YARC 2020

I signed up for the “Year of the Asian Reading Challenge 2020“! I’m at the Tapir level (21-30 books) which might be a bit of a stretch, but tapirs are cute and I did a research project on them in third grade when we learned about the rainforest.

Then again, I usually manage to read over 100 books in a year, so it might not be that much of a stretch.

Reading forecast, i.e. brief overview of the books currently in my possession:

Physical books I own:

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Hong Kong Noir by Jason Ng and Susan Blumberg-Kason (eds.)
Arrival/Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Breaking the Bow by Anil Menon and Vandana Singh (eds.)

Ebooks I own:

Seven Tears at High Tide by C.B. Lee
Not Your Backup by CB Lee
Amok by Dominica Malcolm (ed.)
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
The Sea is Ours by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng (eds.)
The Girl King by Mimi Yu
Jade City by Fonda Lee
No More Heroes by Michelle Kan
The Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig
The Golden Hairpin by Qinghan Cece
Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin
Bloodbath by Stephanie Ahn
To the Sky Kingdom by Tang Qi
Broken Stars by Ken Liu (trans.)
The Firedragon by Mary Fan
Let Me Fly Free by Mary Fan
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Books in progress/on hold at the library:

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger
A Hero Born by Jin Yong
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker
Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh Le
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

That’s… 30 books without even going out of my way to look for titles. So it’s just a matter of actually sitting down and reading them. I might even review some if I’m feeling ambitious…

(Note: please lmk if I’ve included anyone on my list who isn’t actually Asian! I am very much aware you can’t always tell by names or photos.)

 

Welcome Back to the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge! Join Us and Read Asian Literature in 2020 [Sign-Ups & Information]

The Quiet Pond

Year of the Asian, a 2020 Reading Challenge. Hosted by CW, Lily, Shealea, and Vicky

INTRODUCTION

A maroon-red bowl of rice with spring onion/scallions on top. Bowl has text that reads: #YARC.

It is with excitement and pleasure that I announce that the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge is back! Throughout all of 2020, join my co-hosts and I to read and celebrate Asian literature and Asian authors.

Once again, I am honoured to be one of your hosts, and I am joined by the wonderful:

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The Five

Recently I finished reading The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold. I don’t like serial killers/true crime in general but this one was different. Instead of focusing on the victims’ deaths, it focuses on their lives, which is fascinating from a historical perspective and a feminist perspective, since the “dead sex worker” trope so often turns women into corpse-props instead of actual people. Except after reading the book I was having a hard time remembering which girl was which, so the obvious solution was to write a poem.

 

Five Women

Polly came from the Street of Ink
She learned how to read and she learned how to think
Left her husband and took to drink
And slept on a Whitechapel street.

Annie was a soldier’s daughter
Downed her beer like it was water
Tried to be free but the drink always caught her
Til she slept on a Whitechapel street.

Elisabeth was born on a farm
She left her home country when she came to harm
But in England she still had cause for alarm
When she slept on a Whitechapel street.

Kate left a home full of toil and strife
Met a wandering man and became his wife
But she left him when she feared for her life
To sleep on a Whitechapel street.

Mary Jane’s life was a mysterious dance
She said she once worked in a brothel in France
But to find out the truth, we’ll not have the chance
For she slept on a Whitechapel street.

(copyright Kai Gottschalk 2019)

Mystery Book Roundup – 2018

I’ve never really read many mysteries, but I work at a mystery bookstore now and sometimes customers try to talk to me about books, so I’m trying to educate myself. A lot of my aversion to mysteries, and indeed why most people look down on them, is the same reason people dislike romance or fantasy or other “genre” fiction – we think it’s trashy, that it relies on unrealistic scenarios in order to manufacture cheap emotion. So, as a lifelong fantasy devotee and a relatively recent convert to romance, I was certain that there was something about mystery that spoke to people.

Fantasy is about power. Magic is the great equalizer, and gives even nobody from nowhere the power to save to the world. Romance is about love, of course, but more than that, it’s about belonging; at the end of the romance novel, the heroes aren’t just madly in love, but they have found a space in the world where they can fit and be themselves.

Mysteries are a lot of things. They’re puzzles, but more than just brain teasers with plot. They’re about death, usually, or at least crime, which is why thrillers and suspense tend to get lumped into the same category. In some ways it’s like scaled-down fantasy, where maybe you can’t save the entire world, but you are able to make the world a safer place. At this point, I’d say that mysteries are about managing fear. Fear of death, of danger, of the unknown. The core of a mystery is an unknown threat, and the resolution is exposing and disposing of the threat.

I might write another post on that later. For now, here’s a quick look at the 18 mystery books I read this year, mostly snagged from the store and read during quiet hours at work. (There are a lot of quiet hours at work. Living in a bookstore AU is not as fun as you think it is.)

  1. Necropolis by Avtar Singh

This turned out to be a really bad one to start with, but we have an enormous pile of old ARCs so I just started with the ones that looked like they weren’t by white people. It’s about an Indian police detective solving crimes that are sort of related, and there are there are violent gangs of Twilight LARPers, and a woman who might be immortal. It’s very strange and kind of dark and I can’t say I liked it much.

2. Wrecked by Joe Ide

This is the one that hooked me on mysteries. A black private eye (the author is Japanese) agrees to help a woman find her missing mother, but his search uncovers more than he bargained for. It’s less a whodunit and more a character-driven narrative, not quite action-y enough to be a thriller. And okay, maybe it gets a bit damsel-in-distress at times, but overall I liked it.

3. The Night at the Crossroads by Georges Simenon

We have a bunch by this guy because they’re starting to issue reprints, since he’s some French dude from the 1920’s or something. So it should be a classic, right? It definitely read like an old-timey puzzle mystery, complete with a final scene where the Great Detective gathers everyone in a room to explain What Really Happened and unveil everyone’s secret identities. Again, not really my thing, but this at least I’m glad I read to get a feel for genre and trope history.

4. The Classy Crooks Club by Alison Cherry.

This one was VERY good. It’s a middle-grade novel about a girl who goes to live with her grandmother for the summer, and finds out that her grandmother and her grandmother’s old lady friends are actually a gang of thieves! They recruit the granddaughter because she has knees that can bend, and at first it’s a fun little jaunt of learning to pick locks and rescuing exotic birds, but the heists slowly grow more morally questionable, which helps the book, aimed at kids, to strike a good balance between “Heists are fun!” and “Stealing is bad!” Also there is no romance; instead the main character gets an awkward crush on an older boy that goes nowhere because she’s like twelve.

5. The Good Son by Yeo-Jeong Jeong

Korean novel in translation. A young man wakes up in his bed covered in blood, with no memory of the night before, and finds his mother dead in the hallway. What starts as trying to unravel the events of the previous night turns into unraveling secrets that have help him his entire life, with some excellent twists along the way. Very good, but very dark psychological thriller.

6. Murder at Cape Three Points by Kwei Quartey

This one was set in Ghana, which was interesting, but other than that it felt like a pretty generic police procedural. None of the characters stood out the way the setting did.

7. Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt

I was going through some really bad insomnia a few months ago, so I started listening to this before bed, and it worked. The protagonist is such an Annoying White Man that I didn’t get too invested in the story to sleep. The stakes never seemed to rise or fall, and it was filled with courtroom scenes that were so explain-y they felt like a sidebar in a law textbook. And the dogs barely show up in the story.

8. The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford

Another middle grade. This one is loosely historical fiction (the author fudges the timeline of characters’ ages so that they’re all similar ages) about Ada Lovelace and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Ada reads very much as autistic, though I don’t know if the author intended it. Quite whimsical, reminds me a bit of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Not sure I can deal with the altered timeline, though.

9. Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

I don’t know how I feel about this one, so I’m making my book club read it so I can talk about it with people. As I said in my post about trans books, it’s less a mystery and more literary suspense.

10. The Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake

Middle grade, and a lot darker than I thought it would be, considering it’s about a girl who thinks her neighbor is a vampire. Turns out he’s neither a vampire nor a sweet, misunderstood old man.

11. Going Down for the Count by David Stukas

Gayyyyyy. Delightfully gay. I haven’t been able to get more than two pages into any cozy mysteries, until this one, because everything’s better when it’s gay. A rather hapless gay boy falls in love with a German count (now do you get the title?) and gets married, but unfortunately his husband gets murdered. And even more unfortunately, he might not actually be a rich count. This is an utterly delightful romp with gays who actually act like the gays I know and make all the terrible jokes about it that they can.

12. Baked to Death by Dean James

Also gay, this time with vampires. And it’s a cozy. Because why would a vampire sit around brooding when instead he can write historical romance novels (he’s not old, he just used to be a history professor) and investigate murders at the local medieval fair? The mystery is a bit too twisty, and by the end I didn’t care who did it, I just wanted the author to pick someone and be done with it.

13. Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu

This one mostly just made me hungry, since the main character runs a cafe in Singapore.

14. Hollywood Ending by Kellye Garrett

An absolute delight. Follows the apprentice to a soon-to-be-licensed PI through the absurdly campy world of Hollywood. Also it’s like the only book in the store with a black woman on the cover.

15. The Haunted Library by Dori Hillestad Butler (series)

There’s this family that comes  into the store periodically to get the next book in the series, because the kids are obsessed with it. Last time I saw them only one of the kids was there, and he was so excited he started reading it right there in the store, then suddenly shrieked “They find Finn!” Yay? It’s a cute series about a ghost that teams up with a “solid” girl to solve mysteries while also looking for his family. It conveniently skirts around the idea that ghosts are dead people, because I guess kids can’t know about death.

16. Death of Riley by Rhys Bowen

This one got me started on historicals; they’re not as grim as procedurals but not as saccharine as cozies, and also history is cool. Especially when some random lesbians show up (in 1901) and decide to adopt the main character. I hope they’re in the rest of the books, though it doesn’t seem like it.

17. A Skeleton in the Family by Leigh Perry

I said I don’t like cozies, but I love the skeleton books. Maybe because the protagonist isn’t a cheerful bakery owner pursuing her dream but rather and overworked adjunct professor. Or maybe because they don’t get into the how or why of the walking, talking skeleton. And since he’s known the protag since before the story, we don’t have a chapter of “oh my gosh! A talking skeleton!” Plus he’s just a funny, sassy little man, and has a great non-romantic friendship with the main character.

18. Dead Eye by Mark Greaney

If you want to read a generic thriller, this one fits the bill. It’s about an assassin (but he only kills bad people, so he’s a good guy), who’s on the run from the CIA for reasons other than being an assassin. Mr. Protagonist doesn’t have a word of dialogue for at least fifty pages, because it’s all action scenes. The only character who is allowed to talk about emotions is The Woman, who dies. The author name drops military equipment like a teenage girl talking about which designer brands she has outfits from. It’s very medium.

Trans book round-up: 2018

A short overview of all the books with trans authors/content that I managed to read this year. I mean, I probably squeeze in a couple more before the actual end of the year, but my book club (a trans book club) is picking out our next set of books this week, so this seemed like a good time for looking back.

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
The Red Thread of Fortune by JY Yang

I started the third one too, but it’s written in found-document form and I just didn’t have the right mindset for it at the time, so it’s sitting quietly on my to-read list. For the first two, as cliche as it sounds, I loved everything about them except that they were too short. I mean, this is basically the queer Asian fantasy magic system based on the five eastern elements that I have been waiting for my whole life and it just kind of skims over some things; like okay, Akeha has a crush on his sister’s boyfriend but moving on and oh btw gravity is stronger in the south because reasons and also by “raptors” we mean “veloci”? I’m not asking for Grace of Kings here (I wanted to like it but it’s just So Much), but maybe something between Tiny Novella and Giant Brick.

I did make my book club read the first one, but only one person showed up, so maybe I’ll put the second one on the list for next year.

Documenting Light by EE Ottoman

A cute romance that had a tendency to digress into long asides about history and archiving, but that’s my sort of geekery so I was okay with it. Falls more on the sweet end of the romance spectrum than the sexy side, and while I do think we need more sexy trans stories in general, it was a relief to have the characters actually be interested in each other instead of just drooling over how improbably hot the other one is. Also, it’s a trans/trans romance, which I definitely need more of in my life.

For sure making book club read this one.

Queer Heartache by Kit Yan

It’s poetry, and I don’t really know how to talk about poetry. Also I read it way at the beginning of the year so I don’t remember it too well.

I want to do at least one poetry book, but I might push for Ryka Aoki’s Seasonal Velocities over this.

Surpassing Certainty by Janet Mock

Redefining Realness was very good, and this one was also very good. It’s nice to read a trans narrative that doesn’t stop at transition. It’s less about “being” trans and more about learning to navigate herself as being a young Black woman in her twenties (who is still very much trans). I was ambivalent at most toward womanhood in my early twenties, so this was a look into a very different experience for me.

We read Redefining Realness for book club already, so we might do this one at some point, but it’s not a top priority.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Loved it. Super heavy, but loved it. And I don’t do dystopias, even when they’re dystopian queers in space.

Hesitant to recommend it to book club, because it comes with a boatload of trigger warnings and the trans stuff is more background, but I’ll see what people are interested in before writing it off completely.

The Burnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz

This was a re-read for me because I was making my book club read it. I still very much love it, but some people pointed out that the trans character doesn’t get a whole lot of growth; he has viewpoint chapters, but he’s still basically the Love Interest. In fact, I’m starting to notice that even trans romances that aren’t about “cis person learns to accept trans people” are still, in fact, “cis person learns to accept trans people,” just a bit more subtle. More on that with Hopeless Romantic.

Kim & Kim vol. 1 by Magdalene Visaggio
Kim & Kim vol. 2 by Magdalene Visaggio

Wacky space bounty hunter hijinks with two queer lady best friends – what’s not to love?And because I’m a nerd, I read the essays in the back, including a great one about how straight people writing queers with either kill off the 1 gay, or pair them off with the Second Gay in the Universe  as a way to keep the queer from leaking over onto the Straight characters, while in reality, every queer knows lots of other queers.

Putting this on the maybe list, because I also want to do O Human Star, and that would be 2 sci fi graphic novels, and I’m trying to get a wide variety of things instead of just the stuff I like to read.

Life Beyond My Body by Lei Jing

Memoir of a Chinese trans man living in China. Rough reading at times, but I’m really glad to have this narrative. For one, there aren’t many trans narratives from outside the Western world, and in particular, I feel like transmasculine narratives in this context often get overlooked. I mean, we all know the “girl in Sexist society pretends to be a boy for survival but she is Really A Girl” story, and actual transgender men tend to get swept under that rug.

Likely candidate for book club next year.

Juniper Leaves by Jaz Joyner

One of indie books that really needed a more experienced editor. You could tell what the writer was trying to do – portal fantasy with a queer black girl – and I was all about that, but it read like a middle draft. I would like to see a sequel, so the author flesh out the world a bit more and really hit their stride as a writer.

Although the author is trans, the only trans character is the love interest who doesn’t play a huge part, so because of that and accessibility (it’s not at the public library), I might pass on this one; still, I’ll be keeping an eye out for future books by this author.

O Human Star vol. 1 by Blue Delliquanti
O Human Star vol. 2 by Blue Delliquanti

Robots as a metaphor for being trans but also trans robots so basically all robots are trans is what I’m getting, and I’m down for that.

George by Alex Gino

Another re-read for the book club, and maybe I didn’t actually cry as much this time, but I was still crying on the inside. That was a very interesting meeting, because one of the people there an older person who didn’t understand why adults should read kids books, and the other person (we only get like 3 people per meeting) was a middle school librarian, so there were some very different perspectives. This is why I run the book club and try to hit a variety of genres. Also I’m definitely making us do another middle grade book next year.

So You Want To Be A Robot And Other Stories by A. Merc Rustad

Look, I know robots are both trans culture and autistic culture, but I’m just not that into robots. Except when stupid Merc makes me cry over their stupid gay robots. Every time. There’s a line in one of their stories: “Life isn’t a fairy tale, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy ending” and I feel like that philosophy underlies a lot of Merc’s writing. That sometimes, when life tells you “This is how it is,” all you need to do is dig in your heels and say “No, I do not accept this, I will not give in to despair, I will not let you make me believe I am worthless, and I will fight with my last breath to survive and to thrive and to protect those I love.” And maybe you do not emerge unscathed, but you just don’t give up, and I just love Merc’s stories so much.

I made book club read this and maybe they didn’t love it quite as much as I did, but they liked it. We seem to get more lively folks on sci-fi nights anyway.

Long Black Veil by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Supposedly this is a mystery, and we do have it at the mystery book store where I work, but I’d call it more literary suspense than a classic mystery. Still, it’s the closest thing we have to a mystery with a trans woman who isn’t the dead body in chapter one (apparently there’s a new series with a trans woman detective, but the first book has her solving the mystery of a dead trans woman in chapter one, so I’m not sure that entirely counts). It’s very… literary. Almost pretentious, but that just might be because one of the viewpoint characters is massively pretentious. I’m not sure I liked it, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t dislike it.

Putting it on the maybe list only because it fills a genre list, and it’s weird enough that I want to hear what other people think about it.

Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian

I feel very iffy about this one, because it’s a genderqueer historical by a (as far as I can tell) cis author, and Victorian historicals are one of those genres that is just not for me.

It was definitely a few shades better than the Plucky Crossdressing Girl narrative, but it still kind of follows that pattern. The protagonist says that they are not ‘really’ a girl, but the plot revolves around them being assigned female, and resolves around it as well in that they (spoiler) end up marrying a man and end up being viewed as an eccentric crossdresser because they’re wealthy and can get away with it. Overall it just didn’t really resonate with me.

Putting this on the bottom of the book club list.

Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote

I’m making people read this for November book club, and I really hope people show up because it’s the only we’ve done that isn’t available at the public library. I guess folks in the gender community mostly know Coyote from their writing, but I actually found out about this book because I’ve been a fan of Rae Spoon’s music ever since I saw the documentary film “My Prairie Home.”

It’s a series of essays that’s based on a stage show that the two did for a while, and it gave me soooo many gender feels. I feel like I underlined half the book. Highly recommended and worth spending money on in my opinion.

Hopeless Romantic by Francis Gideon

I like the premise of this romance – a gay-identified cis guy falls for a trans woman and starts to question his sexuality – but I was sadly disappointed. It was very explain-y on the trans stuff, and while it wasn’t quite Trans 101, it felt like it was still Trans 102. Seriously, is it too much to ask for a cis/trans romance where the cis person has met a trans person before?

Though there is a fun moment when the trans girl mentions (lesbian) separatists and the cis dude is confused because they’re in Canada but not Quebec (whoops, this is actually in Gender Failure. Apparently I’ve been reading so many Canadian trans books lately they’re blurring together in my head)

Overall it reminded me of our book club’s talk about The Burnt Toast B&B about how the trans character doesn’t go through any sort of growth. The cis character learns to reevaluate his perspective on gender and sexuality and become more flexible in his relation to gender/sexuality. Meanwhile the trans person very patiently explains everything and nurtures that growth while demanding to be respected as a person. What’s even more disappointing is that the author is actually trans, so I was hoping for more.

Then there is the whole arc of the main couple bonding over cheesy 80s movies and big romantic gestures without critiquing the heteronormativity of it; in fact, one almost gets the impression that the Cis Guy enjoys dating a woman for the first time because he can mimic the hetero Grand Romance. It’s weird. A better love letter to the 80s than Ready Player One, but still weird.

Again, bottom of the book club list. I seem to be the only one who’s really excited about romance, anyway. I still argue that if you like fanfiction, you have no business disliking romance, so maybe I’ll convert a few by next year.

Queerly Loving vol. 1 by G. Benson and Astrid Ohletz (eds)

Not strictly trans, but several stories in the anthology were, including the best teenage romance story. I don’t do YA, but these kids were just so dorky and useless and behaved like actual teenagers and it was incredibly refreshing. And another story had disabled characters with service dragons. And there was an aroace/aroace “romance”, though that one wasn’t trans. Do you need any more selling points? There’s a Shira Glassman story, though ironically it’s not the one with dragons.

Not sure about putting this on the book club list because it wasn’t quite trans enough, but I enjoyed it immensely and have volume 2 on hold at the library.


If you’re curious about the full 2018 book list for the Trans Book Club:

February – If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
March – The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
April – Transposes by Dylan Edwards
May – Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
June – Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz
July – The Burnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz
August – The T is Not Silent by Andrea Jenkins
September – George by Alex Gino
October – So You Want To Be A Robot and Other Stories by A. Merc Rustad
November – Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote

Beyond Windows and Mirrors – Creating Space and Connections in Narrative

This week’s topic in library school is reader’s advisory services, and since my prof is an overcompensating white woman (she’s a sweet person, really), she’s given us all the diversity readings. Including the classic Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors by Rudine Sims Bishop.

There’s something about the argument that we need diverse books so that marginalized people can “see themselves” in literature that’s always rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s my autistic brain getting stuck on literal thinking. For sure it’s at least partly because I stand at so many intersections of race and gender and sexuality and neurodivergence that I don’t really see the possibility of anyone creating stories about someone who ticks all my boxes. Moreover, I don’t see the point.

That isn’t to say that reading Born on the Edge of Race and Gender by Willy Wilkinson didn’t affect me deeply, or that it wasn’t extremely validating to know there was another person who with a face that people struggle to categorize by race or gender both; or who had to balance affirming one’s identities with having a disability that makes it hard to get out of bed sometimes. But it’s never going to be my favorite book; I’m just not a biography reader, and I don’t love nonfiction the way I love fantasy and sci fi.

There are differences between me and Willy, too. Generational – he’s decades older than I am; geographical – he’s from Hawaii, I’m from the Midwest; sexual – I am asexual, he is very much not. But that’s okay. The world is a better place because people are all so different from each other, and honestly it would be super creepy to meet someone who was exactly the same as you.

Reading about the differences are as important as reading about the similarities, and not in a “white people learn to be more tolerant” way. It helps to see aspects of yourself in other contexts in order understand how they interact with your own life and identities – me reading about the sex life of a genderqueer mixed Asian, for example.

Here’s another thing: being a science fiction nerd, I recently read An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon (which was amazing, by the way, I might do a proper review of it later). The protagonist was a queer, intersex, autistic woman. Other characters included a mixed disabled genderqueer person, an asexual woman of color, a mentally ill woman of color, and some lesbians. And even though I didn’t match up perfectly with any of the characters, I still got enough context from their lives to see how someone like me could navigate their world.

One of the things that messed me up as a child that read too many books was that I figured out plot structure before I figured out social narratives, so I kept trying to make sense of my life through that lens, which was a disaster. Mainly because I never developed magical powers or was tasked with saving the world. But also because I never became best friends with a transfer student, my life wasn’t plagued with a bully or rival,  and I didn’t have any grand ambition or a contest to win.

What I’m saying is that I was not looking for a mirror, but a map. I wanted to know why I wasn’t girly but couldn’t manage to be a tomboy. I wanted to know why it was so hard for me to hold conversations, why I was good at school but struggled with open-ended assignments. I wanted to know how I could be Chinese but not speak Chinese or know anything about China.

That’s why, as much as I agree with the thought behind it, I don’t like this graphic from the 2015 Diversity in Children’s Literature Survey:

DiversityInChildrensBooks2015_f

[Source]

On one hand it does show that the mirrors reflect possibilities and roles, not just a face. And it is so, so important to have stories about people who are not just white “default” characters. I am just so tired of the mirror rhetoric. I am living with a fragmented mirror, each shard showing only a fraction of myself. And honestly, people are so diverse that the idea of a mirror for every child isn’t feasible. Because what happens when a child (or an adult) finds a story about someone like them in a way they have never seen before isn’t self-discovery – it’s a moment of connection. It’s sitting in an empty room and turning on the light to see someone else there with you. “You too? I thought I was the only one!” It can even be standing alone outside a room until someone else pops up next to you and is like “omg straight ppl why are they like that?”

The problem is that when people cite Bishop, they always get so focused on the Windows and Mirrors and forget about the Doors. They forget that inclusive narratives are not just about putting in a character that can fill up their diversity quotas.  Inclusive storytelling is building context – not the demographics of the protagonist, but the way they live in the world.

I understand the importance of mirrors, but mirrors have always failed me. The first book I read with an asexual protagonist was Quicksilver by RJ Anderson. The hero was a heteroromantic white cisgender girl, and her experience of asexuality in her body was so different from my body full of dysphoria and sensory issues that it basically meant nothing to me.

Maybe this is just an example of an ill-fitting mirror. Maybe I’m taking this mirror metaphor too literally because no one looks like me. Asian people don’t look like me. White people don’t look like me. Latinx people kind of look like me which is a little awkward because I’m not Latinx. I just have a weird face that everyone remembers which sucks because I’m moderately faceblind and can’t remember anyone else’s face.

But that’s beside the point. The point is whenever people talk about so-and-so person of color in a movie or show or book being a mirror for the audience of color, the only mirror I see is a distorted reflection telling me what I’m supposed to be and what I fail to be.

This could be a call for more intersectional mirrors, but I’d rather just move away from the mirror talk altogether. I like reading books about people I have stuff in common with, but I also like reading books about people I am not like who are still different from Whiteman McDefault. I want to read about lesbian space pirates, black Victorian nobles, witches in wheelchairs, and Native American superheroes. I want to read about people who are not like me who nonetheless create space for me in these White-dominated narratives. Mirror talk emphasizes how I am personally invested in my own narratives, but stopping there leaves out how I am personally invested in the narratives of other minorities.

Maybe this is all redundant, but I need somewhere to vent before going to class on Friday and listening to a bunch of white women nod sagely about how important it is for Those Other People to “see themselves” in books.

Maybe I just don’t fucking get the mirror metaphor.

Book Review: Song of the Summer King

summerking

[Image: http://www.jessowen.com/]

Title: Song of the Summer King
Series: The Summer King Chronicles
Author: Jess E. Owen (http://www.jessowen.com/)
Publisher: Five Elements Press
Year Published: 2012
Page Count: ~250
Format: Kindle ebook, bought
My rating: I think it’s genuinely good but I’m biased

Why you should read it: If you really like griffins. Or non-anthropomorphic animal fantasy with magic and great worldbuilding. Warrior cats with a bit higher stakes and better narrative consistency, though not quite on the level of Wings of Fire.

Summary: Shard is a young griffin who wants only to be a loyal warrior to his king. But as he learns more about the history of his island home and his own lineage, he begins to doubt everything he thought he knew and is faced with a choice that could alter the lives of all griffins.

The Review

Here’s the thing: I really like griffins.

You could get symbolic here and say that as a nonbinary mixed race person I identify strongly with in-between creatures. Honestly, though, they’re big fluffy cat-birds. What’s not to like?

 

I have read some very bad griffin books, some very mediocre griffin books, and a few good books that did not feature griffins enough. Summer King is solidly good with exactly enough griffins and no humans. I like Owens’ take on griffins. I like the proud warrior society, and I like that author’s attempt at colonialist commentary, though it does come off a bit heavy at times. I like that it’s one of the animal narratives where the magic is more subtle and spiritual than lightning and fireballs. It reminds me a bit of David Clement-Davies’ The Sight. But with griffins instead of wolves. Except there are wolves too. There are similar themes of communication as a means for harmony and balance between species and cultures.

Overall while the Chosen One hero narrative is a bit strong, Shard is a likeable enough protagonist who struggles with doing the right thing. Honestly, he’s kind of a jerk at times and it’s nice to see him grow out of that.

I for one am going to be reading all the sequels.