Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Controversy: 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader

Just a few days ago I posted a link to Bitch Media's list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader.  I was excited to see such a list created and had already started thinking about ways to use it.  Over the weekend, spurred by comments and emails from readers, staff and volunteers at Bitch read/re-read (at least) three of the titles and made the decision to remove them from the list and replace them with three different books.  The titles removed were:

Sisters RedSisters Red by Jackson Pearce - removed due to a "victim blaming" scene
Living Dead GirlLiving Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott - removed because of its "triggering nature"
Tender MorselsTender Morsels by Margo Lanagan - taken off because it "validates (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance"

This has created a blizzard of comments from authors and librarians and it's basically just a big ol' mess.  Cries of censorship, authors requesting to have their works removed from the list, and even a little bit of name calling has begun.  Yikes.

I haven't read Sisters Red, so I don't feel qualified to make a comment on that title, but I have read the other two and disagree with the reasons given for removal.  They are both very mature books that demand an older audience, able to handle the gritty content.  I can see how Living Dead Girl could be a "trigger" for victims of abuse, but would argue that Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls, which is on the list (at #5) would be similarly triggering for individuals suffering with or who have suffered with an eating disorder.  From my own personal experience, I found that while reading the book and for days afterward my own eating was disordered and I found myself counting every calorie and indulging in negative body image issues more than usual.  When I read Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, I was disturbed by the rape scenes, but I did not feel that it in any way validated the characters use of rape as an act of vengeance.  To say that would also be so say that the book condones bestiality, since a character is intimately involved with a bear.  For me, that reasoning just doesn't have merit.

But my issue here really isn't with these specific books being taken off the list.  Rather, my issue is with putting out and promoting a list that wasn't carefully researched, prepared or vetted.  One of the creators of the list admitted that she hadn't actually read all of the books on the list, but compiled the list based on books she had read, reviews and recommendations.  Publishing and promoting a book list without personally reviewing the materials (in entirety) first is just bad business.  Do I sometimes recommend a book to a student based on reviews, even though I haven't read the book?  Certainly.  But would I publish a list declaring it to contain the "100 young adult novels that every feminist should add to the stack of books on their bedside table" without ensuring that every single book on the list was read by someone from my organization? Definitely not.  If you (person or organization) put out a list, it is your duty to defend your selections and to prepare in advance to be challenged on some materials.  It is inevitable that individuals will disagree with something on your list.  That's why preparation is key.  Read the books.  Read all the reviews.  As the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts motto indicates, Be Prepared.

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1 comment:

  1. Word.

    I think of the people I know who have served on ALA committees, or the Nutmeg committee, and the incredible amount of time they put into creating recommendation lists; to slap together and promote a list without being familiar with its contents is inexcusable.