A booklist of “young adult books” for the “feminist reader” was put together on the website of the magazine Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture.
For those of you in Portland, Oregon, the organization actually has a real lending library. Some of the website posts are particularly about that library and books. A typical post up to now is a look at the ALA YA awards/lists from a feminist viewpoint: From the Library: Young Adult Awards Aplenty.
On January 28, Bitch posted a list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader. From the blog post: “The Bitch Media Community Lending Library brings you our very first book list, made up of 100 young adult novels that every feminist should add to the stack of books on their bedside table. Here at the library we’ve been re-reading some of our old standbys and finding new feminist favorites. If you’re looking to buy a book for your favorite teenage girl or just looking to cuddle up with a powerful story featuring teenage characters, look no further.”
I’m not sure whether or not the books are physically at the Lending Library; I have to assume “yes.”
As for what happened next. In a nutshell, some people objected to books on the list, framing the objections in arguments that touched upon issues of particular sensitivity: rape and rape culture. The people who put together the list removed those titles. As they explained on February 1, “A couple of us at the office read and re-read Sisters Red, Tender Morsels and Living Dead Girl this weekend. We’ve decided to remove these books from the list — Sisters Red because of the victim-blaming scene that was discussed earlier in this post, Tender Morsels because of the way that the book validates (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance, and Living Dead Girl because of its triggering nature. We still feel that these books have merit and would not hesitate to recommend them in certain instances, but we don’t feel comfortable keeping them on this particular list.” Emphasis in the original. (Note: the Sisters Red removal seems to be based entirely on the review and conversation at Book Smugglers. Note the power that one blog post can have.)
The comments exploded. Those of us who have seen book challenges unfold behind closed doors recognized what was happening: Person A objects to book, framing the argument as Z. All reading and analysis is done in reaction to argument Z. Alternate arguments or perspectives are not considered. Unlike other library challenges, this happens in public. Which, actually, I think is extremely helpful to those who have not seen what happens in these types of situations, and just how personal it gets.
Some of the wonderful things about the public discussion are the beautiful defenses of Tender Morsels. Long time readers may remember that I was on the Printz Committee that selected Tender Morsels as a Printz Honor book. So, yes, this is personal. But note the word I had to use: defense. Because of how Bitch handled this, those who didn’t view Tender Morsels as validating rape as vengeance now had to defend themselves. In other words, Bitch has with each of these books established that the arguments offered up are valid and the view that Bitch holds rather than simply an alternate view that can be part of an informed, intelligent discussion.
If you can stomach the comments, I suggest you read them both for the defenses of the books that have been offered up as well as a capsule of Internet culture. Seriously, it’s like a textbook example of all the ways a discussion can explode into other issues and into flaming and trolls and mansplaining.
If you want a timeline of what happened with analysis, Colleen Mondor has done a great job over at Chasing Ray. She goes into all the other issues raised in the comments. If you cannot stomach the comments, read Colleen’s post because she read them so you don’t have to.
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books also comments, explaining in detail the problems some had with triggering being the reason to remove a book from a list. I particularly like the tongue-in-cheek Advisory stickers. The comments are also valuable as some people agree that the books didn’t belong on the list based on excerpt they read (excerpts! not the full book!) and SBTB responds with : “Second, that is one interpretation of the books in question, not The Only And Eternally Right interpretation of those books. Just because an internet commenter says so does not make it absolutely true. Dear God, what trouble we’d be in, in that case.” THIS, in a sentence, is the problem with what is going on with the Bitch list as well as the problem with many book challenges.
Edited to add: I found Kirstyn McDermott’s analysis of Tender Morsels, and really like what she has to say about Tender Morsels, the scene Bitch relied on to remove the book, the context of the removal, and what that removal means.