lapis

Tsundoku: "buying books and not reading them." 積ん読

CW: Slight discussion of Sexual Assault, Queer erasure, and discussion of Suicide.

On Booktoot, I asked people what they were assigned to read in school. (https://booktoot.club/@lapis/102327647000207373)

I was mostly interested in K-12, and people outside the US, but all answers were and still are welcome.

I was listening to Tomi Adeyemi being interviewed on a podcast. You might know her as the author of Children of Blood and Bone or the author that got the biggest movie deal in YA. If you don't know her for those, go read the damn book and come back.

She thought she hated reading. You know why? Her assigned reading in English was garbage. It was pretty much Dead White Dudes. She read and wrote outside class, but she didn't think that counted. (If you're wondering, creative nonfiction is what spoke to her).

I'm a year older than her, and I absolutely relate! Why do we read this shit? Why are these classics? They're supposed to speak to us, but don't. And if they don't, you're got three options:

  1. You're assigning them to the wrong audience (ie: too young)
  2. You aren't teaching them correctly.
  3. They're shit and aren't classics.

And I keep hearing this story. Adults who thought they hated English. Kids who finally found something they liked and thought they had hated reading.

It's fucked up!

It's my blog, and it's easiest to lead you through with examples of my assigned reading.

The earliest I remember is Hatchet in like 3rd grade (if you're wondering, Hatchet is kind of a joke in the YA world about how easily it gets assigned.) I liked it, and I think it sent me on some weird survivalist bent. I'm glad I grew out of that. Then I got assigned it again in Middle School.

In Middle School, I also had to read this really boring book. They were on a boat. Absolutely fuck all happened. I skipped ahead to the halfway point, where something happened. It caused me to engage with the book. I told the teacher, and she got pissed at me! Because I was honest and didn't suffer through like everyone else. God forbid I learn to hate reading like everyone else (If you're wondering, an #ActuallyAutistic thing is being honest when you're not supposed to be, and as a girl, I was not diagnosed.).

The first thing I was assigned in High School, and the only thing I particularly liked, was Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. I read it over the course of a day. When I admitted this in class, my classmates were aghast that I'd read ahead and not do something better with my time. Considering the shit we would usually be assigned, I can't blame them! I should revisit Speak.

Shakespeare is common in High School. I visited him twice. One was for the 9th Grade English unit, and one was for my theatre class. The Theatre class I watched a video of The Taming of the Shrew which is the way to do it if you can't get to a production. 9th Grade English we read Romeo and Juliet aloud, and didn't get a chance to parse the words, so if there were any of those dirty jokes Shakespeare loves, they went right over our heads. So spoiler: Everyone hated it.

I also had to read Fahrenheit 451. I cannot describe how much I have learned to hate this book. Have you ever been straight up told you cannot relate to a book? There was this moment, where he's struggling to read his book. The teacher asked if there was anyone who could relate to this. I raised my hand, and told a story of my troubles (I would think having bad ADHD meant I could in fact relate to this). I was told I could in fact not relate to this and no one in the room could relate to it. If that's the case, why the fuck are we reading it?

Early on I was assigned to read To Kill A Mockingbird Because I went to school before Harper Lee “ruined it” by making Atticus a racist. Something tells me the white savior book isn't assigned much anymore. I also got to watch the movie, but hey, I do like Gregory Peck's voice.

Then there's the Great Gatsby. I've heard this is better in college than high school, because the point is everyone in the book is vapid, but this point goes right over the head of high schoolers, so this is a miserable experience.

Oh yes, my myth classes. I enjoyed these somewhat, but all the gay was taken out. Do you know how goddamn boring the Iliad is if you take the gay out!? I was a fujoshi at the time, I would have been all over that story if you'd kept the Achilles/Patroclus in. It's a goddamn slash fic and you made it Het. I also had to read another fanfic, known as the Inferno part of the Divine Comedy because people only want to read the parts where people are suffering in hell, the other parts are boring.

College was easier for the most part. Almost all my lit classes were at a community college, and they seemed receptive to other opinions.

I read some Edith Wharton, and while I don't feel I understand her, it wasn't completely a miserable experience.

I had to read Fun Home twice though, for two different classes.

This is the trouble though. The second time was after a struggle with suicide.

I don't think anyone in the room knew that though, since I don't wear a ribbon saying “permanently fighting off the urge to kill myself” (I think it's called “Chronic Suicidal Tendency”). So When we discussed the Dad's possible suicide, I suggested it was not, because he didn't execute it the way I would when I get the urge to jump into traffic. So someone fucking 'splained suicide to me. (I suppose to be fair, they may have the urge too, or know someone who does).

I had to read Coetzee's Despair for a creative writing class. This should have had a trigger warning, because it triggered the shit out of my trauma regarding my rape as a child. I was so pissed off about it, I fucking ranted about it and my rape to a classmate that day (we both hated the depressing tendencies of the class). Uh... at least I made a friend?

Also, I should mention. I was a Spanish minor before I dropped it to graduate Undergrad. “Why” you might ask? Because the prerequisite to the fun classes was a literature class I failed. Me defiendo bastante bien. But whenever someone asks me to interpret literature, in English or español, I come up with unacceptable interpretations to Nuerotypical ears and eyes. So I failed. I can write stories in Spanish, got an A in that class. Can't interpret Literature.

I don't want this to just be an angry rant about English classes, so I will go on with what I suggest are solutions.

  1. Think about why these books are classics. Because white dudes of the past wrote them, typically to enforce their usually shitty opinions.
  2. Add more People of Color. You know that diversity gives diversity of perspective?
  3. Add women.
  4. Add YA. Maybe teenagers would relate if the book was targetted at them? And you can't say that YA doesn't have messages. These books aren't vapid. Children of Blood and Bone is about police brutality against black people despite being written in a fantasy setting. Speak addresses rape, which spoiler: a lot of your graduating class will go through if they hadn't already.
  5. If you're gonna do Shakespeare, do it right. Watch performances.
  6. Don't erase. You look like a fool if you do.

Have you ever heard of Phineas Gage? I'm gonna keep this simple, (Wikipedia has the gross details) but a man in the 1800s suffers a head injury he probably should have died from, and drastically changed as person afterwards to the point where his friends literally didn't see him as the same person anymore.

This can happen naturally too. Sometimes friends grow apart. Maybe you realized that you can't tolerate their quiet Republican bullshit anymore as a budding Socialist. So you drift. I wonder how it was for Gage's friends (Wikipedia doesn't say), did they just, one day, stop visiting?

But this can happen in fiction for fantastical reasons, no brain trauma required. And it's fun to look at. Stop at this point if you don't want to know anything at all about Monster Pulse or The Candle and The Flame. You can go read them and come back you know. Monster Pulse is free and online (feel free to @ me about MP, even if you just want a link), and the The Candle and the Flame is probably at your local library.

Violet

My favorite character in Monster Pulse is Violet, even though she isn't really important until Chapter 14, other than a brief thing before. And her emotional arc takes another 8 or so chapters to unfold, while other stuff is going on. You initially see her as this really “cool” girl, who seems very collected. She's very nice. She's helping a homeless boy her age do things he should be doing at his age, like enjoy a semblance of a school life, and then like I implied, she asks him out which of course makes her evil for a certain shipper type.

When it's time for Abel to go on his date with Violet, he meets her dad when picking her up, and learns she never tells him anything, that's normal right? Hahaha. Her father tries to tell Violet he loves her, but can't complete the sentence, and gives her money so she can enjoy her date. She understands. She tells Abel: “Money is often used when affection is hard to express.” twice, the first time about her father, the second to explain to explain to Abel it's okay that he has no money and she wants to pay for it. Her body language suggests embarrassment.

Eventually, it's revealed she has a Brain monster, Anima, and when Anima was created, all her emotions were amplified. So she has to maintain a cool facade because expressing slight nuances of emotion is very difficult, and if she lets people see the intense amount of emotion she feels, they freak out. Her father doesn't understand why she's changed so much, and it clearly distresses him that she's like this, but there's not much Violet can do.

There's a bunch of stuff I've taken out, but she's on better terms with her father now.

But this is something I can relate to. I don't know if it's an autism thing or what, but expressing shades of emotion is very hard. It's just much easier to try to suppress it all the time, especially if there's some sort of bad response when you express emotion. There's other reasons for that too, of course, but when you see a character that talks like a college professor, at like 15, and expresses emotions in degrees of extreme or none, you relate to them on an autism level.

Fatima (Ghazala)

The beginning of the book starts with an Ifrit, Ghazala, saving an infant, placing them in a nearby city, and performs a forbidden rite that transfers her Djinn Fire to the infant.

Nothing seems to come of it other than it healing the infant until partway through the book. Until then you've just seen this really passive girl, Fatima at the reigns. Then a tragic incident sparks her to change. It ignites her fire, and causes her to rename herself Fatima Ghazala (and she will demand to be referred to as such). Fatima Ghazala doesn't just sit back and accept things. When her sister says mean things to her, she responds assertively.

And her friends and family have to accept this new person. This literally is a different person, that happens to have the memories of the old person, and also has magical powers.

There's a part where she burns someone because they wouldn't stop harassing her, and she's: 1. Viewing the person the way you view a gnat (her words, not mine), 2. Annoyed she may have to face punishment for it, 3. Wondering what this would have been like if she had been fully human and couldn't, you know, set herself on fire.

For comparison Fatima dressed less femininely and more drab at the beginning of the story because she was afraid of harassment.

In a way, you get to understand Fatima better by seeing Fatima Ghazala's words and actions. If you've read Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, you know that one strip about dodging the spotlight? That's Fatima.

I won't say Fatima Ghazala eagerly accepts the “call to adventure” (using Monomyth for ease, not because I like it) because as the true protagonist that appears at roughly the 25% mark, she has to grow as a character. So there was some refusal.

The actual plot was about a war and a fighting royal family, but I was much more interested in exploring the acceptance of a radically changed person. (Don't take that as a slam against the book, I was interested in the plot plenty)

In Short

While Violet will always be the literal best, because even if Magnolia makes someone better, I don't think Violet can be replaced in my heart. But for comparison: Violet is a Secondary Character; I think Fatima Ghazala is what you get when you make the person with the story of sudden radical change your protagonist, which I found really interesting!

Final Notes

I wasn't the first to come up with the idea of equating Violet's change to brain trauma. I think I saw a commenter in that arc of the comment mention that, but the Phineas Gage comparison is my own.

Hey hey, did you know?

If you move, you have to move your books!

And those fuckers are heavy!

I haven't moved in a long time, but I have heard it from bibliophiles multiple times, how much moving their book collection sucks.

But maybe I should prune. This isn't any KonMari welling up from my soul, it's just:

  • I'm Lady Tsundoku, I either need to read these books or find them a good home.

  • I have a bunch of textbooks I kept because I was so sure of what I was going to grad school for. Spoiler: I'm going to grad school for something else.

  • I've lived in this house for 8 years, isn't it reasonable to expect myself to have changed as a person at least taste-wise? Shit, I've got stuff from when I was 13 that just brings me shame. That's got to go, hopefully into that recently-discovered black hole.

All pruning methods I found were imperfect for me, so I set up my own.

First:

  1. Are you going to read the book again?
  2. If unread, is it a book you honestly plan on reading soon?
  3. If it's a reference book, is it relevant to your interests?
  4. If it's a coffee table book, is it one you'd actually put on a coffee table?

A “yes” means I keep it. There's also questions of condition, and if it's easily rebuyable outside of amazon-owned shops.

If it fits in the keep category, I marked it with washi tape, because that is not particularly sticky and should not be hard to get off the books. If not, I have a decent amount of cleaning ahead!

And then I just went shelf by shelf. I'm not done yet, as this is a very emotional activity, but it's not as hard as I thought it would be, probably because I haven't actually “committed” to anything yet. It's not like I'm placing the pruned books in a box yet.

I haven't decided what to do with the books yet. I want them to go to good homes of course (even the ones that are trash), so don't be surprised if you see postings on the fediverse like: “Give Away: Brave Story, Lightly used”.

There is a difference between wanting to leave your home and wanting to escape it.

Young Adult stories often can tackle the idea of leaving your home, because it's on teenagers' minds.

Preschool, Kindergarten, Elementary School, Middle School, High School, College, right?

Maybe you'll be someone who changes that up a bit and goes to a trade school instead.

Maybe you'll go into the army because you can't afford college, but college is your goal.

Maybe you're well aware of how you can't afford college, so you try not to think about it.

And the scary after we try not to think about.

Of course it's on teenagers' minds.

But I'm talking about the latter category today: escape.

Before you plan your getaway to somewhere far away from all the pain, you were probably already escaping in a different way; for me it was reading, writing, and the internet.

Stories are the ultimate escapism. Stories immerse you in a pool of words as you swim to a different world, far away from your own. You can be someone else. Perhaps depending on your identity, you have to pretend harder, because there's no one like you, or maybe resign yourself to not being immersed.

Maybe because there's no story that fits yours, you write them. Or maybe you want to see more from your favorite characters, so you write fan-fiction. Or Maybe you want to tell your story.

In Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here, the titular Scarlett finds her escape through two things: a television series and fan-fiction about said-series. Then the show gets canceled. So she starts placing people she knows into her fan-fiction as a way to vent her frustrations with her life.

In The Poet X the main character, Xiomara, writes poetry constantly, but it's mostly a secret. She writes about her struggles with her faith (when her mother very much wants her to be a good Catholic), her experiences with boys, and her family.

For both people it obviously goes poorly, but for different reasons. I'd argue that for the former, Scarlett is getting her dues for something she did wrong, and the latter, Xiomara is punished, but for no crime the average reader will feel she committed.

Both people have a goal of leaving town, just enduring until they graduate, can get out. But the books, while about their escapism through writing, are also about their endurance.

It's something I very much would have liked as a teenager, and I'm glad these books are around now. Both could probably be used as bibliotherapy for a teenager waiting to escape.

My escape didn't go as planned, because when you escape, even if you leave with nothing in your pockets, you carry the baggage of memories. These books had the characters change their perspective even slightly on what they were escaping from, and it ended before say, graduation, when they could escape, but you're left to wonder: if they still want to escape, would they be successful? I'm sure you want to believe that, but they have the baggage of the past, so you could certainly make the argument they won't be.

However, while you can see yourself in these characters, you must separate yourself from these characters. It's unfair to the story to assume they're living your life, when they don't have your history, your worldview.

Write the story of your own escape.

Children of Blood and Bone

Toni Adeyemi

March 6, 2018; Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

I would be quite impressed with you if you have somehow gotten through life without having heard of “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, especially since there was recently a movie. There's other in this unfortunately-necessary genre of “Black Lives Matter” fiction, like “Dear Martin” by Nic Stone (have read), Tyler Johnson was here by Jay Coles (have not read yet), or various others. However, the two pieces I just named are contemporary pieces, what if someone made a fantastical world with magic where there is a background message of Black Lives Matter?

Well, I say to you, there's this series, called “Legacy of Orïsha”, with the first book out called “Children of Blood and Bone”. Film rights have been sold, so get in on the ground floor, so you can put your shades on and say “yeah, I was into Children of Blood and Bone before the movies were out!”

People are calling Toni Adeyemi “The Black J K Rowling” which has its problems. I think people don't understand she's better than J K Rowling.

While I didn't like Harry Potter than much (the movies were fun, but I will confess here and turn in my book badge that I read the first book and hated it as a child) I get that HP has some decent world building at the core. The problem is expanding the world beyond the original issues it tackled and trying to talk about other issues: For starters, some issues Rowling isn't qualified to talk about because they don't affect her, and she either won't crack open a book or ask someone, but you get that “White Feminist” attitude where you want to take charge of everything (I've been guilty of this too) when you need to listen. This is about Adeyemi though.

Tomi Adeyemi seems to be taking more care into writing her issues in, because the world has many issues it tackles, but it tackles them with care, and doesn't Ayn Rand you. There's also nothing in the book that stands out as a weird contradiction to the message so far, like Harry Potter house elves.

I mean, to compare, if you were to read “The Hate U Give” or “Dear Martin” I don't think you could really miss the message that Black Lives Matter. It's not like they're beating you over the head with it, but I feel like since it's contemporary, it's hard not to see their message. However, in “Children of Blood and Bone” while you get to see the value of these oppressed people's lives, you may not put together that this is a BLM book until you get to the author's note.

The author wants you to know you (teenagers, adults) have “the power to change the evils in the world”. This book is a call to action. And we've seen youth activism in action. We know youth can change the world.

This book isn't always pleasant to read, because reading is about empathy, and you will be empathizing with very tough lives, but I feel like you will be moved to something. Do something, Feel something, Say something.

The characters are great, they complement each other well. I loved watching their growth and change. There is romance, so if you hate teens smooching in books, this book is not for you, though if it makes you feel better, at least one of the romantic subplots was being used to advance the plot.

I'd recommend picking this up today so we can fawn over it together. It's a six-star read!

This is about how strongly my white ass related to this YA book about a Mexican teenager going through grief.

CWs for post: Death, Mental Health, Attempted Suicide, Abuse

CWs for book: Death, Mental Health, Attempted Suicide, Abuse, Sexual Assault,

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