Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

A little over a year ago, I read this book that was so awful, it turned me off of reading for a couple months. The book was called Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher and I had been looking forward to reading it for several months.

I have an ongoing project involving young adult literature featuring transgender characters (or lack thereof), keeping track of what is out there, creating resources for librarians and encouraging the creation of new & better resources, particularly fiction. I’d been really excited about this book because so few of the books I’d read featured trans girl characters (most had trans boys instead) and also because the book has won the Stonewall Book Award, awarded by the ALA GLBT Roundtable for teen fiction, so it must be good.

The book was actively horrible and I was pretty sure it would do a good job of terrifying any young trans girl into thinking that no one would ever love her and that she sort of deserved to experience violence. It felt like the whole point of the book was to make readers sympathize with homophobic & transphobic dudes who can’t help being violent towards trans women–not explicitly condoning the violence but explaining it as an unavoidable learning moment.

Reading the book made me feel horribly depressed and uninspired to read anything at all for several months (normally I read a few books a month or sometimes as much as a book a week).

Flash forward to a month or so ago when I read With or Without You by Brian Farrey.  It won the same book award as Almost Perfect and I had similarly been looking forward to reading it for months. It dealt with HIV/AIDS, gay teens in a small town & the loneliness & isolation that sometimes brings teens that age to a point of engaging in risky behavior in an attempt to simply belong. It sounded great and like the kind of book that needs to exist much more in the world.

Again, though, the book was actively horrible. It painted poz (HIV-positive) characters out to be anywhere from a jovially irresponsible older man to a young almost-cult-leader type kid who (spoiler alert) literally stabs someone. It paints the kid who is lonely & looking for somewhere to belong as a hopeless case. And, in the one moment where the book had an obvious window of opportunity to at least provide some useful information by informing readers about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis, kind of like a morning after pill for HIV exposure that they most certainly don’t tell you about in sex ed and about which most adults don’t even know), the author totally drops the ball & sweeps it under the rug, arguably giving inaccurate information about how to deal with an actual HIV exposure. The book was bad. Awful.

Once again, a book which had received this award that is supposed to give librarians access to a few books that are safe to recommend to LGBTQ teens without really closely reviewing them or being knowledgeable about LGBTQ issues has succeeded in being actively bad in a way that I actually fear will hurt teenagers. At this point, I’m not just mad at the authors and their publishers, I’m fuming at the ALA’s GLBT Roundtable, which is probably made up of a bunch of well-meaning librarians who are actually not very knowledgable of LGBTQ issues but who, by virtue of being on this committee, position themselves as experts in the field and put their seal of approval on books that actually hurt the LGBTQ youth who really need them.  I decided to set my sights on becoming a member of the book selection committee within the next few years and also wrote a letter to the chair of the committee expressing my concern.

But as a reader, I was left feeling really disillusioned. Much like happened a year ago after reading Almost Perfect, I have been going through a bit of a period of reluctance to being a reader at all since finishing With or Without You. I just feel frustrated with the publishing industry that it’s set up in a way that the kinds of books that need to be out there (like the books I was hoping for when I cracked the spine of Almost Perfect and With or Without You) don’t get published (because we all know they are being written–the people whose life experiences would lead them to write these kinds of books are vibrant and creative people who are writing amazing books that the world will never see! This is why independent publishers such as Topside Press are so important!) and I figure that if the media I consume is being censored even when it comes in the form of literature, I might as well sit around watching bad reality television instead.  At least “Dance Moms” has never tried to trick me into thinking it provides important or useful information.

I’m sure it will pass soon, I will find a book that’s completely outside of the realm of things I normally read and reaffirm my love as a reader, but for now, I am feeling let down by not only the publishing industry, but by members of my own profession who actually have the power to give a voice to lesser known books that do something great for LGBTQ youth and instead choose to honor books that are sure to make life a little harder for those LGBTQ teens who could really have used the friend they seek to find between the pages of a book the most.


MLABooklist-LiteratureOUTLoudToday I gave a workshop at the 2012 Michigan Library Association Annual Conference called “Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens.”  The workshop went spectacularly and I plan on writing about it in greater depth soon, but I had some requests that I share the book list I gave out and discussed during the workshop so I thought I would make a quick post sharing it.  It says this on the book list, but I’d like to just reiterate that this list is not meant to be a list of the best young adult literature for trans youth, it is a list on the existing young adult literature for trans youth and there are some titles on there that I cannot or would not endorse.  This is derived from a list I created on GoodReads which I have added to over time and which has also grown via crowd-sourcing over the year+ since I created it.  Some titles are omitted from this list but I tried to omit titles on the basis of them either being a) not teen/ya books or b) not featuring trans characters, rather than based on quality, but the list on GoodReads is ever expanding so I would recommend checking that out too.

I encourage readers to please feel free to use this list however you would like (I would prefer that you use it for good), but I ask that you please try to credit me if you use it when possible/appropriate.

Book List: Literature OUT Loud: A Guide to Young Adult Literature for Trans Teens

*Edit: the link has been updated to include the correct author for Being Emily by Rachel Gold (see comments below)

Today, I led the “Guys Read” book club at my library for the first time.  It’s a book club for teen guys and after today, I’m going to be running it every month all by myself!!!

This month, we read Heat by Mike Lupica, which I thought was going to be stupid because I am close-minded about sports books, but of course I was completely proven wrong when it turned out to be a great book.  Actually, I was proven wrong in the middle of the night last night, since my whole plan that I was just going to read the book on desk over the course of the month went totally awry when it turned out that it’s actually really hard to read a book on desk and I had other projects to do on desk as well.

So this was one of the first times I’ve really hung out with the teens at the library where this book club is happening.  I’ve done teen programs before, but never ones where I felt like I really got to know the teens.  At the other library where I work, I have become pretty close with the teens, so it’s exciting to get to start working more closely with them at this library too.

So today, the librarian who has been running it since the last intern who ran this book club (who is also a friend of mine) graduated and got a real job and I ran the book club together, and it was nice to see how he interacts with the teens and how he leads the discussion.  I will also be attending a workshop at the OLA Superconference this weekend (so soon!!!) on book clubs for teen guys, so I’m excited to get to use some of the cool stuff I’m going to learn.

Also, only one more day of work before I leave for Toronto!

It’s Banned Books Week, and I thought I’d share with you all the most completely ridiculous example of a banned book I’ve seen on the list for this year.

The book is called Pit Bulls and Tenacious Guard Dogs by Carl Semencic.  (Sorry, I don’t have the reference, as I saw it on a hard copy of the list in my library.)  It was banned in some public library in Austrailia.  “Why?” do you ask.  The library banned the book because it is about pit bulls and in that particular locality, pit bulls are a restricted breed and it is illegal to own them.  Apparently, it is also illegal to even posess information about them.

So I guess I wanted to share this because it’s almost refereshing to me.  It’s definitely not refreshing that any book was banned, that’s not what I mean.  It’s just that most stuff that gets banned is because it deals with sex or gay stuff or abortion or language or violence–basically books that deal with things that make the conservative Christian right type folks uncomfortable and which offend their moral sensibilities.

The fact that this random library doesn’t want people to have access to boring, non-fiction information about a breed of dog sucks, of course, for prospective pit bull owners, but is also pretty awesome.  It’s awesome because it’s the most ridiculous thing ever.  Banning books in the first place–this idea that making it harder to find information will somehow make that information and the ideas it contains disappear or something–is ridiculous in general.  But when it happens to a book that is completely un-controversial, the kind of book that even the captain of the book-banning team would understand is kind of dumb to ban, it is kind of satisfying because it pretty much illustrates the point of why it’s dumb to ban books in the sort of language book-banners can understand.