‘Sad’ Queer Stories are Still Important

2017 has already been a great year for new LGBTQIA+ YA novels, and I’d have to guess that at least half the books I’ve read so far have been diverse in terms of sexual orientation and identity. What I’ve discovered from reading so many of these gorgeous books is that they usually fall into one of three categories. They’re either predominantly happy and cute, heart-wrenching and emotional, or a character’s identity isn’t the centre focus. On occasion, they do fall into more than one of these categories. But something I’ve seen a lot of people discussing is whether authors should be writing tragic queer stories, and what that really means.

To the most drastic extent, a ‘tragic queer story’ is one where the a member of the LGBTQIA+ community dies, or is killed. It’s even considered a trope now. Thankfully, I haven’t read many novels that conform to this notion, and I don’t really want to if the person’s identity is a major part in the narrative. Seeing these people have tragic endings isn’t just heartbreaking, but it can be damaging to young queer readers picking up these books. Yes, not all stories should be happy ones, but I think it’s harmful to see yourself represented in a narrative, only to find the character has a tragic ending. I’m not here to read about that.

But does that mean that all the novels with LGBTQIA+ protagonists have to be sunshines and rainbows? I don’t think so. Yes, I adore reading books where a person’s identity or sexual orientation isn’t made a big deal of or where they are able to be who they are unashamedly, but I think it’s important to still have stories where people are struggling to come to terms with who they are, or where others around them are. My experiences as a bisexual young person haven’t all been positive, and we need to see that other people might be struggling with the same things we are. In the end, books help us realise that we aren’t alone, and by erasing all ‘sad’ LGBTQIA+ novels, we could be tilting the scales in the other direction. Read More »

What Are ‘Problematic’ Books?

Something I’ve been trying to be a lot more aware about, which the bookish community provides for on social media, is knowing what books are considered to be ‘problematic’, and therefore which books I should avoid. Regardless of whether these books are called out for being racist or ableist or homophobic, or whether they trivialise important matters, it’s the bookish community that I have to thank for spreading the word about these novels and promoting diverse and #ownvoices narratives instead.

But what I want to talk about is the fine line between acknowledging a book had problems and banishing it from shelves altogether because it’s been deemed problematic. At what point does a book become problematic? Does one wrongly-worded line equate to evil? Should we destroy the reputations of books and their authors, not matter how diverse, because of a thoughtless joke or an off-handed remark in the narrative? Yes, I do consider myself an advocate for diversity, but no, I won’t stand for the metaphorical burning of books at the stake.

A little while ago, one of my favourite Aussie novels was accused of being racist — a novel that has been loved and embraced by the Aussie YA community for years now, and only when it was published recently in the U.S. did it start getting attacked for so-called ‘racism’. I was horrified to see this beautiful, diverse, f/f novel being attacked because of one line. That book was the first novel I ever read with a queer protagonist and to see people refusing to read it because of one line read out of context broke my heart. Read More »

I Don’t Read Blurbs (#oops)

For a long while, the only books I wanted to read were the ones I knew I would love. I’d inspect the summaries on Goodreads with a close eye, taking the rating and the top review into account, and only when I was sure that I’d like the book, would I go out and grab a copy. That meant that I was reading a lot of the same kinds of books. That was okay, I guess, because I loved contemporaries and I loved dystopians. But it was only when I stopped being so certain of what books I would pick up did I discover that I loved reading so many other genres. Fantasy. Magical realism. And recently, I’ve discovered a new favourite genre of mine. I call it existential contemporary, which can also expand to slight variances in genre. A long name to describe the books that I’m loving reading at the moment.

Now, the way I choose which books I decide to read it vastly different from when I started blogging a few years ago. Most of the books I read are ones that I’ve seen on Twitter, mostly from people recommending it. Sometimes I get recommendations straight from my friends. But instead of meticulously combing through reviews to try and work out whether it would be worth my time, I ask for opinions. I ask people if they liked it, and if so, nine times out of ten I’ll add it to my basket without any thought. It’s rare that I know what a book is going to be about before I start reading it now, and I love that. I love going into a book completely blind because it allows me to be thrust straight into the world without forming any prior thoughts about what to expect. I love the surprise, and everything that comes with it.

And now that I’ve discovered a new favourite genre of mine, the existential contemporary, I’ve been asking people what books I could read that would fit into that category. To give you an idea of what other books I consider to slot into it, and that I’ve loved, here are a few: We Are The Ants, More Happy Than Not, and most recently, Still Life with Tornado. Each of these books share the same element — they all question the meaning of life and our purpose on Earth. They all have that existential element that makes you think about your life and what society has become. As I love learning about the philosophy behind the existential and nihilistic movements, I find books such as these fascinating. But I never would have found them without learning to not be so picky with what I read and trusting recommendations.

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Triggering Books

There has been something on my mind ever since I wrote my discussion about needing trigger warnings in books. Well, it was more of a question I had. Are triggers always bad? Are books that contain triggering material bad? Sometimes, is it those books that can be potentially triggering the ones that are the most important and powerful? Sorry, I guess that was a few questions.

A part of me would have to say yes to the questions I posed. Some of my favourite books are triggering, but that doesn’t make me love them any less. And then again, there are some books that I’ve found really important and powerful, but didn’t ‘enjoy’ because they were quite triggering. And then there are the books that we can all agree are harmful — those that discuss mental illness and other triggering topics in such a hurtful way that it could never be twisted so that we view those novels positively. But those aren’t the books I want to focus on today.

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Biographies are Boring?

I never thought I’d be someone who adored biographies and autobiographies. I mean, who would want to read about someone real when they could be reading about wizards or faeries or aliens? Who would want to read about someone talking about their own boring life like it was different to the rest of ours? Who’d be interested in writing about how they grew up, got a job, and did all the other mundane things which life entails? Certainly not me.

But then I read an autobiography. By read, I mean forced to by my literature teacher in 11th Grade as a part of an assignment. It was Bill Bryson’s memoir entitled The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid and I couldn’t have been more annoyed at having to waste my time reading that nonsense when I could have been rereading The Fault in Our Stars or delving deep into Wattpad to read more Drarry fanfic.

It wasn’t until I reluctantly opened up the autobiography (after trying to find a reasonable summary on Sparknotes. Believe me, I tried), did I realise that I might actually enjoy it. If my laughs at the strange and funny situations Bill found himself in as a kid where anything to go by, I actually really loved it. And that was the beginning of a whole new adventure for me.

I realised that reading biographies and autobiographies were not nearly as boring as the name suggested. I thought that reading about someone I didn’t know, and quite frankly, didn’t care to learn about, would be the most boring experience of my life. In fact, it was the opposite. I found that there wasn’t all that much difference between reading about a person in the real world as compared to reading about a fictional character. They both came with backstories and vibrant lives and things that made me connect with them or even be able to relate to them.

After I realised that I liked reading about so-called real people, I investigated some other biographies and autobiographies to pick up. While YA fiction remains my one true love, this whole new genre I found, thanks to my pushy literature teacher, has provided both some really fascinating and empowering reads. I couldn’t have been more thankful for not just opting to read the Wikipedia page on that book I was made to study.

I’ve now read a number of biographies and autobiographies, but I want to discuss who I picked up recently in depth. Those ones are Note to Self by Connor Franta and Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin. While they’re both vastly different in the topics they discuss and how well they’re both known in general media, I loved reading both of them because they allowed me to do the one thing all great autobiographies and biographies should be able to do — they made me feel as though I knew the author in a more personal way, and it allowed me to not only learn from the experiences they recounted, but think about how I would be left a little different than when I turned the first page.Read More »

So Much CRINGE // “She Says, She Says”

Do you ever look back on the books you used to love and just cringe? Do you ever think about the crushes you used to have on characters – the crushes that you wouldn’t admit to anyone – and wonder why you ever liked those people in the first place? Did you enjoy reading some pretty questionable books when you were younger?

Well today, my friend Casey and I are going to be talking all about the cringe-worthy books we loved as tweens and the characters we swooned over! Find out who was on #TeamEdward and #TeamJacob, whether we shipped Katniss with Peeta or Gale, and what qualities we looked for in a potential bookish crush. Oh, and there’s a pretty horrific story about an infinity tattoo inspired by The Fault in Our Stars

Enjoy laughing at our embarrassment!

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DNF-ing Books // “She Says, She Says”

Hi friends! Today I have another very exciting instalment of She Says, She Says, where I’ll be chatting to Bec from Bec’s Books about DNF-ing books! It’s something that we’ve both done and we wanted to talk a bit about what makes us DNF a book and when we should and shouldn’t feel ashamed for doing so!

Warning: blogger confessions ahead.

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Hi Bec! Thanks so much for making the time to chat about DNF-ing books with me. First of all, tell everyone a little bit about yourself! Here’s the perfect opportunity for all that self promo!

Hi Sarah! Thank you for having me! I’ve just started up my blog (rebeccagough.wordpress.com) and I’m yet to feature a discussion post, so I’m really excited to be talking with you! Plus I’m mildly in denial that I DNF books so this’ll definitely help to reevaluate what I’ve definitely DNF’d hehe. Read More »

Feminism in Fiction

Looking back on many of the fairytales I’ve grown up reading and loving, I’ve realised that the majority of them are incredibly sexist. They seem to indicate that women are not in control of their lives or their fate and are in constant need of saving. With awareness for feminism being the most it has ever been, it’s a wonder anyone thinks that reading these archaic, misogynistic stories to children is acceptable. Not only does it teach our girls that they have to rely on a prince to save them and that they have no say in the matter, but it teaches everyone else that women are helpless victims who will never feel fulfilled in life without a husband.

Let me stop you right there, sexist society. We don’t need saving. We’re perfectly fine on our own, thank you very much. The last thing we want is you Facebook stalking us to come to our houses and shove a mangy old slipper on our foot that will effectively manacle us to you for all of eternity. We’re done having you save us — we’re not damsels in distress or plot devices that enable you to show off your masculinity… and your massive ego. Oh, and for the record, not all of us want to marry you — a cisgender straight male. There there, go cry yourself to sleep.

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Trigger Warnings

Have you ever read a book that makes your heart clench? That makes you feel sick to your stomach? That makes you feel like you can’t breathe? Have you ever read a book that takes you back to a dark time in your life and plants a seed in your head that makes you think you won’t feel the same until you relapse?

I have.

For people that haven’t been marginalised because of their disability, sexuality, culture, or haven’t experienced mental illness, it’s easy to assume that we don’t need trigger warnings on what we read. There aren’t trigger warnings in real life, right? But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility to your readers, especially when so many of us are capable of being harmed by what we read.

We’re not “sensitive”.

What we read does affect us, and suggesting otherwise is not only condescending, but highlights your own privilege.

I’m not denying the fact that the best books are ones that leave us thinking. Some would even argue that controversial novels are necessary because they spark conversations about the things that we need to be talking about. But trigger warnings aren’t an attempt to take away that aspect of novels. Trigger warnings are needed because they have the capability to warn or protect potentially vulnerable readers. If you care more about protecting the “integrity” of a novel than the people that read it, then you should question your place in the reading community or the industry.Read More »

Book Blogging Basics // “She Says, She Says”

Hi friends! I’m super excited to announce that I’m starting a new segment on my blog called “She Says, She Says”, where I’ll be discussing certain topics with other bloggers! Today I’m lucky to be joined by Angel from Angel Reads — one of my absolute favourite book bloggers — and we’ll be chatting a bit about the blogging basics. We talked on Angel’s blog earlier about how we started our blogs, which you can check out here, and for part two on my blog we’ll be discussing the importance of book reviews and how to write a great review!Read More »