13 September, 2016

#DiverseAThon tentative TBR

The #DiverseAThon is a read-a-thon on booktube this week, inspired in part by a pretty angry video posted a few weeks ago that really shunned the concept of diversity as a quality to be encouraged and celebrated in books. I honestly couldn't get through all of that initial video, because it truly just confused and saddened the hell out of me. Why isn't diversity something to strive for or celebrate in books? Diversity of experience, background, culture, gender, sexuality, etc. are all normal within our society, and yet they're often not expressed in media in the same ways in which they exist in reality.

The failings of popular media and "classic" media to offer diversity as a worldview isn't accidental at all, because to avoid expressing the world as it is takes a lot of outright ignorance or intentional blindness. This isn't to say that an author is "bad" because they write what they know, although this argument (one that Lena Dunham used so unabashedly when Girls was rightfully criticized) seems like a cop-out to me. If authors truly just wrote what they knew, then we'd end up with an awful lot of published diaries. Instead, it would be awesome if our society encouraged people of very different backgrounds who may wish to pursue a career in writing to do so, and to have the space in which to publish their worlds (be they realistic, or not so realistic). It seems like lack of diversity in publishing is likely a failing of both culture and marketing, and unfortunately, the biggest way we could change the marketing from a position outside the industry, is to change the culture that responds to it.

Importantly, there seems to be a lot of caterwauling about white, male, cis-gender authors being overlooked when there is a focus on diversity. I'm sorry, but are you kidding me? Just because we're bringing more ideas into the fold doesn't inherently mean that we are ignoring or failing to recognize books that should get their due (in fact, it should often mean the opposite. There are a lot of great books that have likely been ignored for far too long). The whole thing confuses me, and I can't help but feel that it's born from some internalized discriminatory beliefs that are not being appropriately explored.

Luckily, what was born from that mess is something that could be really cool: the #DiverseAThon. I first learned about this read-a-thon when I watched the below video by one of the original four creators:

I wholeheartedly planned (and still plan) to take part in this read-a-thon. In the last few days I've been struck down by a nasty goddamn cold that has had me flat out and only reading only comfort books (e.g. The Fellowship of the Ring). Nonetheless, here's what I'd like to get to this week:

Saints by Gene Luen Yang (one half of a graphic novel duology about the Boxer Rebellion in China)
Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward

Has anybody read these? If so, what were your thoughts? What would you like to read for the #DiverseAThon, or what books can you think of that celebrate the normalcy of diversity?

11 September, 2016

Readalong with Booktube - The Fellowship of the Ring, pt. 1

I have been reading along with the guys over at Stripped Cover Lit to The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. It's definitely worth watching the video above if you have read LOTR before. I have my own qualms with some of the opinions expressed above, as I do really love this series and there are a few elements of literary merit that I picked up on with this re-read that weren't fully discussed in the video above. For that reason, I have taken my comments from the YouTube page for this video and blogged them below. Please do respond in the comments with your own thoughts.

The Stripped Cover Lit guys (Dalton and Adrian) talked a bit about the religious nature of the text, and there is certainly some religious imagery. More than that, however, I think Tolkien was just a total mythology/history geek. I mean, obviously, his first love is a love of ancient languages and lore as a philologist and his heart was set on developing a series that hearkened back to mythological writing. Thinking about that context, the depth of this world-building is absolutely necessary. He's trying to create a back story of a full, developed world separate from our own where such a rich mythology could develop.

Secondly, the pacing at the beginning of this novel seems absolutely consistent with points Tolkien is trying to establish early on about hobbits. Hobbits are removed from the rest of the world, they're separate and they enjoy living calm, slow, simple lives full of small comforts. The Shire isn't an exciting, worldly, or dynamic place. It's a place almost separate from the time upon which the rest of Middle Earth operates.

The pacing at the beginning of this story is necessary to ensnare the reader in the sleepiness and normal boredom that are such obvious features of the Shire. There's something immensely comforting about what you know, and it can also be stifling, and the writing really mimics that in this section of the book.

As the characters venture further into the rest of Middle Earth, more and more things will happen to them and the pacing will change, but you'll always notice that the hobbit characters themselves carry some of their home with them. They like to dally and enjoy their scenery when it's beautiful; they like to stop and eat VERY often, and drink and smoke when they can. That slowness (something that would also be so necessary in building the world of a novel that takes place in the American South, for instance) is an important element of the story.

The beginning of this book is bittersweet because it shows the relationships of two integral characters - Bilbo and Frodo - to their home. Bilbo has already ventured out. He has left home and had adventures that have changed him immensely, and spoiled him in some ways for his home, as it was before he left. The ring has also done this over time. Frodo loves the Shire, and he is never really shown as a character who longs to leave his home or adventure out. He loves his uncle and would leave the Shire out of loyalty to him, but is quite content to live a normal hobbit's life. His life of normalcy is interrupted, however, and he's required to take on a weighty task. The implication here is that leaving home he will never return to see it the way he once did. It's an Odyssey in the Homeric sense of that word. You go away out of the needs of the world, but in so doing you are changed and so is the world (including your home within that world).

I also think Tolkien explores the distinctions between a trio of characters who really begin to circle each other in the books: Bilbo, Frodo, and Gollum. Tolkien's already drawing parallels and distinctions, and showing the reader some different stages of attachment to the Ring, and how that attachment can also alienate one from home and countrymen/women. The sexual/female reading of the Ring is intriguing, but I can't quite gather what the overall point would be. After all, the few women who are depicted in the book are never evil, it's just that women in general are almost non-existent in the series. The ring is certainly a symbol for ensnaring/trapping power (e.g. you attempt to wield the power, but it actually wields you), and obviously there's some historical relevance for female power being viewed this way stereotypically (e.g. "soft power"), but I am not sure that the connection extends very deeply in the text.

One of my big issues with these books is that there are LITERALLY no female characters whatsoever until after this section, and only a couple major female characters developed in this whole series. My favorite, the kick-ass Eowyn, won't even show up until the Two Towers. What's confusing is that female characters aren't even really depicted in passing (except for that one Sackville-Baggins). This is a big failing of the series in my eyes, and I am unsure if it was done out of blindness of the author to a need for developed female characters, or if it was done intentionally. If someone knows, or has read any feminist critiques of Tolkien, I'd be intrigued to hear what theories exist.