quoting from the first comment left on behalf of the 2011 Quick Picks Committee, you may view the complete comment and our dialogue in the comment section.  I want to say I really do appreciate the Quick Picks Committee reading my post and responding and that I was especially glad for the expanded context of the purpose of Quick Picks for my readers who might not be as familiar with the list.

First: no where in my post did I make the ridiculous and specious comment that This is Why You’re Fat will “turn” teenagers anorexic or make them “become” anorexic.  This is a simplistic distortion of my argument.  What I did do was point out that the book deals with problematic imagery and messaging regarding food and body images and these problems overlap with a thriving subculture that harms teenagers. Moreover, the book doesn’t deal with these problems, it pretends they don’t exist, it pretends that this is just funny-ha-ha and not wrapped up in humiliation, not sending the not so subtle message that “food” is why you’re fat. (on the “This is Why You’re Fat” website there are actually several pictures of junk food in a single serving.  How, again, is a single serving of any “unhealthy” food why anyone, anywhere, ever is fat?)

I wanted to start a dialogue of what this book might mean for teenagers who struggled with disordered eating, I wanted to genuinely ask who the “extremes” in this book are speaking to.  Not, maybe, the 80% but the 20% instead.  They’re reluctant readers too, they’re our patron base too.  I asked you, as a committee, to consider if this book meets the selection criteria of “objectivity” and “accuracy.”   I wasn’t trying to sway your opinion, I wasn’t trying to dismiss what you work so hard to do.  All I was trying to get across was something I have tried to stress, repeatedly: none of these things happen in a vacuum.

As to some other points in the comments:

Again, I would like to point out that the book is subtitled, Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks. It does, in fact, address the blocked arteries of which you speak.

No, it doesn’t.  Including that in the title is not “addressing” anything.  The book (which I have seen) includes recipes and photos, there’s nothing addressing blocked arteries or eating healthy.  At ALA, I talked with Liz Burns about my post and she mentioned the Eat This, Not That series (a 2009 Quick Pick) actually does offer more healthy alternatives to food that is “bad” for you.  This book doesn’t, because it doesn’t care about your “heart attacks” and “blocked arteries” or about you, the reader, being healthy.  It just wants to gross you out.   And please bear in mind that “Ew, that’s so gross!” isn’t so very far away from “Ew, you’re so gross!”   Here’s where we start seeing overlap, again, between the pro-ana and pro-mia movements.  Why is the word “gross” even in the discussion?

Frankly, I liken the whole thing to “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” Yes, America, this IS why WE’RE fat. As a nation, we eat crap like this, and as a nation, we are obese. This is fact.

This is the moment where this comment begins derailing.  This is not “a fact.”  No, eating sandwiches with eighty slices of bacon and forty slices of cheese isn’t why I’m fat, but thanks for assuming as “fact” that all I do all day is sit around and stuff my face with food.  Right before this, the comment stated that the whole point of the book was that the items featured are “not foods that are intended to be eaten as part of a healthy diet.” But now this “crap” IS why we’re fat.  (and fat = obese and obese = death, naturally.) Here, the commenter is caught up in the inherent problem I tried to point out: either the book is all in good fun “we’d never really eat this every day, haha!” OR a legitimate commentary “you eat so much of this, this is why you’re obese and about to die!!!111”   So, which is it?  If it’s “just in good fun” we can’t criticize it, now can we?  But if it’s legitimate?  Then it better be able to stand up to an in-depth critical analysis.

(also, commenter, I am assuming that you are not familiar with the numerous studies that show “the obesity epidemic” is essentially exaggerated fear-mongering.  I recommend you read Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata and these FAQ at Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose.)

As for Jamie Oliver?  He is a fat-hating-fat-shaming-self-promoting jerk.  I think he fits right in with the hateful message in This is Why You’re Fat. Please, take a moment to read Melissa McEwan’s thoughtful and incisive take-downs of  his mean-spirited show. (or to just see him in a fat suit because, lol, fat people!)

And this is where the comment gets personal and, in my opinion, insulting.

“Unfun” is a word that my best friend Elliot and I mostly made-up.  We use it for the moments when we feel like we’re “ruining” someone else’s fun by pointing out the problems within a text, a movie, or a commonly-held belief.  We use it for that feeling we get when we raise a legitimate objection to something problematic and are met with “why do you have to take everything so seriously/analyze everything to death/see the worst in everything/ruin everyone’s fun?!”  Unfun is the feeling for when you have to ask a friend to not say “bitch, please” or “that’s so lame.”  Unfun is the feeling that you’re just being a pedantic killjoy, hung up on semantics and nitpicking.  Unfun is going against the conventional wisdom that, gosh, all this is really harmless, all this is just a joke, just for a good time, why’s everything gotta mean something?  Unfun is also the embarrassment that goes along with this, when you know you should speak up, but part of you dreads doing so, because you don’t want to be that “unfun” spoilsport.

For instance, at Annual there was this super-cool event: the ALA 2010 Dance Party.  Everyone was invited!  There was a playlist and tweets and a hashtag and 100s of librarians showed up and hung out and danced and had a great time.  And there I was, being “unfun” about it, because of all the clubs they could have chosen to have it at, they chose a gay club.  I am super-uncomfortable with large groups of almost entirely straight people coming into gay spaces for their own “fun and leisure.”  Straight people, even allies like me, have the whole entire world.  What’s so wrong with the queer community having some spaces of their own where we straight people don’t come to get down and boogie for our own lolz?   There was no reason this event had to be held at a gay club and no organizers ever bothered to address my concerns about why it was.  (and why would they?  I’m a nobody.)   I wanted to go to the Dance Party.  I wanted to have fun and meet people and network and be all ironic about librarians being funky and stuff.  But my objections, the problematic location, it was all too much for me.  See, I’m unfun.

So, at this point the response written on behalf of the 2011 Quick Picks committee stops trying to engage me as a peer, as a fellow librarian, as a person with genuine, legitimate concerns.  At this point, the commenter just tries to tell me I’m unfun.

“I think you’re just reading too much into this!  …  Just be frivolous and stop trying to make everything AN ISSUE. Enjoy life…”

First, let me assure you: I enjoy life plenty.  In fact, being critical and analytical gives me a lot of enjoyment.  But this is a not so thinly veiled version of a common derailing technique: “Don’t You Have More Important Issues To Think About?” Why worry about this when there are real things I could be concerned about, when this is a nothing issue that I am reading too much into?  Heck, why make everything an issue at all?  This is also related to the derailing technique “don’t take this personally!”  But it is personal for me.  It’s personal to me as a librarian who doesn’t think my duty to teenagers is “frivolous” and it’s personal to me as a fat person.

You see, 2011 Quick Picks Committee, you are not breaking any news to me,  I already know I am unfun.  But I like to think that I am unfun for a reason.  I am unfun for all the times someone else has been unfun for me, for the moment when someone else has spoken up and said “Hey, this is problematic!” and made me feel less awkward and less alone.  As my friend Angelo said once about advocating and speaking up, “there are moments when others do this, and you feel like someone has just…rescued you in a way.”  Other people have rescued me.  I am unfun for the moments when I hope I might be able to rescue someone else.

It’s how I enjoy life.

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