Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sisters Red (and more about the Bitch list)

Okay, maybe I'm not done talking about the Bitch list--um, Bitch magazine's list of "100 Young Adult Books For the Feminist Reader".

I wrote about this some here, in my review of Living Dead Girl, one of the three books removed from the original list. But I just finished Sisters Red, another book removed from the original list, and I'm all annoyed again. I'm also grateful to Bitch, because I thought this was a wonderful and moving book, and it's probably not one I'd have picked up otherwise because it's about werewolves. I've done a pretty good job of avoiding the whole vampire, zombie, werewolf thing. But this is a great story.

This was the first book to be removed from the Bitch list, based largely, apparently, on a negative review at Book Smugglers blog. It turns out that the compiler of the Bitch list hadn't read Sisters Red, but instead put it on the list based on reviews of the book. She also refers to the book as Sister's Red which makes me very crabby and gives her even less credence.

Anyway, I liked the book a lot. I found the most moving part to be the relationship between the sisters, Scarlett, who is very dedicated to killing werewolves, and Rosie, who is less dedicated but feels hugely indebted to her sister, for understandable reasons: Scarlett saved her life when Rosie was attacked by a werewolf, and Scarlett is permanently scarred and disfigured as a result.

This is a story about growing up, and making up your own mind about who you want to be and what you're going to be, considering all the factors, including what others want or expect of you. It's about loving other people and loving yourself and trying to take care of everyone, which is sometimes--usually--close to impossible to do. Especially when there are werewolves around.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Living Dead Girl: Feminist Novels (also, the Bitch list)

I just finished Living Dead Girl, which was hard to read but I had to read it all in one sitting--it's short, and also I had to know what would happen. It's the Stranger Danger story--the life of the girl who's taken away; her story as she might tell it. Ick.

I put this book on hold at the library because Bitch Magazine made a list of "100 Young Adult Books For the Feminist Reader," which they describe as "100 young adult novels that every feminist should add to the stack of books on their bedside table." Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce were on the original list, but there were complaints about them being "triggering" for rape survivors, so staff members at Bitch reread (and/or read) those three titles then removed them from the list. Several writers, including Scott Westerfeld, asked to be removed from the list themselves, since they considered that it was now an embarrassing list to be a part of, and Bitch refused to take those authors off. I don't want to say more about this because I've spent too much of my life on it already (here's the original post and the zillions of responses if you're interested--and I do think it's interesting!), but suffice to say that Bitch's removal of these books from their list made them the first I put on hold at the library. It also made me less likely to ever buy another issue of Bitch--I'll spend my money elsewhere. Whoever was taking responsibility for the list should have read all the books on it and been prepared to stand behind their choices, but instead it seems that no one even read all the titles, and there isn't any clear statement, much less consensus, on what makes these titles feminist or must-reads. As one of the gazillion posters, Walter Underwood, notes, "Bitch is not clear about what sort of list this is. Is it favorites or authoritative?" He observes that "If it is authoritative, then there are some books on there that I don't think make the cut for 'every feminist' to read." Plus they're implying that you must be literate to be a feminist, then, which is--okay, back to my review of Living Dead Girl.

This was not a pleasant book to read. But it was well-written and it was a story I hadn't really thought about: the girl who is abducted by the scary man, and the years she spends living with him. She talks about how on TV talk shows, audience members always blame the victim: "Why didn't she speak up?" "Why didn't she do something?" but the book does a great job of showing why she doesn't speak up, why she doesn't do anything, how frightened and isolated she is.

Now I'm reading Sisters Red.

Other interesting posts about the Bitch fiasco:

Margo Langan's (author of Tender Morsels) blog post

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog

There are many more, and both these posts link to many of them.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I just finished Trash, by Andy Mulligan. Set in "an unnamed Third World country" (though we know the author divides his time between his native London and Manila), it's the story of three boys growing up in Behala, "rubbish-town," the city dump. Raphael, one of the three boys, describes himself in the first sentence of the novel as a "dumpsite boy."

Raphael makes an incredible, life-changing find in the dump, and this novel is the story of that find. It is described--repeatedly--as a "thriller" in the Guardian, but I don't know if that has a different connotation in England, because it wasn't what I think of as a thriller. However the Guardian article is interesting because apparently Trash was shortlisted for a major YA award then withdrawn from consideration. Man, children all over the world are living in conditions as bad as these, but we have to protect rich (relatively) kids from reading about it?

Anyway. I liked this book a lot. Stayed up late to read it and then finished it at school during silent reading time, when I am usually too busy patrolling my students to really get sucked into a book. But this one is so... suckable?

It's also an interesting commentary on the greed of so many of our politicians, almost always at the expense of the poor children like the heroes of this novel. One of them describes the vice-president's house this way: "Look at the towers, man--it thinks it's a castle. It thinks it's in a fairy tale."

This isn't a fairy tale.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Summarize this...

I'm back to teaching, and so happy about it. Also exhausted. But I had some medical stuff so took some time off, and now it's the new semester and I'm back! And I get to teach a writing class for struggling writers. It's an elective, so they're sort of choosing to be in it, but the administration is saying to some students, "You really need to be in this class," so that's not quite a choice. However, it does seem like most of them do want to be there. I'm so excited about it--however, the first day I didn't have all my students, and I might still not have all my students, but today was the second day of class, and I thought Okay so I don't even know who's going to show up, much less what they need--what the hell am I going to do? So today we learned about Bessie Smith. We read three brief biographies about her (which was overkill--two would have been plenty, even with some of the details different), and learned about the controversy around her death. We read part of this. Then we listened to two Bessie Smith songs and read the lyrics. We listened to "Sing Sing Prison Blues" and "Sinful Blues".

We talked about each song, and I had them write a one sentence summary of each stanza, then a one-to-two sentence summary of each song. I had a million ideas about activities we could do--write a letter to Bessie Smith, write the thesis statement for your essay on Bessie Smith, etc., use what you learned today and what you heard to write your own one paragraph biography of Bessie Smith--but this ended up being simpler than any of them, which was fine. I also found myself in the position of explaining not only that the Hudson was a river but also that "Sing Sing" came from the name of the American Indian tribe, Sint Snick, from whom the land was "purchased" in 1685. (Yes, I got this information from Wikipedia. Perhaps this makes me a bad teacher.)

But our conversation about "Sinful Blues" was pretty great. I didn't put a lot of thought into my choice of songs, honestly--I had the CD at school, and I listened to a few of them and thought these two might be interesting to discuss and relatively easy to understand/summarize. The lyrics to the songs are also really different--"Sing Sing Prison Blues" is more repetitive, more reliant on rhyme, and "Sinful Blues" is more complex lyrically and gave us a lot to talk about. The singer changes her mind about how to handle the situation in every verse. My class agreed that they know people who do that about their girlfriends or boyfriends.

The most interesting moment of the class, at least for Ms. Nelson, was when I found myself explaining the double entrendre in the second verse:

Look here folks, don't think I'm rough,
'Cause I'm a good woman an' I knows my stuff,
That's why I'm sinful as can be.
My man may look low, but I can't keep
'Cause he knows a lot of little dirty tricks,
That's why I'm sinful as can be.


Listen to "Sinful Blues" on youtube.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Overheard the Best Exchange at the Pizza Place

Me and Ida waited for ever for our calzones at Good Neighbors tonight, but at least I got some eavesdropping in.

Guy: So what are you reading these days?
Woman: I've been trying to read Infinite Jest, but ugh.

She talks about how David Foster Wallace is obviously really smart, and she has to read it with a dictionary next to her and look up a bunch of words, but he goes off for like three pages on these random things, so she's set it down and maybe she'll try again sometime--"Like when I retire." She says how maybe if she were in college and didn't have anything else to do but try to figure it out, then that might be okay, but she's too busy.

Guy: Yeah, when I retire I'm reading Infinite Jest, Don Quixote, and Underworld by Don Delillo.