On books and callout culture

One interesting thing to me about purity culture on tumblr- I know the impulse has been there for a lot of us as we grow, for something that is simple and clearly delineated and clean. But the idea of crusading for that in fandom spaces is baffling to me (oh, I know it’s because it’s where people can feel heard and feel like they have control, but still) because to me fiction is inherently going to be problematic, and that’s what makes it interesting.

Fiction has been shown to improve empathy. But if the fiction you’re used to consuming tends overwhelmingly to portray things in one way and to not challenge empathy – if it’s a series of neverending unproblematic AUs where everyone is Super Woke and never challenged by the behavior of people they hold dear – does that still hold true? It doesn’t challenge a paradigm.

When I was a kid, I read dealing with panic attacks: the series (in Italian, once, because the library was out of English and French), God is dead (with hella underage sex), war crimes with children: series 1war crimes with children: series 2child slavery and business ethics, and this is why we have the FDA, amongst many others. I grew up reading books with age gaps and neglect and abuse. The things I read were frequently upsetting, and challenging, and there was no one to really complain to even if I’d been so inclined because they already existed in indelible physical form and no one had forced me to read them. I just kind of accepted that bad things would happen and people grew through overcoming them. I think that was good for me. I know that what I read encouraged my to be significantly more empathetic than I would have been otherwise.

I don’t want to be one of those people who says ‘fiction was better in my day.’ Because there’s so much diverse, amazing literature being produced these days. I think maybe what I want to say is that, next time you get the impulse to tell the author of a fanwork that they’re disgusting for writing something uncomfortable to you, maybe go read something from a banned books list instead.

Recent book habits

It was only this year that I discovered my library’s online presence. I don’t mean the website – I’ve been checking hours and addresses since I was old enough to remember to plan ahead. But my library is hooked up to Overdrive, which means, among other things, a torrent of absolutely free Regency romances right at my fingertips. I read a lot of romance novels.

But then it occurred to me that I could get audiobooks, as well – something to focus on while doing work that doesn’t require all of my attention that isn’t a crime procedural. Though I’m not sure Person of Interest and Burn Notice qualify as crime procedurals, as the protagonists are, technically, usually committing crimes. Still, the point stands.

I made it through one sole audiobook of my usual reading material before I came to the conclusion that never again did I want to hear romance novels narrated. And then it occurred to me – audiobooks are a great way to get through things I might not otherwise have the attention span to get through, because it’s not like I can wander off. The thing is, during this year while I’m not in school,  I don’t want to be completely disengaged from intellectual pursuits. But a JSTOR subscription costs money, yo, and reading modern political coverage mostly just freaks me out. So I read The Sixth Extinction, and that was cool, but I don’t have the motivation to read that kind of thing consistently.

So now I’m pursuing what I tend to think of as improving literature. Not what’s usually considered along those lines, like Stephen Covey, but histories and biographies. Books to improve my understanding of the world. I’ve just finished Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, and I’m really liking how this is working for me.

K. B. Spangler’s Brute Force

Some parts of Brute Force are funnier if you’re familiar with the rest of Spangler’s work. It’s probably an inevitable part of being the fourth installment in a series that is itself set in the five year gap between two narrative parts of a webcomic. But the thing that struck me and moved me to stop reading and start writing this post was a mention of gardening – any mention of yardwork becomes tragicomic when you’ve read about Spangler’s misadventures in rebuilding the Randall Jarrell house.

I’m reading the first seven chapters of Brute Force early, because I’m a Patreon supporter of Spangler’s. If you’re not familiar with the platform: basically old-school patronage of the arts has met crowdfunding and everyone is winning.

But to Brute Force itself, with no spoilers because the preview isn’t even publicly available yet. The pacing is exactly what I want in a thriller: it starts with a bang and the ball is rolling and it doesn’t stop, picking up pace and urgency even as they need to do large-scale logistical things like meetings and tracking press conferences. Rachel Peng continues to be a fantastic protagonist: she’s a (technically) blind Chinese lesbian, and these are all facts that inform her character without making the story about those facts, making her the kind of representation we so desperately need. She’s smart and goal-oriented and observant while still being a team player in ways more than just the obligatory ones.

Spangler puts a lot of research into her novels. This one is no exception. The hinge point of interest in this one is something I studied some in university, and wow do I appreciate the research. I’m also incredibly excited for the rest of the book at this point – the tension is mounting, and I want to know what happens next.

Brute Force goes on sale November 29th.

Literary Analysis

I’ve actually been attempting a fair portion of literary analysis in the last few months, and the deconstruction of narratives in general. The only issue, and the reason it’s not here, is that it’s all fandom-based.

My reluctance isn’t a matter of shame (please see links on Words page to erotica I’ve written), but a matter of context: the discussion occurs primarily on Tumblr, and is tagged such that mostly other fans see it. I don’t have to introduce characters or concepts and I don’t have to preface arguments with a description of the common perceptions I’m rebutting: I get to rest on the laziness of shared common knowledge.

But this semester I’m taking a required entry-level literature class, and I’m finding exegesis much easier. Surprisingly, arguing about the significance of driving to a relationship or about how someone’s mistranslation means they’re evil (it was true) has prepared me very well for expositing at length about women as portrayed in 1946 movies about veterans. Of course, it’s also prepared me for injecting comparisons to Jane Austen and the Vietnam War into the same essay, but that’s what second drafts are for.

Reading Lists

So, I am in a discussion with someone of Wuthering Heights; I’ve been to the home of the Bronte sisters, and have read about them, and analysis of their work – I’ve even read her sister’s great work, Jane Eyre. But I’ve never read Wuthering Heights.

I’m realizing I am not all that well-read in general; I’ve read The Great Gatsby, and The Jungle, and The Yellow Wallpaper, and a few other classics, and I’ve seen the BBC versions of every Jane Austen novel as well as attempting to read Emma. But somehow I slipped by all that required reading, A Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies and all those other books people of letters have read.

So I’m going to attempt to rectify the situation, with aid from Time, The Best 100 lists, and these blogs. Even with overlap, that is probably well over 100 books. I’m going to compile the total list and add another page to list all of them, so I can check them off as I read them. The goal will be to read all of them.